Aspen Nonprofit Teaches Kids About Snow Science

Dec 26, 2014

Kids often learn about snow when they're sledding, skiing, or doing other activities in a wintry environment. But the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies takes it a step further. ACES aims to help young people understand a winter landscape more deeply-- like what snow crystals look like up close, and why they change. APR's Elise Thatcher attended a snow science class and files this report.

Educator Denali Barron has a handful of six and eight-year-olds in her charge. They’re a few minutes walk from the ACES Nature Center, crouched in the snow along the ponds of Hallam Lake, and they’re looking closely at snowflakes. Eight-year-old Sofia notices the crystals are shiny. Barron points out that effect is created by facets, or sides of the crystals. “A very good observation. You see how they kind of clump together, too? Can you guess how long ago these snowflakes fell?"

Sofia: “Three thousand?”

“Three thousand seconds? Minutes? Remember the big snowstorm was on Monday, right?" Barron continues, "so these snowflakes have been here for two days. You think they’ve stayed the same or they’ve changed?”

The students chorus, “changed, mucho grande!”

While most of the kids are paying close attention, six-year-old Jack is face down in a snowbank, eating snow. It tastes like popsicles, he reports.

Barron, who's been with ACES since 2012, herds her small flock to another area, next to a mostly frozen pond. She reassures six-year-old Eliza, whose toes are cold. "Jump up and down," encourages Barron, for staying warm. Then, everyone crouches down next to the pond, and six-year-old Quintin scoops up big, sharp looking crystals from the surface. 

“They were frozen off of the ice and it reminds me of feathers, they have points,” he says. "Once again, I don’t think these were here yesterday," says Barron, referring to how the snowflakes look different than before.  She asks what happened overnight to help the crystals form.

Quintin: “Um, it was one degrees, so they formed, so it was so cold cause they formed.”

Barron agrees, explaining that when the air is cold, the earth is still warm, so air rises from the earth up through the snow. That builds crystals up on the surface of the snow until they have points... and indeed look like feathers. 

It is still a little too cold for Eliza, who reminds Barron that her feet are freezing. Food and shelter prevail, as everyone troops back into the warm Nature Center. Barron details the rest of the class. "We’re going to have our snack now, and after our snack we’ll look at our photos we took of those snow crystals.” It’s probably good to get that snack in, because these pint-sized scientists are only halfway through their day.