Ideas for Christmas themed STEM projects at school.
As the end of the year approaches, Christmas trees are decorated, outdoor light displays are hung, and teachers look for Christmas themed STEM projects. Here are some of our favourite ideas for combining maths, science, technology, engineering and a bit of art in December.
The Christmas light display
We now have prizes for the best street/town/house decked out in Christmas lights…but what about the environmental and economic cost of running all those lights?
Design a light display given constraints of area, cost or other (e.g. must fit a 3mx3mx3m front yard area, with purchase of lights not exceeding $500). Assume a certain number of dark hours per day and calculate how many hours the lights will be on during the month of December. Using an electricity bill as a guide, calculate the cost of running these lights. Compare the usage and cost of different types of lights e.g. LED vs solar powered. Construct your own to-scale model using LEDs and your own circuit wires (either conductive ink pens on paper or alligator wires or insulated wires. Bonus marks for programming the lights to flash in a pattern to Christmas music.
Maths – calculating cost, efficiency, hours, to-scale drawings
Science – electric circuits, energy efficiency, sustainability
Technology – electric circuits, coding programmable lights to music
Engineering – to-scale model construction of yard/house and lights
Art – design of light display (shape, size, models)
Community – collate findings on economic and environmental costs and make recommendations to local council on how to manage light displays in the local area.
The Christmas story
Create an interactive museum gallery exhibition on the history of Christmas.
Using history/geography/HASS or religion as a context, research an aspect of Christmas that has a timeline or map associated with it e.g. the biblical story of Christmas from conception to the visit of the Wise Men; the origins and development of Christmas celebrations from St Nicholas to Santa; different ‘Father Christmas’ characters around the world in different countries.
Create an interactive map or to-scale timeline of the research using QR codes that can be scanned to pop up a video or image, or AR pop-ups (e.g. layar.com or aurasma.com or zap.works) to link the printed timeline/map with digital images/video/audio giving more detail on each date/place.
Maths – to-scale timelines
Technology – video, AR
HASS/RE – history of Christmas celebrations
Community – share displays with a local museum or library and ask them to host/curate/give real feedback on your museum displays.
The Santa Sleigh
It’s just as well Santa has magic, otherwise how else could he make it to all those houses in one night?
Option 1: Calculate the speed Santa’s sleigh must travel to be able to reach every child by dawn of Christmas day. You could calculate this in terms of how many children (and thus how fast each visit must be to fit within 24 hours) or more simply, the distance covered in circumnavigating the globe to fit in this time.
Option 2: Conduct time trials from the front door (or footpath, where ever you think Santa’s sleigh will pull up) to the tree. Conduct 10 time trials and average the time it takes to run from the front door to the tree to conduct a ‘delivery’. Calculate how many ‘deliveries’ can be done in 24 hours and hence the maximum number of children who can receive presents in one day.
Once the calculations have been done, construct a to-scale model of a more aerodynamic sleigh, aimed at reduced air resistance and friction, to help Santa move more quickly and get his deliveries done.
Maths – calculating times, distances, speed, averages
Science – motion, random error reduction and collecting data, friction (air resistance)
Engineering – to-scale model construction of sleigh with aerodynamic properties
Community – engage the services of someone to prototype your new sleigh design as a new float in the next Christmas pageant in your city/town!
The Christmas tree farm
What’s better – a plastic Christmas tree or a live tree?
Call up a local tree farm. Find out the height that they cut trees, and how old these trees would be. From this data calculate the average rate of growth.
Ask the farm what their predicted number of tree sales each year is. From the average rate of growth and number of tree sales, calculate the number of pine trees that must be planted each year to replace what is cut down. Graph it. Conduct a survey to see what features of live trees and plastic trees people value and find attractive. Complete some research and weigh up the sustainability of a live tree against the sustainability of a plastic tree. From all this data, prototype a new tree design (potentially made out of a new sustainable material?!)
Maths – calculating cost, rates, averages, graphing, surveys
Science – sustainability, photosynthesis, tree growth
Engineering – prototyping of tree tree design
Community – interaction with tree farm, surveying people, and potential commericalisation of new tree design/material
A sparkly Christmas
The sounds of Christmas – why does Michael Buble sound so good?
Prototype and construct a light and sound Christmas decoration spectacular that plays carols when a motion sensor (or light or other sensor or just when the circuit is connected e.g. by stepping on it) is activated. Make changes to the sound in terms of pitch and loudness and relate this to the properties of sound waves.
Science – sound waves – amplitude and frequency
Engineering – prototyping of decoration
Technology – electric circuit, sensors and coding of decoration (depending on the activity)
Community – put the decoration in a public place or on your classroom door so everyone can enjoy the music as they walk past!
We’d love to hear from you if you explore A STEMy Christmas in your classes, or if you have other ideas or feedback on how have a STEMy Christmas at school. Merry Christmas!