Is it cold where you live? If you aren’t sure, you can decide by this scale:

You leave the house without a jacket. Do you

  1. not bother to go back in for one
  2. think about going back in for your jacket, but then decide it isn’t that far to the car so you just go without it
  3. go back for the jacket but don’t bother to zip or button it
  4. go back for the jacket, and zip it up
  5. go back for the jacket, hat, and gloves
  6. go back inside and decide that any errands can be run in the spring time

If you choose a-c, then it isn’t cold (maybe cool, but not cold); d or e and it’s probably pretty chilly; and for f—I’m right there with you!

The next thing you need to realize is that I grew up in Virginia. The biggest snows we saw were while living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here in Pennsylvania, people don’t even go to the store for bread and milk unless they are calling for over a foot of snow. Bearing that in mind, I know Virginia does get snow, and that is what this wintery science experiment is all about.

When it does snow, do you wonder why VDOT or PennDOT does this?


It’s hard to see, but this is a picture of salt on the ground, not snow.

Why in the world does the Department of Transportation dump salt on the roads? Why do businesses put it all over their sidewalks? Don’t they know how terrible this makes your van look? Don’t they realize that when you drive through this, it gets all over the side of your van, and that when the kids walk through the salt, they then track it back on the your dark-colored van interior?

Well, I am here to tell you, they actually have a reason for this. And today, you and the kids can prove it.

Today’s experiment blog post is a little different. Rather than tell you what to do and how it turns out, I am going to tell you what to do, then I want you to tell me how it turns out. After you do the experiment and learn why this works, email me and tell me what you discovered.  In my next post, I will actually do the experiment, but I will also be posting your results, so feel free to include a picture or two.

Results can be sent via message to my Facebook page (, or—if you don’t do Facebook—you can contact me through my blog ( or via Twitter (


Wintery Science Experiment

What good does it do to put salt on the roads?


  • 4 glasses – preferably all the same kind
  • 4 pieces of ice – all the same size
  • Salt
  • Teaspoon
  • Timer of some sort
  • Immiscible thermometer  (optional)


Begin by placing one piece of ice into each glass. Each glass (now containing a piece of ice) will be dealt with as follows:

Glass #1 — Leave this glass and piece of ice alone. This is your control.

Glass #2 — Add 1 teaspoon of salt to this glass, pouring the salt onto the ice cube.

Glass #3 — Remove the ice cube, add 1 teaspoon of salt to this glass, and replace the ice cube.

Glass #4 — This will contain the experimenter’s choice (explained in the next section).

Set your timer for one minute. After one minute has passed, check each piece of ice. Check to see if the ice has started melting yet for glasses 1, 2, and 3. Continue to do this every minute as the ice continues to melt. Be sure to note the time that the ice begins to melt for each glass, and the time when the ice in each glass has completely melted. Optional: If you have a thermometer handy, check the temperature of the water in each glass once it is melted.

Now for Glass #4, the experimenter’s choice (also known as the “we-need-something-to-keep-the-kids-interested-in-this-experiment” glass). This glass can be placed in the sun, blown on, put under a heat lamp, or melted in whatever way your kids can dream up. NOTE: If you are doing this experiment with more than one child, get extra glasses and pieces of ice so they can each have their own.

You can add more excitement by making it a race and seeing who can melt their ice first, or by setting rules (such as, you cannot touch the ice). For the littler ones, offer suggestions (a blow dryer is good, as is setting it by a heater vent).

So—what did you learn? Did the ice with salt under it slide around the glass as much? Did the ice that was on its own melt faster or slower? Which water was colder?

I am looking forward to hearing your results. Now go and have fun with science!


Michelle, a Virginia native, currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. Active in Scouts, area homeschool groups, and with her family, she can be found on her blog, “Homeschooler on the Edge,” as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


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  1. […] you missed Wintry Science – Part 1, feel free to go check it out. In it, I gave you an assignment to figure out what salt does when it comes into contact with ice. […]