Fight the Holiday Break Classroom Crazies with Hands-on Activities

Here’s the number one rookie mistake new teachers make before winter break: Not creating a plan that allows for movement and hands-on activities. Many teachers are so burned out by the time December rolls around that they decide to give their students extra recess and a bring in a kid-friendly movie. In middle school, if every teacher follows this plan the kids will watch so many hours of movies and have too much unstructured time. As a result, they will become restless, edgy, and behavior problems abound. This year, make a plan that will engage students and will send everyone off to break with a great attitude.

In my experience in both elementary and middle school classrooms, I have found that students need structure at times when the energy in the building is high. Right before state testing, school breaks, and at the end of the year, it’s our tendency to think, “It’s only one day, we’ll just let them be kids,” but then don’t take the necessary step to set boundaries that support our students. This idea of unstructured free time seems like less work, but due to behavior issues and boredom, teachers actually end up doing more work.

Planning ahead, as ever, is critical to success. The week before a break is the perfect time to try that activity you’ve always wanted to launch with your kids-but you just couldn’t find the right standard that would help you justify devoting time to the learning experience. During these pre-holiday break weeks, I’ve noticed that the students’ energy levels go way up. Whether it is due to eating too many candy canes or staying up late watching holiday movies, kids bring a lot of energy-both bad and good-to the classroom during these pre-break weeks.

In the past, I have created or downloaded engineering design challenges for those pre-holiday break weeks and have seen success in keeping students engaged and on-task. Using engineering challenges is a great way to support collaborative norms and the idea of revision as a part of the engineering design process. Thankfully, many talented teacher sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers have created fun and engaging plans for making gumdrop structures, marshmallow geodesic domes, and content-area escape rooms. Each year I’m more than willing to drop a few dollars on one of these plans and all of the supplies to create a fun and festive environment in my pre-holiday break classroom. Best of all, these activities are culturally inclusive and ask kids to think differently at a time when they may have their mind on family traditions and trips.

As a new teacher seller, I decided to create my own FREEBIE activity this year. While I’ve done a lot of engineering design challenges created by companies and other teachers in the past, this one is based on a real problem that is currently occurring in my house. We have a cat. This cat likes to kill everything, any type of rodent is a favorite snack. At night, our killer cat sleeps in our huge, comfortable finished basement. Those clever mice have figured this out, and only come out in the evening. They are sneaking around under the sink, leaving behind droppings as they skitter off. When I was designing this Freebie, it occurred to me that maybe I could have students create a noise-making device that would scare away mice, but wouldn’t wake up our family in the process.

There are a lot of videos, websites, and readings about designing overly-complicated devices that are maze-like and cause dominoes to fall and a ball to roll though different tubes. Sadly, I cant even mention the name of these kinds of machines here because they are copyrighted, but I highly recommend you look into them. Then, head over to TPT and pick up my free activity, which includes teacher notes and student instructions in pdf format. While you’re there, pick up some candy cane tags and a holiday slide show (one is even free!) to keep it merry during this pandemic-style holiday season.

Wrap up your week before holiday break with this hands-on/minds-on engineering design challenge. Perfect for pre-Thanksgiving, winter, and wpring breaks.

Create festive & colorful lesson sets using this daily template set, for use with Google Slides™.

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