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Archive / May, 2014

Groovy Solar Energy Structures

STEMists are learning at an early age that going green is groovy.  Whether it’s the type of family car they use, where their food is grown, or how their house is built, STEMists are being groomed to upgrade to an eco-friendly world.  Solar power is no different! Even though architects have been using passive solar energy for centuries, solar panels are the newest, environmentally friendly, high solar energy designs hitting the architecture scene.

Here are some groovy solar panel architectural structures that are sure to light up your STEMists’ minds.

#1. Solar Flowers at the Parachute Rest Area on I-70 in Parachute, Colorado

The rest area near Parachute, Colorado, USA may be in the middle of nowhere, but it has a hidden solar treasure. The rest stop has three photovoltaic flowers, each with custom frames that support its solar panels. The solar panels produce energy that is then used by the rest area. It’s a welcome site in a desolated part of I-70!

Groovy Solar Energy Structures

Photo courtesy of Brian Guest

#2. Walt Disney World Epcot Center’s Universe of Energy

Walt Disney World Epcot Center’s Universe of EnergyLocated in Florida, this attraction ride opened in 1982 and boasts more than two acres of solar paneled roofing that powers the majority of the attraction.  The panels produce enough energy to power 15 homes.  Epcot Center is a theme park where families can experience firsthand science, technology, engineering, and math concepts through the exhibits themselves and the genius of Disney imagineers!

#3. Solar City Building

The largest solar-powered building in the world is located in Dezhou, Shangdong Province in northwest China.
Solar City Building  located in Dezhou, Shangdong Province in northwest ChinaInspired by a sundial, the structure spans 75,000 square meters and houses a hotel, research facilities, and exhibition, meeting and training facilities.  The structure was originally built to host the 4th World Solar City Congress meeting.

#4. Blackfriars Railway Bridge

January 2014 marked the opening of the Blackfriars Railway Bridge in London— the largest solar bridge in the world! Blackfriars Bridge across the River Thames secures half its power from 4,400 roof-mounted solar panels and produces about 900,000 kWh of electricity.

Blackfriars Railway Bridge in London— the largest solar bridge in the world!

#5. Solar Ark

The Solar Ark, located in Gifu, Japan, uses over 5,000 solar panels to collect over 630 kW.  Built by Sanyo, the Ark is a solar-collecting structure built with substandard recalled monocrystalline cells. Why did Sanyo use the recalled cells?

The Solar Ark, located in Gifu, Japan

According to their web site, they wanted to show their “sincere regret that this problem has occurred and to express our willingness and determination to both remember what happened and how important it is to maintain quality.” The Solar Ark provides visitors with a solar museum and multi-media exhibits, a solar lab and other rooms for environmental events.

#6. The Monte Rosa Alpine Hut

Located in the Swiss Alps, the Monte Rosa Alpine Hut is a sustainable ultra-modern building.  The high-tech hut soaks up the sun’s rays to produce an astounding 90 percent energy self-sufficient system!

The Monte Rosa Alpine Hut located in the Swiss Alps,

Young STEMists are learning from the building of architectural structures used for everyday living.

These structures will certainly spark imagination and perhaps influence how they work out the experiments and engineering design challenge in the solar-themed Groovy Lab in a Box.  Order your solar-themed box today!

Capture Summertime Fun with Catapults

Catapulting is fun and provides a frame of reference for physics concepts your STEMists are learning in school.  Why not plan to build a catapult this summer?  Kids love to watch objects fly through the air, across the room or in the yard. It’s easy, and you can do so with items found around the house and in your STEMists’ toy closet.


Build a LEGO Catapult

Anytime your STEMists build with LEGO blocks is time well spent and a sure way to improve the creator, explorer, and inventor in them!

Young STEMists can easily build a catapult with LEGO building blocks.  All you need to do is build a catapult platform with an arm and snap it onto a set of LEGO wheels attached to a LEGO axel.  And, voila, you are ready to launch!

Older STEMists can create a more sophisticated catapult using LEGO building pieces and a rubber band to create the right amount of torque for firing projectiles. FrugalFun4boys.com offers an easy to follow pictorial on how to build this LEGO contraption.

No matter what materials are used to build your catapult, you will enjoy watching your STEMists use their design engineering skills to tweak their creations to launch their projectiles further and further from where they first landed.

If your STEMists love catapults, check out our “Out To Launch” single box today!

Groovy Lab in a Box Wins Prestigious Parents’ Choice® Award

The ‘Lunar Launch’ box wins silver in the Spring 2014 Toys list

May 21, 2014: Anaheim, CA: Academics in a Box today announced that its Lunar Launch box has won the silver award from the Parents’ Choice® Foundation, the U.S.’s oldest nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys. The silver award is the second highest distinction given by the Parents’ Choice Foundation. Only about 20 percent of all entries get listed on the foundation’s six award levels.

“Being selected as a silver award winner by the Parents’ Choice Foundation is a remarkable honor,” said Monica Canavan, co-founder of Groovy Lab in a Box. “It validates our hard work, dedication and overall mission: to provide fun, hands-on STEM learning to children to enrich their lives.”

In their review of the Lunar Launch box, Parents’ Choice remarked that “Lunar Launch models science processes, and teaches kids how to track and record in a scientific manner.” The review also stated how they looked forward to seeing kids brainstorm, refine and test their rockets.

“We designed the Lunar Launch box to teach children about Newton’s Laws of Inertia,” explained Elaine Hansen, co-founder of Groovy Lab in a Box. “The children build balloon rockets, paper rockets and foam rockets to understand how the different laws apply to their investigations.”

The investigations culminate into an engineering design challenge, where children must create their own canister rocket, applying what they have learned from the investigations. The Lunar Launch box contains all of the materials needed for the investigations and engineering design challenge, including a lab notebook, which guides the children through the investigations.

The Lunar Launch box, along with several other STEM-related boxes, is available for order as a single-box option. Additionally, parents can subscribe to Groovy Lab in a Box to receive monthly boxes in the mail.

For more information about the Parents’ Choice Foundation, visit www.parents-choice.org.

About Groovy Lab in a Box

Groovy Lab in a Box, a product of Academics in a Box, is a comprehensive monthly STEM subscription service available for children, ages eight and up. Groovy Lab in a Box is the brainchild of scientists, parents, educators and business owners who have worked in the private sector of the science community.  Our purpose is to provide children with an opportunity to apply his/her imagination, determination and innately inquisitive nature by offering a monthly STEM project using the Engineering Design Process. Each Groovy Lab in a Box gives children the opportunity to engage their imaginations, apply critical thinking, and most importantly, have fun while learning. For more information, visit us at www.GroovyLabinaBox.com.

4 Activities To Beat Summertime Boredom

The academic year is coming to an end.  Some children will head to summer camp; others will stay at home.  Whatever your STEMists are scheduled to do this summer, you should be well prepared for the time when you hear, “Mom, I’m bored!”  Here are four go-to activities when you hear these words.


Make a Lava Bottle

Kids of all ages will love to watch the mixing of colors and the reaction caused by an Alka-Seltzer effervescent tablet.  And, this is a great time to explain why oil and water don’t mix.

You can discuss with your STEMists that the force of attraction between similar versus different molecules will create a different reaction.  Other concepts to define include mass, density and volume.

Lava bottle ingredients:

  • Baby oil
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Alka Seltzer or other effervescent tablet
  • Clear plastic or glass bottle

Fill 1/8 of bottle with water and the remainder with oil. Watch as the oil and water separate. Slowly add several drops of food coloring.  The drops pool together where the water and oil meet.  Ball bursts will form and gradually mix with water.  Add pieces of one Alka Seltzer tablet and enjoy the show!  Your STEMists can enjoy this for days—adding the Alka Seltzer anytime they wish to watch the magic in the bottle.  And, place the bottle in front of a small night light to get the full lava lamp experience!

Fun with a Balloon Hovercraft

Items you will need:

  • Balloon, any color
  • CD
  • Push-up water bottle top
  • Superglue

First, superglue the push-up water bottle top to the center of the CD. Let the glue dry.  Then, blow up a balloon and place it over the bottle top, which should be in the closed position.  Release the balloon and open the bottle top valve to watch the escaped air push your creation, causing it to hover over the floor (does not work on carpet). This activity will keep competitive siblings or neighborhood friends busy for hours while they race their homemade hover crafts.

TheTouchTomorrow Event

Jump in the car and head over to the TouchTomorrow – A Festival of Science, Technology & Robots for family fun! The TouchTomorrow event is held in Worcester Massachusetts from June 9-14.  This free event is hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in partnership with NASA.   TouchTomorrow – A Festival of Science, Technology & Robots is a celebration of the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge.  The family-friendly event offers demonstrations, performances, hands-on activities and interactive exhibits for all ages.  The festival, held on the WPI campus, promises to be the highlight of your STEMists’ summer.

Be sure to check the TouchTomorrow website for an event schedule.  Spectators can watch teams compete through the various levels of the robot challenge.  The objective of the Sample Return Robot Challenge is to develop new technologies or apply existing technologies in unique ways to create robots that can autonomously seek out samples and return to a designated point in a set time period.  Your STEMists will be delighted to see team robots navigate over unknown terrain, around obstacles, and in varied lighting conditions to identify, retrieve, and return samples. Remember, all TouchTomorrow exhibits are free and open to the public – rain or shine.

Don’t Forget Groovy Lab in a Box

Another way to keep your young STEMists busy is to break out Groovy Lab in a Box.  You can order a subscription or single boxes anytime during the summer. Each box can accommodate up to four children for fun learning. Your STEMists can build an electric dance pad, launch a rocket, grow plants and much more.

Summertime does not have to equal boredom. With these STEM-related activites, your STEMists will have a blast being entertained my math, technology, engineering and science this summer!

Flying Fruit and Other Matter

Kids have been engineering catapults since the dawn of time.  Whether they build a contraption, or simply used a paper clip and a rubber band to launch a grape, toy soldier, marshmallow, or other weapon of choice, catapulting objects fosters creative play may lead young STEMists to engineering.  Local festivals often have catapulting or trebucheting events that gain the interest of even the older STEMist crowd.


Here are three catapult events to look for a high-flying good time:

 #1 – Watermelon Launch

Watermelon is a favorite summertime snack, but have you considered launching a watermelon with a catapult?  Flying fruit is certainly a thrill for anyone to see!  Be on the lookout for wayward watermelons at the next summertime festival you visit. Check out a favorite in Fort Wayne, Indiana—Catapult Chaos competition hosted by Science Central at Three Rivers Festival in July.  These watermelon launching events can be super fun, but as seen in this Amazing Race video of “watermelon girl”, a watermelon launch can backfire. So, don’t try this at home.

#2 – Punkin Chunkin

Launching pumpkins is a popular contest held at fall festivals around the nation. Believe it or not, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (WCPCA) does exist—in Bridgeville, Delaware. The nonprofit WCPCA believes that Punkin Chunkin cultivates the odd, challenging, and competitive quest for distance that inspires creativity, ingenuity, teamwork, and passion—a STEMist and STEM instructor’s dream! Last year’s event drew a crowd of more than 20,000 people with a total of 72 teams who competed to see whose pumpkin was catapulted the furthest distance.  This spectacular event raised more than $100,000 for local Delaware youth charities.

John Ellsworth, one of the founders of WCPCA, remembers that co-founder Trey Melson’s bow with a catapult arm broke all day that first year (1986).  “It broke on every throw and every time it broke, the pumpkin went further,” said Ellsworth. Since then, the catapult contraptions have improved, which is evident with last year’s longest launch having reached 3,000 feet – a great difference in distance from the first Punkin Chunkin launch of 136 feet.

More Catapulting Fun: Water Wars with Water Balloons

For summertime fun, San Diego Kids Party Rentals offers a Water Wars Game Water Balloon Launcher where families can beat the summer heat with a bit of friendly competition. San Diego Party Rentals ensures spectators of the sport will be squealing with delight and victory as they cheer on their favorite competitor or team. And, if you don’t live in the San Diego area, encourage your STEMists to build their own catapult to launch water balloons for summertime cool.

Teaching children to use science and engineering skills to launch, hurl, catapult, sling, toss and chuck can propel your STEMists to the next level in understanding the science behind the distance traveled in relation to the tension used to launch an object.

Photo © 2009, World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association


Check out “Out to Launch,” if you have a child who is fascinated with flying fruit or other objects. Our monthly subscription service puts the “fun” in learning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

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