Math = Love: Vocabulary Christmas Ornament Project 2018

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Vocabulary Christmas Ornament Project 2018

It's the last day of the semester before Christmas Break. This means that my day pretty much consists of waiting impatiently for students to take their semester tests followed by a frenzy of grading to get the tests into the gradebook.

We're on a block schedule for our two days of semester tests, so I had an extra long planning period this morning. I used part of that time to un-decorate my room for Christmas since I figure that will be the last thing I want to do when I come back in January. I'm a bit sad to see the Christmas decorations go because they weren't just any ordinary decorations. They were vocabulary ornaments created by my Pre-AP Algebra 2 students.

This project was inspired by Toni Madison, a middle school math teacher and blogger. You can check out her original post about the ornament project (plus lots of other Christmas ideas) here. I used the rubric she shared on her blog with my students. The only real thing I had to prepare for my students was a list of vocabulary words we had learned this semester for them to choose from.

I didn't have an extra Christmas tree for students to hang their completed ornaments on, so I improvised by hanging garland around the room. This ended up working really well, actually, because students were able to easily see EVERYONE's ornaments.

I only did this with my Pre-AP Algebra 2 classes. My on-level Algebra 2 classes were actually jealous once they saw all the ornaments that my other classes had created. Why didn't we get to do that?!? Since I did do this with Pre-AP students, this assignment was completed entirely outside of class. Students provided their own supplies. If I were to do this with on-level students, I would probably give them time/access to a limited number of supplies in class.

One of my favorite aspects of this project was that students had to write a paragraph explaining the meaning of their vocabulary word and how their ornament reflected this definition. I would definitely NOT do this project without the written aspect. There were a few ornaments that I was unsure what word they represented UNTIL I read the paragraph. Then, it made total sense.

Here are a few close-ups.


Sigma Notation

System of Equations and Y-Intercept


Reflection and Absolute Value

Negative Interval and Domain


Quadratic Formula

Arithmetic Sequence and Vertex

Y-Intercept and Horizontal Compression

Piecewise Function

Vertical Stretch and Function

Axis of Symmetry and Positive Interval

Reflection and Y-Intercept



Next year, I would make a few changes to this project.

1. I thought I had a brilliant idea of creating a google doc where students could sign up for whatever vocabulary word they wanted to do. This ended up being a disaster. Students were erasing each other's names from the google doc, and it took way too long for them to stop trying to sabotage each other and choose a word. I think I might just pass out vocab words next year and let them trade with a friend if they don't like their word.

2. I definitely want to introduce a brainstorming aspect to this project where they complete an intermediate assignment where they have to write down the definition of their vocabulary word and create a rough draft of ideas for what their ornament might look like. Some of the ones that didn't make it into the close-up pictures were a bit lacking on the creativity side, and I could tell they were most likely done at the last minute.

3. A lot of the vocabulary words we use in Algebra 2 overlap with vocabulary words from previous math courses that students have taken. I didn't do the best job of emphasizing to students that they needed to make their ornament reflect the definition we learned in Algebra 2. Several students took a much more geometric approach to their vocab ornaments than I would have liked to have seen. I need to emphasize this next year. I think doing the above idea will help take care of this as well.

4. I think I would also start this project SOONER next year. Originally, I had planned on assigning it right after Thanksgiving. But, life got crazy, and the deadline ended up being a little too close to comfort to the deadline to get semester grades in for exemptions. Plus, the sooner we get the decorations up, the longer we can enjoy a Christmas-y decorated room.

5. The last change I would make is to have students present their ornaments to the class with a quick presentation. I think this would increase student buy-in and end up producing better projects.


  1. Niiiice! I especially like the Symme-TREE!

  2. This is an awesome idea! I hope to try it next year!