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Teaching Science With The December Holidays In Mind

As the calendar turns to December, students (and teachers) invariably start to think about the holidays – both the dates of note on the calendar and the winter holidays that close out the year.

If you’re looking to make it to your winter break without breaking your brain, then consider teaching science resources and lessons that incorporate the holidays that are marked in December.

Whether you want to focus on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, plus other days of significance in December, keep reading for 12 activities to use in middle school science or high school science.

These 12 science lessons focus on aspects related to holidays rather than a specific holiday. Their adaptability and flexibility make them great for reflecting the students in your room but so too in your ability to focus on different curriculum standards within this last month of the year!

Winter Wonderland Science Quest 

  • Embrace the winter weather (even if that means it’s warm where you are!) with an activity to bridge the gap between the enchantment of winter and scientific principles.
  • Collaborate to create a list of winter-specific items.
  • Draft questions to drive curiosity such as scientific names, origins, background information, and so on. This process can also be collaborative. 
  • Provide time to complete research about these items and have students present their findings.
  • Turn it into a quest with this ready-made option that features 32 everyday winter items and encourages students to find scientific connections. A bonus is that this resource will save teachers even more time because it includes an answer key with sample student answers!

Holiday Weather Around the World:

  • Teach students how weather patterns vary across the globe, particularly during the holiday season. 
  • Use real-world examples, such as the snowy climate of the North Pole or Rovaniemi in Lapland Finland (the official hometown of Santa Claus), or the reverse with the warm weather in places like Australia during December.
  • Discuss how these weather patterns relate to Earth’s axial tilt and its impact on different regions.
  • For teachers of Earth and Space Science, this is a great addition to a unit on weather but it can also work for teachers of geography too!

Teaching Science Around Holiday Climate Change:

  • Explore how climate change affects winter weather patterns and discuss the potential consequences for holiday traditions in the future.
  • Build in discussions about the environmental impact of holiday celebrations, including energy consumption, transportation, and waste generation. Encourage students to think about sustainable ways to celebrate.
  • Use an inquiry-based learning approach (read more in this post) so students can guide their own learning about a topic related to climate change and the holidays.
    • What problem can they solve? 
    • What research do they need to complete?
    • What solutions can they brainstorm and propose?

Sustainable Holiday Decorations:

  • Encourage students to design and create eco-friendly holiday decorations. 
  • This project can involve concepts like recycling, renewable materials, and sustainability.
  • Have students research and present on the environmental impact of common holiday decorations.
  • Grab this hands-on resource to unleash your students’ creativity by designing and crafting holiday decorations using eco-friendly and sustainable materials. This activity encourages students to think beyond traditional holiday decor and embrace the beauty of responsible craftsmanship. Plus, the resource includes a detailed rubric, which sets clear expectations for students and eases the grading process for teachers.
This Sustainable Holiday Decorations Activity is the perfect solution to infuse your classroom with the magic of the season while fostering a deep understanding of recycling, renewable materials, and sustainability.

Sustainable Gift Giving:

  • Explore the concept of sustainable and eco-friendly gift options. 
  • Start with a discussion of the environmental impact of different types of gifts and packaging materials. Students can research a gift, its packaging, as well as its manufacturing process.
  • As a next step, encourage students to create a list of sustainable gift ideas for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
  • This lesson fits with the holiday season overall but could be connected to National Regifting Day, which occurs annually on December 15.
    • The concept of regifting is another way to encourage sustainability!

Holiday Energy Efficiency:

  • Discuss the science of energy efficiency and conservation during the holiday season.
  • Examine the cost of powering holiday decorations such as lighting or inflatables that require mini-generators. 
  • Compare the costs of LED lighting versus traditional holiday lights.
  • Calculate the energy savings and environmental benefits of using energy-efficient decorations using mathematical and scientific skills.
In this dynamic and interactive activity, students will embark on a fascinating journey through the realm of energy efficiency and conservation during the holiday season.

Holiday Light Pollution

  • Explore the impact of holiday lights on light pollution and its effects on both human health and ecosystems.
  • Couple this lesson with the previous one about energy efficiency.
  • Brainstorm solutions to reduce light pollution while still enjoying festive lighting.
Encourage students to delve into complex issues such as light pollution’s impact on human health, ecosystems, and even its effects on astronomers.

Waste Reduction During the Holidays:

  • Did you know that Americans produce 25% more trash during the holidays? This statistic presents a prime opportunity for teaching science, particularly about the environmental impact of holiday waste.
  • Discuss the environmental impact of holiday waste, such as wrapping paper, packaging, and discarded decorations.
  • Teach students about the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle, and have them brainstorm eco-friendly holiday practices.
  • This could be a great addition leading up to (or after) December 2, which is World Pollution Day.
This engaging activity is a perfect fit for teachers who believe in fostering the next generation’s environmental awareness while teaching science.

Carbon Footprint of Holiday Travel:

  • Analyze the carbon footprint of holiday travel, especially long-distance family visits.
  • If students don’t have set destinations, provide some sample trips (or students can brainstorm using online travel planners and mapping sites).
  • Discuss different types of as well as the importance of alternative transportation options.
  • Research carbon offset programs to reduce the environmental impact of travel.

The Impact of Christmas Trees:

  • Investigate the environmental implications of Christmas tree farming and disposal.
  • This can be a local focus too with exploring your community’s approach to after-Christmas tree disposal.
  • Discuss the benefits of sustainable tree farming and tree recycling programs.
  • No need to create this activity from scratch! Instead, use this ready-made resource to lead students through a comprehensive lesson about different tree types and the eco-friendly practices of tree farming. Then students learn how these magnificent evergreens contribute to local economies, creating a web of opportunities for communities. Finally, students will take an in-depth dive into the world of carbon footprints, from the cultivation and transportation of trees to their disposal. 
The Impact of Christmas Trees Activity is a comprehensive teaching tool that will captivate your students’ minds and inspire them to think critically about the environmental and social implications of one of the most cherished symbols of the holiday season.

Community Outreach for Environmental Causes:

  • Another idea for teaching science during the holidays is to encourage students to plan and execute environmental outreach activities during the holiday season.
  • Look for local options such as tree planting, litter clean-up, or charity drives for eco-friendly causes.
  • If students cannot take action in December then have them create a New Year’s resolution for what they’ll accomplish in the next year to support the environment!

Holiday Science Scavenger Hunt:

  • If time is of the essence in December, which we all know it usually is, try a scavenger hunt!
  • A scavenger hunt with its inclusion of hands-on science exploration gets students on their feet and moving.
  • Discover 16 scientific examples both inside a typical classroom, a student’s home, or the outdoors with this resource.

A Last Word on December Holidays in Science

And if you’re on the lookout for a special occasion to celebrate in December, might I recommend December 7, which is National Joy Day?! 

Make this a choose-your-own-adventure science day. And what’s a lesson that could bring joy to students? Maybe it’s one that they have chosen themselves? 

Brainstorm some ideas as a class and then use those ideas to create stations in order to address several topics. Or expand this idea and have students plan, research, and deliver their own stations with a student-led presentation, lab, or lesson. 

Or make life even easier for yourself and more engaging for your students with this bundle of five ready-made sustainability activities!


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