It's Cold Outside: Ideas for Relatable Science & Student Engagement

February 21, 2018 / by Kathy Renfrew

So much science to know (Teacher, it’s cold outside.)

Why icicles glisten and glow (Teacher, it’s cold outside.)

What matter makes up snow? (Your students will want to know.)

Why is winter so cold? (Teacher, you’ll freeze out there!)

Teacher, it’s cold outside.

Students never seem to lose their sense of wonder when it comes to snow. The unexpected snow day, delayed start, or early dismissal has the potential to take student learning off the clear path you’ve carefully shoveled as schedules are rearranged and students are excited to play — no matter their age.

But play during the long, cold, and sometimes unpredictable months of winter doesn’t have to be limited to the outdoors.

What can you do in the classroom with students on short, cold, snowy, icy, and stormy days?

Create relevant learning experiences and increase student engagement!  

When students are engaged, they’re more curious, creative, and enthusiastic. They’re more likely to enjoy their work in the classroom, to persist in the face of challenges, and to experience a sense of wonder, delight, and accomplishment in their work. Overall, engaged students are more successful in their learning tasks and in meeting the standards.

Here are a few engaging ideas for exploring science during the winter months to get you started:

boiling water turns to ice crystals

  • Did you know that Mount Washington in New Hampshire was tied for the second coldest place on Earth? Talk with your students about what makes it so cold.
  • Have a ball experimenting with ice balloons from the Exploratorium as you learn about water chemistry, phase changes, and density.
  • While you’re at it, teach your students to ask questions like a scientist to give them the opportunity to engage in the NGSS practice of asking questions and defining problems -- a critical practice for all grade levels.
  • Ice Bocce! There are many questions that you can investigate or research as you play. Infuse prompts such as, “At what temperature will our bocce balls melt?” and  “Will the green one melt faster than the red one? 
  • Snow Science provides data and research on the phenomena of snow. What patterns can students see in their local weather? What predictions can they make about snowfall or lack thereof?

man skiing

  • Snow, sledding, and skiing provide many opportunities to integrate mathematical problem-solving and literacy into your science lessons. And although this engineering project may need a few adjustments to make it three-dimensional, it’s surely a learning experience that’ll keep students engaged.
  • If you want to spend quality science time diving into the structures and properties of matter, there is a clear benefit for students in second and fifth grades. Check out this NGSS-aligned resource on melting and freezing. For resources about how temperature affects different forms of matter or on exploring how different types of matter have different properties, look into these classroom resources from NGSS@NSTA.
  • What happens when you blow bubbles outside on one of the coldest days of the year? Watch this #SquadinAction video from Meg Richard to find out -- then try it with your students!
  • You can’t talk about all the snow and the cold without thinking about weather and climate. Why not analyze the weather data for a certain locale?


A challenge that presents itself for all science educators is, How might we modify some of these lesson ideas so that they're more NGSS aligned?

No matter the weather, more NGSS-aligned resources are being developed every day. Check out these quality examples of science lessons and units.

It would be great to talk in person at NSTA! A number of Teaching Channel’s Next Gen Science Squad will be attending Science on My Mind, March 15 - March 18, 2018 -- where we'll be learning with you and sharing our experiences. You can find us throughout the conference and at the NSTA Share-a-thon.

Until then, follow us by visiting our Deep Dive or by engaging with other blog posts from our NGSS Squadsters. And keep an eye out for our “Squad in Action” videos on Twitter: #NextGenSquadinAction.

Topics: Lesson Planning, Next Generation Science Standards, Science, STEAM, Resources, Engineering

Kathy Renfrew

Written by Kathy Renfrew

Kathy Renfrew is the K-5 science coordinator for the Vermont AOE. She has been deeply involved with the development and implementation of the NGSS and is co-developer/presenter of NSTA: Teaching NGSS in K-5 webinars. Kathy earned National Board Certification in 1998 and won the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2000. She taught science for over 30 years. While in the classroom, Kathy won a Toyota Tapestry grant and built a 16×20 foot log cabin with her students outside her classroom window. Kathy’s passion is improving science opportunities and education for all K-5 Students.

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