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Learning with Light & Making Ice Lanterns

Decorate for the holidays while watching science in action!

Fire and ice usually don’t mix, but you can learn a lot by making ice lanterns. Here is how you can have fun while learning and bring some light to the world.

What you’ll need:kids playing

  • Two plastic cups (one large and one small)
  • Small holiday-themed decorations
  • Food coloring
  • Tape (maybe a few coins or washers)
  • Water
  • A freezer or compliant weather
  • Battery-operated tea candles (these won’t melt your lantern, and they’re safer)

What to do

The first thing to do is put some water in the larger cup. Then you’re going to place the smaller cup inside of it and tape it down. You don’t want it to be at the bottom, but as deep as you can get it without water pouring into it. You can add some coins or washers to help keep the small cup down.

The next thing to do is put the decorative bits into the water around the small cup. Beads, ribbons, and glitter will make for fun shapes inside the lantern and cast some cool shadows.

Put in a few drops of food coloring next. If you want more than one color in your lantern, freeze a small amount of water around the smaller cup with one color, then add more water with another color and freeze it. Repeat with as many ice layers and colors as you like.

Once your lantern ice is frozen solid, you can remove both cups. Put a tea candle into hole the smaller cup made and put the lantern outside and light up the night. Or keep it inside, but maybe put it in a bowl so when it melts it doesn’t make a mess.

What you’re learning.

One of the first things you’ll probably notice is the ice pushing up past the rim of the big cup. Water expands when it freezes. This is important because if water didn’t expand when it froze into ice, it would sink. If that happened, lakes would freeze from the bottom up. That would mean anything living in there would die. It might seem dramatic, but it is what allows life on Earth to exist!

You can also learn about density with this project. The different decorations you put into the water will float or sink. Some may stay at a certain level in the lantern. Obviously, if you put in different layers at different times this will not be as obvious as a cup of water with things floating or sinking in it. Maybe a good reason to use different layers.

 
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