3 Fun Holiday Activities for Middle School Math

Holiday Activities for Middle School Math
Teaching in the winter is tough.  It's often gloomy outside, and the kids are either drowsy or have way too much energy.  Extra creativity is required to teaching during winter, but even more so around the holidays.  Let's face it, students (and teachers) are counting down the days until winter break, and it can be tough to keep their attention.  Here are some ideas to teach during those rough times.

1) Snowball Fight:  If you haven't tried this, you may already have your doubts just by reading the title.  But, if done correctly, students love this, and it is effective.  You can do this with various math concepts, but I will just give an example with integers.  Let's say your class is practicing integer operations. Every student needs a blank piece of paper to start.  Each student will write their own integer problem.  They then crumple up the paper, and you let them throw them around the room like a snowball fight for a set amount of time.  30 seconds usually is enough.   Set a loud timer, when the timer beeps students will grab whatever crumpled up piece of paper is closest to them, they open it up, solve the integer problem, and write a new integer problem.  To switch it up, you can tell them which operation to use.  After a set amount of time.  You let the students have another "snowball fight", set the timer and repeat the activity.  

Be clear about the process before hand, and model what it looks like when the timer beeps.  Students love this, because they get to throw paper at each other, and this is a great way to help them use their bottled up energy while practicing math.  

2)  Plan a holiday meal:  Use your local grocery ad to plan a holiday meal.  Students love looking through ads and picking out foods for their meal.  Have them total up the cost and account for sales tax.  Have them look up the sales tax for you area and apply it accordingly.  You could also have them "purchase" things like napkins, paper cups, the non-food items.  In some areas the food is taxed differently than the non-food items.  Have them apply the tax accordingly.  Compare their meals with their classmates.  

You could have them plan their meal beforehand and have them estimate cost.  Then they could calculate their percent error with the actual cost.  

They can calculate unit rates with items in the sales ad.

If the ad shows original cost and sales cost then they can calculate percent change of 10 items.  Of their 10 items, which items has the highest percent change? Which item has the lowest percent change?  

3)  Engaging seasonal problem-solving tasks:  Students love holiday activities, even middle school students.  However, you will want to keep the activities learning-based so you are not just wasting time in the classroom.  Students can differentiate between "busy work" and "effective problem-solving" work.  If you just give them busy work, most of them won't be working.  I have created 5 holiday problem-solving tasks that are engaging, effective and easy to differentiate for the middle school math classroom. 
  • Snow Day:  This task requires students to reason through the size of a snowman and calculate the volume of the snowman.  Easier level: Students can calculate the area of the 2d snowman.  This task also includes a challenge as an extension.
  • Santa vs The Grinch:  Students calculate who wins in a sleigh race between Santa and the Grinch.  Higher level: Students use systems of equations and solve both algebraically and graphically.  Lower level:  Students reason through the task using problem-solving skills.  This task also includes a challenge as an extension.  
  • Geometric Snowflake: Students learn how the Koch snowflake is created and find the area of a stage 3 Koch snowflake. Higher level: Students use the Pythagorean Theorem to find missing side lengths. Lower level: Students use a ruler to practice measurement and find the composite area of the shape. This task also includes an extension for higher students.
  • O Christmas Tree:  Students are given equations in slope-intercept form and end points to draw on a graph.  The finished product is a work of art. Easier level:  Students use substitution to find the end points.  A challenge is also included as an extension.  Graph is included.
  • Colorful Crystals:  Students classify real numbers as whole, natural, integers, rational, or irrational.  Students then color snowflakes according to their answers.  This activity is perfect to keep students engaged before a break of with a substitute.  

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Save these tips and ideas to your favorite classroom Pinterest board. Come back and reference them for ideas for holiday activities in middle school math.  

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