Keeping Students Engaged Before a Break

I finished a unit in middle school science two days ahead of our winter holiday break. We went on to the next unit, but my students didn’t seem focused, and I think I’ll have to review or repeat the activities when we come back. My colleagues advised that next time I should do holiday-themed activities, but this is my first year and I need suggestions.  — L., CA

The days before a long break can be challenging. Some students may leave early for the break, and, as you noticed, others mentally leave in anticipation. I agree that jumping in to a new unit may be frustrating. But time is too valuable to spend on a study hall, a busywork activity, or an unrelated video (and students get bored with these, too).

I like ideas that recognize the season but add a science focus. For example, I noticed that my middle schoolers assumed that all evergreens were “pine” trees, so before our winter break we used references to identify a variety of specimens donated by a local nursery, and looked for patterns to identify characteristics for naming them (e.g., pines needles are in packages, spruces are sharp). And the lab smelled wonderful!

Other science/seasonal ideas:

  • The art and physics of snowflakes
  • Reason for the seasons (we can’t review this enough!)
  • Winter storm patterns
  • The heart—Up close and personal
  • The truth about bats
  • Bones of the skeletal system
  • Science of movement (skiing, skating, surfing, soccer, basketball, dance)
  • The science of cooking (but don’t eat in the lab)

These “extra” days are also good for vocabulary games, discussions of current events, design contests (e.g, paper airplanes, towers, egg drops), organizing notebooks, or review activities.

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