The holidays and cold, snowy weather are here, and planning festive activities can help keep students motivated. This is especially true with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities. I talked to engineers, scientists, and teachers and compiled a list of fun and educational projects that will engage and motivate your students—even in the dead of winter.
Further reading: How to Use STEM Teaching Tools
Free Tom Brady
The NFL weathered a controversy a few years ago regarding footballs that deflated in cold weather. Students can set the record straight with their own experiment, which will prove whether footballs—like tires—are affected when temperatures drop.
Have your students start out by measuring and then recording the pounds per square inch (PSI) of a football using a hand pump with a gauge. Once they have the weight, place the football into a cold environment—at least freezing or below. (If your school is located in a cold-weather climate, you can leave the football outside, and if you live in a warm climate, get permission to use your cafeteria freezers.)
After students retrieve the football from the cold environment, students should once again measure the PSI and compare it to the weight of the football before it was left in the cold. An experiment like this can vindicate my good friend Tom Brady, and students can examine why tire pressure goes down in the winter and what that means for gas mileage and the environment.
Why not find the positive in cold temperatures and icy conditions, and turn them into a learning experience for your students? For instance, you can teach your class about thermal expansion by having your class observe cracks in concrete or asphalt near your school. Students will learn that water expands when it freezes, and you can have them research why this happens.
At the beginning of the season, have your students head outside to look for cracks in the parking lot or driveway of your school. Then have them take photos of the cracks they find and get an approximate measurement of the largest width. After they record their initial data, have them examine the cracks and take photos throughout the season. Make sure they observe the cracks after it snows or when there's ice on the ground.
At the end of winter, have students remeasure the largest widths and share their results. Was there a difference in the size of the cracks over the season? If the crack grew a noticeable amount, ask students why this happened. If the crack didn't grow, ask students to evaluate how cold and icy the winter season was.
Overall, this will help your students learn how important weather is to the upkeep of infrastructure in our country, and it might get some interested in a career as a transportation engineer!
Frosty's Days Are Numbered
Even in third grade, students in Jayne Bonito's class have learned the process of scientific observation. Ms. Bonito freezes three water-filled balloons (preferably overnight)—large, medium, and small—to create a snowman.
After the balls freeze, she peels the balloon off and uses a bit of salt to help the balls adhere to form a snowman. Her students make eyes and a mouth from felt, using a pinch of salt to help them stick to the snowman's face. Next, students fill out their observation sheets about what the snowman looked like at the beginning of the experiment and make predictions about what he'll look like after two hours, four hours, and the next morning.
Over the course of the week, the students move the snowman around to the heater and to the window to see if that speeds up evaporation. The students learn to observe and understand that water changes states of matter from solid to liquid, and then to gas when exposed to various levels of heat.
Happy New Year!
My former colleague Eben Bein now works to train and empower youth to advocate for effective climate policy. He suggested a winter STEM lesson that enables students to make what he describes as a "New Year's resolution for a better planet." A perfect way to do this is to have your students complete a carbon footprint calculator to examine their personal environmental impact. A calculator looks at a variety of factors such as how you warm and cool your home, or how much water you use. This can give your students an idea of what they need to change.
These STEM projects are a great way to motivate stu
dents at a time when they can be easily distracted
On winter days, teachers in cold-weather climates can use their own schoolyards as a laboratory, and those in warmer climes can experience wintry weather through indoor STEM experiments that enable students to learn and have fun!