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Science of Ice – Integration Guide (Grades 7-12)

Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games

This document is a companion piece to video titled Science of Ice and is intended as a resource for educators.

Background and Planning Information

About the Video

Science of Ice discusses some of the physical and chemical properties of solid water—ice—and how this substance is produced to optimize performance for a particular ice sport. Ken Golden, a mathematician at the University of Utah, and Todd Porter, the Facility Manager at the Utah Olympic Oval, explain how the structure and thickness of ice, as well as amount of salt and other impurities in it, determine its slipperiness—an important factor for hockey players, skaters, sledders, and curlers alike. How slippery a sheet of ice is depends on its pre-melt, or loosely bound molecules that exist in a quasi- liquid state at the ice surface. Several 2014 Olympic athletes also explain the type of ice they prefer while competing.

0:00 0:14

Series opening

0:15 0:31

Introducing ice as a competitive playing surface

0:32 1:04

Introducing Golden, his research, and the slipperiness of the surface of ice

1:05 2:04

Visualizing the hydrogen bonds and the molecular structure of ice

2:05 2:23

Explaining what pre-melt is and why it is important in ice sports

2:24 2:55

Introducing Porter and the importance of rink ice qualities

2:56 3:25

Explaining the importance of filtration in rink ice qualities

3:26 3:52

Explaining how brine chills the concrete slab over which ice is frozen

3:53 4:02

Relating the thickness of ice affects its hardness

4:03 5:06

Athletes and statistics describing how the temperature of the ice varies

5:07 5:22

Closing credits

Language Support

To aid those with limited English proficiency or others who need help focusing on the video, click the Transcript tab on the side of the video window, then copy and paste the text into a document for student reference.

Promote STEM with Video

Connect to Science

Science concepts described in this video include a discussion of the molecular structure of water both as a liquid and a solid and how these structures differ. Water in any state is a polar molecule with a negative oxygen end and a positive hydrogen end. Molecules in liquid water readily move past one another, allowing the hydrogen ends to easily link with and break apart from one another in the liquid state but not in the solid state. When molecules of liquid water lose energy as temperatures decrease, six-sided, solid crystal lattices that we call ice begin to form. Hydrogen bonding forces water molecules into a latticework that includes more space than would be allowed if they just packed as close as possible, resulting in decreased density.

Pure water is nothing more than molecules, each made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. To prevent pure ice from melting too quickly, Olympic skating, sledding, and hockey ice surfaces are underlain by a brine, or solution of water and salt. The ions in the solution prevent the hydrogen ends of the water molecule from easily forming bonds to become ice, thereby making the freezing point of the solution lower than that of pure water.

Related Science Concepts

(page 1)

  • atoms

  • molecules

  • polarity

  • freezing

  • melting

  • thermal energy

  • specific heat

  • pure substance

  • solutions

Take Action with Students

  • Use the video as a springboard to review or explain how changes in state are the result of the addition or subtraction of thermal energy to or from a system. Have students put some ice cubes into a beaker and measure and record the temperature of the ice. Then instruct them to slowly heat the beaker, recording their observations of the beaker’s contents as well as the temperature of the contents every minute until the ice has completely melted and graph their results. Students will observe that there is still a bit of ice in the beaker at 0oC—its melting point—and that the temperature remains at this point until all of the ice has completely melted. If appropriate, use the results to discuss the concept of specific heat and the specific heat of water.

  • Explain that pure water is nothing more than molecules, each made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Then ask students to predict how they think adding salt to water might affect its freezing point. Have students test their predictions using two plastic beakers each containing 250 mL of water. Instruct students to add about 35 g (2 T) of table salt to one beaker and sitr it until the salt has completely dissolved. Have students put both beakers in the freezer and observe them after several hours. (Smaller containers might allow less time.) Students will see that the beaker of pure water is “more frozen” than the beaker containing the solution of water and table salt. Help students relate their results to the information about how the ice surfaces at the Oval and other ice-sport venues are produced.

  • Emphasize history of science by having students research Linus Pauling, who first proposed the hexagonal structure of ice. Pauling is one of four scientists who have one the Nobel Prize twice, but the only one who received the second award for peace.

Connect to Technology

Replay the video segment from 4:03 to 4:55 and point out that Gold is a figure skater, Celski a short-track speed skater, and Bowe a long- track speed skater. Also show screen shots of the video at 4:11, 4:26, and 4:34 to show close-ups of the blades on a figure skate, a hockey skate, and a speed skate to spark student thinking about the technology involved in developing a blade for a particular skate.

Take Action with Students

  • Using additional references, have students make drawings that compare and contrast the blades on figure skates, speed skates, and hockey skates and relate the different designs to the temperature and thickness of the ice surface on which each skate is used.

(page 2)

  • Replay the introductory segment of the video that includes clips of luge and bobsled events. Have pairs of students research to find out how the blades on the sleds used in these two ice events are the same and different and relate the information to the ice surface on which each event is run, the track for each sport, the number of athletes in the sled, and so on.

Connect to Engineering

The engineering design process involves attaining the best possible solution to a problem within a set of given constraints. As pointed out by Porter, the optimal surface for any ice sport is one that is free of dirt or sediment. Impurities such as these can impede performance by slowing an athlete’s speed by as little a microsecond, which can ultimately cost him or her a coveted medal. While the science might be considered simple, the application is important and very elegant. Note that there are actually two parts to this system; pure ice applied to the surface of a frozen salt solution. Athletes skate only on the pure ice and the properties of this ice influences their performance. However, the properties of the pure ice can be changed by manipulating either or both of the two parts of the system; the pure ice and/or the frozen salt solution.

Take Action with Students

  • Have small groups either describe or design a way to filter out as much sediment as possible from “dirty” water to make it suitable for use for a model professional sporting event. As a class, develop some constraints for the filtering system, such as limiting the number of filtering materials to two, using only materials found in a typical kitchen setting, and removing a certain percentage of sediment from the dirty water. If your students will simply be describing the systems, make some dirty water by combining some fine- and coarse- grained sand and silt in a beaker of water and display it for “inspiration.” If they will actually be designing the filtering systems, provide students with samples of the dirty water, plus a variety of filtering materials such as paper towels, small strainers, cheesecloth, coffee filters, printer paper, tightly woven cotton, and so on. Also try to factor in some time for students to test their systems and to try to improve them by redesigning them.

  • Students might better understand how dirt/sediment can affect an ice sport by actually making model ice venues in shallow plastic storage bins or cookie sheets and mimicking the curling event, which is briefly shown at 0:21. Explain, if needed, that curling involves sending a polished stone over an ice surface toward a target. The path and speed of the stone depends on how the stone is thrown, as well as the ice over which it moves. Players called sweepers use brooms or brushes to alter the ice surface to help control the sliding stone. Students might make two venues—one with clean ice and another with dirty ice that is embedded with fine-grained sand and compare and contrast how an object representing the curling stone—a hockey puck, a CD, or an actual stone with a flat surface—travels over both surfaces and how sweeping the ice affects the model stone’s movement. Details about curling are available in Science Friction: Curling, from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games series by NBC Learn and NSF at

  • Students might explore the thermal conductivity between the two layers of the system and how that can be manipulated for better skating surfaces by placing small containers of water made of different metals, silicone, and various plastics on a cold plate or in a freezer.

(page 3)

Connect to Math

Some of the math concepts presented in the video include how even a one degree difference in the temperature of ice alters the surface enough to make a difference in the solid’s properties as they relate to ice sports. Replay the end of the video that shows Gold, Celski, and Bowe and have students closely observe the graphics on screen as they listen to the narration.

Take Action with Students

  • Have students review their results from the science connection in which they slowly melted ice and recorded their observations and the temperatures of the ice and resulting liquid. Help them understand their observations and results by projecting and discussing the simple phase diagram of water shown on the next page, which shows the preferred physical states of water at different pressures and temperatures. Elicit interpretations from students, such as where sublimation occurs, the transition from solid to liquid, and the actions of water vapor under different pressures.

Ice, Liquid Water, Vapor


  • Have high school students research the 15 different types of ice that form in various temperature-pressure regimes and use a more detailed phase diagram to explain, in words, the conditions under which each of these ices form.

  • Students could graph the temperature of the beaker of melting ice versus time to get a heating curve and show that the temperature remains constant at the melting point.

Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

Integrate Video in Instruction

As Part of the Day

  • Bellringer: Play the video segment from 0:51 to 0:56 without the sound. Tell students that the video is not about penguins or Antarctica, and then ask them to infer what they think this video might be about or how this segment might be illustrative of science concepts and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Allow a few volunteers to share their ideas. Lead students to conclude that the video is about a seemingly simple substance we call ice and how minute differences in the solid can make or break an Olympic athlete’s performance.

  • Compare and Contrast: Replay the video segment from 1:20 to 2:03 without the sound and ask a few volunteers to narrate what is happening at the molecular level as liquid water changes to ice.

  • Explain: Inform students that scientists used to think that ice became slippery as the result of an object exerting pressure on the ice’s surface, causing the very top of it to melt. Use the segment 1:57 to 2:19 to dispel this explanation, making sure students understand that it is the weak bonding of molecules on the surface of a piece of ice that makes the substance slippery.

  • Homework: Ask interested students to research ice one-h (1h), the type that makes up most of the ice on Earth—from snowflakes to glaciers to the ice cubes in their freezers or soft drinks. Have students present their findings as a short slideshow or informational brochure. Alternatively, you might give each of 15 pairs or small groups of students one type of ice to research and share their results with the rest of the class.

As Part of a 5E Lesson Plan

If you use a 5E approach to lesson plans, consider incorporating video in these Es:

  • Explore: Use the SCIENCE Inquiry section of Science of Ice Inquiry Guide to support your lessons properties of water and freezing point depression.

  • Explain: Use the information in the video and students’ results from the ENGINEERING DESIGN Inquiry section of Science of Ice Inquiry Guide to support your lessons on different types of matter, in particular, pure substances and solutions and engineering design.

  • Elaborate: Use the video as a springboard for interested students to find out more about synthetic ice and the advantages and disadvantages of competing on it compared to performing on real ice.

Connect to ... SOCIAL STUDIES

South Pole versus the North Pole Ice

Have interested students research to find out more about the ice in Antarctica, where Dr. Golden conducts research, and compare its properties to the ice found at Earth’s other pole—the North Pole. Suggest students make a table to compare and contrast the ice at Earth’s poles or point out the differences in text boxes on a copy of a world map.

Connect to ... Art

Ice Sculptures

Have students research to find out what is involved in making a sculpture from ice. Some students might be surprised to learn that the basic tools of an ice sculptor include chisels, chain saws, and blowtorches. Suggest that students also find out about a few ice sculpting competitions or competitors and why these events or people attract worldwide attention. If logistics allow, have a few of your students demonstrate how to make a simple sculpture from an ice cube no larger than 10 cm x 10 cm. Note that students should only use small chisels or ice picks, hammers, and candles as their tools and should wear their safety goggles as they work. Students may be surprised to learn that the water used to make the crystal clear ice used in sculptures is boiled (degassed), distilled water. Tap water contains too many gases and it makes typical ice appear cloudy (like ice cubes). Students might freeze boiled water and tap water to confirm.

(page 5)

Connect to ... Technology

The Zamboni®

Interested students might conduct research to find out about the ice-resurfacing machine called the Zamboni® and the person who invented it. Stress that students focus on how the machines “clean” the ice. If an ice rink is nearby, arrange for a field trip so that students can see an ice-resurfacing machine in action. Students could begin their research by watching Science of NHL Hockey: Mass, Volume, & Density, which “stars” the Zamboni®, the particular brand of machine used by the National Hockey League (NHL). The video is available at

Use Video as a Writing Prompt

  • Have students write one or more paragraphs to explain how liquid water becomes ice using these terms: solid, liquid, hydrogen atoms, energy, bond(ing), and crystal lattice. Encourage students to include a labeled drawing or two to accompany their writing.

  • Freeze the video at 2:10 and have students use the image to explain what pre-melt is and how it is crucial to ice sports. They might include this in a scientifically accurate explanation to another person who still thinks that it is the pressure of the skate blade on the ice that allows movement.

Connect Video to Common Core ELA

Encourage inquiry via media research. Student work will vary in complexity and depth depending on grade level, prior knowledge, and creativity. Use prompts liberally to encourage thought and discussion.

Common Core State Standards Connections: ELA/Literacy –

  • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions

  • WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

  • WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

  • WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Facilitate Inquiry through Media Research

Show Science of Ice and encourage students to jot down notes while they watch. Elicit questions or problems from group members and help them determine which might be better explored using print media or online resources. Then, students should brainstorm to form a list of key words and phrases they could use in Internet search engines that might result in resources that will help them answer a question or solve a problem. Review how to safely browse the Web, how to evaluate information on the Internet for accuracy, and how to correctly cite the information found. Suggest students make note of any interesting tangents they find in their research effort for future inquiry. Encourage students with prompts such as the following:

(page 6)

  • Words and phrases associated with our question are....

  • The reliability of our sources was established by....

  • The science and math concepts that underpin a possible solution are....

  • Our research might feed into an engineering design solution such as....

  • To conduct the investigation safely, we will....

Related Internet Resources

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

As students carry out their media research, ensure they record their sources and findings. Students should analyze their findings in order to state one or more claims. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by... I claim... because....

Present and Compare Findings

Encourage students to prepare presentations that outline their inquiry investigations so they can compare findings with others. Students might do a Gallery Walk through the presentations and write peer reviews as would be done on published science and engineering findings. Students might also make comparisons with material they find on the Internet, the information presented in the video, or an expert they chose to interview. Remind students to credit their original sources in their comparisons. Elicit comparisons from students with prompts such as:

  • My findings are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that....

  • My findings are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that....

  • My findings are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that....

Reflect on Learning

Students should reflect on their understanding, thinking about how their ideas have changed or what they know now that they didn’t before. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

  • I claim that my ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of....

  • My ideas changed in the following ways....

  • When thinking about the claims made by the experts, I am confused about....

  • One part of the investigation I am most proud of is... because....

  • Additional questions I have are.....

(page 7)

Inquiry Assessment

Assessment Rubric for Inquiry Investigations


1 point

2 points

3 points

Initial question or problem

Question or problem had had a yes/no answer or too simple of a solution, was off topic, or otherwise was not researchable or testable.

Question or problem was researchable or testable but too broad or not answerable by the chosen investigation.

Question or problem was clearly stated, was researchable or testable, and showed direct relationship to investigation.

References cited

Group incorrectly cited all of the references used in the study.

Group correctly cited some of the references used in the study.

Group correctly cited all of the references used in the study.


No claim was made or the claim had no evidence to support it.

Claim was marginally supported by the group’s research evidence.

Claim was well supported by the group’s research evidence.


Groups neither effectively nor cooperatively presented findings to support their stance.

Groups effectively or cooperatively presented findings to support their stance.

Groups effectively and cooperatively presented findings to support their stance.

Findings comparison

Only a few members of the group constructively argued their stance.

Most members of the group constructively argued their stance.

All members of the group constructively argued their stance.


None of the reflections were related to the initial questions.

Some reflections were related to the initial questions.

All reflections were related to the initial questions.