Advent calendar 2012 Inspire article

Welcome to the Science in School Advent calendar, packed with inspiring teaching ideas for Christmas, winter and the end of term.

1 December 2012: Colour

What is better on a cold dark night than a festive riot of colour? From decorations, wrapping paper and coloured fairy lights to Santa’s red suit, this is the most vibrant time of the year. Why not try out these colourful resources?

2 December 2012: Health

A familiar sight for any teacher in winter: half of the class are coughing and sneezing, while several students are at home with flu. Before you develop a sore throat yourself, why not have a lesson about health?

3 December 2012: Snow

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Whether or not you actually see any snow, you can have fun with resources inspired by the white stuff.

4 December 2012: Food

Each country has its own traditional Christmas treats. Whether it’s mince pies or stollen, baked carp or roast pork, food has a special place at this time of year.

5 December 2012: Maths

24, 23, 22, 21… Advent is the count-down to Christmas. How about some fun seasonal maths activities?

6 December 2012: Obesity

It can be all too easy to gain weight over Christmas: too much food, not enough exercise… Why not address the topic of obesity in your lessons?

7 December 2012: Drinks

Raise a glass to toast the festive season! Even if you can’t drink alcohol at school, it can still provide the basis for some interesting activities and investigations (and cocktails!).

8 December 2012: Magic

By tradition, this is a magical time of year with all sorts of unexplained happenings. Just how do reindeer fly? And how does Santa get down the chimney? Some things that once seemed fantastical have now been explained by science, whilst other things remain a mystery.

9 December 2012: Music

Christmas is a time for music and singing. Christmas carols, family favourites and cheesy tunes all fill the airwaves. Whether you are making or listening to music why not make your lessons more melodious?

  • Get some inspiration from a fellow teacher on ways of using music in the classroom.
  • Create some atmosphere in your classroom with this comprehensive list of astronomically inspired music. With over 100 pieces of music listed, from classical to Monty Python, you are bound to find something which suits your taste.
  • Forget the Christmas Number 1, what is Number 1 in the science music chart? Check out the Top 10. This fracking-inspired tune just missed the chart.
  • Deck the labs with rubber tubing and sing some fun chemistry carols. If you’re a biologist or physicist feeling left out, why not challenge your students to come up with their own words to classic tunes?
  • For something practical, you could demonstrate the physics of sound by making fun musical instruments out of PVC pipewine glasses or straws.

10 December 2012: Forensics

Dark winter nights provide good cover for criminal activities and burglary, fraud and assault tend to increase over the festive period. Let’s investigate how forensic science can help to put criminals behind bars.

11 December 2012: Future

Advent is a time of anticipation. A new year is approaching and we look to the future and wonder what it will bring. What about the future of science? What will the world be like in 10 years? In 50 years?

  • Could we see what the world will be like in 200 years? Is time travel the stuff of science fact or science fiction? Maybe all we need is a fast enough rocket…
  • Could Paul the psychic octopus really predict the future? Maths can explain how some apparently miraculous predictions are actually just luck.
  • Find out how new materials like graphene and nanoparticles are set to revolutionise technology and medicine.
  • What will the scientists of the future do? Play with GM bacteria, robo-lobsters and satellites in the Futurecade game.
  • Do your students need some inspiration to help plan their careers? They can use these websites to explore their options in science and maths or find an inspiring role model.

12 December 2012: Theatre

The nativity play is traditional at this time of the year: complete with Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the full complement of shepherds, wise men and farm animals. Why not break away from tradition and introduce some science into the theatre? Or bring some drama into your science lessons.

13 December 2012: Stars

Stars are all around us at this time of year. From a star decoration on top of the Christmas tree to the star of Bethlehem. Dark nights are also ideal for star gazing and pondering our place in the Universe.

14 December 2012: Families

Christmas is often a time for families to get together: parents, grandmother, grandfather…. What about our more distant ancestors, though? Time for a genetics lesson?

15 December: Light

Although we don’t see much sunlight at this time of year, we can bathe in other types of light: Christmas lights, moonlight, candles, a roaring log fire. What a great reason to look at the science of light.

16 December 2012: Games

As the end of term approaches it’s an opportunity to relax a little, so why not introduce some games into your classroom? As well as being fun it can be a good way to reinforce learning.

  • You could try a game of science-themed ‘Who am I?’, word association, Pictionary or hangman using biology, chemistry or physics related terms (thanks to Janos Kapitany for these suggestions).
  • Crack codes, breed ‘Things’ and get ‘Wasted’ with a range of educational gamesfrom London’s Science Museum.
  • With almost 100 online games you are bound to find something to suit you at Physics Games.
  • Edheads science and maths games include virtual knee surgery or stem cell heart repair or you could try cloning a mouse.
  • Explore circuits by making a buzzer game in the shape of a Christmas Tree or a balloon-powered sleigh.
  • Make nature-themed decorations, masks and play a winter wildlife quiz. Origami turtle dove anyone?
  • If you’re feeling brave you could challenge your students to make a Christmas tree out of lab equipment. Start with some clamp stand ‘branches’ then add whatever looks festive.

17 December 2012: Energy

Whether it’s winter heating bills, over-the-top light displays or airports packed with people travelling to visit far-flung families, Christmas can consume a lot of energy.

  • Solar power might be the way forward. Find out how photovoltaics work.
  • Or maybe our cars and buses will be hydrogen powered?
  • All energy sources have their advantages and disadvantages. In the Moja island game, students select the most suitable power for a fictitious island.
  • Be inspired by what some European schools are doing to reduce their energy use.
  • Or could you cope without electricity? Could you generate your own electricity? Students can plan for a power cut in this activity.
  • What if they banned fairy lights? Investigate why many countries have banned old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs and how to make your festive display more energy efficient.
  • For more energy-related information, see the Science in School series of energy articles.

18 December 2012: Scents

This is a scent-sational time of year! The air is filled with the smell of good food, the pine scent of the Christmas tree, cinnamon and ginger biscuits and wood burning on the fire. Let’s turn our attention to the science of smell.

  • How do you smell? Find out how changes in molecular structure can trick your senses.
  • Perfumes have been culturally important for thousands of years. Experiment with making fragrant oils, Ancient Roman-style.
  • Do certain smells conjure up memories of Christmases past? Find out why smell and memory are so closely linked.
  • Does your nose know? Experiment with different smells and combinations.
  • If you get an orange in your Christmas stocking why not try extracting the fragrance oil by steam distillation. The technique should also work with other scented festive plants like pine trees or ginger.
  • Surely you smell with your nose and taste with your tongue? Grab a blindfold, hold your nose and try a taste challenge.

19 December 2012: Festive plants

Christmas trees, holly wreaths, kissing under the mistletoe… plants have important cultural significance this time of year. Why not investigate their science too?

  • Discover the story and science behind traditional festive plants.
  • Holly has had a role in winter festivities since Roman times. It can also have a role in your biology lab and is useful for all kinds of investigations.
  • Druid, Greek, Roman and Norse legends show that humans have been fascinated by mistletoe for millennia. It also supports some unique birds, insects and fungi.
  • Brussels sprouts, that essential component of a traditional Christmas dinner – at least in Britain. Do you love them or hate them? The reason might be genetic – they contain a bitter chemical called PTC which only some people can taste. Find out how to check if you have it.
  • Play the Christmas tree detective and identify what kind of tree you have by looking at the shape, needles and cones.

20 December 2012: Weather

Brrr! Cold winds, ice and snow are typical winter weather for most of Europe, but for how long? Climate change could mean average temperatures rise by several degrees over the next century. Let’s explore how we monitor and predict weather and climate.

  • Let students model climate change themselves with a simplified version of the complex climate-prediction computer models.
  • How do we know what the climate was like thousands or even millions of years ago? Investigate how soil cores and ice cores can tell us about the climate of the past.
  • Is climate change inevitable? Explore the technologies which could save the day.
  • It’s bad for the climate but fun for the primary-school classroom. Have some fizzy fun with carbon dioxide.
  • Read about how clouds are formed and how they affect our climate.
  • Christmas is a time for blockbuster movies! The Day After Tomorrow presents an apocalyptic view of climate change, but is it more Hollywood than hard fact?
  • Learn how to predict the weather through this online tutorial or NASA educator’s guide.
  • Find out about Meteosat, Europe’s weather satellite system and how we monitor the weather from space.
  • Finally, you could browse Science in School series of articles about climate change.

21 December 2012: Sharing

Advent and Christmas are a time for sharing: sharing time, sharing memories, sharing presents. Perhaps it’s also time to share ideas and inspiration with your colleagues across the world?

  • Science on Stage is the European network for science teachers, through which teachers can swap teaching ideas. Why not get involved in your national activities? Who knows, you may even be selected to represent your country at the international teaching festival in London in 2015!
  • Albanian, Dutch, Greek, Portuguese, Ukrainian… Thanks to our many volunteer translators, we are able to offer Science in School articles in 31 European languages. If you speak another European language as your mother tongue, would you too like to help us inspire teachers in your home country?
  • Or perhaps you’d like to help us choose articles for Science in School? We’re always happy to welcome enthusiastic European teachers onto our reviewer panel.
  • If you’d rather develop your own projects with colleagues across Europe, see who you can find via the eTwinning website.
  • Austria, Denmark, Italy, Poland…. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to teach in another country?
  • If you’re looking for a wealth of teaching resources in many European languages, the Scientix website could be just what you need.
  • Finally, why not make 2013 the year in which you submit your own article to Science in School and share your teaching ideas with colleagues across Europe?

22 December: Past

As 2012 draws to a close, it’s time to review the previous year – or even the more distant past.

23 December 2012: Sky

Tomorrow, many eager children will be watching the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus and his reindeer. From flight to space exploration, science and technology are helping us explore our sky and the vast universe beyond.

  • On Christmas Eve, your students can track Santa with the help of the US Defence Department.
  • Or you you could use the winter dark nights as an excuse to go asteroid hunting.
  • Perhaps your students would like to find out about Europe’s rockets, astronauts and satellites or print out templates to make model satellites.
  • Blast off! Why not start designing and building rockets now so that they are ready to launch in spring?
  • How about exploring aeronautics, flight and propulsion in NASA’s Museum in a Box?
  • Or why not read about ALMA in Chile, the world’s largest radio-telescope facility, where scientists are watching the sky and studying distant galaxies?

24 December 2012: Presents

Science in School is a present to the teachers of Europe from EIROforum, a collaboration of Europe’s eight largest inter-governmental scientific research organisations. Here are some more great science presents for you.

  • Posters, DVDs, books… Science teachers can order up to 180€-worth of astronomy-related materials from the European Southern Observatory.
  • You can also download free space and physics posters, wall charts and booklets from the UK’s Science & Technology Facilities Council.
  • For free posters about chemical careers, visit the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry‘s website.
  • Order or download free teaching materials from The Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
  • For more science presents, see what we highlighted in the 2010 Advent calendar.
  • Or perhaps you’d rather make your own presents? From a paper snowflake to a homemade PCR machine, the Instructables website is packed with ideas.
  • And after Christmas, once you’ve finished unwrapping all your presents, you could recycle the wrapping paper.
  • Finally, we’ve enjoyed producing this Advent calendar and we hope you’ve enjoyed receiving it. What did you like most? What would you have changed? Which topics would you like us to include next year? And which resources would you like us to highlight? Please send us your feedback.