5 Festive STEAM Challenges to Celebrate the Holiday Season

Caylie Gaccione
Curriculum Specialist
Blog on December 13 2022

The holiday season is here, and that means there are plenty of festive classroom activities to do! Whether you’re teaching about specific holidays or simply engaging your students in winter-themed crafts and lessons, this time of year is perfect for incorporating thematic STEAM challenges into your classroom. Students of all ages will love to have the opportunity to create, design, explore, and collaborate through STEAM challenges.  Students will be able to work through the engineering design process to design and build their own festive, winter-themed creations. With activities like building a sled for a robot and crafting a flotation device for a penguin, your students will be engaged every step of the way. Keep reading for some activity inspiration!

Benefits of STEAM

We’ve only just begun to explore how beneficial it can be to incorporate STEAM into your instruction. Remember that STEAM can be as simple as using consumable materials to more advanced concepts like 3D printing and robotics. Of course, students of all ages can participate in STEAM-based activities, but it is so powerful to provide them with these opportunities starting at the elementary level. Here’s why:

  • Enhances Creativity: Through STEAM activities, students are using critical thinking and creativity to approach tasks in their own unique way. They can draw, decorate, and create their own winter-themed items. This is the perfect way to get students excited to learn new concepts, all while expressing their creativity.
  • Boosts Confidence:  Students can show off skills that they don’t always get to in day-to-day instruction, which in turn, boosts confidence. Through STEAM activities, students can tap into other interests, such as design and engineering, and feel confident sharing information about these topics. You might even be surprised that your students who are a bit more shy or disengaged are willing to present on these topics.
  • Teaches Problem-Solving Skills: STEAM activities are going to teach students how to tackle new challenges/situations with a variety of methods. For example, as students are designing and building their own snowplow, they will need to go through multiple iterations to ensure that their plows work as intended. This is all part of the learning process! Even if students are feeling frustrated, remind them to slow down and enjoy the process of trial and error.
  • Increases Collaboration: These activities lend themselves really well for students working together so they can share responsibility, take on team roles, and communicate effectively. Students can exchange ideas and learn from one another as they work through STEAM challenges.
  • Boosts Hands-on Learning: Good STEAM education is an active process that requires students to really get involved and learn key 21st century skills. The goal is for students to learn while they are having fun. All of the projects that I am going to highlight are hands-on in nature and allow for organic learning.

To learn more about STEAM education, check out the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. Now that we have an understanding of what STEAM learning is all about, we are ready to take a closer look at some festive challenges.

Create an Igloo:

Task: Design and build an igloo with consumable materials that can hold and/or protect a figurine.

Materials: Any consumable materials – paper, scissors, blocks, pipe cleaners, sticks, glue, tape, cardboard, etc. Use a fan or another testing implement if desired.

Directions: Sketch a plan for your igloo, build your igloo, and make adjustments as needed. Then, share with your peers and test to determine if the igloo is a suitable protective environment for the figurine!

A student example of the finished igloo.
When building their igloos, students can get creative and add their own touches, such as a snowman to inhabit it!

Robot Sledding

Task: Send a STEAM robot on a sledding adventure. Create a sled that will support your robot and move it from one point to another.

Materials: A robot of your choice, consumable materials to design the sled, and a ramp to test the sled. Consider if you will be choosing a robot with or without wheels!

Directions: Determine the robot you will use, design and build your sled, test out the speed and success of your sled, make changes as needed, and share with peers.

An example of the finished robot sled.
After designing their robot sled, students can put their creations to the test and race each other!

Build a Snowman

Task: Determine how tall you can build a snowman tower. Remember to decorate your snowman too!

Materials: Recyclable cups, tape, measuring tape, decorative items

Directions: Create a plan for building the tallest snowman, stack the provided cups to create the tallest tower, test and evaluate as needed, and measure the height of your tower.

An example of the finished snowman tower.
Make it a fun game and see who can create the tallest snowman without it falling down!

Penguin Iceberg Float

Task: Design and build an “iceberg” for your penguin to float on.

Materials: Straws, tape, popsicle sticks, penguin prop, container of water for testing

Directions: Create a plan for your iceberg, build your iceberg using consumable materials, test whether or not the iceberg can hold your penguin while floating on water, make adjustments as needed, and share with peers.

An example of the finished penguin iceberg float.
Along with their floating iceberg design, students can personalize their penguin friend however they like!

Snowflake Creation

Task: Create a snowflake that is as unique as you are!

Materials: Any consumable materials and/or STEM products. For example: cotton swabs, paper, popsicle sticks, straws, LEGO blocks, etc.

Directions: This is a really open-ended activity that students can put their own unique twist on. Add in 3D printed materials or stick with consumable materials to create your snowflake.

An example of a finished snowflake.
Students can get creative with different shapes and cutouts, as no two snowflakes are ever the same!

Other Things to Consider

Hopefully, you are feeling inspired to try out some of these winter STEAM ideas. Remember, every classroom and every student is unique and these activities will look different for everyone! Here are a few other things to consider before you get started:

  • Encourage students to 3D print items for their festive creations (i.e. pieces for the sled or snowflakes).
  • Use online platforms to have students sketch, design, and create (i.e. Google Drawings).
  • Boost creativity by tasking students with bringing in additional consumables and other materials that they already have to enhance their creations!
  • Promote multiple iterations. The main takeaway of these challenges is the learning process.
  • Bring home the fun! Give students incentive to try these challenges out at home during the holiday break or over the weekend.

I hope that you are feeling inspired to bring STEAM challenges into your classroom during this festive time of year! Be sure to check out our accompanying OTIS course, Festive STEAM Challenges for Elementary Classrooms, as well as many other courses in the OTIS Course Library to learn about other pedagogical best practices and resources.

For more tips, tricks, and tools for teaching in and out of the classroom, check out more content on the Teq Talk blog or our YouTube channels OTIS for educators and Tequipment.

We also offer virtual professional development, training, and support with OTIS for educators. Explore the technology and strategies that spark student success — no matter where teaching or learning are happening!

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