Great Gloves and Marvelous Mittens: A STEM Challenge

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Opportunities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning are all around us. Here is one of my favorite activities for teaching about winter or cold climate animal adaptations and human ingenuity while allowing kids to experiment and build their own creations.

When the seasons change and warm weather turns chilly, people use strategies borrowed from animals to keep warm. Wild animals either migrate, hibernate or build up some fat and fur to survive the cold.

Grandma and Grandpa might migrate further south for the winter, but no one I know hibernates. Some may think the winter months are a great excuse for gaining a few pounds…but instead of building up layers of fat or growing more fur, most people have just borrowed the idea of wearing warmer clothes to keep from getting cold. (It doesn’t hurt that we have heated homes either…)


Where did we get the idea to wear more layers? What are the best materials and designs for clothes that insulate our body heat? Explore and find out with this STEM challenge.

To introduce this challenge, you may want to read a book like Animals in Winter, part of the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out-Science series, or complete the “Surviving Winter” interactive lesson at PBS Learning Media. (You’ll need to set up a free account to access the lesson, but this will unlock tons of other fabulous resources for teaching science, so it’s well worth the time it takes to create an account.)

Once kids have some background knowledge about how animals have adapted to cold climates and seasons, they can begin to think about how humans have adapted. What ideas have we borrowed from animals? We bundle up, or travel to warmer places. Let’s test out the “bundling up” idea.

Animals use their fat or fur for insulation. How do people use the idea of insulation? What if your hands were really chilly? How could you keep them warm? Right! You put on some mittens or gloves to insulate your skin from the cold air. But what materials make the best finger insulators?

Your STEM challenge:

Design and build a glove or mitten that helps insulate your hands from the cold. You’ll test your glove/mitten by wearing it while you stick your hand in ice! 


You can choose any materials you’d like. Raiding the recycling bin is a must. Here are some ideas!

  • various fabrics, i.e. denim, leather, vinyl, cotton, felt, wool
  • cotton balls
  • yarn
  • tape
  • glue
  • cardboard
  • newspaper
  • packing peanuts
  • packing air pockets
  • bubble wrap
  • tin foil
  • a kid-friendly thermometer 
  • bucket or big bowl
  • ice cubes
  • stopwatch

Try it:  

1. Draw your design. Make some notes about the materials you plan on using and why you believe they will be the best.

2. Start building. You can change and tweak your design as you go. Engineers make many changes to their plans as they begin to build.

3. Test it out! Fill up a bucket with ice. Put your glove or mitten on your hand. Stick it in the ice and wait a few minutes. Is the glove keeping your hand warm?


4. Collect some quantitative, or number, data. You can use this printable data and observation sheet to help you keep track. Write down the temperature on the thermometer. Then put the thermometer in your mitten or glove and stick it back in the ice. Wait a certain amount of time, 10 minutes for example. When the time is up, pull your thermometer out. Did the temperature change? How well did your glove insulate the thermometer from the ice? Try shorter or longer amounts of time.

5. Think about your design. Now that you’ve tested it, are there things you’d like to change?

6. Make changes or re-design.

7. Test again!

You can extend this project by asking other related questions, like these: 

  • If your mitten or glove is not waterproof or water resistant, what can you do to make it so?
  • If you put an ice cube inside your glove how long does it take to melt? Can you create a glove that keeps an ice cube frozen for a long time? Remember, insulators help keep things cold too!

Have fun experimenting!

shareitsciencenewsSarah Benton Feitlinger is a former Preschool-6th science teacher, blogger and science curriculum developer and mom. She is passionate about educating children, and loves anything and everything science! Check out her blog, Share it! Science News for science activities, lessons, science news and other resources for teachers, homeschoolers and parents. Follow her on social media: Facebook,Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.

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