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Backyard Roller Coasters Are Groovy Fun

How cool would it be to build a roller coaster in your own backyard?

Though it’s not common practice, recently there have been several people who were driven to meet the challenge of designing their own backyard coaster.  Not such a crazy idea—the project teaches physics emphasizing gravity, friction and speed while making fun for the entire family.

Backyard Roller Coasters Are Groovy Fun

The Oklahoma Land Run

Jeremy Reid, of Newcastle, Oklahoma, built a 444-foot wooden roller coaster track in his parent’s backyard – set on 10,000 acres of land.  The Oklahoma Land Run backyard roller coaster delights riders with its rickety-rack, click-clack sound as it reaches the top of a 20- foot drop, the first of four, and travels up to 20 mph.  Reid became interested in building a roller coaster after he took engineering, and materials and strength classes in college.  In Reid’s videos, he recalls the lack of information available on building roller coasters, and the extensive research it required to help him build the safe, solid 4.75 ton structure.

The Minotaur

A true STEMist, 19-year-old engineering student David Chesney built a coaster that he calls The Minotaur.  Chesney used 91 feet of steel-plated wooden track in his parent’s backyard in Toronto, Canada, to build his roller coaster that features two 12-foot drops and goes up to 12 miles per hour.  The coaster construction took nearly 4 years.  Chesney used scraps and other material from local hardware stores that totaled about $3,000.

The $50 Roller Coaster

Do you have a tight budget?  Teens, Austin Twede and Porter Harding, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, enlisted the help of two neighborhood friends to build a 50-foot wooden coaster in 1 1/2 days that cost under $50!  The thrill-seeking teens were bored and set out to make the coaster when challenged by Harding’s mother.  To find the track width, the coaster seat – made of wood, wheels and a stadium seat cushion – was constructed first. The coaster was mounted on the roof of a backyard play set, providing a 10-foot drop for riders.  Friends and neighbors spent many hours on the smooth-riding coaster decorated with Christmas lights for night-time runs.

The Caution Zone

Orinda, California, is home to The Caution Zone roller coaster and Coaster Dad Will Pemble, another backyard builder.  Pemble couldn’t see any reason to say no to his son Lyle when he asked if they could build a roller coaster in the backyard.  The 180-foot coaster project cost about $3,500, and it took less than one year to complete.  In his vlog, Pemble reminds backyard coaster-builder-wannabees about momentum—the heavier the cart, the faster the ride, and the more energy the cart will carry into the inclines, turns, and flats of the track.

Backyard roller coasters run the gamut when it comes to budget and size.  If roller coaster building on a large scale doesn’t fit into your schedule or backyard, be sure to check out our “What Goes Up” roller coaster-themed Groovy Lab in a Box where your STEMists will work on design challenges and become savvy roller coaster engineers.

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

What do you do with your Groovy Lab in a Box once your STEMists have completed the monthly themed activity?  Teach your STEMists about the importance of recycling and reusing materials by finding new ways to use the Groovy box.

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

Below are 12 fun and groovy ways to repurpose your cool retro-style Groovy Lab in a Box

1. Make a Diorama.  Use your box as a creative STEMist summer project by making a diorama using the theme, “My Summer Vacation.” Or, save your box for an upcoming school diorama project.

2. Use as a Shoebox.  Our Groovy Lab in a Box packaging is an excellent way to keep your STEMists’ shoes in tip-top shape and an awesome way to organize your closet!

3. Make Wall Shelves. Paint or decorate our packaging to create unique and inexpensive wall shelving that you can use to store light weight knick knacks such as a small picture frame or flower vase.

4. Create a Memory Box.  Cover the box with decorative scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or masking tape.  Then, when your STEMists experience something cool or unusual, ask them to write that event on a piece of paper.  The STEMist should then fold the paper and place it in the box.  At the end of the month, at the end of the year, or anytime your STEMists are in need of cheering up, recommend they pull out their memory box to read some of their favorite memories.

5. Make a Sailboat. Cut off the front flap of your groovy box, and then cut into thirds.  Take one of the third pieces and fold into the shape of a number 2. Tape the bottom edges of the 2 shape together, and then crinkle to make a C shape. Place a piece of tape down the back to hold. Place your groovy sailboat and let the wind blow.  Groovy Sailboat VIDEO: Groovy Sail Boat.  

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

 6. Gift Box.   Our boxes are great for packaging a gift.  Just place your gift in the box, and wrap it with wrapping paper or make it more fun and colorful with the Sunday comic strip section.

7. Covered Map Box.  Use an old map to cover the Groovy box to use as storage for your folded maps, or to store office supplies and other items.  This project is great for an office and a fun way to display a practical-use storage box.

8. Charging Station.  Cut several holes large enough to pull a charger cord through to connect with your mobile devices. Wrap the box with decorative paper or fabric for a more sophisticated look.

9. Photo Storage.  Decorate to your liking and use the box for storing and organizing your photo prints. Remember to label the box for easy identification!

10. Ribbon Dispenser.  Similar to the charging station (above), a ribbon dispenser is ideal for crafters or holiday gift wrapping.  Cut one or two holes, depending on the size of ribbon spools you have, on each short side of the box.  Starting outside of the box, insert the wooden skewers through the ribbon spools inside the box.  Then, cut holes and use grommets for decoration; thread your ribbons through the grommets for easy ribbon measuring and cutting.  Again, decorate the box to fit your room decor.

11. Sock Drawer Organizer. Use a straight-edge blade to cut the top off the Groovy box.  Then cut pieces to use as dividers inside the remaining box piece.  Insert the dividers and place pairs of socks in the box for easy access!  Save one divider space to add a favorite sachet or dryer sheet to keep your clothing freshly scented.

12. Store your Groovy Lab Notebook. Finally, for prosperity— keep one Groovy box to store all of your Groovy Lab in a Box custom designed lab notebooks that has all your STEMists’ engineering design challenges!

To encourage your STEMists’ engineering minds, become a Groovy Lab in a Box subscriber and receive your Groovy box that you can use to complete all the DIY projects mentioned above!

Groovy and Simple Water Experiments for STEMists

Do your STEMists realize that water isn’t just for drinking, bathing, or swimming in? Water has a multitude of uses and your STEMists can have fun learning about water with these educational experiments designed with fun in mind!

Groovy and Simple Water Experiments for STEMists

Make a Rain Gauge

Afternoon rain showers are common during the summer months in many regions.  Your STEMists can have fun learning about rain accumulation by making their own rain gauge to measure how much rain has fallen during one rain shower or over a period of time.

Supplies you will need:

  • 1 plastic 2 liter water bottle
  • 1 pair of scissors or razor (parents or teachers should do this part)
  • A few stones, pebbles or sand
  • 1 Permanent Marker
  • A ruler
  • Tape

First, uncap your water bottle then cut the top off where the wall of the bottle is straight.  Place sand/stones in the bottom to cover the ‘legs’ of the bottle.  Next, turn the top bottle piece upside down and place it into the bottle which will act as a funnel; it’s best to tape the funnel to the outside lip of the bottle. Then, tape a ruler on the side of the bottle for measuring – the zero measurement should meet the sand/stone level. Pour water into the bottle and fill to the zero measurement level. Your STEMists’ rain gauge is now ready to collect and measure rain water.

Ask your STEMists to provide your family a daily weather or storm report. And, for more fun, STEMists can line the funnel with a coffee filter and use a microscope to observe what the rain water leaves behind!

Give a Hoot. Don’t Pollute!

STEMists learn the challenge of cleaning polluted water in this experiment. First, pour 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a bucket of clean water. The oil acts as a toxic oil spill.  Next, ask your STEMists to dump some household trash into the bucket.  Used food wrappers, old chip bags, food scraps, banana peel, newspaper, old coffee grounds, etc. will provide you with a good pollution base.  Leave your water stand still for at least an hour.  Once you are satisfied with your polluted water, ask your STEMists to use tongs to remove the trash from the water.   A strainer also is a good tool for scooping out trash.  Your STEMists will learn a significant lesson when they realize that not all the pollution could be removed from the water.  You can discuss how land and water animals are affected by the pollutants in lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans.

These STEMist activities are sure to keep curious young minds busy.  Check out our water-themed “Keep On Turning” box for tons of groovy STEM Fun!

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!

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