Looking for a fun Christmas or winter activity that incorporates science, technology, engineering, and/or math? Christmas-Winter STEM / STEAM Challenges are the perfect activities because they engage your students in brain-busting work disguised as fun!
The basic premise:
In partners/small groups, students will design the “iciest” tree possible.
• Using a criteria/constraints list, students will build a tree with branches. They will also create triangular icicles to attach to the branches. Point values are assigned to each triangle based on various criteria (dependent on age group). Students attempt to create the iciest tree possible in the class’s Frosted Forest.
• This challenge can be run simply (focusing on shape creation & manipulation, measurement, and addition), or you can add complexity (focusing on triangle classification by sides and angles, layering icicles, assigning point value based on area, etc.). Two editable criteria/constraints lists are provided to highlight either end of the spectrum.
If it’s out of season, feel free to call it “Triangle Tree” instead! No need to wait until the winter!
Note: This is the printable version. If you are in a 1:1 / paperless classroom, you will want to check out the digital option for use with GOOGLE SLIDES (TM) instead.
If you have questions about which version is right for you, please feel free to leave me a question using the product Q&A below.
NGSS aligned standards, Grades 2 – 8
- Links to my 5-part video series on getting started with STEM challenges
- Materials and timing
- Criteria & Constraints (including modifications to increase difficulty for older students)
- Measuring results
- Universal STEM Challenge Notes & How to Use Student Handouts Post-design extension activities list
- Link to a video walk-through of the challenge
- Criteria & Constraints List (editable; in color and black & white)
- Design Analysis Handouts (editable; 2-page regular spacing and 4-page expanded spacing for primary students included)
- Discussion Questions (editable; in color and B&W)
- Classifying Triangles Practice (Notes/directions are editable; answer key included)
- Process Flow Map
- Math Extension
This is one of five challenges available in the Late Winter STEM Challenge bundle at a ~40% discount!
This resource is also available in the STEM CHALLENGE YEAR-ROUND MEGA-BUNDLE at an even greater discount!
Sample/suggested materials for each student or group:
(Materials you’ll need to do the activity are easily modified.)
– White construction or copy paper (3-8 pages)
• 7 triangle templates are included, or students can create their own triangular icicles in a computer program or by hand.
– Pipe cleaners (5 - 8)
– Craft sticks (5 – 8)
– Straws (5 – 8)
– Small paper cups (4 – 6), cardboard tubes, and/or cardboard scraps
– Scissors (ideal for each student to have his/her own)
– Masking or clear tape (1 roll/group; don’t limit the tape)
– Rulers (ideal for each student to have his/her own)
– Design analysis & data recording handouts
• Protractors (if measuring angles; ideal for each student to have his/her own)
• Folders, Ziploc bags, or large envelopes to contain triangle cutouts if working on multiple days.
• Calculators (for younger students and/or those with special needs to calculate point values)
Benefits of this STEM Design Challenge:
- Focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and application of learning
- Helps students develop growth mindset traits like persistence and resilience
- High levels of student engagement
- The potential to hit upon all NGSS ETS standards depending on the depth and number of iterations you choose to implement in your classroom (modifications included)
- Highly flexible and differentiated for materials, timing, grade levels, and rigor.
Each design iteration should be planned for ~60 min. if you are including data gathering and analysis rather than just building for fun. If you add extension activities, you will need to adjust timing accordingly.
What do teachers have to say about this resource?
“What a great STEAM and math unit! There were SO many places to go with this activity that I was able to use it for more than one grade level. There were wonderful extension ideas as well. This one will be added to my regular rotation with my students!”
“Thank you! I work outside with my students once a week. Those first graders love these challenges. I was able to modify for them! Thank you!”
“Love the integration into math at so many levels. Differentiation!!”
You might also like these resources:
STEM Challenges & Bundles (grades 2 – 8):
Please check out the video preview to see the challenge, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!
Video preview music credit:
"Carefree" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License