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?
- Explore how the ancient Egyptians created dyes from plants and even snails, then have a go at creating indigo in the lab.
- X-ray analysis and chemistry are helping art historians understand why Van Gogh’s paintings are turning a nasty brown.
- Visible coloured light makes up just one small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Find out how astronomers are using ‘invisible’ light to investigate the mysteries of the distant Universe. This series of Science in School articles are available in many European languages.
- Are you planning a New Year fireworks display? Use this dramatic demonstration to investigate where the different colours come from. You could even get your students to investigate how fireworks affect air quality.
- If you still have a few brightly coloured autumn leaves around, why not investigate the different plant pigments they contain?
- Or use the wrappers from your festive sweets to investigate how we see colours.
- And for a colourful chemistry lesson try making a pH indicator from red cabbage. Using red cabbage indicator, you could then investigate the action of the enzyme urease.
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?
- Use the Millennium Maths Project’s ‘Maths and our health’ multimedia resources to investigate the importance of maths in biomedical research. Suitable for 11- to 16-year-olds.
- Does your cough mixture really work, or is it just the placebo effect?
- And how, in fact, are new medical treatments tested?
- Influenza can mean more than a few days of school. Learn how scientists are working to prevent a deadly pandemic. You could even get the whole school in involved in modelling an influenza outbreak.
- Maybe your garden could provide an effective treatment for your sniffles? This game explores plant-derived drugs and medicines.
- For more ideas, why not browse all the Science in School teaching activities articles about medicine?
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.
- To begin with, you could decorate your classroom with some paper snowflakes and learn about symmetry. You could try a classic 6-pointed or a trickier five-pointed design.
- Then if you are feeling cold, spare a thought for the scientists studying the impact of climate change on the permafrost and overwintering in Antarctica, in preparation for a possible manned mission to Mars.
- Snowflakes are crystallised water, which you could use as an excuse to learn about the new definition of crystal structure.
- Test your students’ knowledge of chemistry with this snow and ice quiz.
- Life is hard for animals that live at the poles, so to increase their chances of survival they have some amazing adaptations. Find out about Arctic fish with ‘anti-freeze’ in their blood and how some animals use camouflage in a snowy landscape.
- If you live in a country that doesn’t get much snow you can still fake it with super-absorbent polymers.
- For more snow-inspired activities, have a look at one of the entries in our 2010 Advent calendar.
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.
- If you’re baking cakes or cookies, should you use yeast, baking powder or a different raising agent? Find out with this Norwegian classroom activity (automated translation from Norwegian).
- Whether it’s true or not, we’ve all heard that antioxidants are good for us. Here’s an activity to compare the antioxidant levels in various foods.
- And while you’re bringing food into the classroom, why not use pizza to teach primary-school children about salt and sugar content – or even fractions?
- You could even get your primary-school pupils to bake their own bread – and learn a lot of science in the process.
- Primary-school children are also sure to enjoy investigating ‘superfoods’, then creating their own smoothie – complete with packaging and an advert!
5 December 2012: Maths
24, 23, 22, 21… Advent is the count-down to Christmas. How about some fun seasonal maths activities?
- According to the popular Christmas carol, on the first day of Christmas you get a partridge in a pear tree, on day two it’s turtle doves… How many presents do you end up with on day 12? You could try and count it on your fingers but isn’t there an easier way to work it out? A similar mathematical problem is posed by the Jewish festival of Chanucka.
- Download all kinds of festive maths activities, including snowflake symmetry, magic crackers and Christmas card sorting.
- How much overtime does Santa have to pay his elves? Find out in this worksheet of light-hearted seasonal maths problems.
- For more maths ideas, why not visit Plus Magazine’s online Advent calendar?
- NRICH even offer special maths-related Advent calendars for primary and secondary school.
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?
- In their lectures aimed at secondary-school students, two scientists explain how the body regulates weight and how understanding this could lead to treatments for obesity. Watch the videos online or order the DVD free.
- As a consequence of obesity, more and more children are suffering from diabetes.
- The Big Picture offers an interactive game for learning about obesity.
- You could even use obesity as the focus of a whole teaching unit.
- We all know that exercise can help make us healthier – but what’s happening at the cellular level?
- For our distant ancestors, obesity probably wasn’t a problem. Take your pupils outside to investigate hunting, gathering and cooking in the Stone Age. You might want to wait until the weather warms up first, though…
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!).
- Fermented drinks aren’t just for adults. This article gives recipes for some tasty soft drinks, including root beer, ginger beer, Russian mint kvass, Finnish sima and elderflower champagne.
- Or your students could determine the sugar, alcohol and acid content of wine with these practical activities.
- It’s the fizz that makes champagne so special, but just how do the bubbles get in there?
- Fermentation provides a great starting point for many laboratory investigations. This guide lists 14 activities using a wide range of techniques, including making your own sauerkraut.
- This DNA cocktail, a science experiment in a glass, would be a great talking point at the science department Christmas party. For after school only!
- And whilst we’re playing with cocktails, why not try this neat trick?
- Got a bottle of wine but no corkscrew? Science can save the day!
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.
- Magic or medicine? Hallucinogenic plants, many of which are used as medicines today, might be behind tales of witches on broomsticks and other fantastical phenomena.
- Discover how maths can help explain some mysterious scientific phenomena, ponder some puzzling maths problems or become a mathemagician. If you’re in the UK, you could ask the Mathemagicians to come to your school.
- Science can be weird and wonderful. Every year the Ig Noble Prizes honour improbable research which makes people laugh and then think. Contagious yawning in tortoises anyone?
- Can you tell what it is? Challenge your students to identify these mystery microscopic organisms and foods or ‘like’ CERN on Facebook for regular mystery pictures from the Large Hadron Collider.
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 pipe, wine 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.
- Play the DNA detective game and find out about DNA profiling.
- Set up a mini crime scene with some simple investigations to give chemical analysis a real-world context.
- Explore the world of forensic entomology. Find out how maggots and other insects can help establish time of death then do your own investigations (without the dead body, of course!).
- Learn how genetic fingerprinting works and try a virtual PCR or gel electrophoresis.
- Use your understanding of forces to work out what happened at a crash scene.
- Add a festive forensic twist to the classic mystery powders investigation with the case of the Christmas cookie mystery.
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.
- A gadget worthy of James Bond provided inspiration for a fun physics play.
- It’s behind you! What is? A science-themed version of the classic pantomime SCInderella of course!
- Get your students moving as a way of visualising tricky concepts like chemical bonding or electricity.
- Explore cancer, genetic testing, medical research and punk music through drama.
- Dramatic demonstrations can bring science alive, especially if the students are the ones performing.
- Become a lighting technician for a day and discover the science of colour mixing.
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.
- Wrap up warm and go outside to explore the night sky. Or learn different cultures’ stories behind the constellations and get some tips on what to look for over northern Europe. You could even build a star globe to help find the main constellations.
- Create some stellar decorations for your lab.
- Just as we orbit the sun, astronomers are discovering planets that orbit distant stars.
- Take a 3D journey to over 100 000 stars with the Celestia space simulation programme and add-ons.
- Find out how energy from our star, the Sun, can be harnessed and view other stellar video clips from NASA.
- Discover how high-energy astronomy uses X-rays and gamma-rays to visualise the birth and death of stars.
- Believe it or not, you could even create your own radio telescope using scrap and old satellite TV parts.
- You may not be lucky enough to witness a total eclipse first-hand, but you can build a classroom model of what’s happening.
- Enjoy this collection of astronomy resources or have a look at the ‘stars’ entry in the 2010 Science in School advent calendar.
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?
- Genetics is now as important as archaeology for understanding for understanding our relationship with early hominids.
- Investigate inheritance and gel electrophoresis with this practical kit.
- Why breed fruit flies to study inheritance when you can breed dragons?
- Or build a primate evolutionary tree using data on genetic similarities, a pen and paper.
- Find out why family is important to meerkats too.
- Father Christmas is a busy man. Could there be (whisper it!) more than one? Find out with this fun heredity activity.
- Finally, Christmas is a time of giving and sharing. Does altruism give us an evolutionary advantage?
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.
- Glow for it! Read all about what light is and how we use it, chemiluminescenceand living things that generate their own light.
- Why not build your own spectrometer and use it to look at all the different light sources around during the festive season?
- Light is the source of all our energy and food. Find out how the colour of light affects the rate of photosynthesis.
- If you really want to dress to impress why not make your own interactive LED lab coat?
- With so much chocolate around this time of year surely you can spare one bar to measure the speed of light.
- Whilst you are wrapping presents take a moment to enjoy watching your sticky tape glowing in the dark.
- Find out how astronomers use infra-red and ultraviolet light to explore the cosmos.
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.
- After nearly six years of Science in School, let’s see what the most popular articles have been. Have you modelled the DNA double helix out of scrap, investigated diabetes, used black boxes in the classroom, built a spectrometer and marvelled at symmetry? If not, drop us an email and tell us which your favourite articles were and how you used them.
- Although Science in School is a science journal, we enjoy delving into the past. Why not share some of our history articles with your students? For example, you could:
- Make your own ink in the chemistry lab, the way medieval monks did.
- Investigate the last days of Pompeii.
- Follow in the footsteps of Galileo and study Jupiter’s moons.
- Learn how a computer model is casting light on the fate of the woolly mammoth.
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.