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Archive / April, 2014

U.S. Planetariums for Summer Fun in Space Exploration

Summer is an excellent time to visit your local planetarium for a night of star gazing.  And, if you are planning a summer vacation, your STEMists will want a trip to a planetarium added to your list of must- see attractions. Here are 7 U.S planetariums that should be on your trip list as part of a summer vacation or family weekend.


Hayden Planetarium

Hayden Planetarium in New York City, part of the American Museum of Natural History & the Department of Astrophysics, is a sure bet for your family and space-loving STEMists!  The Hayden Planetarium offers daily shows on a high-resolution video system, highlighting the birth of the universe and touring the solar system in its Hayden Sphere Star Theatre. The Hayden Planetarium is directed by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who was inspired in his career by a visit to the same planetarium as a kid.

Albert Einstein Planetarium

The Albert Einstein Planetarium located in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., offers a free “The Stars Tonight” program daily in addition to their standard shows. The museum uses a Sky Dual projection system with a stereo perspective that is sure to impress your STEMists.  And, while you are visiting, don’t miss the newest museum exhibit, the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center.


Visitors will be delighted with their trip through the cosmos and the vastness of the galaxies at the ExploraDome located in Minneapolis, part of the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum.  This 25-foot planetarium dome offers an exceptional interactive exhibit and learning environment for all ages. Unlike traditional planetariums, the ExploraDome is portable and travels to local schools for celebrations of space!

The Adler Planetarium

The first planetarium built in the U.S., The Adler Planetarium, located on shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, has been thrilling visitors since 1930.  The Adler’s unique view on space science education and its ability to teach at a kid’s level will wow your STEMists as they are transported to the distant corners of the cosmos to learn how the Universe has evolved over 13.7 billion years. And a viewing of the stars over Chicago in the “Night Sky Live!” show will please visitors of all ages.  Kids have the opportunity to explore tunnel systems and man a rocket ship while on an imaginary trip to a mysterious planet, and don’t miss Space Junk 3D, a show that explores the dangers of space debris orbiting Earth. While you are there, your STEMists will round out their science education with a trip to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History nearby.

Burke Baker Planetarium

The Burke Baker Planetarium, located in Houston, Texas, is where NASA trains Space Shuttle astronauts in recognizing star fields.  Its SkySkan Digital Sky projector offers the latest in planetarium technology.  This domed theater is one of the most technically advanced in the world.

Drake Planetarium and Science Center

The Drake Planetarium and Science Center is where the sky is not the limit. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, interactive exhibits are what make this Center a must-see for children. From the Secret of the Cardboard Rocket movie to special summer camps where Lego building is paired with space education, The Drake Planetarium and Science Center lives its mission of hands-on learning and rewarding inspiring young STEMists minds.

Kendall Planetarium

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Kendall Planetarium blends science, fantasy and fun with art, and features both educational and entertaining multimedia presentations.  You will want to schedule time to see the ultimate space vacation movie, Perfect Little Planet.  Your STEMists will explore space through the eyes of a family from another star system; they will fly over the Dwarf Planet, Pluto, and dive over the ice cliffs of Miranda in this adventure for space travelers of all ages.

No matter what part of the U.S. you vacation to, there’s a planetarium in every corner, engaging visitors on a learning adventure of one of the most thrilling topics of mankind—space.

And, if you can’t get away this summer, you can order our Moon Dance — full of everything you need to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiments for ages 8+. Because children are natural engineers, we blend Scientific Inquiry and the Engineering Design Process, which allows children to create ingenious inventions, enhance critical problem solving skills and have FUN!

STEM Apps Beyond the Classroom

STEM Apps Beyond the Classroom

Are you concerned that your child spends too much time playing meaningless games on the smartphone or tablet? Don’t fret! Apple features over 65,000 educational apps, designed specifically for the iOS platform that reaches all levels of education.  But, with so many apps to choose from, parents may find it challenging to know which apps are best for their children.  Here are a few apps that teach STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) material that are educational, but fun and entertaining.

Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game by Electric Eggplant in partnership with Kalani Games and the Heirs of Rube Goldberg and published by Unity Games

Age: 8+

Where to download: iTunes App Store; Google Play; Amazon App Store; Mac App Store

This app combines puzzles, humor and creative problem solving in a whimsical environment.  Users enter the wacky world of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) to learn the logic of physics through the connection of oddball items, inventing machines that solve problems.

Tinkerbox HD by Autodesk, the creators of AutoCad and other engineering tools

Age: 10+

Where to download: iTunes App Store

Moving away from whimsy, Tinkerbox uses an industrial-looking design in its app.  The physics-based puzzler and engineering tool assists users to create their own virtual inventions. STEMists and their parents will dive into this app to learn engineering basics, mechanical concepts and other science facts.  Machines built in the Invent mode can be shared with friends. Plus, high scores on the physics puzzle game can be shared through the Game Center’s social network, if desired.

iLiveMath Animals in Africa by iHomeEducator

Age: 6+

Where to download: iTunes App Store

Animal lovers should check out iLiveMath Animals in Africa  . This app combines math word problems with the enjoyment of learning about the lives of animals in Africa.  This app uses entertaining pictures, videos and sound to help first- through sixth-grade students gain mathematical confidence by answering questions related to some of their favorite animals!

Solar Walk: 3D Solar System Model by Vito Technology

Age: 8+

Download: iTunes App Store

The recent reintroduction of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on ABC primetime programming has children and adults all over the country interested in the universe and all its wonders, once again.  Astronaut wannabes and space enthusiasts will get lost in the awesome graphics of Solar Walk.  Rated a best app of 2010, 2011, 2012 by Apple, Solar Walk is a spectacular model of the solar system displaying planets and satellites with remarkable detail and accuracy. Users navigate through space and time with scrolling, tapping, and zooming capabilities. 3D graphics highlight and complement learning about planet composition, trajectory, temperature, history, and more.  Plus, users can study the layers below the surface with views from various angels.

Solar Walk’s 3D mode can be connected to a 3D television or viewed with red/blue 3D glasses. Click here to get them for free online or make them yourself!

Other Apps to Mention

Space enthusiasts of all ages also might like to experience NASA’s free app, which offers a news feed on the latest news in the science community, information on each space mission, entertaining videos on space travels, and much more.

Montessori Geometry, by Les Trois Elles Interactive also is ideal for children 5 to 10 years old. This app, designed by Montessori teachers, offers multiple levels of instruction through 3D graphics, and teaches about the different shapes, definitions and vocabulary associated with geometry.

Engineers Decide by author and educator David Janoszis an interactive iBook ideal for STEMISTs age five through ten. This iBook is all about things engineers do. It encourages children to apply their imagination to create new things that make our lives better. Full of colorful artwork and interactive videos, Engineers Decide is a wonderful way to show how engineering careers shape our lives, inspiring the next generation of STEMists to get excited about STEM.

3 Unique Ways to Teach STEMists the Phases of the Moon

STEMists are fascinated by the Moon.  Most likely you started wondering about the Moon in your childhood after hearing about the ‘man in the Moon’ and the ‘cow that jumped over the Moon’ in nursery rhymes.  Early childhood exposure to the Moon often brings questions, especially about the different shapes the Moon appears to STEMists on Earth.

3 Unique Ways to Teach STEMists the Phases of the Moon

Order of the Moon Phases

STEMists learn that the Moon itself does not change its shape and that the Moon phases are named to describe their appearance and place in the phase cycle. Plus, STEMists learn that “waxing” means growing, or increasing in illumination and “waning” means shrinking; “Gibbous” means “swollen on one side,” referring to the phases where the Moon is more than half illuminated or more than half dark.

3 Unique Ways to Teach STEMists the Phases of the Moon

There are many ways to teach STEMists about the phases of the Moon. Here are three groovy methods.

#1: The STEMist, the Sun, and the Moon


  • Styrofoam ball of a size similar to a tennis ball
  • Bamboo skewer
  • Lamp with removable shade or a desk lamp


Earth – STEMist (You!)
Sun – Lamp
Moon – Ball

  1. Poke the sharp end of a bamboo skewer halfway through the styrofoam ball.
  2. Darken a room by turning off all the lights.  It’s best to do this activity at night when it’s dark outside or you can cover the windows with a sheet or blanket. GROOVY SAFETY: Ask a groovy grown-up for help.
  3. Remove the lamp shade and place the lamp at eye level on a dresser or shelf.  Once you have the lamp positioned safely, stand about 3 feet in front of the lamp. Then hold the Moon in front of you so it’s between you and the Sun.
  4. To simulate the moon’s orbit around the Earth, stay in one spot while you slowly turn your body in a circle counterclockwise (to the left). Keep your arm perfectly straight in front of you and the Moon at eye level. GROOVY NOTE:  Pay attention to the shadows created on the Moon which mimic the phases of the moon we see here on Earth.
  5. Rotate all the way around until you have completed a full lunar cycle and are facing the Sun again.

To help you remember the order of the phases of the moon try this GROOVY MEMORY TRICK:

Leading to a Full Moon:
Waxing: When the Moon is on the right, getting bigger every night.

Leading to a New Moon:
Waning: When the Moon is waning, on the left it’s fading.

Order of Moon Phases

#2: Oreo cookies

Oreo cookies turn into Moon shadows easily by scraping off the middle crème with a Popsicle stick (eating the extra crème is optional, though we imagine not many STEMists will pass this up!) STEMists place their scraped Oreo on a plate or piece of construction paper to show the Moon phases. This method is always a favorite with STEMists and certainly the sweetest!

3 Unique Ways to Teach STEMists the Phases of the Moon

#3: Faces of the moon

Bob Crelin, author of “Faces of the Moon,” developed a lesson plan for teachers to download to teach their 4th – 8th grade students about the phases of the Moon.  Step-by-step instruction is provided that works alongside pages in his book.  For example, children will learn that “month” comes from “Moon.” And, in the past, a month represented the time it took to complete one cycle of the changing Moon phases, which is approximately 29.5 days, similar to our monthly calendar.

Another part of “Faces of the Moon” is to model the moon phases by hanging a “Moon” from a ceiling.  A Styrofoam ball painted half black and hung from the ceiling will provide a glimpse of shadowing when the children walk around the Moon— just like the phases of the Moon.

 If your STEMist is interested in the learning more about the moon and telescopes, be sure to check out the Moon Dance” Groovy Lab in a Box or sign up for a groovy subscription today!

STEMists do the “E” in STEM!  Engineering Design Challenge in every groovy box! 

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