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4 Groovy Ways to Teach Newton’s 3rd Law

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Teaching Newton's Third Law of Motion

Although the explanation of the law is simple, STEMists often find the concept hard to comprehend. How do you demonstrate this law to your STEMists?

Check out these 4 groovy ways to teach your STEMists about Newton’s 3rd law.

Play with Marbles

Using marbles to teach Third Law of Motion

An easy activity that shows the law of physics at work is to play with marbles.  Ask each STEMist to choose two marbles and set one marble at the end of a flat surface.  Then, ask your STEMists to push the second marble into the first marble (at the end of the surface). Observe what happens when the two marbles collide—notice the reaction to the collision. Encourage your STEMists to talk about the transfer of energy from one marble to the next.  Also discuss that like the marble, any object hit with another would react to the action.

LEGO Balloon Car

LEGO car

A favorite teaching tool, LEGOs continually find their place in STEM-related activities! The LEGO balloon car activity will not only entertain your STEMists, it will demonstrate Newton’s 3rd law!  Ask your STEMists to build a car with LEGOs that includes an area on the back of the car to secure (between two LEGOs) the mouth of a balloon.  Add air to the balloon by inserting a straw in the balloon mouth, then blow into the straw.  Watch what happens when you release the straw from the balloon—as the air releases from the balloon, the car moves in the opposite direction.

If LEGOs are not available, you can design a paper rocket car that will demonstrate the same principle law of motion— for every force there is a reaction force that is equal in size, but opposite in direction.

Pop Tops

Pop top

Grab 2 film canisters, a seltzer tablet (Alka-Seltzer), water and a pan with sides (2.5 cm/1 inch or higher).  Use a permanent marker to draw a line down the center of the pan. Then, pour water into each canister until half full, and equal to each other.  Cap the first canister and lay it on its side with the cap facing toward the line on the pan.  Then, work quickly to add 1/2 of an Alka-Seltzer tablet to the second canister. Immediately cap the canister and lay it cap-side at the center line in the pan, facing the other canister.  Watch as the seltzer tablet creates enough gas to fill the canister and cause it to pop its top, and push against the first canister.  Your STEMists will witness equal force affecting each canister, causing them to move in opposite, mirrored direction.

Observe a Bird in Flight

Birds and Third Law of Motion

Take your STEMists outdoors to observe Newton’s 3rd law in action!  Watch a bird as it takes flight. Consider the flying motion of the bird and use of its wings as they push the air downwards.  The downward motion reacts to the opposite force of the air pushing the bird upwards. This makes perfect sense if your STEMists can remember that for every action, there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction – therefore, the action-reaction force makes it possible for the bird to fly.

For more ways to learn about science and physics, check out next month’s pulley-themed “Pull Your Weight” Groovy Lab in a Box.  Your STEMists will become engaged in the engineering design process as they work through investigations and the custom retro-style Groovy Lab notebook!

Groovy Ice Sculptures

Elsa, the ice princess of the Disney movie, Frozen, creates a fantastically spectacular ice castle with a grand staircase and chandelier ice sculpture.  There is magic in making ice sculptures, but it’s not as easy as the magic at Elsa’s hands.  In the real world, ice sculptors use their groovy imagination and tools to create a magical experience with ice.

Groovy Ice Sculptures

Ice sculptures come in many shapes, sizes and colors.  Some ice sculptures are as big as a hotel or as small as a butterfly; as tall as 10 meters and as small as 5 centimeters.  They can be used as a focal point at an event, a decoration for your dessert bowl or created for a total ICE winter wonderland. Ice sculptures can range in weight from 1-23,00 kilograms or more, depending on the design.  The average weight of a two-block ice sculpture is nearly 180 kilograms. And, colored lighting can add to the beauty of the sculptured design.

Ice Sculpting Tools

Ice sculptures are made in different ways. Some are carved with machines, some are molded, and others are hand-carved.

Ice sculpturing tools

  • Chisels—a traditional tool used by many professional ice sculptors.  The chisel handle is made of decorative wood and the blade of razor sharp steel. The chisel helps the sculptor with the fine details of the designed shape.
  • Chainsaw—most commonly associated with ice sculpting, the chainsaw allows a sculptor to quickly shape a block of ice.
  • Iron—some sculptors use an iron to warm the ice design to create a smooth sleek look.

Using these tools can be dangerous; however, most dangerous is working for long periods in the cold temperatures required to maintain a temperature ideal for ice carving.  An ideal temperature for ice sculpting is 15-25 degrees Celsius.

Build Your Own Ice Sculpture

Build your own ice sculpture

This easy activity presents less danger than sculpting ice blocks with the tools mentioned above.

Add a dash of sand to an assortment of balloons and then fill them with water.  The sand acts as freezing nuclei for the water in the balloon.  Freeze the water balloons outside.  Once frozen, peel the balloons off the ice.  STEMists will find each balloon has an individual pattern created by trapped air bubbles during the freezing process.  STEMists can add food coloring to the water before freezing to enhance their ice sculptures.

Groovy Ice Sculpture Festivals

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China is held each year in honor of the first Ice lanterns that were a winter-time tradition in northeast China. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), the local peasants and fishermen often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months.

Quebec Winter Carnival

Quebec Winter Carnival

Quebec Winter Carnival, held annually since 1955, hosts winter activities for all ages including sleigh rides, skating, snow sculptures and more.  The world’s largest winter carnival is held January 30 to February 15.

World Ice Art Championships

World Ice Art Championships ice block

World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, is an annual springtime celebration that showcases an ice sculpting competition. The championships take place in a permanent Ice Park where the ice for the competition is harvested from the O’Grady Pond, right in the Ice Park. Competitors of all ages can enter a single-block or multi-block sculpture, and spectators can enjoy ice skating, learning how to sculpt ice, walking through a maze and much more.

Whether your STEMists have seen the fifth-highest grossing film in box office history, Frozen, or not, the beauty of ice is often in the design engineered by the imagination and creative mind.  Check out the latest ice-themed Groovy Lab in a Box “What’s The Matter?” for design challenges that encourage creative and critical thinking in your STEMists.

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!


  • 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!

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.

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