Avalanches--Beautiful and Awe Inspiring

Spend a day studying an incredible, natural phenomena with your class.

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avalanche lesson plans

The crisp air of an early, frosty morning is disturbed by the sound of the crunching boots, or the swishing sounds of a skier. The white snow is pristine, and most of nature is asleep under its blanket. Barren trees are decorated with icicles dangling from their otherwise empty branches.  A low rumbling causes one to pause, or the skier to stop and listen. A sound is barely discernible, but one can not escape the feeling that something massive and scary is on its way. One's adrenaline begins to pump at the sight of a wall of white, cascading snow thundering down the mountain. It is an avalanche!

There are numerous ways to incorporate a study of avalanches into classroom curriculum. Students might be interested in identifying areas with the potential for avalanches, and researching why these areas are prone to this type of event. In addition, teachers can conduct experiments with their students to discover what happens during an avalanche, or other types of natural disasters.

Avalanches are triggered by both human and natural causes. Found mostly on mountains, avalanches combine air, water, and snow with sometimes deadly consequences. They are one of the greatest dangers for skiers, hikers and climbers during the winter months. Avalanches are classified by their destructive potential, or mass of downward flowing snow. There are up to seven categories, depending on the observation system or forecast region.

Avalanches are primarily caused by external stress on the snow pack. Natural events, such as precipitation, rock fall, ice fall or any other possible sudden impact can spark a release.  However, the constant intensification of pressure, temperature, and humidity within the snow pack can be enough of a trigger. Humans have accidentally caused avalanches by using a snowmobile in an unstable area.

The American Avalanche Service with the Forest Service National Avalanche Center offers courses on avalanche education.  Avalanche centers are located in key mountain regions.  There are five signs to help one to establish whether he is in a dangerous zone: recent avalanche occurrence, signs of unstable snow, heavy snowfall or rain in the past 24 hours, wind blown snow, and rapidly increasing temperatures. What follows are some avalanche lesson plans that can motivate your students to learn about this fascinating natural phenomena.

Lesson Plans on Avalanches:

Avalanche: In this lesson students investigate unbalanced forces. In conjunction with the lesson, children will get to study John Muir.  Students test the flow of different substances.

Dealing with Disasters: Students study potential natural hazards. This requires the film, “Forces of Nature.”  Children also put together procedures for safety.

I’m Melting: In this lesson students estimate the time it takes for an ice cube to melt completely.  Children make estimates and compare actual data collected.

Discussion Question:

Have you discussed natural disasters with your students after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and the possibility of a tsunami?