Engineering in the Snow

Engineering in the Snow
March 20, 2020 David Todd

Winter 2020
Posted by Jasmine

When there is fresh snow on the ground, The Nature School Primary students arrive to our outdoor classroom with a renewed sense of excitement and wonder. What will we make? What will we build? How will we play?

I am always amazed at the creativity of their play, constructing fully imagined spaces using shovels, buckets, and frozen coloured ice blocks. Even when we build the obvious — a snowperson for example — I am blown away by their ability to work together, to find solutions to challenges, and to include everyone in the celebration of their accomplishment.

Nature School student proudly displays a parking garage for sleds built with ice and buckets

Students used buckets, shovels, ice blocks and snow to build a parking garage for our sleds!

Today, students arrived and decided that this was the perfect snow for a snowperson. A few of us immediately began rolling, and within moments we were discussing the consistency, texture, and weight of the snow and our growing snowballs.

“This is going to be really heavy,” one student announced.

Immediately V. started to think about how we were going to be able to stack the snowballs. “We might not be able to lift them,” she exclaimed.

Nature School students build snowperson

Sometimes, I want to jump in with a solution (or what I think is the solution). But I know if I wait, listen, and allow students to navigate the conversation with little prompting, they get there, communicate, and build solutions to problems as a community. And I am proud!

In this case, Z. and X. decided to take V.’s statement about the weight and test it. With the help of other students and teachers, we counted, we lifted, and we concluded: “Yup, this is too heavy!”

V. immediately had another idea: “We can build a ramp.”

I asked, “What will we use?” and Z. and V. together shouted “The shovels!” And so began our experiment.

Could the plastic shovels hold the weight of this large snowball? We discussed safety, we discussed possibilities, we created hypotheses about the outcome, and then we acted. And it turns out: the shovels were not having it.

“They are too slippery,” V. exclaimed.

I asked: “What do you mean by slippery?”

“We need more traction,” X. shouted. (And yes, there was shouting. It was all very exciting!) So we decided to try a new material. The students all ran to get logs and branches to build their ramp.

Nature School students grab logs and branches to lift large ball of snow

They had more discussions about how to build it, offered suggestions, listened to one another, and then they constructed. It took a few attempts. We recruited more students, and then, together, as a class, we rolled our giant snowball up on top of the other.

The kids were so proud of their hard work, they cheered and jumped around, and then many joined in designing our snowperson. F. put on some buttons, A. found some sticks, and together we created something beautiful.

At The Nature School, we come up with ideas, we test them, we build and construct, and we celebrate our accomplishments together!

Nature School students pose with their completed snowperson