As the holiday break inches ever closer, keeping students engaged in academic work can be an uphill battle! Engaging winter or Christmas classroom activities like this December STEM challenge are the perfect way to get kids excited to work collaboratively in deep critical thinking and problem solving! This week’s December STEM challenge is one of my very favorites because it incorporates not only STEM, but P.E. and strategy — making the “fun” factor outrageously high!
Premise of December STEM Challenge
In Reindeer Relay, students design the reindeer antlers to transport and transfer Christmas decorations during a relay race. If you prefer a winter/non-Christmas version of the challenge, students can transport reindeer “food” instead.
This is obviously a great option to add to your Christmas classroom activities, but if you want to keep it purely about winter, swap the Christmas decorations for reindeer food, and voila! Reindeer Relay becomes the perfect Winter or December STEM Challenge Activity! Check out the video below for details.
Materials for Reindeer Relay
The list of materials you’ll need is short and easily modified, making this December STEM activity simple to incorporate with very little need for additional prep. You’ll need:
- Pipe cleaners (10 – 15 or less if building only one antler)
- Popsicle/craft sticks (10 – 15 or less if building only one antler)
For each group:
- Christmas decorations (10 – 15 mixed pieces per group)
Ornaments (plastic), tinsel, bows, ribbon, garland, etc.
- Rubber bands
- Glue gun
- Timers/Stopwatches (for relay race)
- Cones or sidewalk chalk (for relay race markers)
Reindeer Relay December STEM Challenge Video Walk-through
It’s so much easier to show you! I’d love to chat about it over coffee, but that’s not too practical is it! So, I’m going with the next best thing! I’ve found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is a great way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about the December STEM Challenge, Reindeer Relay. However, if you prefer to read, you’ll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.
Social Distance/Distance Learning Modifications
Are There Other Christmas, Winter, & December STEM Challenges Like This?
Of course! I can’t help myself! You’ll find all five of the Christmas/Winter STEM challenges I’ve created in the 5-challenge bundle briefly described in this post. Each challenge post is linked there for the walk-through videos and more details. You can also find this Winter and Christmas STEM activity alone (top left) or in a bundle of 5 Christmas and Winter STEM activities (top right). You may also like the Late Winter STEM Activities Bundle & the Valentine’s Day STEM Activities Bundle. Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students’ work on Facebook & Instagram if you want to give me a smile this holiday season!
You can also find this December STEM challenge, Reindeer Relay, on Etsy!
- 15 Wonderful Winter STEM Activities
- Late Winter STEM Challenges
- 30 STEM Activities in 30 Minutes or Less
Hi there! Welcome to week two of the Christmas and Winter STEM Challenges. This is one of my very favorites, Reindeer Relay. The premise of this one is that students are going to design reindeer antlers that they can use to transport and transfer Christmas decorations during a relay race. If you’re looking for a non-Christmas version of this challenge, you could just substitute grasses, mosses, lichen in place of the Christmas decorations, and then it’s really just a winter polar animal activity.
If you decide to use that version of Reindeer Relay, I would just get some green yarn, maybe some streamers, or even go to the floral section of a Dollar Tree and get mosses and things like that. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a second to look at the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle.
This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I’ve defined each step in another video. I’ve added a pop-in card to that video here, as well as a link in the description. Now, for the Christmas decorations, things like tinsel, ribbon, bows, candy canes and ornaments work very nicely.
One note, if you do choose to use ornaments, try to get plastic ones and not that very thin metal that shatters into a million sharp pieces, because there’s a very good chance during the relay race that the ornaments will fall off the antlers. Make sure that you use identical sets of decorations, or food if you’re using that version, for each group so that it’s a fair race.
Now, one way to do this is to actually put students in partners first, and each student makes their own antler, but just one. That way within their partnership, they have a set of antlers. Then when you’re getting ready to run the relay race, take two or three of those partner groups and make a larger group to run that race, so you’ll have four to six students in every relay race group.
You do need to choose before the race, of course, if you’re going to have students walk the race, run the race, or skip or some other version. Usually I do sort of a power walk, because with all the ornaments on the antlers, it is kind of tricky to go much faster than that.
If it’s their turn to run the relay race, they are not allowed to touch the decorations. Now, you’ll see the ornaments are resting on the backs of my hands right now. I would allow that, but they can’t do something like this in order to steady it or keep it held on. I usually just set up a cone or mark off a line in the distance, and the students have to go around that cone and come back to the start.
At the go signal, the first student in line will hold up antlers that are empty, and the team will decorate those antlers with the entire set of decorations, or the entire set of food if you’re doing the non-Christmas version, and then once everything is on the antlers, he or she will walk the course or run the course and come back.
Now, one thing that you can do, because things are bound to fall, you can send one student along with the reindeer to be sort of the reindeer handler. In that case, if any of the decorations fall off during the running of the race, the reindeer must stop immediately and the handler must put the decorations back onto the antlers. If you don’t do it that way, it can be really tricky because the person who’s the reindeer doesn’t even always know when they’ve dropped something, and then when he or she does realize it, it can be very hard to stop and pick something up without dropping more things, so I would send a handler.
When this student gets back to his or her group, there will be another student waiting with empty antlers. The team will then transfer all the decorations from student one’s antlers to the next student’s antlers, and then the relay race continues. Here’s an example of a team formed from three partner groups, A, B, and C.
The partners can continue to work together within the larger team by using the antlers they designed and serving as each other’s handler during the race. Student A1 will run the course with A2 trailing slightly behind, directing him to stop if something falls from the antlers, in which case the handler will reapply the fallen object to the antlers, and the race will continue. When they return to the line behind group C, they’ll prepare to trade roles for A2’s turn as the racer. All students will have a turn as racer and handler.
When the last student running a race returns to his or her group, all of the decorations from his or her antlers must be removed and placed in whatever the starting container was in order to officially end the race. If you want to add in something for a little bit of fun, you could have a mini Christmas tree for each group, and instead of putting everything into a start container, you can decorate the Christmas tree with the ornaments and then have all the students sit down, and that’s when their time is called.
If at all possible, you’re going to want to run this relay race several times. This allows the students to improve upon their strategies and their approach, which is just about as important as the designs themselves in this one. As far as the timing goes, I do recommend allowing each group to have their own timer so that as they run the relay races, they can record their own time.
If there’s only one timer, it can be tricky for all the students to know their exact time. I do recommend not having the students score their improvements based on, “We came in first place,” or “We came in third place,” but rather, “In our first iteration, we completed the race in 45 seconds, and in the second we completed it in 42 seconds.” Because they really need to compare themselves against themselves in order to know if they’re improving.
I have two ideas for you to make this just a little bit more challenging for older students. The first is either to require or constrain certain angles. You could say within the design, you must have at least two 45 degree angles, or no greater than two 45 degree angles. If you really want to challenge your students, have them make hands-free antlers.
A couple of ideas to extend on this one. You could have students to identify angles in their designs. You can also have them conduct research on polar animals, so they could just choose either the Arctic or the Antarctic. If there’s time, it could be really fun to see if the students can come up with their own STEM Challenge relay race idea based on the animal that they researched. All right, I’ve given you all the basics, but if you’re looking for more, check out the resource.
Reindeer Relay combines all the fun of a STEM Challenge with that of a relay race, and this resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eight graders. You’ll still need to gather the simple materials, of course, but the hard parts are done. You’ll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM Challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Reindeer Relay Materials list.
In teacher tips, you’ll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, how to run the race, and measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You’ll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list so you can tailor the challenge to your students.
For student handouts, there are two versions, four-page expanded room for response for younger students, and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You’ll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts, you’ll find a polar animals research activity, math extension, and process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of the discounted Winter/Christmas and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description below the video.
This is one of my very favorite challenges because it involves STEM Challenge, plus PE, plus strategy, it’s definitely a student favorite. I hope your kids are going to really love it. Make sure you don’t forget to like and subscribe. I will be back next week with challenge number three, Sleigh & Slope or Sled & Slope, depending if you’re doing Christmas or Winter version. See you next time.