China's Ice Festival: STEAM in ice.
Tips and Tricks

Ice Festival in China Engineers STEM Philosophies

The world’s largest ice festival brings engineering students together to design, create and architect.

The Harbin International Ice Show Sculpture Festival is without a doubt the most famous international show of its kind. Around 10-15 million visitors come to experience this renowned ice and snow sculpture expo at the start of the year, where student engineers and workers are challenged with their chisels, pickers, and lasers to sculpt glowing masterpieces from ice. Many of these intricate carvings derivate from successful American-bred STEM concepts and are direct result of engineering fundamentals influenced by concepts borne right here on U.S. soil.

The two-month winter event, also known as “Ice City” in part due to temperatures that dip as low as -13 Fahrenheit, features a snow sculpture competition for college students organized by both the festival committee and Harbin Engineering University, located in China’s northernmost major city. The contest, open to college students internationally, aims to broaden the influence of ice and snow culture and to inspire creativity among students. Sculptures are evaluated on theme, innovation, design, skills and performance, and artistic expression.

Regarded as one of the top ten global universities for engineering and marine projects, HEU specializes in shipping, ocean exploration and nuclear application. Yet during this yearly exhibit, students can show off their STEM/STEAM skills through the use of architecture, design, art, and engineering. HEU is becoming one of China’s premier comprehensive international universities.

Traveling to China not in your future? Not to worry. You can bring a little bit of Harbin to your classroom online, and give your students the opportunity for learning extensions with science, math, chemistry, and engineering. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Create your own ice sculpture – Add sand and food coloring to an assortment of balloons and fill them with water. Freeze the water balloons outside. The sand acts as freezing nuclei for the water in the balloon. When frozen, peel the balloons off the ice. STEMists will see individual patterned balloons created by trapped air bubbles.
  • Ice Art – Experiment with water and food coloring to test color theories or layer the ice in colors.
  • Good old-fashioned snow – Let your students build a small snowman on a plate and use math manipulatives for measuring as it melts.
  • Make ice grow – Discuss changes in matter by freezing several unopened water bottles for almost 3 hours, and then pour water over a cup full of ice. Watch the ice grow and discuss its changing properties.
  • Snowstorm in a jar – Fill a jar with ¾ with baby oil. Mix equal parts warm water and white paint and pour into the jar. Sprinkle in glitter and let it settle. Add pieces of Alka Seltzer and watch the snowstorm.
  • Rescue the toy – Freeze 3 of your favorite small toys in separate plastic cups. Create a hypothesis to determine which element will unfreeze the toys the fastest – salt, sugar, or warm water. Graph the results.
  • Baking Soda Volcano – Grab snow from the outdoors and put into an empty water bottle. Add 2 spoons baking soda with 1 spoon dish soap and a few drops of red food coloring. Add vinegar and watch the acid and alkali react.
  • Lab Book – Have students maintain their own lab journal so they can record their thinking and research processes with each experiment. This keeps students engaged and builds upon their knowledge.

The opportunities to bridge our natural world with classroom sciences are abundant. STEM/STEAM/STREAM (to include reading and writing) shapes our everyday experiences and stretches students to acquire the essential interdisciplinary pedagogies of 21st century learning. Open your students’ eyes with new pathways to implement project-based learning, and if it includes exploring various cultures around the world in the process, then it’s a bonus.

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