Winter is a perfect time to teach lessons about heating and cooling. Even if your students are just learning basic scientific concepts, heating and cooling lessons are a fun way to make science engaging. Try this lesson activity to teach students about Arctic and Antarctic wildlife and and entropy.
- Teach studens basic concepts of heating and cooling by thinking about how energy is transferred from one object to another. Look at photos of animals in cold conditions, such as a polar bear in the Arctic, penguins in the Antarctic, and whales in frozen water. Ask students how these different animals stay warm. Polar bears have hollow fur that insulates them with air. Penguins create a warm layer with downy feathers and thick feathers. Whales (and most animals living in cold climates) have a thick layer of fat called blubber. All these strategies help them keep warmth around their bodies the way a jacket helps students keep a layer of warm air around their bodies.
- Have students look up the average temperatures for different areas where these three animals live and determine the coldest temperatures each animal might experience.
- Ask students which technique they think is the most effective—hollow fur, layers of feathers, or a layer of fat?
- Next, talk about what humans do to keep warm in cold temperatures and ask students for examples of what humans do. Some human techniques for staying warm are using clothing, using a heat source, or creating a wind-breaking structure.
- Tell students that they are going to travel to the Antarctic and need to prepare for the cold temperatures. Divide the class into teams and tell your students the object of the experiment is to keep one team member’s hand warm in a bucket of ice water. Set out supplies for teams to use, including bubble wrap (to represent hollow fur); feathers; shortening (for whale fat); fabrics like cotton, wool, and fleece; and plastic bags. Tell students that they need to keep the team member’s hand dry and at 50 degrees after two minutes of submersion in the ice water. They can use any and all the materials to create an insulating device for their team.
- Students will prepare their insulating contraptions and prepare the team member’s hand for the test. When all teams are ready, place a thermometer in the contraption with the team member’s hand.
- Place the team member’s hand in a bucket of ice water for two minutes and watch the thermometer. After two minutes, check the thermometer and write down the temperature on the board of each team. The team with the highest temperature wins.
- Have the winning team explain how they built their insulation and why they think it worked best.
Students will learn in this activity that different combinations of trapped air, fat, and fabrics work better than others and that insulation prevents the transfer of heat from the team member’s hand to the cold water. They’ll also get a good chance to practice problem solving and experimental design.
Enjoy the season while learning about art history!
Art History with Snowmen
One way to use snowmen in your art lesson plans is to ask students to look at snowmen as famous artists might have and create their own versions of snowmen in the style of a famous artist. This lesson in art history is a good way to help students understand different artists and art styles in art history because the basic shape of a snowman can be the same for everyone—three balls of snow stacked on top of one another with black eyes and a carrot nose, plus sticks for arms. To do this activity, give students art supplies such as different colors of paper, water colors, markers, glue, and scissors.
- Show students four examples of art from different artists with very different techniques. Explain the history of each artist and the technique the artist used to interpret the world around around them, including any terms that the artist helped to define.
- Ask students to pretend to be the famous artists and create a snowman in each style as the artist might have.
- Let students be creative and create their interpretation with whatever tools are available to them in the allotted time.
- After all four snowmen are completed, ask students to choose their favorite and ask some students to explain why they chose to represent the snowman in the way they did.
Some of our favorite artists to include in this exercise include Picasso, Andy Warhol, Paul Cezane, and Henri Rousseau. You can use the following paintings to help students see the differences among these four artists.
Picasso – Three Musicians
Andy Warhol - Marilyn Diptych
Paul Cezane – Boy in Red Waistcoat
Henri Rousseau - Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo
Ask students to look at the different paintings and compare and contrast the differences. How are colors used? What about shadows? How do the artists use perspective? Do artists use thick lines or do lines blend together?
This activity is a fun one for a day after a snow day when students have had fun building snowmen and enjoying the wintery weather.
In the Netherlands, Saint Nicolas comes bearing gifts on December 5th, Sinterklaasavond, or Saint Nicolas’s Eve. December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Saint Nicolas arrives by steamboat from Spain with his helper Zwarte Piet. Saint Nicolas rides a white horse and there is a parade from the dock in Amsterdam to the Palace where Saint Nicolas asks the princes and princesses if they have behaved well through the year. If they’ve been good, the children of the royal family receive presents.
Children all over the Netherlands leave their shoes out the night before Saint Nicolas’s Eve and wake to find that he has left treats for them in exchange for hay or carrots for his horses. In addition to the Saint Nicolas traditions, families also give gifts to one another on Sinterklaasavond but the identity of the gift giver is a secret. The giver tries to surprise the receiver by using rhymes and riddles that often poke fun at the receiver. Small gifts can be wrapped in big boxes and clues might be left around the house for children to follow to find a sack of presents left by Saint Nicolas.
The Netherlands is probably the source of our Santa Claus, since Dutch settlers brought Sinterklaas with them to America. As you study Christmas Around the World, create a chart of gift bringers and their helpers. Some of the information you might choose to capture:
- the name of the gift bringer, such as Santa Claus
- the name of any helpers, such as Santa’s elves
- the animals, such as reindeer, that help or travel with the gift bringer
- where the gift bringer comes from — Santa Claus comes from the North Pole
- the method of transportation used
- whether the gift bringer is male or female
- when the gifts are brought
- where the gifts are placed
- what kids leave for the gift bringer — in the U.S., milk and cookies are often left for Santa
Once you’ve completed the chart, sort all the gift bringers into groups: you’ll find that the most common are some version of Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, but there are many variations.
Christmas itself is a more quiet holiday in the Netherlands, and is known as Kerstfeest. Christmas in the Netherlands mainly revolves around food and family. On Christmas Eve families go to church and return home to a large feast in the early hours of the day, eating traditional Dutch Christmas foods, like kerststol. On Christmas morning, families might go to church again. On Christmas day, families enjoy sitting around the Christmas tree and telling stories to each other or catch up on missed sleep from the night before. December 26th is known as Second Christmas and many families dine out on this day and enjoy large, lavish meals together.
Some traditional Dutch foods include these:
- Kerststol, or Christmas fruit stolen
- Kerstkransjes, or Christmas wreath cookies
- Jan Hagel cookies
- Banketstaaf or banketletters, or almond paste filled pastry logs
- Speculaas, or spice cookies
- Oliebollen, or donuts
- Appelflappen, or apple fritters
Banketletter or letterbanket is the name for a special cookie made in the shape of letters. You can easily find recipes for this treat online, or you can make this simple version:
- Give students small amounts of refrigerated pie crust (the rolled type, not the type in pans) and marzipan (also available in rolls in grocery stores at Christmastime).
- Each student can roll the marzipan into a snake, wrap the pie crust around it, and form the first letter of his or her name. Get help from the kitchen to bake the letterbankets.
- Alternatively, use the Dutch tradition as inspiration for using clay to form letters. If you choose to use Model magic or another self-hardening clay, you can hang the letters on your class Christmas tree.
Twente, a region in east Holland, has another unique tradition for Christmas. Midwinter horns and ox horns are blown at different times, usually on Christmas Eve or every night as a call for residents to attend church after dusk during Advent until the Epiphany in early January. The horns have different sounds created by blowing the horns into wells or by blowing them into the air. Students can learn about how water changes instruments with our Water Drum Lesson Plan. Students can hear the midwinter horn being played here.
Fractals are fun — and they team up perfectly with a study of snow. To do this activity with your students, you first need to explain what a fractal is:
A fractal is a a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. – From Oxford Dictionaries
You can explain this definition to your students by asking them to look at a nearby body of water on a map. It probably looks pretty smooth. Ask them to imagine what the map of the body of water might look like if you only could measure with a yard stick. The edges would not be so smooth.What about a 12-inch ruler? The smaller the measuring tools, the more jagged the map would look. Since all the sides are the same length, this is a fractal.
Ask your students to draw an equilateral triangle on a piece of paper in pencil. Then ask them to divide each side of the triangle in to three equal parts and erase the middle section. Then ask them to draw two lines that are the same distance as the parts removed to create open triangles in the part that was removed. Ask them to do the same thing again. This is called a Koch snowflake.
Ask students what the shape is starting to look like. When they say it looks like a snowflake, share pictures of different snowflakes. You can use this Java applet to show students without asking them to draw the shapes themselves. Ask students to identify snowflakes as fractals or not so they understand what different fractal snowflakes might look like.
Show students different types of snowflakes and discuss whether they are fractals or not. Ask students whether the snowflakes are radially symmetrical or not and whether you can have a non-fractal be symmetrical. Are all fractals symmetrical?
Try these other fun, nerdy winter themed activities:
- Mystery of Christmas Cookies Science Experiment
- “Disaccharide J Tubes” or Candy Cane Experiment
- Chemistry of Cookies video
- Peanut Brittle Science
- Crystal Christmas Tree
- Microscopic Christmas Tree
- “Lather” printing wrapping paper and activity
- Silvered Ornaments Experiment
- Crystal Windows
Have you ever put a full bottle of your favorite beverage into the freezer just to cool it off — and then forgotten it there? If so, you’ve probably ended up with a broken bottle, and maybe a mess. It’s all about the hydrogen bonds. Your elementary students aren’t ready to contemplate hydrogen bonds, but they’ll be interested to learn about the behavior of ice. Activity 1 is good for young students, who can just be amazed. Go on to Activity 2 if your students are ready to think about the behavior of molecules.
Activity 1: Ice Expands
Fill a jar halfway with water and secure a lid on it. Mark the level of the water and ask students if they think it will go up, go down, or stay the same when it’s frozen. Put the jar in the freezer and check it the next day. The line will be lower than the level of ice. Ask students why they think that the level of water went up. Tell students you didn’t add anything to the jar. Nothing changed in the amount of water that was inside the jar so how come the level is higher?
Take another empty jar and put it into a tray. Add water to the jar until the jar overflows. Add a few ice cubes and show students that more water has come out of the jar so the level of the water is at the very top of the jar. As the ice melts, ask your students to look at the level of water in the jar—did it go down? Ask students what this means and why they think it changed.
Activity 2: Molecular Structure
Tell students that water is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms — that’s why H2O is another name for water.
Explain that molecules have positive or negative charges, just like magnets. Use classroom magnets with north and south poles marked to demonstrate how the sides which are the same repel one another, but the sides which are different attract.
Call on three students, one big student and two smaller students who are about the same size, and ask them to help you with the demonstration. Explain to students that the larger student is oxygen and has a double negative charge. Give the larger student a hat with a minus sign written on it and ask the student to wear the hat. Explain that the two smaller students have positive charges and give them each a hat with a positive sign on it.
Ask the oxygen student to hold hands with one hydrogen student and explain that the other hydrogen wants to join oxygen too but doesn’t want to hang out with the hydrogen because they’re alike in charge. Explain that because the hydrogens are small, they’re also similar to a double negative charge. Ask students how they can arrange the three atoms so that all three are as far apart as possible while still holding hands. Students should arrange the three example students into a V-shape. Explain that no matter what form water is in, liquid, solid, or gas, one water molecule will always stay in this shape.
Invite three more students to join in the example and give them each corresponding hats. Next, take the students through the different states of matter, starting with liquid. Tell the molecule students that they are a liquid and are able to move around each other’s groups, getting close to each other but slowly moving around. Remind students they must keep their V-shape. Now tell students you are turning up the heat and they now have more energy because it is warmer. Tell the molecule students that they need to move faster. They might bump into each other, even, because they are moving so quickly. Now tell students you are turning the heat down so it is getting very cold.
Ask the class how the two molecules must now arrange around each other, reminding them that opposite charges attract. Position the molecule students so one hydrogen is close to the other oxygen. Explain that now they are frozen and can only shake in place. Show students that the molecule students now take up a lot of space because of how they need to stand compared to the other temperatures.
Ask molecule students to go back to their seats and ask the group what they learned and compare it to what they saw happen in the first activity. Finish by letting all the students be molecules heating up and then cooling down. Crank up the music and shake off the cobwebs!
- Why Does Water Expand When It Freezes? video
- Why Does Ice Float? TedEd video and lesson (middle school or teacher background)
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.