Bring some holiday spirit to your classroom with these fun tech lessons!
Google’s Santa Tracker
Google’s Santa Tracker has a game for every day till Christmas. Students can choose the clothing colors for Santa’s elves, share a texting conversation between Santa and his reindeer, prepare and send a phone message from Santa to a friend, play games of skill, and explore Santa’s village. On Christmas Eve, Santa will unveil the dashboard of Santa’s sleigh.
This is a super fun center for your classroom computer, and it gives practice with basic keyboard and mouse use. Most activities do not require reading, and there are no Santa spoilers, so you can enjoy this with kids of all ages. Santa lets “big kids” create mp3 greetings for friends, and offers a nice collection of things to celebrate, from la Navidad and Kwanzaa to Winter and the Season.
On the way to the solstice (that’s a holiday, too!), track seasonal changes with Journey North. There are ideas and activities that won’t require every student to have a computer, which is nice if you don’t have the ideal level of access, but students can still see how data can be collected, organized, and shared through the use of modern technology. You can communicate with other observers of seasonal signs, add information to the sum of knowledge, and use live cams to observe a number of different animals.
Joining the Citizen Scientists who support Journey North, whether you make a class project of it with a Seasonal Showcase or just set up a computer center and let kids explore on their own, can provide deeper understanding of the seasons as well as real world opportunities to use technology for science.
Interactive Reindeer Orchestra
Care2′s Reindeer Orchestra is pretty silly, but it offers some intensive keyboard and mouse practice, number recognition, and a bit of musical fun, too. Set it up as a center at your classroom computer. Challenge students to make their own tunes. Have students write them out on paper as a series of numbers and leave them for others to play.
If you teach music, let students use the reindeer with sheet music. Ask them which key works best!
With December here, you’ll have to change your calendar. And that means that you might as well change the bulletin boards. And that means that it is time to decide: do you have Christmas in the classroom or not?
In our state, Thanksgiving is in the frameworks, so there’s no suspense there. But Christmas is, like Hallowe’en, controversial. Some schools ban all lessons on all holidays (excepting, presumably, those required by the state frameworks), on the grounds that it is impossible to be evenhanded with holidays, observing all of them equally, even if we arbitrarily limit the holidays we cover to those that we believe are celebrated in our particular community. We’re probably wrong when we make that guess, by the way.
There are also many adults, some of them teachers, who have happy childhood memories of classroom holiday celebrations, who feel that we are robbing our students of some wonderful classroom experiences when we don’t honor holidays. And there are those who feel that we are being intellectually dishonest if we skip over Christmas, when it is so widely celebrated in the United States. There are also those who feel that, if we are going to include Christmas in our classrooms, it is essential that we do so in a particular way — usually either with or without its religious significance, again for a variety of reasons.
In short, it is practically impossible not to offend someone at this time of year.
There are several possible approaches:
- Acknowledge that Christmas is widely celebrated here, that the children know about it and are interested, either as part of their own cultural experience or as something interesting about another culture, and decorate with Christmas symbols. Secular Christmas symbols, generally, if you are at a public school. If you go this route, there are lots of ready-made choices, from Santa Claus to Christmas trees and more. We’ll be bringing you ideas for this approach, and lesson plans for some of our favorite holiday books, too.
- Present Christmas as one among many winter holidays that people celebrate. This has the potential to give kids the impression that, say, Chanukah is “the Jewish Christmas” or Diwali is “the Indian Christmas,” and in general turn diversity into a badly understood mishmash. Carefully done, it can be a great study, but it does have the potential to offend people of many different faiths. As Ethan Stanislawski puts it, “Are we really being egalitarian if we rank the importance of holidays of other religions by their proximity to Christmas?” One solution here is to study multicultural holidays, recognizing the important holidays of various faiths and cultures, regardless of when they are celebrated. TCR’s Multicultural Holidays and The Festive Teacher: Multicultural Activities for Your Curriculum take this approach. So does our Holiday Traditions Lesson Plan.
- Decide that, since you personally celebrate Christmas or do not celebrate Christmas, you will decorate your classroom as you do your home, giving students an opportunity to learn about your customs. This has potential to offend, but you have an answer if anyone brings it up.
- Learn about the ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world, thus offering a sense of diversity without implying that other holidays are variants on Christmas. TCR’s Celebrate Christmas Around the World does a good job of this. We’ll be presenting some fun ideas for this option from our “Christmas Around the World” workshop over the next few weeks.
- Recognize that children, whether they observe Christmas as a secular or as a religious holiday or not at all, are bombarded with holiday messages outside the classroom at this time of year, and decide that they don’t need more in the classroom. Ignore Christmas, and go with something seasonal yet unrelated, like mittens or winter sports or earthquakes (the great New Madrid quakes began in December, you know) or snowmen. It is hard to see how anyone could reasonably be offended by this approach, and we will be bringing you a variety of these options during December.
There are many decoratives nowadays that allow you some flexibility. The Home and Holiday Hearth from Teacher’s Friend lets you focus on general winter topics by putting the clock or the books on the mantelpiece and treating it as a winter scene. One day, you might add stockings and talk about Christmas, or the menorah and talk about Chanukah. In due season, you can switch to the Kwanza symbols, confident that you are making the point that different cultural groups have different celebrations, and that quite a few of them take place in the winter, when it is nice to be at home with your family anyway.
Another flexible option is to go with something which is strongly enough associated with Christmas that students who celebrate that holiday will enjoy it as part of their holiday celebration, without being so strongly associated with the holiday as to make those who do not celebrate it feel left out.
One of these possibilities would be gingerbread. Gingerbread houses are traditional for Christmas, but also work well as a theme on their own.
Check out our lesson plans for “The Gingerbread Boy.”
Other themes that work well for this option are bells, stars, reindeer, and candy.
Those of you teaching at home, in parochial schools, or in churches and other places of worship don’t have this problem. The rest of us can contemplate our choices for the next couple of days.
Embrace geek chic with a Doctor Who classroom theme!
The Doctor is an alien being in a popular BBC TV show, the last of the Time Lords, who goes traveling through time and space in his Time and Relative Dimension in Space (tardis for short). As you can imagine, this is an adventuresome theme, with lots of teachable moments for science and history. The new series also contains plenty of scenes involving decision-making by a young person:
- Should she do something risky or stick with what’s safe?
- Should she continue on a path toward a future that seems empty, or do something more daring?
- What are her responsibilities toward her family and friends?
Many episodes center on a mystery, and they often also include philosophical, moral, and ethical issues ranging from who should be saved when there seem to be no win-win options to what it means to be human to what happens when one entity controls all media.
Make your classroom into the tardis — or at least make your door look like the door of the Tardis:
You can create a timer with the Doctor Who theme and use it to start the morning, or as a transitional signal. The timer aspect means that you can set it to play for a certain number of seconds, either as an actual countdown or as a signal or just for background music.
There are plenty of video clips available online, and the full episodes are readily available on Netflix, at Amazon as streaming video and as DVDs, and probably in your local stores as well. Dr. Who is sometimes scary and often violent. There is no rough language, though, nor sexual innuendo. We wouldn’t show it to small children, but we’d be comfortable with it in middle school or high school. Read about the legal issues in our post on using video in the classroom, and then consider using some of the show in your lessons.
We like the idea of starting each day with a clip and discussing it just as we’d discuss a scene from a book. Pick a clip, plan a few questions, show the clip, and have some philosophical discussion. Here’s an example, using the first episode of the new series:
The episode “Rose” is shown here in a shortened form (about 8 minutes) with little violence. Some of the points we’d discuss for this episode:
- This episode is set largely in London. With the London Olympics coming up, we can look for and list London icons.
- At one point, Rose learns that the Doctor has been seen at numerous historical events, including the sinking of the Titanic and the assassination of President Kennedy. Find the dates for the listed events and add them to classroom timeline. Ask students to name some other events they think the Doctor might have attended.
- This is the point at which we first learn that the Doctor is a time traveler. Is this plausible? Does it sound like fun? Click the link for more teaching ideas on this topic.
- This episode involves what are essentially robots, except that they are powered by “thought control” rather than electricity. Once they no longer receive transmissions from their controller, they are no longer able to move and act. How is that like robots in the real world?
- 19 year old Rose loses a menial job in this episode, and sees no future for herself beyond another menial job. Is she being realistic about the opportunities available to her in her life? What opportunities do your students see for themselves?
- Rose initially refuses to go with the Doctor because of her responsibility to her mother, a single mom, and to her boyfriend, whom she sees as rather helpless. When the Doctor comes back and says the tardis travels through time as well as space, she changes her mind and joins him. Is she abandoning her responsibilities when she does so?
- After a couple more episodes, it occurs to Rose that she is traveling with a stranger, with no assurances of safety from him or from anything else. Her mother asks for the Doctor’s promise that he can keep Rose safe, and he admits that he can’t. Is Rose stupid for doing this?
Follow up the discussion with a five minute free writing time.
The image of super sleuths tracking down the truth is a great one for learning. This year, it’s easier than usual because Carson-Dellosa has a great ready-made Super Sleuth Collection. The Super Sleuths Bulletin Board Set has large open spaces for writing your own sayings and slogans. Magnifying Glass Cut-Outs are perfect for holding student photos, and there are also Super Sleuths Borders and Incentive Charts with footprint stickers.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, you can go the DIY route with magnifying glasses cut from paper — they’re simple shapes!
- Cut the whole shape once from black or brown paper, and then cut the magnifying glass circle alone from white paper.
- Have students write about themselves on the white circle and put those on the bulletin board, or on individual cards to hang on students’ desks.
- Glue student pictures to the dark magnifying glass shape and attach with a transparent tape hinge so students can lift the magnifying glass to learn more about the student whose picture is shown on the front.
Make it totally easy by pinning up dust jackets from mystery novels.
Some slogans for your detective theme bulletin board:
- Seeking out learning!
- Hot on the trail of math skills
- History Mysteries
- In hot pursuit of better writing
- Clued in to science
- Mrs. Smith’s Super Sleuths!
- Caught being good!
Cut footprints from paper and tape them to the floor — maybe even to the walls! — in a mysterious path.
Use washable ink stamp pads and put fingerprints all over the room. Students can decorate their own desk plates and notebooks in the same way. Introduce them to Ed Emberley’s Complete Funprint Drawing Book for fingerprint and thumbprint art ideas.
Once you have the theme established in your classroom, try out a few appropriate activities:
- Magnifying glasses are obviously great for science exploration. Get a class set of plastic magnifying glasses and have students use them to observe a small section of the classroom minutely for a great descriptive writing exercise. I like this assignment for helping students grasp the importance of narrowing a topic. Have each student write about one square foot of the classroom, one square of linoleum, or another small space. Then read their compositions aloud and see if the other students can identify the location being described.
- Create files for “suspects,” using the methods described for making science trading cards. Glue the cards to the inside of plain manila folders. The suspects can of course be anything on your curriculum list, from people “suspected of being important in our state’s history” to punctuation marks “suspected of helping make sentences clear.”
- Have a Morning Mystery each week. Again, choose subjects that fit your teaching plans. For example, you might have a Mystery Number. On Monday, give a tough clue, like “This number is a multiple of 9, but not an even number.” Have students write down the answer on a slip of paper and hide it in their desks or put their guesses into a jar. Each day, add a clue, till by Friday everyone should have been able to guess. If you gather the slips in a jar, you can then sort out the correct guesses and determine the proportion of correct guesses over the course of the week.
From preschoolers who love to play with toy trucks to high school students discovering all the jobs involved in logistics and freight transport, everyone can learn something from a good less on trucks. Scroll down to find lessons at different grade levels.
Preschool and Kindergarten
Read books about trucks:
Listen to a song about trucks and sing along!
Invite students to bring a toy truck from home to show, or collect toy trucks at garage sales or dime stores. Have students create art with their toy trucks:
- Drive the trucks through shallow trays of paint and then across paper, creating tracks of paint.
- Have each student roll or pat out a thin slab of Model Magic and run trucks across it to create texture. Model Magic can be painted or colored with markers as well.
- Alternatively, make trucks. Milk carton dump trucks are a lot of fun, or just glue simple shapes onto paper — rectangles plus circles for wheels.
Kids come to school with some old-fashioned ideas about trucks! Share this information with your students:
Trucks pick up raw materials, such as rice from a farm or milk from a dairy. They may also pick up things like containers of computer parts arriving by ship — not exactly raw materials, but the needed parts for manufacturing. Different kinds of trucks pick up different things:
A tanker truck carries liquids like gasoline or milk. It’s very important to keep these trucks clean and safe. Tanker trucks have round bodies.
A flatbed truck can carry big things, like containers used to transport things by ship. They have big flat surfaces. It’s important to make sure loads on flatbeds are very secure so they won’t fall off the truck.
A van is the rectangular part of the truck. A truck may have a cab (shown on the flatbed) that attaches to a van, or it may be all in one piece, in which case it’s called a straight truck. Vans are used to carry dry goods, like boxes of cereal, books, or toys.
A truck for bulk hauling, such as carrying rice or other grains, might have a walking floor, as you can see in the video below. This automatic floor can make it easier to load and unload bulk items, or very heavy things that would be hard for people to carry.
Trucks bring raw materials to a factory to be made into new products, or to a warehouse where they’re put into packages. A warehouse is a big building where things are stored, and a manufacturer, factory, or store might have its own warehouse. Often a warehouse is part of what’s called a “fulfillment house,” where raw materials or new products are packaged and sent on to customers or to stores.
People in fulfillment houses use computers to keep track of all the things they need to store, package, and send. Students have probably seen bar codes and scanners in stores. These are the tools warehouse and fulfillment house workers use to make sure all the items in the warehouse get to the right place.
Once the products are all packaged, they’re packed into more trucks — usually vans — to go to stores. The workers use computers to make sure everything goes into the right trucks and to the right stores.
Truck drivers might make short hauls, like driving products from the warehouse to a store in a nearby city, or they might make long hauls across several states. Long haul drivers have beds in the cabs of their trucks, and they take showers and eat at special places called truck stops, where they can rest and get diesel fuel for their trucks. Most truck drivers have computers in their cabs, too, which they can use for communication and entertainment.
When the trucks arrive at the store, workers unpack the truck and put the products onto the shelves. They may use the barcodes on the packages, and they may also put new labels onto the packages. Sometimes a small store will use a different computer system, so the barcodes put on the boxes in the warehouse or on the products by the manufacturers don’t work with their computers. Bigger stores usually use the same system from start to finish.
Printable version of this passage, with comprehension questions, in PDF form
Read and discuss the information, have students complete the comprehension questions, and then ask students to think of other kinds of trucks. This passage was about freight trucks, but students will also think of garbage trucks, fire trucks, dump trucks, and more.
Finish up by having students draw and label a picture that shows the most interesting thing they learned. Create a bulletin board or a class book. Alternatively, have students imagine a world without trucks and write about it.
Discuss the information in the passage above with students:
- Did students realize how much computers are now used in freight transportation? Truckers also often find their jobs by computer, with programs called “load boards.” There are also freight brokers who use computer programs to find the trucks and drivers (also called “carriers”) for customers who need things transported. Then manufacturers or farmers and stores can use computers to track the products between the factory or field and the store. Ask students if they think everyone needs to learn to use a computer now.
- Trucks use huge amounts of fossil fuel to carry goods from one place to another. According to government studies, trucks are responsible for about 20% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. New laws require big trucks to become more fuel efficient by 2018. Challenge students to think of ways that fuel use could be reduced. Possibilities include everything from more efficient truck designs to using things made or grown locally.
- The whole field of freight and getting things from one place to another is called “logistics.” Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook’s page on this field. Have students conduct internet research to find jobs in the field of logistics in your area, and then to find colleges offering training in logistics. As a class or in small groups, compile a list of the jobs in the field, the skills and talents required for this type of work, and the pros and cons of the jobs.
Give students a typical logistics job to plan:
- Have students imagine that they have a shipment of computer parts arriving from China or Japan.
- They’ll arrive first at a dock in Los Angeles, and the class is responsible for getting the components to a computer factory in Cleveland.
- Then the finished computers need to be shipped out to stores. One group of computers will be sent to a fulfillment house in Bentonville, Arkansas for “kitting” — they’ll be packed in special red boxes with some cool accessories for a Back to School promotion at a store in St. Louis.
- The accessories will be going to the fulfillment house from a factory in Toronto and a warehouse in Virginia.
- The red boxes are being made in Ft. Smith.
The class is responsible for getting the special computers in their snazzy boxes to St. Louis in time for the special Back to School promotion. Have students figure out how they’ll do it. They should consider the people they’ll need to hire, the trucks they’ll need, the information they’ll have to keep track of, and the schedule.
You could divide the class into teams and have each team present their plan, or have the class work together. Create flow charts once the plan is finalized.