An All Day Math Inquiry. Is it Possible?

Four days ago my grade 5/6 class and I  began a Snowflake Inquiry. Today we let some (more) snowflake  math drive our learning…

It snowed today! So I began the morning with the following tweet as “food for thought”:

As the kids read the provocation on the SMART Board, they naturally began to discuss, do some rough calculations in the math notebooks and ask questions. The bait was set and the kids took it, hook, line and sinker. What followed was a day long math inquiry.

I had the students start by making a reasonable prediction based on their schema about snowflakes and the world around them…


I was impressed by their reasoning and ability to use their common sense to arrive at estimates ranging from a couple of minutes to 3-4 hours. They considered such variables as wind speed, the mass of the snowflake, the stages of a snowflake and the relative position of clouds from the ground.

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Next, I discussed with my students the information they would require to help solve the question more accurately.screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-11-19-33-pm

They worked in pairs to brainstorm the information they required and I challenged my students to arrive at only two questions that we could Google the answer for.We gathered on the carpet and the kids pitched their questions, while I recorded (many of the students had the same questions). Upon compiling a list of potential questions, I had my students each vote on the two questions they believed they needed the answers to the most.


With “How fast does snow fall?”  being the most popular, we Googled the first question.


The first search result proved helpful, but we continued to read a few more webpages to confirm the information presented to us. Many great incidental math learning opportunities evolved. We reviewed range, what 95% looked like, what mass meant and what surface area was. We also converted feet to meters and someone asked if a foot was one third of a meter, which led to a discussion on fractions

The students proceeded to record their new learning (information) on their sheet of paper. Most had a solid understand that a snowflake travels at an average rate of 1 meter per second to 2 seconds. 

At this point, I thought, to help move our learning forward, I’d pose a simpler question, and so on the back of their paper, the kids added this question: If it was possible, how long would it take for a snowflake to fall from the ceiling to he floor in our classroom? Prove it. The students were able to quickly estimate the height of our ceiling to be 9-10 feet or 3 meters and solved the question. This would create content as we moved toward solving the “bigger” question.

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Now that the kids were ready for the answer to their second question: “How far is a snow cloud from the ground?” This answer wasn’t as easily found. Together we did a lot of Googling, researching and discussing. Our math investigation turned to an mini lesson on different types of clouds and latitudes. After understanding that snow clouds are typically “Nimbostratus” clouds. The following graphics proved helpful:

I had the students arrive at their own conclusions and record their new learning (information). Most came to the conclusion that most snow clouds are 1500-2000m above the earth’s surface. 

After almost two full blocks dedicated to solving our problem (with the exception of a French class, gym and short body break), it was time for lunch. I debated whether I’d continue with our math challenge into the last block. Part of me really wanted to as the class was on a roll, but I was worried about the kids hitting a “math wall”. I decided I’d play it by ear and get a sense of my students after lunch.

They came back in seemingly ready, willing and WANTING to solve their problem. The snow outside was falling, the time seemed right. I let the kids have at it…


I really thought they’d have no problem with the question. Boy was I wrong! As I circulated to listen to their math talk and overlook their calculations some kids were arriving at the conclusion that snow would take 30- 50 seconds to fall 2000 meter to the ground while others thought it might take 4-5 hours! Yikes! I let them struggle… but not a lot of progress. They were hitting a wall. Their math brains were shutting down.

It was time for a little brain break.. and perhaps time to move on. We did 10 minutes of “Calm” mindfulness and during that time I debated my next move. I had the kids gather at the front of the SMART Board and reviewed what we already knew; how fast snow travels very second (1-2 meters) and how high in the sky clouds were found (1000-2000m). We also reviewed that it would take 3-6 seconds for snow to travel from our 3 meter ceiling to the floor.  I asked how long it would take for snow to fall 100 m. The kids thought out loud “100 seconds”… “200 seconds” “That’s 1 minute 40 seconds”, someone said. Light bulbs! Wait time…. “Ya and… 200 seconds equals….” “Hold it Grace”, I said. “Give your classmates time.” Wait time…. more light bulbs. More hands went up. Then I said “If snow falls at a rate of 1 meter a second, it will take 100 seconds or 1 minute 40 seconds. If it falls at a rate of 1 meter per 2 seconds it will take 200 minutes or…..” “3 minutes 20 seconds”, (many) of the kids yelled. 

They were ready to go back to their calculations. “Ok, I think the clouds are 1800 meters in the air, snow travels at 1 meter a second, that’ll take 1800 seconds. I need to divide that by 60 to find out how many minutes that is”. BOOM!  I circulated…”Mr.C, we say it’s 45 minutes” ” We’re going with 55 minutes because 1100 m times 3 seconds equals 3300seconds divide 60 equals 55 minutes!”  SWEET! It was now 3:00, many light bulbs were shining and the kids were DONE!

Is was time to regroup and read them …… “The Snowflake”.

About mrcameron14

I am a Grade 6 teacher of 18 years in Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada. Passionate about sharing with teachers throughout the world. Teaching students how to use technology 4 good and to make a positive difference in the world. Apple Distinguished Educator 2013, SMART Exemplary Educator 2013, Google Educator 2015.
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1 Response to An All Day Math Inquiry. Is it Possible?

  1. Norah says:

    What a wonderful way to engage children in learning about the world around them.


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