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STEAM-Powered Winter Activities

by Andrew Roush
winter activities

Technology takes some of the sting out of winter. With modern heating, fabrics, insulation, snowblowers, plows, salt trucks, and more, the challenge that has traditionally faced humanity in the cold months has been greatly mitigated, at least for those with access to a roof under which to stay.

Along with the harshness of winter, however, there has also been a traditional sense of kinship, of warmth; a commitment to stay warm and dry, share and enjoy the fruits of a recent harvest, and rest until spring pushes us into a new cycle of work, like the buds of a perennial flower breaking through frosty ground. The pre-Romantic English poet and abolitionist William Cowper captured the feeling of winter well in his magnum opus, The Task:

O Winter! ruler of the inverted year,
I crown thee king of intimate delights,
Fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturb’d Retirement, and the hours
Of long uninterrupted evening, know.

William Cowper, The Task (1785), Book IV, line 120.

And while just about every educator is ready for a mid-winter break and some “undisturb’d Retirement,” they’ll also be back to teaching soon, with two more months of winter to go. 

In considering how to bring the themes and realities of winter into your teaching, it’s clear that nature is a key aspect. In this post, we’ll dig into some fun winter-themed ideas and activities to help build the critical, creative, cross-subject learning that’s central to STEAM education.

For Young Learners

Elementary students can build a keen awareness of seasonality and of nature during the winter months. 

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is a 115-member group of colleges and universities involved in earth science research. Their Center for Science Education hosts the  Winter Weather “Teaching Box” site, which includes standards-aligned science activities that help students engage with the nature of ice and snow, the shapes of snowflakes, and staying warm in the cold. 

The Little Bins for Little Hands blog has a number of fun winter science experiments for young learners that can be done at home and with everyday materials. In Scholastic Teacher, Audra Wallace shares some other simple winter science activities for Pre-K learners, also aligned with curriculum standards. Even more crafty activities can be found in this collection from STEM Education Guide. And kids learning at home will benefit from these 14 family-friendly activities from Highlights.

STEAM for All

While winter offers many wondrous activities for young children, winter weather and science can hook students of every age. Here are some resources and inspiration for teaching winter-themed STEAM lessons at many levels. 

To that end, the nonprofit Winter Wildlands Alliance has created the Snow Science Curriculum website. While they regularly host in-person, outdoor adventures to study snowy weather, they also host SnowSchool at Home, which includes videos and activities for every grade level.

Get some inspiration and useful links on teaching winter ecology on this page from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). They also share the Greening STEM Hub, with planning tools, case studies, and resources designed to help educators center the natural environment while learning about science, tech, engineering, and math. 

Through the Minnesota state Department of Natural Resources, science teachers Stanley Mikles and Mark Studer each share ten tips to teach science outdoors, when possible, and ways students can be primed to observe the natural world. 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) shares free access to the journal article “The Joys of Teaching Ecology in K–12 and Informal Settings” with a focus on helping students imagine eco-careers. The ESA also provides a vast array of links and resources related to ecology education, from events to their own curricular framework, the Four Dimensional Ecology Education (4DEE) Framework.

Looking to build more lasting ways to create ecological learning? Check out Project Learning Tree’s piece on the importance of ecological education, and important factors to consider. 

How do you build STEAM learning in the winter months? Share your ideas and resources in the comments!

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