Adapted from STEAM In a Jar®: Experiments, Activities, and Trivia for Your Classroom by Garth Sundem
With school right around the corner, here are some activities to help counter summer learning loss and get kids back into the swing of engaging their brains. These 10 fun (and educational) hands-on activities that focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math will keep kids entertained and learning right up to the first day of school.
- DIY Science: Elephant Toothpaste. Hydrogen peroxide is a mix of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen, represented by the molecular formula H2O2. Over time, it decomposes into water (H2O), but you might notice there’s one oxygen (O) left over. Adding yeast speeds up this reaction. Let’s try it! Mix 2 T. warm water with 1 T. yeast in a small bowl or cup. Mix ½ c. hydrogen peroxide with a squirt of dish soap in a 2 L bottle. Pour the yeast mixture into the bottle and see what happens. Here’s the reaction 2H2O2 –> 2H2O + O2. What do you think makes this “elephant toothpaste” expand? What do you think is the purpose of the dish soap?
- DIY Science: Heart Pump. Cut off the neck of a balloon and set it aside. Fill a small jar halfway with water and stretch the balloon across the top. Poke two small holes in the stretched balloon and insert a straw down through each into the water. Now make a one-way valve: Slide the balloon neck over the top of one of the straws and tape it in place so the cut end of the neck hangs off the straw’s top. Pump your invention by pushing on the balloon stretched across the top of the jar. What happens to the water? What is the purpose of the one-way valve? How do you think this pump is like a human heart? How is it different?
- DIY Technology: Team Programming. A computer program is a set of instructions that tells a computer what to do. Practice programming using two friends as computers. Draw a simple maze on graph paper. Pass the maze to a friend, who will write step-by-step solving instructions. For example: “(1) Go straight four squares. (2) Turn right. (3) Go three squares. (4) Turn left.” Now have the second friend use the directions to draw a path on a new sheet of graph paper. Lay the graph paper with the path on top of the graph paper with the maze. Hold the two sheets up to the light to see if they line up. If that was easy, try again with a more complex maze.
- DIY Technology: Robot Hand. Trace and cut out a cardboard hand. Bend the cardboard fingers at each joint and then re-flatten. Glue straws on the palm side of the hand along each finger and carefully slice the straws at each joint. Thread strings through the straws and tie knots at the fingertips to hold them in place. Pull the strings. Do these “tendons” flex the fingers? See what you can pick up with your robot hand. Now that you have a prototype, work to troubleshoot your design. Inventors call this process of tweaking a prototype iteration. How can you iterate to make your robotic hand better?
- DIY Engineering: Bridges. Use four marshmallows and four toothpicks to make a square. Now push on the corners of your square. Can you change the shape into a skinny diamond? Now use three marshmallows and three toothpicks to make a triangle. When you push on the corners of your triangle, can you change its shape? Use this information (along with 30 marshmallows and as many toothpicks as you want) to build a strong toothpick bridge. Measure how much weight your bridge can hold before breaking.
- DIY Engineering: Solar Oven. The sun can get pretty hot, but it’s usually not hot enough to cook stuff—unless you focus and trap its energy. Find a medium-size cardboard box (a pizza box works well). Close the box and cut a large rectangular flap in the top so the flap opens as if it were on a hinge. Use plastic wrap to cover the opening you created. Cover the underside of the flap with tinfoil. Position and prop open the reflective flap so it directs sunlight through the plastic wrap into the box. Can your solar oven cook a s’more or other simple treat? If needed, troubleshoot your design. How could you direct more sunlight into the box or keep the heat from escaping?
- DIY Art: Universal Language. When you think about art, maybe you picture painting, illustration, and sculpture. But there are many more kinds of art! Theater is one of them. Of course, what actors say is an important part of theater arts. But equally important is how actors use their bodies and voices to show meaning. Have a conversation with a partner . . . without using any “real” words. Make up the sounds of your language as you go. Use your tone of voice and your body language to make meaning. When you finish, if you performed in front of an audience, ask what they thought you were talking about. Or discuss the conversation with your partner. Did he or she understand what you were trying to say?
- DIY Art: Nonsense (Genius!) Poetry. If you find it hard to write poetry that makes sense, you’re in luck. The goal of this exercise is to write poetry that is almost completely senseless. Start by writing the first word that pops into your mind. Now write a second word, but here’s an important rule: The second word can’t be related in any way to the first. Now write a third word that is unrelated to the second. When you feel like it, skip down to the next line and keep going. Once you have a few lines, try to add connecting words like to and the. Don’t forget to share your genius!
- DIY Math: Slap It Odds & Evens. Play this game in groups of two, three, or four. Deal out a deck of cards. Take turns quickly flipping cards onto a center pile. Remember the card that came before yours! You want to slap the pile only if a red card makes an odd number when added to the previous card (a red ace on top of a two) or a black card makes an even number when added to the previous card (a black three on top of a five). Whoever correctly slaps the pile first gets the cards. If you incorrectly slap the pile, lay down three additional cards. Whoever gets all the cards wins. Now play again, adding your card plus the previous two cards.
- DIY Math: Add-On 21 Game. At first this game seems hard. Then it seems easy. Then you realize it really is hard. At least the instructions are simple! You and a partner will take turns counting up from 1 to 21, and whoever says “21” loses. On your turn, you can say one, two, or three numbers. Then your partner continues counting. For example, you might say, “1, 2,” and your partner might say, “3, 4, 5,” and you might say, “6,” and your partner might say, “7, 8,” and so on. Pretty soon, you’ll start seeing strategies. For example, you might notice that whoever gets to say “20” always wins. So if you can get your opponent to say “17,” you will win. Give it a try.
For more experiments, activities, and trivia, check out STEAM In a Jar®.
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