Adapted from STEAM In a Jar®: Experiments, Activities, and Trivia for Your Classroom by Garth Sundem
With the school year fully underway, here are some activities to keep kids 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, whether they’re in person or online.
1. DIY Science: Desalination
Fill a large bowl with 1″ to 2″ of water and mix in 2 T. salt. In the center of the bowl, place a cup shorter than the depth of the bowl and fill it with enough clean rocks to keep it from floating. Cover the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and secure the edges with a rubber band or with tape. Set a small rock on the top of the plastic wrap so that it makes a low point directly over the cup. Place the covered bowl/cup combo in direct sunlight. After a couple of hours, water will start to condense on the plastic wrap. In a few days, test the water in your center cup. Is it salty or fresh?
2. 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?
3. DIY Technology: Seismograph
In this activity, you’ll be creating a seismograph to measure “earthquakes.” Tape a felt-tip pen to the end of a rule to make an L shape. Set a water bottle or soup can on the table. Tape the other end of the ruler to the bottle or the can so that the tip of the pen just barely rests on a piece of scratch paper. As you gently shake the table, have a partner pull the scratch paper slowly underneath the pen. Look at the line you made. How does it change when you shake the table harder? Try tilting, shifting, and bouncing the table. If you have time, compare your seismograms to the ones you find online.
4. 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?
5. DIY Engineering: Paper Airplane
Look online to find instructions for a basic paper airplane. A frequent challenge in engineering is to do more with less. In this case, do you really need all the folds? Exactly how many folds do you need to make a working paper airplane? Now do it again, this time adding paper clips to your design. With paper clips, can you use fewer folds? What does this tell you about how paper airplanes fly?
6. 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.
7. DIY Art: Tessellations
Start by cutting a square piece of index card—the size doesn’t really matter. Now cut out a shape from one side of this square. Slide this cutout directly across the square and tape it to the opposite side of the square, being careful not to spin or flip the cutout. Use this new shape as a template. Trace its outline on a piece of paper. Now slide the template over, lining up the left edge of the template with the right edge of the tracing, and trace it again. The tiled pattern is called a tessellation. Experiment with additions to your template. Does it work if you cut, slide, and tape additional cutouts from the top or bottom of the square?
8. 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?
9. DIY Math: A Big Name
On graph paper, use only vertical, horizontal, and corner-to-corner diagonal lines to write your name in capital block letters. Agree with your class on size. For example, on 1 cm graph paper, 2 squares wide and 12 squares high works well. Calculate the area and perimeter of your name. using diagonal lines makes this hard. Each diagonal on 1 cm graph paper is √2 cm across (that’s about 1.41 cm), and each square cut by a diagonal adds 1/2 square to the total area. Compare your calculations to your friends’ names. Do the longest names always have the greatest area and perimeter, or can you find names that are larger or smaller in area or perimeter than it seems they should be?
10. 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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