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Archive / November, 2014

3 Groovy Snow Activities

There is nothing better than the first snowfall of the season — crystal sparkles float down3 Groovy Snow Activities from the sky often blanketing the ground.

Winter is the perfect time to learn all about the wonders of snow.

Snow is a frozen form of precipitation that falls as ice crystals that form into flakes.  Snowflakes form when the atmospheric temperature is at or below freezing (0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit), and there is a minimum amount of moisture in the air, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.  If the ground temperature is at or below freezing, the snow will reach the ground.  Weather conditions, such as presence and strength of wind, moisture in the air, and cold temperatures, all play a role in determining whether snow sticks to the ground and how dense it will be.

From the physics of snow to the structure of snowflakes, your STEMists can have fun and keep groovy with these snow science activities.

Crystallized Snowflakes

Crystallized Snowflakes

For STEMists who don’t enjoy the cold winter weather, or live in warmer climates, try making crystallized snowflakes with Borax and chenille stems (pipe cleaners).

Materials list:

  • Borax
  • Chenille stems
  • Empty glass jars
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • String

Shape a white chenille stem into a “snowflake” shape, then tie one end of a string to a pencil and the other end to one of the arms of the snowflake, and suspended it from the pencil into a jar.

Boil enough water to fill the jar(s).  Once the water starts to boil, add borax (2 parts borax to 1 part water) and stir until dissolved.  Pour the water into the jar(s), fully covering your snowflake. Leave the jars overnight.  Crystals will have formed up the sides of the glass.  Pull out your chenille stem snowflakes to reveal a beautiful one-of-a-kind borax snow crystal.

Homemade Snow

Homemade Snow

STEMists of all ages will have fun playing with this homemade version of snow that contains only two ingredients: one can of shaving cream and one box of baking soda.  Pour the box of baking soda into a large aluminum pan or a plastic dishpan. Slowly mix in shaving cream to create moldable snow that feels like it’s just fallen from the sky.

Make Snow Ice Cream

Make Snow Ice Cream

This recipe from Allrecipes.com is sure to tickle the tongues of your STEMists!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 gallon fresh snow
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups milk
  • Fresh berries (optional)

Place a clean gallon-size bowl outside to catch falling snow.  Stir in sugar and vanilla to taste. Add milk to achieve your preferred texture.  Scoop into individual bowls and top with fresh berries for an added bonus.  Snow ice cream should be served immediately.

Whether your STEMists are learning about snowflakes or making snow for play or a special treat to eat, they will certainly have a winter to remember.  Another way to create great winter memories for your STEMists with the “What’s the Matter?” Groovy Lab in a Box. Each monthly-themed Groovy box has everything you need to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations that enhance critical problem solving skills while having fun!

Popular Mechanics Selects Groovy Lab in a Box For Its Holiday Gift Guide

We are so thrilled and excited to announce that Groovy Lab in a Box has been selected by Popular Mechanics magazine for its “The 100% Wholesome Holiday Toy Guide.” The Popular Mechanics guide showcases toys that encourage critical thinking, problem solving and fun.
Popular Mechanics holiday gift guide

“We are so honored and humbled to be included in Popular Mechanics,” said Elaine Hansen, co-founder of Groovy Lab in a Box. “Having Popular Mechanics review our box, and acknowledge it as wholesome for children, validates what we are trying to accomplish with Groovy Lab in a Box.”

In their review of Groovy Lab in a Box, Popular Mechanics remarked that every box “is filled with projects that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills” and that “each theme box includes everything kids need” to complete the investigations and engineering design challenge.

“We are thrilled that Popular Mechanics said our product promotes scientific inquiry and allows children to have fun while learning about STEM,” said Monica Canavan, co-founder of Groovy Lab in a Box. “We hope parents and grandparents will see Groovy Lab in a Box as the perfect holiday gift for the STEMists in their lives.”

Groovy Lab in a Box has many delivery methods, including single box orders, gift certificates and a monthly subscription service. Visit www.groovylabinabox.com for details on how to order. For more information about Popular Mechanics, visit www.popularmechanics.com.

Prepping for the Great Backyard Bird Count

Birders of all ages from many corners of the world will participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from February 13 through February 16, 2015.
Prepping for the Great Backyard Bird Count

STEMists can capture the exhilaration of discovery while bird watching this winter in preparation for the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Bird counters spend at least 15 minutes on one or more of the GBBC days counting birds.  Each day a completed checklist is electronically submitted through the GBBC web site. STEMists with photography skills should also check out the annual GBBC photo contest.

Below are tips for STEMists and other backyard birders to prepare for this year’s event.

Bird Identification

Winter is a good time to bird watch and become familiar with a variety of birds in your region.  STEMists and their families can plan a bird watching adventure at a local nature trail where there are feeding stations. It’s a good idea to visit your local library or purchase a bird guide book, such as “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America,” for your STEMists to familiarize themselves with the types of birds they may see out on the trail. This may make field identification easier.

The optimal time to watch birds is when they are active and hungry, which is early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  A nearby pond or lake is ideal for water bird sightings, such as ducks, geese, egrets or herons, depending on where you live in the world. And, if an outing isn’t possible, then STEMists can attract birds to their own backyard by setting out bird feeders.

Be sure to check out the National Geographic’s “What’s That Bird?”interactive bird identification search.  The site will ask your STEMists to answer four simple questions:

  1. Where did you see the bird?
  2. In what month did you see the bird?
  3. What color(s) was the bird? (11 options to choose from)
  4. What size was the bird? (5 options to choose from)

National Geographic What's That Bird

Through a comprehensive database, a pictorial listing of possibilities is displayed based on the selections made in the questions.  The results help the STEMists clearly match their backyard bird to one of the birds in the pictured results.

Bird Logging

STEMists and birders can make their own bird journal to keep notes and details of their bird sightings.  For younger STEMists, buggyandbuddy.com created a simple journal template  ready to print.  Many birders draw their birds in a sketch book and then write a short description of the bird. Others take photos and store them in their journals or a photo album, along with the detailed description, including the date, time and location of the sighting.  Also, STEMists can buy a Bird Log book that includes bird facts, games, projects and ways to help our feathered friends.

Bird Apps

National Geographic Bird LITE

If your STEMists own a smartphone, bird apps can be ideal in the field—whether they’re trying to identify a bluebird in their yard, an owl on a barn’s roof, or the sound of a gull on the Atlantic shore.  National Geographic’s Bird LITE offers a free guide to over 70 bird species with optional upgrades. The sound resources available on the upgrade feature songs, chip notes and geographical variation. Text describing similar-sounding species—with the similar species playable from the same screen—helps you explore possibilities when trying to ID a sound.

For fun, test your bird wisdom with Allo! Guess the Bird Type Trivia, an app that claims to be quite challenging for bird fanatics!

Bird Cam

Be prepared for unsuccessful bird watching adventures—where you see very little activity. If your STEMists are disappointed with the sightings of the day, a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s feeder cams web site can be a groovy way to cheer them up.  Your STEMists can observe, up close, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, barn owls and more at their feeder stations! Feeder cams can be a fantastic educational experience for your STEMists as well as hours of entertainment.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology's feeder cams

For more birding activity and educational fun, check out “For the Birds” Groovy Lab in a Box! Your STEMists will continue to explore the wonders of birds through investigations and the Engineering Design Challenge: Can you design and build a bird feeder that meets the survival needs of local birds using upcycled materials?  Investigate types of birds in your local area, their drinking and feeding habits, and what types of bird feeder structures best suit them – all while recording results in their very own 20+ page custom Groovy Lab in a Box Lab Notebook.

Groovy Ways To Attract Backyard Birds

More than 50 million Americans are considered backyard birders, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.  After gardening, it’s the second-most popular hobby in the country.  What many birders may not realize is that there is a science to feeding birds.

Groovy Ways To Attract Backyard Birds

Bird Metabolism

STEMists may be shocked to learn that birds need at least 10,000 calories each day.  Comparatively, an appropriate daily calorie intake for an active 9-13 year old STEMist is 1,800-2,200.  Birds need a massive amount of calories because their metabolism rate runs extremely high, specifically in flight, in extreme cold weather and during breeding season.

Birds are skilled at determining which food items are the most efficient and the best nutritional choice.  Some birds will test the seed’s weight and taste with their beak before making their choice – one reason you find birdseed on the ground instead of in the bird feeder. Generally, low-quality food is discarded.  Birds also look for seeds that are easily digested and don’t take a lot of work to eat.  Because of the amount of food a bird needs to consume (remember, food is fuel/energy), its choices are foods that are fast and easy to manage.

Birds and their Food Preferences

Birds and their Food Preferences

  • Nyjer (thistle seed) attracts American gold and lesser gold finches and pine siskins. Nyjer is considered gourmet for a bird.
  • Millet (white-proso) will attract towhees, sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, quail and mourning doves. This seed is best scattered on the ground because perch feeding birds won’t eat it.
  • Milo or Sorghum is birdseed for ground feeding. It attracts Curve-billed Thrashers, Gambel’s Quails, towhees, sparrows and juncos. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology seed preference tests, these birds prefer milo to sunflower. In another study, they found that House Sparrows did not like Milo, but cowbirds did.
  • Black oil sunflower seeds attract the most perching birds including Purple finches, Oat titmice, Scrub jays, Blackheaded grosbeaks and more.
  • Safflower, an elongated white seed, can help birders attract cardinals found mainly in the eastern United States, and chickadees whose home is generally along the coast or in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Suet is a popular choice among nuthatches and woodpeckers.
  • Mealworm (live) acts like a magnet for bluebirds!
  • Fruit such as oranges, grapes, apples and berries are a perfect menu item for the tanager and orioles. Placing a small dish of jelly in your feeding area will almost definitely attract your bird friends; however, be cautious about putting fruits and jellies out in warmer weather.  This delicacy is best used in cold winter weather.
  • Baked, or dried, melon seeds and pumpkin seeds are a popular choice for birds; however, smaller species will be grateful for crushed seeds for easier digestion.

Designing the Perfect Bird Food for your Backyard Tree

Build A Bird Seed Ornament

  • 1 package of plain gelatin
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups mixture of  black sunflower, millet & thistle seeds
  • 3 T. rice syrup
  • A dab of butter
  • Star-shaped cookie cutter or small Bundt pan for wreath shape

Dissolve gelatin in 1/2 cup warm water; whisk rice syrup and flour to create a paste; add bird seed and stir well.  Grease the inside of the star-shaped cookie cutter with a dab of butter (Bundt pan, or other mold), place on cookie sheet and press seed mixture with a spoon to fill the shape. Use a pointed object to make a hole in the star to make room for stringing a piece of rope or ribbon. In 24 hours, flip onto a plate or wax paper and let dry for another 24-48 hours. Birds will flock to your groovy stars!

Make a Sunflower Butter Pinecone Feeder

Make a Sunflower Butter Pinecone OrnamentBirds love sunflower butter!  A great choice for winter months, birds love homemade pinecone feeders. Use a spoon or butter knife to apply sunflower butter into the crevices of a pinecone and roll the cone in a mixture of black sunflower, millet and thistle seeds. Then, hang on a tree or set the cone in a feeding dish.

For the Birds” Groovy Lab in a Box

You and your STEMists can learn more bird science with the educational activities found in “For the Birds” groovy box—all about birds in your local area, their drinking and feeding habits, and what types of bird feeder structures best suit them. Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and engineering design process.

Groovy: One Word, Total Grooviness

When you hear the word, “Groovy”, what image comes to mind?  If you are like many Americans, groovy conjures up flashes of flower power, smiley faces, peace signs, bell bottoms, mini-skirts and go-go boots.  Others may think about the excitement surrounding the space program and the Apollo missions—a time where science and technology became part of pop culture. Groovy: One Word, Total Grooviness

Whichever image pops in your mind when you hear the word ‘groovy’, the way it makes you feel is most important – and why we choose to call our product, Groovy Lab in a Box.  We designed our retro-style box to evoke excitement in your STEMists. Because children are natural engineers, Groovy Lab in a Box blends Scientific Inquiry and the Engineering Design Process, which allows children to create ingenious inventions, enhance critical problem solving skills, and have FUN. We want modern-day STEMists to be just as excited about science as children were during the Apollo Era.

Defining Groovy

A term that means tubular, excellence, awesome and cool, Groovy is considered a slang colloquialism— a word, phrase or other form used in informal language. Although the term in its original usage has largely vanished from everyday use, it has not disappeared from our language entirely.

Groovy derives from the word, “groove,” which was originally defined as a mining shaft or pit. According to the Word Detective, though, “groove” took on a new meaning by 1902. “Groove” was being used to mean the spiral track on the surface of a phonograph record in which the needle rides.

By the 1960’s and early 70’s, “groovy” took on its more modern-day definition of being something awesome. An example of ‘groovy’ in use may have looked like this:

Girl 1: Groovy outfit, Susie!

Girl 2: Did you catch Jimmy’s groovy hairstyle in school today?

Groovey During The Jazz Era

Although in today’s society, “groovy” is more commonly associated with the late 1960s and early 1970s era, “groovy” emerged on the scene more than 30 years earlier in the jazz subculture. According to American Speech (1937), the term, “‘Groovey,’ applied to state of mind that is conducive to good playing.”  In the 1930’s, “groovey” included an ‘e’ before the ‘y’ in its spelling.  ‘Groovey’ was a word typically used by jazz musicians when referring to their music as effortless, smooth and being “in the groove.” In other words, the musicians were producing the music as easily, fluently and flawlessly as a phonograph needle following the grooves on a record.

First Recorded Uses of Groovy

The first recorded use of “groovy” in its slang context goes back to September 30, 1941, on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show, when band leader Billy Mills used it to describe his summer vacation. Then, in the 1942 film Miss Annie Rooney, a teenage Shirley Temple uses the term as she impresses Dickie Moore with her jitterbug moves.

In the 1945 film Miracle on 34th Street, “groovey” was included in film advertising.

Moving into the 1960s, “groovey” could be found on Simon & Garfunkel’s original record cover of the 1965 release of the single “The Sound of Silence” with “We’ve Got a Groovey Thing Goin’ ” on its flipside.  The following year, another Simon & Garfunkel hit kept “groovy” in the mainstream, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”

Now that you know the skinny on the term “Groovy,” consider getting your STEMists groove on with Groovy Lab in a Box. Our monthly-themed boxes will bring out the grooviness in every STEMist!

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