Avalanche! provides ideas for a STEM club for up to half a term.
This would be a great project for a STEM club wanting to combine maths and science in a fun and creative way. It would also be a great project for students who want to gain a CREST award.
This project covers all the STEM areas, without needing to be specifically categorised as science or maths or engineering. This should help students to integrate what they learn in lessons as they investigate the topic.
This project starts with a basic experiment, using whatever materials are available to pour through a funnel to make a heap. Sooner or later there will be an avalanche. Will it be a small, medium or large event? Students collect data to help them make predictions about when avalanches will occur, and what the severity is likely to be. The experiment can be extended in a variety of ways, helping students to think about what conditions are likely to make avalanches more or less likely, and how they might be prevented, or at least how damage might be minimised.
This whole project is intended to be group activity. Depending on how many people there are in your club, you could divide students into smaller groups, or all work together. One possibility is to start off as a whole group, then let students work in smaller groups on particular questions they want to investigate further.
Student worksheets can be printed out for each phase of the project:
It is important that students record their data carefully, as well as enjoying the experiment and looking for avalanches, if they are to get behind the phenomena to find the science and the maths. But this is also about having fun in discovering maths and science!
After the basic experiments have been completed, and students have drawn graphs of their data, it would be good for groups to report on what they have discovered to each other, if they have been in smaller groups. This will ensure that everyone hears all the ideas that are emerging, and will help them to think about how they might take their investigation forward.
Read: engineering is an article in which an engineer, Dr Ian Johnston, of the Open University, talks about the importance of mathematical models, and how simple experiments can be used to explore real-life events like avalanches. He also talks about the experiment to model an avalanche using a funnel and suitable material, and two other ways of modelling avalanches using simple experiments.
Avalanche researcher is an interview with Dr McElwaine, about his career as a mathematician and why he researches avalanches.