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December 5, 2011 Learning That Blends With the Season By Angela Bunyi
Grades 3–5

    Despite the crazy pace that comes with the season, the show must go on, right? If you find yourself struggling to keep a focus on academics in your class, I have a solution for you. It's a modified twist on the saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." In this case, I would like to share some engaging and challenging activities that take advantage of this time of year. So join in the fun, and read on!


    Film an Educational Movie

    I typically reserve the week of Thanksgiving and the last week of school in December for class filming. We often use a green screen program along with a program called CrazyTalk that allows you to animate anything you'd like using your students' voices.

    Here is our latest video, which was very educational and a lot of fun.



    To learn how you can make a video of your own, see two posts I wrote a few years ago: "Easy Movie Making With a Green Screen" and "Animated Cell Interview: CrazyTalk Program."


    Make a Christmas Factor Tree

    As we started a lesson on how to simplify fractions a few years ago, a student came up with the idea of making a factor tree to give it a holiday twist. I just loved it, and added two more steps to the idea: prime number bulbs and composite number bulbs. Students selected larger two- and three-digit numbers and made a fun "factor tree" for our hallway display. Too much fun. This picture is from one of my previous classes of 3rd graders.




    Make Holiday "Branches" of Government

    Ask your local Christmas tree farm for some pine branches this year. Our farm directed me to a large box of free branches and even wrapped it up to go. Following our government unit, we made nice, smelly "branches" of government. Here are pictures from a few of my previous classes. To put a literacy twist on it, you could play with root words in a similar fashion.


    Create Christmas Geo-Ornaments

    I attended a fantastic workshop at Confratute one summer on using origami to teach geometry. Below is a photo of one of the pieces I made during that workshop. This exercise can be completed with the help of a parent or in small group rotations during math. This is a great indoor recess activity, as well, because who doesn't want to make a cantellated tetrahedron?

    Check out this site for printable geometric nets, useful for reviewing the edges and faces of basic shapes before beginning.




    Apply Measuring Skills to a Life-Sized Abominable Snowman

    At the same great conference, Kathy Gavin showcased a fabulous unit on measuring that starts with a trip to the Himalayas. Equipped only with an unsharpened pencil, you find a large, unidentified footstep in the snow. You measure the length as two pencils long. Could it be the famous Yeti?

    For the assignment, students are broken up into small groups to use this piece of data to decide how to piece together different portions of the body. For example, my group was in charge of providing the right arm, along with an explanation of how we figured out the length. So much fun! In our session, we had seven groups (head and neck, left arm, right arm, body/torso, right leg, left leg, and feet). I also located a site that provides 360-degree, panoramic views of the Himalayas. 

    Photo: I was blown away by how accurate our groups were with their math work.


    Use Measuring Skills to Make Reindeer Food


    Students really seem to enjoy this activity from DLTK's Growing Together,in which we use measuring cups to create reindeer food. The ingredients include 1/2 c. oatmeal, 1/4 c. sugar, and 2 tbs. food sprinkles. We include a special poem in the mix.


    Teach Series and Parallel Lighting With Christmas Lights

    I discovered this activity by accident some years ago, when I noted that some of the lights on our Christmas tree worked and others didn't (see the photo). It was a good lesson. Find the labels on the boxes, pull them out, and demonstrate the two types of lighting. You can hypothesize which type of lighting is cheaper, too.


    Surprise Your Class With a Hot Cocoa Treat


    Because I lived in Vaxjo, Sweden, for six months, I can't let the holiday season pass without teaching my class about Saint Lucia. 

    For several years I have surprised my class with a warm cup of hot cocoa with candy cane stirrers on their desk in the morning. I purchased two coffee pots a few years ago and use them to make the cocoa. It has always been a huge hit, but it works best if you wait for a cold morning.


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Susan Cheyney