Bringing STEM Home: Easy At-Home Activities and Projects

Post in News by Michelle Hollander on 19th March 2020

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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or, as the acronym goes, STEM — influence the world around us and these topics are increasingly being integrated into schools’ curricula. However, you, too, can do a variety of STEM activities at home. Here are some fun activities to get you started – no matter your age!

Rube Goldberg Machines

Rube Goldberg Machines are zany, silly, and overcomplicated contraptions designed to solve a simple task – and the perfect way to entertain children at home. You don’t need any special materials, as anything around the house will do: recycled bottles, toys, even an old shoe… With a little ingenuity, anything is possible. Check out this info to get you started!

The first question you’ll want to ask is: What task do you want this chain-reaction contraption to solve? If it’s “provide soap to wash your hands,” you might consider having your child (even high schooler!) enter into the Rube Goldberg “Bar of Soap Video Challenge”! Check out this website to learn more about the rules.

Need some inspiration? Check out Rube Tube or even this video of a Rube Goldberg Machine pumping hand sanitizer! We can’t wait to see what participants create!

Slime

Making slime might seem like a simple rainy-day activity – but it has educational merit, too. Plus, it’s a favorite activity across age ranges! There’s quite a bit of chemistry in slime-making, and since recipes also require measurements and fractions, children will even get to practice their math skills.

The reason slime is so fun to play with is because it can ooze like a liquid, and also be shaped like a solid. But… since it is neither, it is known as a non-Newtonian fluid. Most slimes are made with glue, which is made up of long molecular chains, or polymers. The position of these molecules is changed with an activator such as saline solution or borax, which thereby affects the way in which the slime will flow. This flow is known as viscosity. Polymers, like glue, are an important part of our everyday lives. You can find them in food wraps, contact lenses, and even paints!

How do you get started?
One of our favorite recipes is Fluffy Slime. You can find directions for this and other versions in the resources below. Making slime is an easy process, but it can get a little messy, so make sure to prep. the work area before you begin.

For Fluffy slime, you will need:

  • 3-4 cups of shaving cream
  • Food coloring
  • ½ cup of white school glue
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of saline solution, or contact lens solution
  •  
    Here’s how to make it:
    To make the slime, fill a bowl with about 3-4 cups of shaving cream. Add roughly 5 drops of food coloring for color, then add the glue and baking soda, and stir until well mixed. Then add the saline solution and stir until the slime has started to form. Finish making the slime by kneading the mixed ingredients in your hands.

    After making the slime, have your child practice making observations: “What does the slime look like? How does it feel? What texture does it have?” Once the first batch of slime is made, you can even challenge your children to make their own recipe. “What if they replace the white school glue with glitter glue?” That’s the Engineering Design Process at work! Just remember to remind youngsters that slime should not be placed on a carpet or put in anyone’s mouth or hair!

    Slime-Making Resources:
    https://especiallyeducation.com/winter-sensory-science
    https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/basic-slime-science-homemade-slime-for-kids/

    Invisible Ink

    I often told my students that scientists are detectives and engineers are innovators. Invisible ink requires chemistry and some ingenuity.

    Invisible inks have a straightforward concept. You need the agent (the invisible ink substance) and a reagent or developer, which might be another chemical, heat, or UV light. Ideal solutions should not smell, discolor the paper, leave crystals, or be easily be developed. While this sounds like a lot of science, invisible inks are no stranger to history either. Of course, some are better than others.

    One of our favorite examples is that of the Culper Ring – a spy ring ordered by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The Ring used a sympathetic stain developed by James Jay. The spy agents often wrote their secret messages in items such as books and other common materials that could easily make their way through military checkpoints. The Culper Ring also used hidden messages and codes which could lead to some other fun activities and discussions of code-breaking machines…

    You can make invisible ink with your children and hide them in-between lines of normal text. Mix equal parts of baking soda with water and write out your message with a cotton swab or small brush. Once dry, reveal the message with grape juice!

    You can find many more recipes here. To see the actual Culper Spy Codes visit this website.

     

    Chromatography

    Chromatography means color writing – but it is a process for separating mixtures. Different chromatography processes are used for creating vaccines, food and beverage testing, and even identifying components in an oil spill. A fun STEM activity is to separate marker inks with paper towel strips and water.

    Here’s how to do it:

  • Collect water-soluble markers
  • Cut out some paper towel strips (1 inch x 5 inches works well)
  • Fill a cup with about a quarter inch of water (clear cups work best)
  •  
    Next, have your child make a dot towards the bottom of the strip with one of the markers. (See image for reference.) Put the strip in the cup so that only the very bottom edge of the paper towel is touching the water. Hold (or clip the strip to the cup) until the ink has spread out and run towards the top of the paper towel.

    If you try this will black markers, you find that black ink is really made up of different pigments. Not all black markers are the same either. If you happen to have different brands, test them out! For younger children you could set up a mystery to find out who wrote a ransom note. There are so many options!

    More Resources:
    https://www.peakscientific.com/blog/5-everyday-uses-for-chromatography https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/every-chromatogram-tells-a-story
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chromatography-be-a-color-detective/
    https://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/black_magic.html

    Paper Roller Coaster

    Did you know? The first American roller coaster was opened at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York in 1884. It was known as the Switchback Railway! Funny enough, its max speed was about 6 mph. The wooden coaster was 50 feet high with a drop of 43 feet. The ride lasted 1 minute and cost 5 cents! You can challenge your children to design a roller coaster made of paper. Another variation of this challenge is to make a coaster from straws or other recycled materials.

    This activity is a little more physics and engineering focused: Considerations include drop heights, angles, and of course, aesthetics! Remember that energy is not created or destroyed – rather it is altered from one form to another. Therefore, during a roller coaster ride, potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and the process continues. However, we cannot forget about other forces acting on the system such as gravity and friction! You can even have your child calculate their fastest speeds by recording the distance traveled and time passed or the height of the greatest drop. The formula for speed is distance divided by time.
    After the coaster is built, there are also many online resources to explore more, including virtual coasters. Definitely check out these resources for more information! Maybe this roller coaster will even find its way into a Rube Goldberg Machine!

    More Resources:
    https://www.sciencebuddies.org/stem-activities/paper-roller-coaster?from=YouTube#summary
    https://frugalfun4boys.com/engineering-project-kids-build-straw-roller-coaster/
    http://d3tt741pwxqwm0.cloudfront.net/WGBH/conv16/conv16-int-rollercoaster/index.html

    We hope these activities will not only help pass some time at home, but also inspire some creative thinking and learning!


    For more classroom ideas and inspiration around using technology in the classroom, check out our other articles on the Teq Talk blog.

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