Pre-Holiday activities

For activities to use during the holiday break, check out the bottom of this post.


Minimizing wrapping paper – Wrapping gifts diagonally on your wrapping paper saves material.  Surface area, Pythagorean Theorem, geometry, hands-on, and very cool activity.

xmas-showsMoneymaking holiday movies – data analysis, rounding, percent increase and appropriate graphical representations

Why is it so dark out? - Winter solstice, geometry/Earth science, Earth’s tilt, appreciate angle measurement with dark time of year.

soda-santa-lgSoda Santa  – Reasonable guessing the number of 6-packs required to build this Santa.  What guesses are too low?  What guesses are too high?

wrapped_present_boxWrapping gifts – surface area exploration with no measurements given. Students have to reason about relative sizes of gifts and their necessary wrapping requirements.

croppedNutcracker-headMacaroon Nutcracker – Two possible activities here.  (1) Volume, surface area, ratios, and ingredient quantities … traditional.  (2) 3-act activity on estimation.

Holiday candy sales – Considering which holidays receive the most candy sales.  Students deduce from a pie chart the actual dollars spent for various holidays.

prettytreeChristmas Tree Lights – Try to approximate the number of light strings necessary to illuminate this tree.  Conical surface area? Experience?

hanukkahWhy does the date of Hanukkah change every year? - Students learn about a 19-year rotation of the Hebrew calendar that aligns the Sun and the moon’s rotations. Remainders, long division, interesting stuff.

snowy-treeSnow Days – Brian made a movie of the snow accumulating on his back porch.  What was the rate of snowfall.  How much do you guess it snowed after 24 hours? Average rate? Graph it? When was the steepest rate?

For activities for during the holiday break.

monopolyMonopoly – In the board game, Monopoly, does a property’s distance from GO correlate to its rent when you land on it? Correlations, scatter plot, line of best fit, outliers Excel or not …

 Canstruction – Estimation, low and high guesses, square numbers, sums of squares in a cool, world-wide, annual event of gathering canned food for the hungry and creating incredible sculpture.

Goldfish crackersGoldfish_cracker – Comparative shopping activity.  Which size of Goldfish crackers is the best deal?  Ratios, ratio tables, cost per ounce,

Saving Wrapping Paper?

Activity just updated – now there are two different sized boxes to wrap!

Dr. Sara Santos is a popular mathematician and speaker on mathematics.  She has worked out a method for wrapping boxes (rectangular prisms) as efficiently as possible. (Watch the video above)  Her method was written up in this article in Mental Floss and she was interviewed about her wrapping paper method in this video clip from The One Show.

In this activity students determine if this method for minimizing wrapping paper is actually more efficient then the traditional method.   For a hands on learning experiment, have students actually wrap a small rectangular prism using any available paper in both the traditional and diagonal methods. Then let them compare the two quantities of wrapping paper and decide which method uses less paper and by what percent.

Soda Santa

Happy Holidays! This Soda Santa is made up entirely of 12-pack cans of Coca-Cola products. What questions do you have?


Clicking on this image will show him a little larger in a new window.

Start out the activity by giving kids 30 seconds to look at the picture and have them take a quick guess: How many twelve packs of soda make up the Santa?  Guess without calculating.  Come up with a reasonable range for the number of twelve packs.  Numbers that are too high and too low.

Christmas tree lights

Check out the Christmas Tree.  You are heading out to the store to get lights for the tree.  Without calculating, guess how many feet of lights you will need.


What information do you need to better estimate the number of feet of lights that you need? (Give students time to consider what info they have and what they need)

Why does the date of Hanukkah change every year?

Tuesday evening, December 16th, is the first night of Hanukkah this year. I think it was in November last year. Why isn’t it always on the same date?

Students look at the Hebrew calendar and appreciate the incredible mathematics involved in creating a calendar that aligns both the moon’s rotation about the Earth and the Earth’s rotation about the Sun.

How much does a Lego cost?


Clicking on this picture will show it larger in a new window.

This is a three act task, with an activity guide.  Show students the act one video.  What questions do they have?  How much could the Star Wars kit cost?  Follow the  activity guide, find costs based on the cost of other kits in the video.  Students are using a random sample to determine the cost of the Star Wars kit.  They might take an average cost per block from the sample & proportionately extend that to the number of blocks in the Star Wars kit.  Older students might make a scatter plot of the data & determine a line of best fit that models the cost of a kit for any number of bricks.  Students use their model to find the cost or number of blocks in other kits.  Finally, show the act three video.  Did students predict the actual cost?  If not, what might have accounted for the price difference?