Why is the Statue of Liberty Green?


While participating in many conceptual and interactive read alouds, students learned that when the Statue of Liberty was given to America from France it was a reddish-brown color.  However, they observed that many of the pictures showed it as a greenish-blue color and the question was proposed, “Why is the Statue of Liberty green?” Students made their predictions which required some serious critical thinking skills.  All “real” scientists perform experiments to prove or disprove their theory, so with my guidance, we became scientists in social studies  to test our predictions (activity was cross-curricular with reading, writing, science, and social studies).

I scurried out to to the store that night and bought a bottle of vinegar and located 5 pennies that were minted prior to 1984.  Each group received a penny, a bowl, a paper towel, and some vinegar.  Students recorded their predictions as to how long they thought it would take to turn the penny green.  Some responses were: 1 minute, 5 minutes, an hour, 10 hours, 24 hours, until after the weekend, and next year.  Next, it was time to wait, observe, and explain.  The lab took place on a Wednesday afternoon.  On Friday at dismissal, there was still no change.  After the weekend, however, all of the pennies but one were a greenish-blue with a shimmer to them!  We concluded that the penny that didn’t change was too dirty.  If we were to do the lab again, we’d have to have clean pennies to see results.

The Statue of Liberty is coated with a thin layer of copper, which turns a blue-green with age due to chemical reactions between metal and water. This process is known as patination and occurs with most copper when it’s placed outside.  We used vinegar to speed up the process.  The students learned that it took the Statue of Liberty almost 20 years to change colors.

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Students are expected to know the significance of the Statue of Liberty / why it is an important American symbol.  She stands for freedom, friendship, and was the sight of immigration.  They also need to know that it is located on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor which is part of New York City. This is a common TerraNova question.   Students also found it interesting that she has 7 spikes on her crown to stand for the 7 seas and 7 continents.  They enjoyed learning how such a massive statue was shipped across the Ocean (taken apart and put into crates).  Also, we made many connections to the Washington Memorial with how it cost so much money to build the pedestal and they had fund raise to get it!  

Emma’s Poem is one of the many books that students listened to in this unit.  Many of the students have relatives that have immigrated to America and were able to share many heart-felt stories! (book synopsis below)

Linda Glaser provides a gentle introduction to activist Emma Lazarus in her picture book, “Emma’s Poem.”  She introduces to young readers how Lazarus was born into wealth and privilege in the United States.  Coupled with Nivola’s lovely paintings, Glaser clearly conveys how people in Lazarus’s social class were able to read, have parties, collect art, and generally aspire to great things.

Then Glaser shows us how Lazarus begins to develop her social conscience.  When Lazarus begins to meet and talk to recent Jewish immigrants from Europe, she learns just how lucky her life has been and how difficult their lives have been.  Lazarus takes on the task of becoming an advocate for these new immigrants.

Glaser focuses primarily on Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” which was written to help raise funds for the base of the Statue of Liberty.  We get a lovely account of how this poem began to take on a life of its own, recreating our image of the Statue of Liberty as a greeter of all the immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island.

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