Snow in Science, Culture, and Climate

PAPER SNOWFLAKES

Overview

This activity reinforces the fact that snow crystals (which we often call snowflakes) have hexagonal (six-sided) symmetry. Students fold round paper and cut out their own six-sided snowflake designs. 

Recommended age/grade range: all ages!

Time required: 20 minutes

Background/reference

Ken Libbrecht – Snowflake Science: A Snowflake Primer –  http://www.snowcrystals.com/science/science.html 

Ken Libbrecht – Types of Snowflakes chart – http://www.snowcrystals.com/guide/snowtypes4.jpg

Ken Libbrecht – Snowflake Photographs – http://www.snowcrystals.com/photos/photos.html 

Ken Libbrecht – Designer Snowflakes – http://www.snowcrystals.com/designer/designer.html 

Materials 

Included in kits unless otherwise noted

● Circular white paper 

● Snow crystal types charts – laminated

● Scissors must be provided by the school

Procedures 

1. Activity set up

Optional: You may choose to cut out a couple of snow crystals to show as examples or help provide ideas.

2. Introduction: Hexagonal symmetry

When we see these crystals falling from the sky, we usually call them snowflakes. Snowflakes can be individual snow crystals, or they can be clumps of snow crystals stuck together.

Snow crystals can be different shapes and sizes, but they all have six sides or arms. (Sometimes when we find them they are broken, so we can’t see all of the arms.)

Look at snow crystal types chart:

Practice finding and counting 6 sides & 6 arms of crystals depicted in the chart.

Introduce or remind students of the concept of symmetry. Because snow crystals have six identical sides/arms and an individual crystal looks the same no matter which side or arm is “up,” we say that snow crystals have hexagonal symmetry. (Show the shape of a hexagon.)

3. Paper snowflake activity

Today we’ll be cutting out our own hexagonally symmetrical snow crystals. 

Has anyone made a paper snowflake before? Let’s first look at some examples found online.

Optional: Look at paper snowflakes online or take a walking field trip to view paper snowflake decorations. Are there some designs that couldn’t actually be found in nature? Which ones? (Paper snowflake crafts are sometimes made with four- or eight-sides. These may be pretty, but snow crystals in nature only have six sides or arms. (Sometimes they can appear to be twelve-sided/twelve-armed when two snow crystals stick together or “aggregate” and then continue to grow as one….but their symmetry is always a multiple of six.) 

Display examples and coach kids through cutting out snow crystals.

Allow students to take their snow crystals home or use them to decorate windows or bulletin boards at school.

For students who want a challenge, show them (or encourage them to find online) photographs of specific snow crystal shapes and challenge them to create a paper snowflake that looks like the example.

Many different examples of photographs of real snow crystals can be found on Ken Libbrecht’s snowcrystals.com website. 

Step 1: use circular piece of paper

Step 2: Fold circle in half

Step 3: fold the halved circle into thirds

Step 4: figure out how you want to cut your snowflake and cut your lines

Step 5: Unfold your snowflake and see what you created!

If you run out of circular paper, see the following instructions for how to make six-sided snowflakes out of 8.5 x 11” paper:

Ken Libbrecht – Making Anatomically Correct Snowflakes: http://www.snowcrystals.com/paper/paper.html 

KarenHC, November 30, 2015. Instructions for making paper snowflakes – an easy tutorial. When Life is Good. http://www.whenlifeisgood.com/instructions-for-making-paper-snowflakes-an-easy-tutorial/ [Retrieved 8/22/2021]

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