January 14, 2014

Making Icy Roads Safer

Hands-on Investigation and Research Ideas

If you've ever driven on icy roads, you'll know just how treacherous they can be. How do road crews make the roads safer for travel? You may have seen them spraying a solution on the roads prior to a big storm, but what exactly is in that mixture and how does it help? With the extremely cold weather conditions across the country recently, this would be a timely topic for your students to explore.

I grew up in New Hampshire, and I can remember wondering why crews spread salt and sand on the roads. As it turns out, the salt lowered the freezing point of water which kept it from freezing at 32 degrees, and the sand made the roads less slippery providing traction for the vehicles.

If you live where roads are often covered with ice in the winter, I'll bet your students would enjoy a hands-on investigation to explore why road crews spread salt and sand before a storm. A few years ago I created a simple experiment to explore these concepts. The Icy Road Investigation involves placing ice cubes in zippered plastic bags with sand and salt so students can observe the effects of those two substances on the melting ice. You can easily set this up on your own, but if you want to save time, you can purchase the activity in my January Activities Mini Pack. It includes teacher directions and a 3-page lab report for students. You can preview the entire packet online to see if it's something that would be helpful. This science activity is at the end of the packet.

Investigating Other Solutions
Recently scientists have been exploring other options that are not only environmentally safe - they actually save money. A few days ago I read an article with information about various solutions that seem to work even better than salt water. Would you be believe some states are using substances like cheese brine and a solution made from beets? 

I wonder what other solutions might work to make roads safer in winter? A fun follow up to the Icy Roads Investigation above would be to have students repeat the Icy Road Investigation using a different solution to see how the new substance affects the results.

Know-Wonder-Learned Chart Freebie
You could also turn the topic of "Making Icy Roads Safer" into a research project and use a KWL chart to guide students through the process. Give each student a copy of the printable shown here and display a copy for the class. Together, write what you know from your investigation in the Know column. Then ask students to complete the Wonder column by brainstorming questions they have about how roads can be made safer including questions about various innovative solutions. Provide time for them to research the topic, take notes, and complete the Learned column. Wrap up the lesson by having students share what they learned with the class. You can download this free chart by clicking on the image above.

Even if you don't live where winter weather is a problem, your students have seen enough movies to know that snow and ice on the roads create dangerous driving conditions. Exploring how roads can be made safer is a timely science topic, and your student are sure to enjoy this hands-on activity and research project.

1 comment:

  1. We just 11 inches of fresh powder last night mixed with freezing rain. Without a doubt, a smorgasbord of powder!


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