Winter Water Inquiries

JSS 2-17-15

Jackson Street School, February 17, 2015

Hello everyone! My name is Catherine Bradley, and I recently joined the water inquiry team. I am a sophomore at Smith College, majoring in history with a minor in education, and I am very excited to begin working on this project.

Over the winter break, I took a week-long interterm course co-taught by Professor Berner at Smith’s MacLeish Field Station in Whately, MA. The course, titled “Interpreting the New England Landscape,” encouraged us to interact with our natural surroundings in many different ways.  Inspired by the week, we developed two snow themed adventures, perfect for this time of year.

How Cold is Snow?

In our first snow inquiry, students bundle up and head outside, armed with easy-to-read tube thermometers. With these thermometers, students can measure the temperature of the air, the snow, and the ground underneath (a little digging may be required here!).  Try this in a few different spots on the school grounds:  in the sun and the shade; near the school building; near rocky outcroppings; around the playground.


A student checking the temperature in the air to compare to the temperature in and under the snow.


  • What’s do you notice about the temperatures?
  • Can you find any patterns in temperature? Any surprises?
  • If you were a small animal, like a mouse or a vole, where would you go? Why?



What Happens to Water in Winter?
Make some class predictions before going outside:

  • Where will you look for ice around the school grounds?
  • Where will you look for liquid water?
  • Do you think ice floats or sinks in water? What makes you say that?
  • Imagine–if ice sank in water what would change?
  • Which do you think is colder: ice or the water under the ice? How could we find this out?

Are there icicles on your building or frozen water on your school grounds?  Take students out to investigate places where ice forms:  Where do you see ice? What’s going on in these places?  If you’re lucky enough to be near a pond or running stream, take the temperature of the air above the ice and the water below the ice (you may want to tie a string to the thermometer if the water is deep). To dig a hole in thicker ice, try using a screwdriver and hammer, or a hand-held ice augur.


Annie Ames, ’15 cracking a layer of ice at the vernal pool.

  • How cold is the air above the ice? How cold is the water below?
  • Where do you think fish and frogs go in the winter?
  • Imagine–what is it like underneath the ice?




Why aren’t we skating at the bottom of the pond?

Curious about winter water and how it impacts pond life? Check out this piece from Vermont Public Radio: Exploring above and below the ice

 Please comment!

What are your students noticing and wondering about snow, ice and where water goes in winter? What snow-related activities incite the most curiosity? And look for the next blog with a winter inquiry that does not even require leaving the classroom!

– Ally, Catherine, Carol and Hannah

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