Gingerbread houses and characters are a great way to capture students' attention in the days leading up to winter break! Shake things up this December with a gingerbread house building STEM challenge in your classroom or try one of these other fun gingerbread-themed science and engineering explorations.
Activities involving gingerbread houses and gingerbread people pop up in many classrooms in December and through the winter months. Some educators even plan a "Gingerbread Week." To help spice things up, we've highlighted seven STEM activities below that can add science and engineering to your recipe for gingerbread fun. We've picked a mix of exciting gingerbread-themed explorations. If you already make gingerbread houses with students, we've got suggestions for transforming that into a STEM challenge for all ages. We've also included activities that focus on light, potential and kinetic energy, and circuit building. Of course, many of these experiments can be combined with storytelling and paired with gingerbread-themed storybooks, too! See some of our favorite gingerbread book picks.
Gingerbread STEM: Experiment | Watch Videos | Ask Questions | Dig Deeper | Choice Board | Explore Careers | Read Books
EXPERIMENT: STEM Experiments with a Gingerbread Theme!
The science: There are a number of math and science angles you can choose to emphasize with gingerbread house building. We've outlined ways you can make this an engineering activity with a focus on structural engineering (the house needs to stand up) and materials science, but you can also experiment with the chemistry of the icing used as the "glue" in building gingerbread houses. See the activity for suggestions for specifying design criteria, adding point values and a materials budget, and using the engineering design process.
The science: Practicing writing concrete and repeatable directions to navigate from Point A to Point B helps students practice the kind of algorithmic and sequence-oriented thinking used in coding and computer programming. Non-specific (or incorrect) directions can lead to funny mistakes in the activity and will help students begin to understand how precise coding instructions must be for a program to run properly. You can also introduce the concept of debugging as a way to troubleshoot code that doesn't work as expected.
The science: Students use the engineering design process to design, build, and test a Rube Goldberg machine to complete a simple task. In the process, they will investigate the relationship between a moving object's mass, speed, and kinetic energy.
The science: As students experiment with how to control how the shadows appear on the wall and discover how to make the shadows bigger or smaller, they will be learning about the physics of light and shadow.
The science: 3D printing is an additive process. Shapes (or "parts") are created as the printer builds the shape layer by layer and adds information to the part with each new layer. Students simulate this additive process in this activity with royal icing (or in the 3D Print with Sand: No 3D Printer Required! activity using sand and glue).
The science: By experimenting with the placement of the image (or dot) on each card and the amount of change in the placement between cards in the sequence, students will better understand animation and the requirements for successful flipbook animation. As an optical illusion, this kind of "apparent animation" is a good example of how our brains may fill in missing information when presented with visual cues.
The science: Paper circuits are a great way for students to explore introductory circuits using copper tape (or aluminum foil), a coin cell battery, and LEDs. These simple circuits demonstrate the importance of closed circuits.
Use these questions to prompt conversation and reflection about the science behind these Gingerbread STEM activities:
- Why do you use royal icing when making gingerbread houses? Does regular frosting or icing work? Why or why not?
- Why is it so important to give very precise directions when writing instructions for a computer? What should you do when you find an error? What is debugging in computer programming?
- How can you make shadow puppets appear bigger or smaller without changing the actual puppet?
- What does energy have to do with how a Rube Goldberg Machine works? What kinds of energy can you identify in a Rube Goldberg machine?
- Why does a flipbook with more pages work better than one with fewer pages?
DIG DEEPER: More Lessons and Activities
For additional lessons and activities related to the activities above, see these curated Teaching Science Units collections and resources:
- 26 Science Projects and Experiments To Teach About Types of Energy
- 13 Activities and Lessons to Teach Potential and Kinetic Energy
- 18 Science Lessons to Teach Circuits
- 13 Lessons to Teach About the Chemistry of Mixtures and Solutions
- 12+ Engineering Challenges for Elementary School
- 16+ Engineering Challenges for Middle School
- 11+ Engineering Challenges for High School
- 4 Ways to Teach Engineering Design
- Imagine Your Story - STEM Activities for Storytellers of All Ages!
CHOICE BOARD: Differentiated Learning
Choice boards offer a flexible learning tool educators can use to supplement classroom instruction. You might try a choice board as part of weekly homework, for extra credit, or for asynchronous and remote learning.
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EXPLORE: STEM Careers
After trying any of the Gingerbread STEM experiments, students may be inspired to learn more about these science and engineering careers:
- Materials Scientist and Engineer
- Mechanical Engineer
- Engineering Manager
- Civil Engineers
- Civil Engineering Technician
- Computer Programmer
- CAD Technician
- Computer Software Engineer
Pair books like these with Gingerbread STEM explorations.
Bookmark Gingerbread STEM!
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