Now that the north half of our planet has started winter, it’s time to think about snow, even if you haven’t seen any yet. You’ve probably heard that all snowflakes have 6 equal sides, and that no 2 snowflakes look the same. Is that all true? Well, almost. Most snowflakes do have 6 sides, but they can also be triangles depending on the weather when they form: the temperature of the clouds, the humidity (moistness in the air), and the height from which the flakes fall. As for whether they’re all different, every flake contains about 10 quintillion water molecules (that’s 10x10x10x10…up to 19 tens) that can line up differently every time. So while two snowflakes out there could look the same, we aren’t going to try to find them!
Wee ones: Which flake has fewer sides, a 3-sided flake or a 6-sided one?
Little kids: If it starts snowing at 1 pm tomorrow and snows for 5 hours, does it stop in time for dinner at 7 pm? Bonus: If each of a snowflake’s 6 points splits into 2 little points at the end, how many little points does the snowflake have?
Big kids: If snow is forming in clouds at 25,000 feet, and you’re flying in a plane 10,000 feet above that, how high are you flying? Bonus: Most snowflakes form around a teeny speck of dust, but if the clouds are -31 degrees F or colder, they can form out of pure water. How much colder is that than the temperature outside right now?
Wee ones: The 3-sided one.
Little kids: Yes, since it will stop at 6 pm. Bonus: 12 points.
Big kids: At 35,000 feet. Bonus: Different for everyone…take the temperature outside in Fahrenheit, then add 31.
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.