By Melissa Karsten / February 19, 2018

Presidents’ Day in the classroom – the hands-on, minds-on way

February holds claim to having two of our country’s most famous presidents born in it – Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and George Washington on February 22. In all, four of our past presidents celebrate birthdays in February. It makes sense that we celebrate the office in this month. But that’s not the only reason. . . .

Presidents’ Day was originally recognized as George Washington’s birthday, but after the holiday moved to a Monday as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, it became a day to celebrate all our presidents past and present (History.com). This year, we celebrate having six living presidents, and there’s a plethora of resources to get to know more about all the presidents, such as Whitehouse.gov. But in the tradition of hands-on learning, let’s look at some STEM activities to encourage problem-solving and other skills.

Hands-On, Minds-On Activity Ideas

Build a Monument

Building a national monument or memorial can be done with almost any material and spans many grade levels. Makerspace, anyone? You might use construction paper, clay, or macaroni for younger students. For older ones consider turning it into a competition using toothpicks, straws, or building systems. Who can build the tallest Washington Monument that can stand up by itself?

Build a Log Cabin

Not into monuments? How about building Lincoln’s log cabin? Depending where you are in the nation, this activity might give your students a chance to get outside and collect sticks. Although paper towel rolls, straws, straight pretzels, foam board, and balsa sticks work well too.

Cross the Delaware

Connect with two presidents in one activity: combine the Lincoln penny with Washington crossing the Delaware River. How can your students build a boat that can hold the most pennies without sinking? Give all the students the same kinds and amounts of materials to level the playing field, or set limits on the size of the boats, especially if you’re using a small container for the Delaware.

Connect it to Coins

Building something doesn’t fit into your lesson plans? Then how many drops of water can a penny or quarter support before the water spills over? This is a great activity to practice the scientific method. Add this to learning how presidents ended up on our coins (the US Mint has the details) and what metals coins have been made of over the years for a more robust lesson.

Cast a Vote

Or, which president would your students vote for? After discussing past presidents, choose several of the favorites and hold an election. Students could make campaign posters and even try role-playing in a debate. At the end, have each student vote and see what past president measures up to today’s expectations.

Have another idea? Post it in the comments so we can celebrate with you and so other educators can benefit from your experience!

TOPICS: IDEAS & INSPIRATION, Makerspaces, Science, STEM, Engineering

Melissa Karsten

Written by Melissa Karsten

Anyone that knows me well knows I love to ask questions and get excited about learning. So, it’s been exhilarating over the last 10+ years with Pitsco to have many opportunities to ask educators questions online and in their classrooms and learn so much from them. But, I have to say, my favorite part is witnessing the students’ “aha!” moments using the hands-on approach. Being a crafter – I’d love to be on "Flea Market Flip!" – I can relate. Now, if I can just figure out how to balance crafting with my digital projects, gardening, beekeeping, and what I call puppy time (even though our blue heeler is two years old)!