12 Days of Christmas Computing Activities
The start of December often leads teachers to count down the lessons with their worst groups and mumble to themselves phrases like “Only 2 more wet Friday afternoons with 9F before I can open the Baileys” or “3 more staff meetings until I can have a lie in”. It can be difficult to keep motivated when the holidays are within touching distance and you can almost smell the Terry’s Chocolate Orange in your stocking. But it is still term time, you have a mountain of homework from your eager year 7’s to mark, you still have that display to arrange for the corridor outside your room and of course those mock exams will not grade themselves. As soon as you dig out an age appropriate DVD for your classes, SLT make it very clear that every lesson until the final bell goes has to be worthwhile and you know they will patrolling the corridors and popping their heads around your door at any moment.
But your students are restless and are nagging you to do something fun. They are bored of watching videos of 'A Christmas Carol' in English while their teacher snoozes at the back of the classroom in the semi-darkness, they have had enough of making paper decorations out of various shapes in maths and they are looking to you to provide something exciting.
Fear not, exhausted teachers, there is a solution. Not for the mock paper grades or the year 7 homework and I am afraid 9F will still be as difficult as ever but there is a solution to keep SLT and your Christmas crazy classes happy.
I have compiled a list which I am calling the “12 Days of Christmas Computing Activities”. It includes a variety of Christmas activities for the busy computer science teacher that are suitable for KS3 computing and GCSE computer science classes. I am not for a moment suggesting you should work your way through all of them but there is enough variety you can pick something that is not too wildly obscure from what you have already been doing with your classes. This way SLT are happy the lesson is educational, but the lesson is also festive enough, so your classes feel they are doing something fun.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…
1) A Scratch game involving a Christmas theme
Hmmmm, okay I know it doesn’t quite fit the song but you get the idea. If your year 7 classes have been learning Scratch why not set them the challenge of creating a maze game where one of Santa’s elves is looking for lost presents in the workshop. You can make it is intricate or as easy as you like. Challenge your more able students to add a score for every present their elf gathers, set a timer, make the presents move randomly around the stage. There are so many things your students can do with this game. Let them come up with original ideas and then allow your class time to play each other’s games and give some peer feedback.
2) Elf Debugging
This is another Elf based lesson. This needs a little preparation from you and you need to create several programs that contain a few errors in each. Your class take on the role of Santa’s little helpers who need to go through Santa’s code and fix it. This should help them learn debugging and may even persuade them to have a go at debugging their own programs in the future rather than putting their hands up to ask you to help them, so it’s really a Christmas present to yourself. You can use this rubber duck debugging lesson as a basis if you are looking for inspiration of how to teach debugging techniques.
3) Naughty or Nice list
The next activity in our 12 Days of Computing Christmas Activity list is another programming challenge. As the famous song tells us “He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to town”. This computer science Christmas activity is more suitable for GCSE classes as it involves writing a program that will store data to an external text file. For this scenario let’s assume every good deed a child does, they get a positive score added to their overall total and for every naughty action they get a negative score.
The program should allow Santa to enter the name, address, postcode and total score of a child and the program should automatically decide if the child is classed as naughty or nice. If the total score is under 0, the child’s details should be saved to a text file called “Naughty” and if it is 0 or more, they are saved in the “Nice” text file. An example of one possible solution in Python is shown below.
4) Excel Christmas Shopping List
You may want to focus away from computer science and more into the digital literacy part of the computing national curriculum. We have you covered too. Why not challenge your pupils to create a spreadsheet that calculates the cost of Christmas for a household. They can work out the cost of a Christmas dinner, research the cost of the various items from a supermarket, work out how much each portion would cost and the total cost to feed everybody. They could also look at the cost of presents identifying each person and the presents they would get and the cost of the items. They may be surprised by just how much Christmas costs. If students don’t want to make it realistic they could write the list for an imaginary family or even a famous celebrity’s family.
5) Mail Merge a Christmas Card List
Why not ask them to set up and populate an address list in Excel and then mail merge it to labels. You can take it further and even personalise messages for inside the cards.
6) Santa Photo Bomb
Talking of Christmas cards, how about a bit of image manipulation. Photo bomb Santa into another image and then add a slogan to make a funny Christmas card which they can import into a suitable Christmas card template.
7) Animated Christmas
There are many ways to use animation for a computing Christmas activity. It could be a team effort stop frame animation or something much simpler like using Scratch to make a short, animated scene. You could even go down the route of creating a meme by adding a pithy caption or importing into a video with a music soundtrack or even make it into a website landing page or app banner.
8) Festive Webquest
How about setting them a webquest? You can ask festive questions about strange traditions from around the world they need to use the internet to find the answers. You can set the questions or you can make it much easier for yourself and allow your students to set the questions themselves. You will probably need to give them some criteria such as specifying they need to write 20 questions and find out the answers for themselves first and then ask them to swap webquests with another pupil and complete each other’s quizzes.
9) Christmas Bitmap Images
If your computing classes have been learning about binary this free spreadsheet
Christmas bitmap drawing activity will help them understand bitmap images. They need to convert binary into denary and then input the denary numbers into a grid to make festive images. It then shows them how 4-bit binary numbers could be used to make up the images. This can lead to a discussion about colour depth and how having more bits allow more colour options but will add to the number of bits needed to store the image, increasing the file size.
10) Murder Mystery
What could be more representative of a traditional family Christmas than your mind drifting towards murder! This free murder mystery computer science revision challenge does not have a Christmas theme (although Father Christmas does make a surprise appearance) but is a fun way of helping your classes recap computer science theory making this suitable for even your year 11 classes. They work in teams to interrogate suspects, but they can only ask them questions if they can answer a computer science related question correctly. If they get it wrong they suspect goes into hiding and they will never find out the vital information the witness could have provided in helping your students solve the murder.
11) Escape Rooms
I have created a few escape rooms and these are another way to help make computer science revision fun. There is my bank heist escape room where pupils need to break into a bank and answer computer science questions in order to open the safety deposit boxes and then write a program to escape with their loot. There is also my computational thinking escape room where pupils are drifting in space and need to use a variety of computational thinking skills to start the engines and escape a black hole. These fun challenges make a great revision lesson, end of term lesson or can be used at any time of the year.
12) Christmas Quiz
I must admit, from mid-November I get quite a few emails from teachers asking if I am doing another Christmas Quiz and it seems they have become a bit of a tradition in some schools with pupils asking their teachers for it. My 2019 Christmas Computing Quiz was uploaded a few weeks ago and includes rounds on computational thinking, hardware, computing terms as well as a few fun festive rounds and the obligatory Christmas song lyrics final round to end with a rousing sing-a-long as you wave a relieved goodbye to your pupils on their final lesson.
I hope this list has given you a few ideas and helps make your final few lessons with your classes festive and still feel educational.
I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a well deserved break.