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published by the WGBH Educational Foundation
This multimedia lesson for Grades 7-10 explores the physical forces that act in concert to create snowflakes. Students build an apparatus that creates conditions similar to a winter cloud and produce their own snow crystals indoors. By watching the snow crystals grow, they learn about how snowflake size and shape is determined by the forces that act on water molecules at the atomic and molecular levels. Digital models and snowflake photo galleries bring together a cohesive package to help kids visualize what's happening at the molecular scale.

Editor's Note: This lab activity calls for dry ice. See Related Materials for a link to the NOAA's "Dry Ice Safety" Guidelines, and for a link to snow crystal images produced by an electron microscope.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
General Physics
- Properties of Matter
Modern Physics
- Atomic Physics
= Atomic Models
Other Sciences
- Chemistry
- Meteorology
- High School
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Interactive Simulation
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
= Image/Image Set
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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Safety Warnings
Eye Protection Must be Worn   Safety Gloves Must be worn   Corrosive   Low Temperature  

Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access with registration
© 2010 WGBH Educational Foundation
Non-commercial, educational use only: http://www.teachersdomain.org/terms_of_use.html
Lewis structures, VSEPR, condensation, covalent bond, crystals, electron sharing, ice, physics of snowflakes, snow formation, valence electrons, valence shell
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created January 2, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
January 2, 2015 by Caroline Hall

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4B. The Earth
  • 6-8: 4B/M15. The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases.
4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 6-8: 4D/M1a. All matter is made up of atoms, which are far too small to see directly through a microscope.
  • 6-8: 4D/M1cd. Atoms may link together in well-defined molecules, or may be packed together in crystal patterns. Different arrangements of atoms into groups compose all substances and determine the characteristic properties of substances.
  • 6-8: 4D/M3cd. In solids, the atoms or molecules are closely locked in position and can only vibrate. In liquids, they have higher energy, are more loosely connected, and can slide past one another; some molecules may get enough energy to escape into a gas. In gases, the atoms or molecules have still more energy and are free of one another except during occasional collisions.
  • 9-12: 4D/H2. The number of protons in the nucleus determines what an atom's electron configuration can be and so defines the element. An atom's electron configuration, particularly the outermost electrons, determines how the atom can interact with other atoms. Atoms form bonds to other atoms by transferring or sharing electrons.
  • 9-12: 4D/H7a. Atoms often join with one another in various combinations in distinct molecules or in repeating three-dimensional crystal patterns.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2010), WWW Document, (http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/).
PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?, (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2010), <http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/>.
APA Format
PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?. (2010). Retrieved October 21, 2017, from WGBH Educational Foundation: http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/
Chicago Format
WGBH Educational Foundation. PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2010. http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/ (accessed 21 October 2017).
MLA Format
PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2010. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {21 October 2017}, Year = {2010} }
Refer Export Format

%T PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?
%D 2010
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%C Boston
%U http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/
%O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D 2010
%T PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%V 2017
%N 21 October 2017
%9 application/pdf
%U http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.matter.lpsnowflakes/why-do-snowflakes-come-in-so-many-shapes-and-sizes/

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PBS Learning Media: Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes?:

Related Safety Guidelines NOAA: Dry Ice Safety

Safety guidelines on the use of dry ice, developed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By Dartmouth Electron Microscope Images: Snow Crystals

High-quality images of varied snow crystals, produced through SEM technology. Includes columnar grains, dendritic grains, flat hexagonal crystals, and flat stellar plates.

relation by Caroline Hall

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Dec 15 - Feb 20, 2017