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The Valentine Box Meets the Common Core

By Genia Connell on January 31, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Is there any more time-honored tradition in an elementary school than handing out valentines to your classmates? Who doesn’t remember the excitement of passing out all those little envelopes, not to mention the painstaking care taken in choosing the perfect Valentine's Day card for each and every classmate? Today, kids still love the tradition of passing out their cards, and I’m more than happy to channel excitement and enthusiasm into a fun and educational project.

By 3rd grade, my students are already valentine veterans. With the help of their teachers, they have made at least three valentine containers to hold cards and candy bestowed upon them by classmates. When they reach my room, however, they discover that their valentine box isn’t going to be done at school: it’s become a fun at-home project that requires math and critical-thinking skills.


Getting Started: The Excitement Builds

About two weeks before Valentine’s Day, I introduce this project to my class, telling them that they will be making a valentine box at home that will be brought to school to hold all of their valentines. My students always get very excited when I tell them that they can be as creative as they like and design their box any way they want, as long as they follow a few simple rules. Of course, with the mention of the word “rules,” the cheers subside while they take in the directions.


The Few Simple Rules: Where Math Comes Into Play

The class listens quietly as I tell them that the box needs to fit certain size requirements. The box must have:

  • a height, width, and depth no greater than 12"
  • an opening that measures no smaller than 5" x 2"
  • a design that allows it to be easily carried — they should not need help with it

Additionally, students are provided with a centimeter grid paper to be used in planning their project. They draw a scaled picture that shows all their measurements for length, width, and height and also lists all the materials they used.

Click the image above to download a blank grid.


The Note: Everything They Need to Know

A comprehensive page of directions goes home with the students, which includes all the information we discussed in our class meeting. We read through the directions together. Discussion invariably starts as soon as the first person sees the word “winners.”

Click the image above to download the customizable direction sheet.


The Motivating Factor: Prizes!

Once students have listened to the project requirements, I tell them awards will be given on the day their box is due for the best box from six different categories:

  • Most Creative

  • Prettiest

  • Neatest Work

  • Coolest Box

  • Most "Valentiney"

  • Best Box Overall

Using chart paper, we discuss what attributes a winning box in each category might have.

Next, I suggest that when they design their box, they may want to have a certain category in mind in which they would like to win. The thought of winning an award is very motivating to my students. However, more important to me, they are setting a goal, then planning and working backwards to develop a model that will meet the criteria we established earlier on the chart paper: definitely a higher-level thinking skill for a 3rd grader. 


I also explain that THEY will be deciding whose box is named the best in each category through a vote. Students are relieved to learn they may vote for themselves. However, they may not vote for anyone, including themselves, more than once. 


The Big Unveil: Valentine's Day!

Excitement pervades the entire room the morning the boxes are due. The children are buzzing with joy as they unwrap their creations for the world to see. My boys and girls are always very complimentary of each other’s boxes — probably because they know how much work goes into them! The number one question of the morning of course is always, When do we vote?


The Vote: Using Reasoning Skills

Each box is given a random number and children get a ballot. They spend a great deal of time circling the tables and considering each box carefully before voting, knowing that they need to provide a reason why they selected each box for that particular category. Requiring students to supply a reason also stops students from voting for their friends "just because."

Click the image above to download a customizable ballot.


The winner of each category receives a certificate that I created in Print Shop and everyone gets a valentine pencil and eraser for their efforts. I only use one certificate, simply changing the category heading and recipient’s name for each.

I have been making these boxes with my class for over ten years, and I am always delighted by how gracious everyone is toward the winners. 


The Follow-Up

Before students pass out their cards, I give each one a rubric, and they pull out rulers and measure their boxes to verify that they have met the project requirements. In 3rd grade we do this together, step-by-step. Older students are more likely to be able to measure independently. Experience has taught me to have students measure after the vote when they have fewer distractions.

Click the image above to download a customizable rubric.

You can extend the project further by having students:

  • Calculate the area of each side
  • Determine the volume/capacity of their box
  • Compile and calculate the total time they took to complete the project
  • Graph the number of votes the winner received in each category using a scaled bar graph
  • Write a persuasive paragraph describing why their box deserves to win ___ category
  • Write a narrative focusing on one small moment experienced during this project

How do you put an educational twist on Valentine's Day or any other upcoming holidays? I would love to hear what other teachers are doing in their classrooms this time of year. 



Comments (57)

I don't normally comment but I wanted to say thank you for sharing this idea. My 11 year old is homeschooled and our math tutor/specialist passed this on to us. What a wonderful way to incorporate measurements, volume, proportions, etc. into the holiday. She is very creative and anytime I can add that to her least favorite subject the better off we both are ;-) She is such a visual learner and there are so many concepts we can integrate into this project.

Hi Liz,

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! You've mentioned everything I like about this project--it's a fun way to incorporate measurement skills in a creative way. I hope your daughter enjoyed making this project! Take care, Genia

Everything has gone to testing, testing, testing. Thank YOU for keeping a time-honored tradition and making educational. Learning needs to be memorable AND FUN!! This makes doing something we HAVE to teach, fun.

Thanks for your comment, Susan. I feel exactly the same way. There are so many was to infuse learning with fun (and vice-versa!)

This is crazy! Everyone seeing this as a positive experience is supporting the Common Core curriculum, which takes away from all classroom fun and turns it in to nothing but testing. Now kids can't even make a Valentines's Box without rules and "competition" that is truly the testing you are trying to cover in your curriculum.

Give these kids a break. Let them be kids and just make a Valentine's box using THEIR imaginations!

We had so much fun with this. The students were so proud and creative. Thank you so much for all the guidance. This was such a hit we will definitely do again next year! I wish I could attach a photo of their beautiful boxes and beaming faces.
With much appreciation,
Robin Robb

Hi Robin,
So glad this was a hit with your class! I always wish we could share photos. I'd love to see yours. My class could hardly wait to bring their boxes in yesterday. They are always so fun to see and this year's were some of the most creative yet. Thanks for reading and take care! Genia

Hi Jackie,

I've been doing this project for about 15 years, long before the advent of the Common Core. This post illustrates how you can still do the fun projects and meet the Common Core--you don't have to give them up. My students are using their imaginations--I'm amazed each year at their clever ideas. The size recommendations (far from testing)requiring measurement skills were originally put into place because the first year I did it, a couple kids brought in boxes nearly as big as they were and a few boxes had slots that were too small to fit a Valentine card through.

Not every project and every idea is for everyone. My class loves this project every year and they have been talking about it excitedly since the directions went home last week. I present it as a fun, creative project and that's exactly what it turns out to be in our room. Take care, Genia

Thank you very much for this! It is comprehensive, challenging, and looks like so much fun! I am sending it home Monday.

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope your class has fun with it! I'd love to hear how it goes! Take care, Genia

This is great! I teach 6th grade and we are reading Touching Spirit Bear. We just finished chapter 9, and there are close to 26 chapters! I took your dittos and reconfigured them to write the character in the book (Cole) who is a very troubled boy, and send him a personalized Valentine. I made a few changes on your rubric and I think they are going to have fun doing this writing project! They will be presenting them orally before Valentine's Day! :)

Hi Beth Ann,

I love how you changed this up! What a great idea for 6th grade. I would love to hear how the presentations went! Take care, Genia

This is a great idea. I can't wait to try it.

This is an excellent idea! I am currently a college student majoring in education and with common core on the rise I think this is a great idea to do in the classroom.

Seriously...some of you people commenting obviously don't teach elementary school. We need to do more to prepare the kids for the real world. In life, there are winners and their are losers...that's LIFE. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.

I love this activity! We always make "receptacles" for Valentines, but sometimes there are kids who don't buy into it so effort is lacking. This way there is something to look forward to besides just passing out and receiving Valentines. I liked the parameters for the boxes. When I presented it, my 4th graders were excited about the project and liked the different "award" categories. I can hardly wait to see what comes in tomorrow!

What is wrong with some of you people commenting? I mean seriously? It is a Valentine's Day project where families and children can work TOGETHER. That is what is missing in our culture today. I remember doing things like this when I was in school and that was only 15 years ago. All the pressures we place on these kids and then we try to take away their fun because we don't want their feelings hurt or their "artistic expression" to be hindered? Seriously? We need to stop coddling these kids and let them experience friendly competition and "losing" in the confines of a friendly, loving classroom.
I think this is an AMAZING project and I can't wait to see what my kids come up with on Thursday!!! I gave them the guidelines on Monday and they are all so excited! Even their parents ;-)

I second your comment! My kids are loving this project - some came into school already, including a ballet slipper-shaped container that LIGHTS UP. They are excited about a holiday math project. Lighten up!

I am excited about this project! Thank you for sharing!! They are all getting very excited about showing off their hard work on Thursday! With our class like a "family", I do not have the worries about letting the classmates vote for categories. They are all excited to see each other shine! I have even thought about creating other categories to give more options! Do you, by any chance, have the certificate? I would love to print those up before Thursday, but I didn't want to reinvent the wheel if you had one. Thanks, again, for sharing this great idea!!

Hi Kristina!

I got excited just reading your message! I am so glad your class is having fun doing this project. My class came back today after a long weekend (due to snow!) and they were all so excited about bringing their boxes in on Thursday too. I agree with your notion of the class as a family. My class knows that we have a very safe and caring classroom community where it is okay to take risks and put yourself out there, so I'm thinking that's why this has never been a problem. I couldn't upload the certificate to this blog because I created it in PrintShop, and it wouldn't upload. If it helps you, I just added it to my class website for you.(www.geniaconnell.com) Go a few stories down on the home page, you can find it there. Hope that helps! Come back and let me know how Thursday goes!

I think that this is a fabulous idea and I'm so happy you shared it. I have been struggling with making sure I'm covering what I need to with the inevitable demands of Common Core and still being sure my students have fun EVERY day! This is a great way to build in measurement, data, and healthy competition. For those people who have negative comments, I have to say take it or leave it. These are people who are brave enough to share their ideas and aren't forcing you to do anything you're uncomfortable with. If you work in a district where you know there isn't much family support than you could still do a project like this in school. As far as competition goes, I complete agree that "everyone being a winner" is not realistic and it's good for kids to learn how to be a good sport, not to win every time, and to appreciate others' differences. Bravo, I will try this project!

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your comment. I agree it can be tricky trying to get everything in to meet the standards, and I definitely agree that learning needs to be fun (and memorable!) EVERY day. The competition is initially what motivates the students and gets them excited, but the end result is everyone loves their own creation and there are accolades all around. The "winners" always get huge rounds of applause from the kids because they are the ones who chose them! If you give this a try in your class, let me know how it goes!

I am SO happy my child does not have this "Common Core" program at her school.

I would use these ideas if they were the only way I could “sneak” in a party on Valentine’s Day. I’m fortunate to work in a state that has not adopted the common core and with a wonderful principal that understands the value in creating community through collaboration, not competition. He reminds us nearly daily that we are the best thing in most of our students’ lives. I try to be worthy. Mostly I was struck with that all the students and families in the blog are able to understand written directions and that all the students actually make something at home and bring it to school. Every year I send home a Valentine’s letter, this year’s in four languages, (Not that it matters all that much. Many students have parents that do not read in any language, although they speak several) with a picture of valentine’s box and a class list of names. Every year 3 or 4 students, out of 30, bring in a box that is fabulous in my eyes, but wouldn’t win any prizes in your class. About 10 students bring in Valentines. Rather than judge the students who have parents that are too poor, working too many jobs, too new to the country to know the tradition, too crack addled or otherwise didn’t get it together for Valentine’s Day, I have all the supplies for box making available and tons of valentines that I bought at 75% off the year before, ready to go. Every year I say, “Oh, my goodness, I left my Valentines on the counter at home. Does anyone else need to stay in for recess to get ready for the party?” I love my students and my job. I would not trade them for anything, but seriously, I might make my box out of Legos this year.

Just curious......What about students who are Jehovah Witnesses? They do not observe any holiday due to religious beliefs. Definitely could not do this in my classroom.

I have no issue with my personal children celebrating Valentine's Day, which seems largely cultural. But I do have an issue with parents needing to pick up their children for "Holiday Parties." As Hindus we do not celebrate "the holidays" of Christmas, Kwanza or Chaunnaka. My children attend those parties because my husband and I want our children to seek the good in all. We sponsor a Diwali party. I feel very sorry for children that are sent home and their teachers do not see how badly that affects children. Now that I know some children are excluded I will endevor to have an alternate activity at my house with my children and their peers during these parties.

The children are never sent home. It is the parents who wish to pick them up. Of course I would love to have them to stay but I respect their parents' decision to pick them up.

We have a wide range of religious beliefs in our school. Some parents pick their children up from school while our Halloween, Holiday and Valentine parties are being held. This project has never presented an issue, and of course I would be sensitive to anyone who did not want to participate due to their beliefs.

Another great posting from your classroom! Love the rubric! Can't wait to try with my class. The rubric allows "tradition and fun" but accountability. The faces of your children say it all. Each of them feels so proud of their product. They all are winners. You can definitely tell it was the children work. One little guy used a roll of tape! The children love Valentine Day as much as Christmas. You can tell you are a teacher who loves their job by the way you present your postings. You cannot please everyone...

Thanks for your comments. I think I enjoy doing this project because my third graders enjoy it so much. The boxes really do look kid-made when they come back, and the kids are super proud of them. Many will excitedly tell me they had help covering the box with paper, but after that they did it on their own! You can see in the pictures, most of the decorating consists of glueing (and taping!) things on top. Obviously, this project is not for everyone, but I'm glad you are going to give it a try. I hope your class has fun with it!

I can't wait to try this with my class. They're going to love this project and I can't wait to see all of the creative ideas they come up with! What a great idea to incorporate a little bit of math into a Valentine's Day project. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for commenting.I hope your class enjoys doing this project as much as my classes have over the years! ~G

Do you award prizes to boxes where the finished product is the result of adult hands being involved in the construction process? Or a neatness award? Definitely classroom creativity killers: http://www.goshen.edu/art/ed/creativitykillers.html

You automatically create a large group of losers when utilizing a conceptual framework to judge "winners" in this compulsory homework activity. Designating "best box," or "most creative" alienates children who have poured their creative spirit into the creation of the box. How do you use math to celebrate that which is unique and individual within each and everyone of your students without placing judgement on their efforts?

Hmm, I have to disagree, Clyde. Designing cutesy Valentine boxes is hardly the same as judging serious masterpieces or mathematical efforts - this is about classroom fun, not serious math. The children know that this is a "contest" going into the activity so they are prepared for the competition. And I personally think that children deserve the opportunity to experience competition - and losing - in fun, safe contexts. Of course it's important to teach children to respect everyone's efforts. But it's also important to teach children to lose graciously and not to define their worth through a win or loss. If we bar them from such opportunities, later on they are more likely to be inhibited by competition and not be willing to take risks. If they learn to shrug off a silly "loss" as youngsters, they won't have that fear hovering over them. The "everybody is a winner" phenomena is unrealistic; teaching students to feel like a winner based on intrinsic gratification and pride in one's work IS truly important!

I'm pretty much with Clyde here. If this is supposed to be "about classroom fun, not serious math," then lose the competition, lose the specifics, lose the rubrics, and let it be open-ended.

You want them to not "define their worth through a win or loss" then get rid of the awards at least. The very best way to get kids to no longer buy into intrinsic motivation is to tie rewards and awards to their work. The kids can still learn to respect each other's work without the awards, and they can still learn to take pride in their work without having a certificate to validate it for them; if anything, most kids will have MORE respect for their own work AND want to do more if it's NOT tied to an award. Please consider reading up on Alfie Kohn and the mounds of research he's done and pored through about this topic.

As for the project itself, while on the face of it it looks like lots of fun and a way to validate an art project in "educational" terms, the moment you start to quantify creativity this way, the more you kill the urge to be creative for its own sake. And as a music teacher, I have to say the idea of this is pretty hard to swallow. If I had to resort to this to justify having a Valentine's party, I just wouldn't have the party - or I'd have a much more open-ended project for the kids to make their boxes.

I admire all of the thoughtfulness that went into planning this project for your students - I am going to assign it to my 5th graders on Monday. I am teaching math for the first time this year, and we just started shapes and measurement. I can totally see my class getting excited about this math project - and your other ideas lead to a host of real math and literacy activities for us to do in the classroom on Valentine's Day as opposed to the sugary, crazy parties of days past. Thank you very much for the info and all the great printables!

Thank Jennifer, I hope your 5th graders enjoy it! I agree with you, it definitely helps to have some fun and focused activities on a party day. Genia

What a great project! I know my second graders will love this. Anything we can do to teach measurement, following directions and being creative and meeting the standards is important. Thank you for sharing.

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for your comment. The timing on this works perfectly for us because it reinforces skills from our measurement unit we just finished in math. Truth be told, when I first did this over a decade ago, long before CC, I put in the size limits just so gigantic, unwieldy boxes wouldn't show up! Genia

Time-honored tradition...for a card company created holiday? Really! I'm thrilled to have a new idea to squeeze a little learning out of what i consider to be a marginal holiday anyway. Why NOT kill two birds with one stone? And since when is it a BAD thing to have a family involved with a child's school work? The amount of work put into these boxes will make them something memorable and valued by the child rather than ending up in the trash within a few days! LOVE IT!!

Hi Tammie,

Thanks for commenting. The kids really do love their finished boxes. Many of them make a reappearance the next year in the fourth grade, when their teachers ask them to bring in a box for their valentines. I think I began with "time honored tradition" because I created this project based on one I did when I was in the second grade way back in the 70's!!

In our district, we simply don't have time to do activities if they are not tied to a standard. "Tradition and fun" are simply not an option so this gives me a great way to incorporate a little fun and creativity but still be teaching something of value. Thank you for sharing ;-)

Hi Michelle,

Thanks for commenting. I agree, it's been an easy way to incorporate a few math skills into something the kids see as a fun, creative project. They were so excited yesterday when I introduced it! Genia

You really evaluate creativity with a rubric? You actually judge the boxes? It seems a little harsh especially on a holiday that is supposed to be about love and friendship. True creativity can’t be made to mind rules, be graded or “boxed.”

Did you read the article and look at the rubric? The kids fill the rubric out themselves and it has to do more with following directions. I think this sounds like a fun, very kid friendly project. I'm looking forward to doing it with my class!

In my school district we are not allowed to share student pictures on the internet. What state do you live in?

The parents of any children you see have signed releases allowing their photos to be shown.

I have done a similar project for my 5th graders for years. By the time the kids reach this age, Valentine's Day seems a little awkward for them. Having them come up with a really unique box that might earn them a trinket put the "cool factor" back into Valentine's Day! I have had kids come up with robots, remote controlled boxes, a tank...such fun! I even had a kid wear a box around his body, and he was the container! Thanks for sharing the rubric and all of the other work. I never thought about graphing some of the data. That would be fun as well on the Promethean.

Hi Carrie,

Thanks for your comment! Passed this out to my kids today and they were so excited they got to make their own boxes anyway they wanted. I bet your fifth graders come up with some really cool boxes. I wish there was a way to share pictures on here. I'd love to see what your kids come up with! Genia

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