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Ice Core Secrets

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Author Contact Information

Sandra Kolb, Educational Consultant, Poulsbo, Washington 

Rick Griffith, Fairview Jr. High, Central Kitsap School District, Silverdale, Washington

Through Internet connections to polar field experiences, making their own ice cores and taking a field trip for obtaining a local ice core, students will explore the characteristics of ice and explain the influencing factors. They will practice scientific journaling to document their observations. Students will assemble their findings and develop a poster of their ice core and explain their observations. The "ice is ice" misconception will be dispelled.

Students will:

Explain what scientists learn from ice cores

Define basic vocabulary associated with ice cores

Grade Level/Discipline
This activity is taught in 8th grade Earth Science classes, but would also be appropriate for 9th grade classes.

National Standards
Unifying concepts and processes in science

Science as inquiry

Earth science

Pre-activity set-up
Pre-activity set-up

Make computer lab reservations

Plan field trip logistics to a frozen body of water (recommended, but optional)

Assemble materials

Clear plastic bottles

Ice corer (or assemble a drilling apparatus for ice coring)


Poster paper and markers


Sea test kit (optional)

Time Frame
One day = one 50-minute class period

1 day Pre-teach vocabulary and scientific journaling techniques

1 day Set up the lab (begin making ice cores)

1 day Fieldtrip (recommended, but optional)

3 to 4 days Hands-on manipulation of students' projects, Internet explorations, Observing, journaling and discussing observations

1 day Evaluation

Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity)
Introduce vocabulary: ice core, density, clarity, salinity, ice bands, snow ice (the white ice formed when the snow covered surface floods and freezes), structure, congelation (when ice crystals grow vertically).

ACTIVITY: Throughout this activity, students maintain scientific journals documenting their predictions, observations and investigations.

Students make their own ice cores using clear plastic bottles. Students add snow in layers and freeze, thaw, re-freeze, and mark the thaw lines on their bottles. Students write predictions and observations in their journals.

Recommended, but optional: Students take a fieldtrip to a frozen body of water and collect an ice core. They take cameras for documentation photos of the ice coring process and the ice cores. Students document ice core observations in their journals.

Using a microscope, students view samples from their made ice cores and their fieldtrip ice cores. Students document their observations in their journals.

Students investigate the Internet to compare/contrast the ice cores they made to the characteristics of ice cores from the Polar Regions (as seen in Kolb?s, Porter?s and Shutey?s TEA journals and photos from their ice coring fieldwork assignments in sea, lake and glacial ice, respectively). Students then compare/contract their observations of the ice cores collected on their fieldtrip to the ice cores from the Polar Regions.

Students make a poster of the ice core they made (drawings and/or photos) labeling layers and explaining their observations and the characteristics of their core.

Explanation (Discussing)
Review and reinforce vocabulary terms throughout this discussion. Encourage students to use the vocabulary.

Teacher guided discussion questions: List responses on a transparency or chalkboard. Discuss and dispel misconceptions as they arise.

Direct students to refer to their journals while sharing their observations of the layers in the ice cores they made. What happened? Why?

Lead students to share their observations on the similarities and differences of their ice cores versus the ice core they collected from a frozen body of water on their fieldtrip. How are they similar? How are they different? Why?

Will ice cores taken from the Polar Regions be different from the ice cores students made? From the ice core collected from the fieldtrip? How? Why?

Point out the characteristics and types of ice as students share their observations and thoughts throughout this discussion.

Elaboration (Polar Applications)
Based upon their Internet investigations, ask students to compare and contrast their observations from their own ice cores to those collected in Polar Regions. Are there similarities? Why? Are there differences? Why?

What factors influence the characteristics and properties of ice? How are these similar or different from those influencing the students? ice cores versus those in the Polar Regions?

Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)
How do climate and weather conditions influence the characteristics and properties of ice? Why?

How does the age of the ice influence its properties? Why? How is this observed in ice cores?

How are the ice cores students made similar or different to polar ice cores? Why?

Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)
Students display their posters in the classroom. Conduct a round-table classroom discussion based on the posters. Each student parcticipates in the discussion and shares their observations of what scientists learn from ice cores.

Students write a self-evaluation page/s in their scientific journal including a list of their learnings. Students submit this journal with their self-evaluation and their poster to the teacher for final evaluation.

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