Raise your hand if that tweet hits a little too close to home.
It’s right before the holidays, and you teach in one of those school districts that does not have a fall break during the full week of Thanksgiving. I’m sorry. Short weeks, especially ones before breaks, are a struggle. Our kids are frequently acting different than normal (or maybe that’s the normal in your class, and again, I apologize) as they balance excitement for days off, visiting relatives, travel anxiety, stress of being away from school, or whatever else your students are feeling.
We’ve all been there. We know these weeks are tough. Getting through your “typical” content is a struggle, and if you tried to do that, you’ll have to reteach it anyway because a handful of your students are already traveling. There’s always a teacher down the hall (or maybe it’s you, it’s all good) who has that Netflix queue ready to go for that last day before break. Perhaps that’s part of the reason families leave for trips early. Are you playing movies because your students aren’t there, or are the families already traveling because their student won’t be missing anything? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good movie day, but could we be more intentional about these days we often dread before a break?
That’s why our last day before Thanksgiving break is STEM Day!
On this day, we legit do STEM related activities the entire time. Sometimes we rotate classes so that every teacher doesn’t have to plan the whole day, and then you can just become really good at instructing one activity… sometimes, we do it all. It just depends on your team and what they want to do.
I’m here to round up a variety of STEM activities that are themed out specifically to be done around Thanksgiving. My hope is to share lessons that are engaging and also rigorous because… let’s be honest. We’ve all seen “STEM” activities that are pretty low level, and I often eye roll at them being considered STEM when we all know the activities either aren’t age level appropriate or are just a last minute, eye catching Instagram post. Sure, just doing something for fun is all good in your classroom, but the intent of these activities before break is to really challenge your students… and also to have you covered for when your administrator does an informal walkthrough an hour before break starts.
First off, make sure you go to the Next Generation Science Standards website and look up the Engineering Design standards for your grade span. Get your freshest, most colorful Expo marker and write those standards and “I Can” statements on your whiteboard to display all day because we all know it’s not a good lesson if you don’t have an “I Can” statement, right?!? Right… but really, just put them up there so when you have an informal walk through or a judgemental colleague walking by, you don’t have to justify what your students are doing. WE know that these are valuable lessons, but just leave that info on the board for anybody who feels the need to question you, the expert.
First off, anytime you’re looking for a STEM activity, you need to go check out the resources from Carly and Adam. These two create amazing lessons and activities, but what I really enjoyed from their resources were the STEM journals that come with most of their resources. These journals clearly layout the expectations as well as the materials needed for students. There are prompts that specifically relate to the engineering process– there activities aren’t just “Here’s the materials, go have fun kids!” Instead, students are describing the problem they’re solving, designing a plan, creating their product, experimenting with it, and improving their design. This planning, implementation, and reflection is a critical component of the engineering process, and that’s what is most often missing from some of those fluffier STEM activities we’ve all seen.
In addition, many of their units have additional writing prompts like persuasive or opinion writing, as well.
Little Bins for Little Hands has a ton of great STEM activities, especially if you live in K-2 land. I specifically love this cranberry activity because I’m #teamfreshcranberries not any of that canned stuff, and my former Kinder Teacher self loved the math connection to creating 2D and 3D shapes. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I feel like in many grade levels the math topic of shapes and geometry gets pushed back to the very end of the year, I’m teaching it in May when everything becomes an afterthought, and I don’t always give it the same focus it deserves. I love the idea of having students document each shape they create through a Seesaw challenge, so that they’re taking pictures of what they’re doing, explaining what characteristics define each shape, and making home-to-school connections.
Take it Next Level
I’m on Pinterest, I scroll through the ‘gram. I’ve seen the Balloons Over Broadway activity plenty of times with the Macy’s Day Parade Balloons. Love it, love the mentor text, love that the kids can connect it to something they can watch on TV a few days later, it’s all good.
Did you see how these teachers took this activity to the next level?!?
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Using @ozobot to have balloons literally parade through the classroom, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this idea! My teacher friends @mrs.brownsinnovativeinclusion & @momac927 came up with this genius idea and you need to swipe and check out the video and pictures from their amazing day! They also used @doinkapps to give the students a virtual experience of being in the @macys day parade! This is the type of classroom event that students will remember forever! Awesome job Sam and Mo! #makelearningfun #iteach #iteachtoo #teachersfollowteachers #igteachers #teacherblogger #iteachfourth #balloonsoverbroadway #novemberactivities #steam #steameducation #steameducationforkids #ozobot #ozobotsintheclassroom #setthestagetoengage @heyhopeking @heywadeking
So, what I’ve learned from STEM Day is… embrace the chaos of teaching those few days before break. Your students will be so engaged that, while I can’t promise you no behavior issues, maybe… just maybe… you’ll love teaching before break. These are my favorite days. These are my students’ favorite days. They literally still talk about them three years later. Make memories with them.