5 Christmas STEM Challenges Your Students Will Love

Sleighbells ring, snow is falling, and letters are being sent to Santa full of wishes. The excitement of the Christmas season has arrived. The excitement isn't limited to the home either. We, teachers, know all too well the fun and chaos that is the last week or two before schools are out for winter break. Classrooms are filled with excitement as Christmas and winter parties are in full swing. But, that doesn't mean you have to abandon all hope of learning during that time. Christmas STEM challenges are the perfect way to get your students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math while having fun at the same time. Here are 5 of my favorite Christmas STEM challenges for you to try in your classroom this December.

Supplies and Materials for Christmas STEM Challenges

I love that students are challenged to “think outside the box” when completing STEM challenges. One of my favorite ways to help them think creatively is to provide simple materials for them to build with.

That also means I don't need to go out and buy a ton of supplies for my classes. I can easily bring in recyclable items, or even ask parents to send them in for us to use.

A few simple supplies to use in your Christmas STEM challenges include:

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Construction paper
  • String
  • Index cards
  • Playdough
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Clothes pins
  • Tape
  • Toothpicks
  • Gumdrops
  • Rubber bands
  • Masking tape
  • Cups

Now that you've got your supplies, it's time to get your students excited about their Christmas STEM challenges with these 5 fun and engaging activities.

1. Hang the Hats Simple STEM Challenge

Literacy and STEM

This is one of those super simple yet super fun Christmas STEM challenges my students get excited about.

By now, you can probably guess how much I love using books in my classroom, and this Hang the Hats Challenge pairs up perfectly with the adorable book The Littlest Elf by Brandi Dougherty.

Sometimes I read the book to my students, but other times, it's fun for them to watch the book being read aloud.

I use the embedded video in the digital presentation to share the story with my class. That also gives me a little extra time to get things organized before they begin the challenge.

Help the Elves

Poor elves, their hats are cluttering up the workshop. Your students will love creating a rack to help hold the elves' hats. Using task cards, the design process, and recording sheets for sketching and planning, your students will work collaboratively to create a rack to hold printed elf hats.

When it's time for the testing phase, my students have a blast watching as each rack is tested by adding hats one at a time until it breaks. It's always a little nerve-wracking to watch as hat after hat is added to each of the racks. There's always a loud gasp when one finally breaks.

In addition to working collaboratively to build their creation, your students will also have to complete reflection activities to show their understanding of the challenge. I love allowing my students to think about what they would do differently now that they have tested their design and seen other designs.

I also hand out certificates at the end of the class period. These are a great way for students to recognize that they are being celebrated for the process as well as the product.

This is a great way to add some STEM fun into your last weeks of school before winter break.

2. Gumdrop Tower STEM Challenge

This sweet challenge uses only 2 super simple supplies, gumdrops, and toothpicks. Both of these are easy to find at your local dollar or discount store this time of year. The best part for your students is, they can eat the gumdrops at the end of the challenge.

The Challenge

Our gingerbread builders are in charge of building a sweet tower. Students must work collaboratively to build the tallest tower using gumdrops and toothpicks.

You can decide if the number of gumdrops and toothpicks will be limited to the same number per group, or mix it up and give each group a different amount of each of the supplies. This is an awesome way to see how each group approaches the challenge differently.

In addition to building the tallest tower, you can also ask your students to build as many 3D shapes as they can or create a symmetrical tower. This means you can hit 3 different math standards all at once! Woohoo!

Extra Math Practice

I love giving my students math work that relates directly to the projects they complete. The very best part is, they don't even realize they are doing math. They just know they are having a great time building and observing their creations.

Christmas STEM challenges like the Gumdrop Tower can also include fun math activities.

The math worksheets include math word problems that relate to all of the fun of the Christmas season.

I like to have my students complete this activity in small groups of 3-4 students, but it can also be done as a center activity.

No matter how you choose to have your students complete these gumdrop Christmas STEM challenges they are sure to have a sweet time.

3. Present Launch STEM Challenge

Presents away! This STEM challenge is as hilarious as it is fun. Make sure you have some space cleared out before testing the designs though. You are sure to have supplies flying around your room.

Help Santa Deliver Presents

The task cards in these Christmas STEM challenges ask students to solve the problem Santa has with getting all of those heavy presents into his sleigh on Christmas eve. Students will need to work collaboratively to design, test, and modify their designs before competing in accuracy and distance present catapult challenges.

These Christmas STEM Challenges will get students creating a catapult style launcher

Using simple supplies like popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and small objects, makes this an easy last-minute project for those busy days before winter break. For my younger students, I give them examples of catapults to look at and maybe some step-by-step printed instructions.

My older students can handle a little more of a challenge though. I usually give them the supplies and then tell them they have to work together to come up with a device that will launch the supplies we are using. I am always so amazed at their creativity!

The “presents” your students launch can be almost anything. You can get little presents from the dollar or discount store, or take a day before your students work on this challenge to teach them some fun paper folding techniques to create small paper boxes. You can even use puff balls, marshmallows, or small wooden blocks as objects to launch with the catapults.

Test and Adjust

I think it's really important to allow my students to test out their designs before the final competition. This allows them to make any adjustments as they see how their catapult works in real-life.

When we are in the testing phase, I make sure my students know that if their design fails, it doesn't mean they have failed. I always remind them of the famous inventors we talk about in my classroom. None of them created their inventions on their first try. Part of success is failure after all.

When it's time for your students to test out their designs, you can use a trashcan or box for students to launch their presents towards. I like to use different objects depending on the grade level. For younger students, I give them a larger target to hit. For my older students, I might even mix it up a little and give them not only a smaller target but maybe some obstacles in the way as well.

This present launch challenge will be the perfect addition to your Christmas STEM activities this year.

4. Build a Table for Santa's toy bag.

This STEM challenge has its roots in the bridge-building STEM challenges you are probably already familiar with. The basic idea is for students to build a structure that can hold a specific amount of weight.

Santa Needs Your Help

To add a little Christmas flair to a bridge-building activity, this challenge asks students to construct a table to hold Santa's heavy bag of toys. I usually use a small fabric bag that can easily find at the dollar or discount store to hold coins or small blocks that represent presents. Using a bag allows you to adjust the weight inside to make the challenge simpler or more difficult.

Get Building

This popsicle table is an example of one student creation as part of this Christmas STEM building challenge.

This is another one of those Christmas STEM Challenges that doesn't require hard-to-find materials. Using objects from around your classroom, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, popsicle sticks, or even twigs from outside, your students will have a blast solving this challenge.

I like to put my students into groups of 3 or 4 for this activity. It works best when you ask students to assign jobs or tasks for each of them to be responsible for. For example, you might want your group to have a recorder to write down information, a supply runner to grab the supplies for the group, and a speaker to talk about the table design to the class.

It's always interesting for me to see which groups go with a more traditional approach to a table with 4 legs and which groups go way out and make tables with more or less than 4 legs.

Testing, Testing

After you have given your class their allotted time to complete their table challenge, it's time to test them out.

Incorporating Santa into your Christmas STEM challenges is a perfect way to engage students.  This building challenge will have them creating a structure to hold weight.

I like to dedicate a space in my classroom for our table tests. The goal is to see how much weight the tables can hold, so getting them to break is the ultimate goal. The students love watching as more and more presents are added to Santa's bag.

We have so much fun hearing about why and how each group chose their design and then watching with anticipation to see how much weight their table can hold before it breaks.

I have found that explaining the process at the beginning of the project helps build excitement instead of disappointment when the time comes for the weight test. If you are worried about how your younger students will react, make the weight challenge the same for each group. Maybe it's $2.00 worth of quarters or 6 building blocks. Whatever you choose, just be sure to give students the opportunity to try out their designs before the big weight test.

5. Holiday Runaway Zipline

This Holiday Runaway Zipline is a fantastic STEM challenge for your class Christmas party. It's fun, interactive, and takes up a good chunk of time as a center activity.

Everyone Wants to Have a Little Fun

Hey, even gingerbread and reindeer need to have fun from time to time right?

This Christmas STEM Challenge gets students thinking about physics and design as they create a holder for a zipline.

This Holiday Runaway Zipline will have your students using their creativity, engineering, and math skills to create a basket to hold a printed gingerbread man or reindeer.

Then, they will need to successfully move the character from one end of the zipline to the other.

Let the Building Begin

Using string, printed characters, construction paper, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, or almost any other recyclable material you can find, your students will work together to build a basket to successfully hold and move a character from one location to another.

I love hearing my students as they begin planning their basket designs. There are always so many clever and creative ideas every time I do this activity with my students. I make sure to give my students the characters they will be using for the challenge before they begin to build. This ensures they make their carrier/basket the right size for their character.

After planning out the design, creating a sketch of the basket, and writing about the design, it's time to send them flying.

Time to Fly

There are two variations to this activity. You can either see how far the characters travel along the line or how fast they travel from one spot to another. If you are using one line for every basket, be sure to remind students to add in a hook of some kind so they will be able to attach their basket to the line and take it off after the challenge.

If you are using the time challenge, you could assign a pair of students to be the recorders. They can write the group names and their finishing times on the whiteboard or big chart paper for everyone to see.

These awards are perfect to celebrate students who have completed Christmas STEM challenges this year.

Sometimes, I give out prizes along with certificates for the fastest, most creative, or even most beautiful basket. And . . . we always celebrate the process. After all, that is what STEM is all about!

This is also a fun activity to share with other students in your school. If you have a stairwell that's long enough, consider running your zipline through that space for other classes to watch. If you live somewhere where the weather is reasonably warm this time of year, you could even run your zipline between structures on the playground. You can get as creative as you want with this fun Christmas STEM activity.

STEM Challenges Build Engagement

Whether it's Christmas STEM challenges, spring STEM activities, or an Earth Day-themed STEM birdhouse, STEM challenges are a great way to get your students learning in a hands-on way they will love.

STEM challenges require students to use higher-level thinking skills to complete real-world related challenges. While working collaboratively, students also develop their language, math, and critical thinking skills just to name a few.

Christmas STEM Challenges Ready for You

All of these awesome Christmas STEM challenges are put together for your convenience in one awesome Holiday Bundle! Be sure to check out my Miss Tech Queen TPT store for all of these fun Christmas STEM Challenges and more!

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