How to make an avalanche project for elementary students

Written by barbara freeman
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How to make an avalanche project for elementary students
Using everyday materials like sugar and flour, pupils can simulate an avalanche. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

An avalanche modelling project will teach your pupils about avalanches. With this project, they can simulate avalanches on rocky and smooth surfaces. They can form a variety of "snow packs" using different materials, terrains and slope inclinations. The pupils can then observe the avalanches and write about their results.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • 24-by-16-by-1/2-inch white foam board
  • Scissors
  • 16-by-1-inch white foam board strip
  • Glue
  • Sand
  • Small rocks
  • Laboratory ring stand (with ring)
  • String
  • Protractor
  • Large rocks
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Borax powder
  • Potato flakes
  • Epsom salt

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  1. 1

    Position the foam board vertically. Cut a rectangular handle that is 2 inches high and 10 inches wide, centred 1 inch below the top of the foam board. Glue a 16-by-1-inch foam board strip vertically 2 inches below the handle and 2 inches from the left-hand side of the foam board. (First chute divider.)

  2. 2

    Glue another 16-by-1-inch foam board strip vertically 2 inches below the handle and 6 inches from first divider. (Second chute divider.) Glue the last 16-by-1-inch foam board strip vertically 2 inches below the handle and 6 inches from second divider to make the second chute. Glue small rocks and sand to chute 1 to make rough terrain. Chute 2 will be the smooth terrain. Predict in your science journal whether an avalanche is more likely to occur on rocky terrain or smooth terrain.

  3. 3

    Tie the string securely to the handle of the foam board to make the slope inclination mechanism. Lay the foam board in front of the ring stand with the handle side of the board nearest the stand. Drop the string through the ring stand, letting it hang at least 12 inches. Tie a loop at the end of the string.

  4. 4

    Pull the string to increase and decrease the slope of your terrain board. Test your inclination mechanism a few times by moving the string up and down. Tape a protractor to the table or floor and let it lean against the bottom corner of the terrain board.

  5. 5

    Pull the inclination mechanism string up or down to set the angle to at least 35 degrees. Place large rocks behind the terrain board to keep it from moving and changing the slope. Leave the protractor next to the terrain board.

  6. 6

    Choose two to four of the five snow pack materials: flour, sugar, borax, potato flakes and Epsom salt. (The more densely packed the materials, the more stable each layer will be.) Begin to build each snow pack just below the handle. Build each snow pack using the same types of materials, techniques and number of layers so that the rough and smooth terrains will be the main variables tested.

  7. 7

    Increase the angle of the inclination mechanism a little at a time by pulling the string attached to the mechanism slowly downward. Observe the terrain board as you continue to adjust the slope with the inclination mechanism until an avalanche occurs. Watch the avalanche closely to see whether the rocky terrain or smooth terrain had the avalanche first.

  8. 8

    Write in your science journal whether the avalanche occurred in the rocky terrain or smooth terrain first. Write the angle of the board slope for the avalanche. Write the number of layers you had in each of the snow packs and which materials were in each layer. Write in your science journal whether your prediction was correct on the most likely terrain for an avalanche.

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