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Celebrating Holidays

Many teachers in public schools have had to put away the holiday decorations and face a celebration free December. I know that it is not possible to celebrate Christmas, Kwanza, Chanukah, and a host of other faith based traditions in the classroom. It is time to think outside the box and find something that is fun to celebrate, teaches concepts, and will not raise the ire of your administration.

December is a host to hundreds of other special days that are fine to celebrate in your classroom. December is “Read a New Book” and “Celebrate Human Rights” month. The individual days vary from Eat a Red apple Day (12/1) to National Cookie Day (12/4). I think National Cookie day could lead to some tasty science. There is a good site all about the science of baking and what part each possible cookie ingredient plays in the overall product.
http://www.bakingandbakingscience.com/cookies.htm

Another site covers the science of cookies by Food Network host Alton Brown.
http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Season3/Cookie/CookieTranscript.htm

A complete list of special days is available at the family crafts site:
http://familycrafts.about.com/library/spdays/bldecdayslong.htm

You can celebrate famous birthdays. Walt Disney was born in Dec. 5thand Ludwig Von Beethoven was born on Dec. 16th. I could see a scientific celebration wrapped around creativity or the physics of animation with Walt and some amazing sound science with Ludwig. Many believed that Beethoven died of lead poisoning. There is some amazing forensic science that puts this to rest.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603155929.htm

Mr. Disney was really interested in the science of cryogenics. He wanted to be frozen then thawed out later when science had advanced enough to keep him alive and cure what ailed him. There is actually a lot of good science in the study of how the body reacts to cold.

I have a very Charlie Brown kind of artificial tree in my back room. I pull it out this time of year not as a Christmas tree but as a Chemist tree. We do decorate ornaments using element facts and important dates in chemical history. There often are even a few famous chemists who make it on to their tree.
This time of the year we are working on the periodic table of the elements and elements and compounds make for amazing tree decorations. Several sites have rubrics for this activity. I always insist that my students use only recycled materials. There is even an Etsy site where a crafty lady makes element ornaments.
http://www.etsy.com/listing/61562380/periodic-table-ornaments-christmas-tree
http://www.suite101.com/content/from-periodic-table-to-chemistree-a87622

Another site has instructions for elements based on famous chemists.
http://teachers2.wcs.edu/high/bhs/fredr/Lists/Assignments/Attachments/6/A%20Chemist%E2%80%99s%20Tree%20Ornament%20Project.pdf

To put a spin on this that is more standards based I ask the class to organize the element ornaments they put on the tree into some sort of periodic table with the branches serving as periods and the vertical organization as periods. One creative class used light strings of one color to delineate the specific families.  This seemed to be a better way to drive home the trends of the table than the static worksheets.

Holidays will always be a valuable and fun part of my classrooms. I think that celebrating some unusual events, birthdays, National days is good for our creative spirit. The last word on this is that you do not need a special day to create a celebration. Each class needs traditions. These celebrations help knit the class together as a collaborative group. You can make up a day. Call it Yappa Day, 32 degree day, bring a snowflake to school day or any kind of celebration you can create. Put up a tree, light a candle, bake a cookie… make learning fun!

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