Science with Polar Express

Holiday Train Investigation

My students are officially on winter break and I am one teacher workday away!  December is always full of fun and insanity and Polar Express is one of my all time favorite books, so I knew I had to come up with some fun science extensions to keep my kiddos engaged.

Let me just tell you we had an awesome time with these science labs that we loved with Polar Express, but that would be just as fun all winter!

First up…frozen hot chocolate!

This one is super simple: Which will freeze first: hot chocolate, “cold chocolate” or water?

before freezing hot chocolate

I used a 6 cup muffin tin, so we decided to see if marshmallows changed the way our liquids froze.

Well…we put our liquids in the freezer and then got super involved in the train activities and waited too long to revisit them.

frozen hot chocolate results

Teacher fail: everything was frozen.  BUT the hot chocolate should actually freeze first – who would have thought?

hot chocolate results

Oh, well.  I’m putting it out there and owning my failed experiment.  Plus, I have a better plan in place for next time!  I would suggest doing the train activity in the same area as your freezer so you can check on your hot chocolate frequently and put your ice ramps back in the freezer while you work on the STEM extension.  My room is on the other side of the building so we went back to the room…which lead to over freezing and under freezing the ice ramps.

NOW for the REAL fun!

We tested trains on two different ramps: ice ramp and “tracks” (the cookie sheets I used to freeze the ice ramps) to see which train went fastest and which train went furthest.

This one takes a little (super easy!) prep…You will need to freeze the ice ramp the night before your investigation.  It worked best for me to put a cookie sheet in the freezer, then pour the water in to fill the sheet.

freezing train tracks

Make two ice sheets so you can make a ramp and a road at the bottom.

train track set up

I set my ramps up on laundry baskets, but you could use anything to prop them up!

holiday train hypothesisThe kids made their hypotheses and we tested to find results!

train race

I had one kiddo hold each train at the top of the ramp and simply let them go.  I wish you could see the expressions on their faces – priceless!

ice trains

We tested three times to make sure the results were consistent.  (Now would be the time to put your ice ramps back in the freezer while you’re kids record their results)

holiday train results polar express train results







The ice train got out of control (“controller” according to a bunch of my kiddos) each time, so even though it went faster it didn’t go nearly as far.

Next, we did a STEM type extension, which was even more fun!

Holiday train STEM supplies

I put out a hodge-podge of things and asked the kiddos to come up with a plan to help the train slow down.

They almost all wanted to try glue.  “It makes things sticky, so it should work!”

Holiday train STEM test

We now know that white glue will run straight off a ramp made of ice.  It also does not slow the train down at all.  It just makes the train covered in glue at the bottom.

Their next plan involved wrapping the ice in yarn, then pouring oil over it.  I have no idea why they thought the vegetable oil would work.  One kiddo finally spoke up and announced, “It’s not going to work!  Oil is only going to make the ice more slippery-er!”  No one changed their mind, they still wanted to try it.

STEM test

In the process of the yarn wrap, our ice got broken (hence, my suggestion that you put the ice back in the freezer between each step)!

Since our ice was broken, we abandoned our plan to test more solutions and I showed them what happened if we put salt on the ice.  Then we talked about how the bumps from the salt create friction to slow down the train.

Honestly, this was such a fun afternoon!  My kiddos were completely engaged and working like champs!

You can see my lab booklet by clicking here.

Holiday Train Investigation

Happy holidays!




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