Snowflakes and Science

Happy February! Is it snowing where you live? If so, you may enjoy reading Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.

As a child growing up in Vermont in the 19th century, Willie Bentley was extremely curious about the world around him. That curiosity was heightened when he looked at snowflakes under a microscope and discovered that no two snowflakes were alike. When he was 17 years old, Willie’s parents parents decided to use their life savings to purchase him a state-of-the-art microscopic camera. From that point on, Willie Bentley dedicated his life to exploring nature and sharing his discoveries with the world.

Willie Bentley’s biography provides an outstanding example to children today of creativity, dedication and perseverance. The book also features wonderful sidebar notes for adults, teachers or older students to read to themselves for further information on Willie Bentley’s scientific work.  A black-and-white photograph of Mr. Bentley is featured at the end of the book, along with 3 breathtaking samples of the photographs he took of snowflake crystals.

On top of all that, the book won the the Caldecott Medal in 1999 for its incredible illustrations.

Snowflake Bentley is an excellent choice for a read-aloud or to incorporate in a unit on biographies, weather or science.

Note: As a biography, the book does explain that Willie died at the age of 66 years old of pneumonia. If you are uncomfortable discussing the subject of death with your children or students, you can skip the last 2 pages.

Best Ages: 1st grade – 4th grade

For Parents:

  • After reading the book together, explain the character trait of “perseverance.”  How did Willie Bentley show perseverance? Is there a time in your life when you displayed perseverance that you can share with your child?
  • For younger children, make snowflakes out of folded coffee filters. Hang them up with clear fishing line in your child’s bedroom.

For Teachers:

  • After reading the book together, discuss the word “perseverance.”  How did Willie Bentley show perseverance? How can you?
  • For 1st and 2nd graders, make snowflakes out of folded coffee filters. Display on a bulletin board and point out to students that each one is different.
  • For 3rd and 4th graders, post questions about the book around classroom. Number each question. Instruct students to number a page in their notebooks and walk around to look at each question – doesn’t have to be in order – and write down the answers. (If you’ve never tried this kind of movement in a review, divide your students into groups and set a time for 1 minute. Call out when it’s time to rotate.) Review answers to the questions as a class.
  • For 3rd and 4th graders, create a timeline of Willie’s life.  You may want students to refer to this Smithsonian webpage. Then ask students to illustrate the part of his life or scientific work they found most interesting.
  • Show this PBS video on The Science of Snowflakes.

 

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