STEM for the holidays

As the holiday season approaches, jazz up your end-of-year holiday parties with STEM-themed activities.

As mid-December approaches, every classroom, club and afterschool program is planning some sort of end-of-semester, holiday-themed party. These events often have a few common elements: decorations, food, absurd amounts of candy and some activities. With teachers and staff looking forward to a much-deserved winter break, coming up with fun and engaging party activities with a touch of learning can be a challenge. To make things easier, why not merge the holiday theme with the ever-popular educational tread: STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics)? Here are a few great places to start:

  • Food science holiday baking: There is plenty to learn about chemical reactions from baking—a popular part of many holiday traditions. Baking cookies together can lead to all sorts of discussions on how ingredients work together. Take it a step further by tweaking recipes and seeing how different batches of cookies turn out with different amounts of ingredients. Another option would be testing out replacement ingredients and researching why a banana can replace butter.
  • Tinkering with holiday light tech: Turn those annoying tangled, broken light strings into fun! Ok, so having youth do your holiday chores might be pushing it but replicating the situation can lead to a great activity or relay race. Have teams of two work together to first untangle their strand and then find the dead bulb to get their string to light. Control the power source (like a power strip) to make sure youth are not removing blubs with their strand plugged in. The tech comes in with a discussion of basic wiring and circuits, looking at the difference between series wiring (when one bulb takes out the whole strand) and parallel wiring (when one bulb knocks out clusters of bulbs at time). Make sure everyone races in the same type of strand.
  • Engineering the best ginger bread house: Ginger bread houses are a classic and can be simplified by using graham crackers, frosting, and individual serving milk cartons as props. Bring in some engineering skills by adding a challenge such as who can use the least concrete (frosting) or build the tallest house. For more of a design twist, add challenges around use of candy and other elements.
  • Crystalized snowflake art: Art comes together with science in this project. Simple items like Borax, pipe cleaners and boiling water make a cool crystalized ornament. Creativity can come into play with twists and turns of the pipe cleaner frame while the science of crystallization is a great technical learning lesson.
  • Mathematic snowflakes: Almost every paper snowflake pattern you can find involves some sort of mathematic, geometric concept from symmetry to iterative drawings like the Koch Snowflake. Printing off some for youth to cut out is a great segue into designing their down. It is a true learn-by-doing experience because you don’t know what you have created until it’s unfolded.

Using one of these STEAM ideas (or coming up with your own) is a great way to move from a room of sugar-loaded youth glued to a television, computer or phone screen towards a festive and active end-of-year holiday celebration! As recommended in Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development approach, don’t forget to discuss lessons learned to reinforce concepts and life skills.

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