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Groovy Fun with Clouds

Most everyone at some point has looked up to the sky to admire the fluffy white clouds floating by, or have been threatened by dark, gloomy storm clouds preparing to soak the earth.  How often, though, have you and your STEMists thought about clouds, how they are formed and their purpose?

Groovy Fun with Clouds

Clouds have several important functions.  They provide rain and snow, and help the earth’s atmosphere retain heat, similar to a blanket keeping you warm.  When you look up to a clear starry night sky, you may find the temperature outside is cold, whereas if the night sky is filled with a blanket of clouds, the temperature may be warmer.  On the other hand, clouds keep you cool by providing shade as they block out the hot sun.

How do clouds start?

Clouds are formed when warm air, or heat energy, rises then cools as it expands into the atmosphere.  Water vapor in the air condenses on small solid particles like dust and sea salt, creating water droplets that form into clouds.  And, it is the temperature of the atmosphere and the height at which the clouds are forming that will determine if the cloud you are looking at is composed of ice or water droplets.

Types of Clouds

STEMists should be able to identify the three main types of clouds—Stratus, Cumulus, and Cirrus.

  • Stratus clouds are the lowest forming clouds and look like a crinkled flat sheet across the sky.  Stratus clouds often mean an overcast day, especially near coastal and mountain areas.  You can expect the air to be damp and a day of steady rain, or drizzles and mist.  These clouds can hang overhead for several days before dissipating or moving on.
  • Cumulus clouds are the fluffy clouds that look like puffs of cotton that sit on a flat base. They are the most common clouds and are some of the prettiest that form over land on bright sunny days.  Cumulus clouds form close to the ground, about 3,000 feet, and are the ones that you often feel you can reach out and touch.  Cumulus clouds grow upwards, but beware of cumulus clouds that grow tall, especially if they appear before midday.  These clouds can bring sudden rains, hail and thunderstorms. Shorter cumulus clouds indicate fair weather.
  • Cirrus clouds are some of the highest clouds in our atmosphere and look like wispy streaks of feathers.  These clouds are made of ice particles because they are so high in the sky.  Cirrus clouds scattered across a clear blue sky indicate fair weather.

Cloud Activities for STEMists

Cloud in a Jar

Items you will need for this groovy experiment are glass jar with lid (or small plate or bowl); ice; dark colored paper; aerosol air freshener or hairspray; and a flashlight is optional.  Fill the bottom of the clean glass jar with hot water (130-145 degrees) approximately 1 inch deep.  Swirl water in jar to warm the sides of the glass.  Place ice cubes in the lid (acting as a bowl) and place it on top of the jar.  Watch the condensation and notice the absence of a cloud.  Then, spray a small amount of your air freshener into the jar and quickly replace the ice-filled lid. Now hold up the dark colored paper to the glass and look for wisps of cloud to start swirling inside. You may also want to shine a flashlight inside the jar to see the cloud better. Finally, remove the lid and let the cloud rise out of the jar so that you and your STEMists can touch it.

Check out this video for an alternative way to do this experiment:

Edible Cumulus Sky

Use a Mason-type jar for this activity—small for individual serving sizes or a large jar for sharing.  Ingredients needed are whipped topping, like Cool Whip, blue-colored gelatin, ice and water. In a bowl, mix one small package of gelatin with one cup of boiling water.  Add one cup of ice cubes, and stir until the gelatin thickens to a consistency between liquid and firm.  Then begin to layer whipped topping and the gelatin.  Use a spoon to plop and push the topping along the side of the jar.  Continue to layer the ingredients until you have various shapes and sizes of white puffiness among a clear blue gelatin sky.  Let the gelatin completely set in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes or so.  Be sure to let your STEMists admire the shapes and remind them about the characteristics of the cumulus clouds. Bon Appétit!

Does your STEMist love science, math, engineering and technology? Order your Groovy Lab in a Box and get STEM fun delivered right to your doorstep!

More Than a Game: STEMists Get Groovy with Minecraft


STEMists in the classroom are using the Minecraft video game to learn physics, math, history, language, team building and more! 
As the top-selling app on both iPads and iPhones in 2013, according to the Mirror, Minecraft continues to prove to be more than just a game.  Teachers, students, boys and girls are learning STEM with Minecraft—a phenomenon all its own with over 100 million users.

More Than a Game: STEMists Get Groovy with Minecraft

What is Minecraft?

Players use building blocks, much like LEGOs, to create almost anything the imagination can think of— in a virtual world.  From simple buildings to block-head animals, castles, dragons  and whole cities, Minecraft fosters the creative genius in anyone who plays the game.

Creative Mode

In Minecraft’s creative mode, your STEMists will construct buildings and worlds using building blocks, decorating blocks, tools, plants and other materials in a 3D environment. The creative mode gives the player a sense of control in an environment where there are no rules.

Players learn how to identify and work toward goals —skills that are transferable to the real world. Manipulating objects in a space to create dynamic structures, visuospatial reasoning and problem solving – often through collaboration – is another educational benefit of Minecraft. The game itself encourages working with friends to build a groovy space!

Minecraft coliseum

Survival Mode

The survival mode more closely resembles a more traditional video game where players need to survive through various worlds and elements.  Blending building and adventure, your STEMists will harvest their own food and build shelters with raw materials such as stone and wood.  Minecraft STEMists must mine for rare materials to build more elaborate structures, and to uncover instructions to craft torches, doors, tables, shelves, and windows. These activities inspire architectural creativity as STEMists build more complicated shelters such as castles, skyscrapers, mega fortresses, complex labyrinths and more.

Your STEMists will face adventure in the mountains, swamps, forests and icy tundra, trying to mine for resources to avoid demise by the game’s “bad guys.”  Parents should be aware that in the survival mode, STEMists must craft weapons to survive attacks from flame-throwing and sword-yielding characters, zombies and skeletons.

City made in Minecraft

Should parents be concerned?

Minecraft can become all-consuming for STEMists, and although Minecraft can be considered educational, time limits should be set for daily play.  Safety is another factor with children playing against other players they don’t know who log in to the server.  Parents need to be sure their kids are educated on the possible dangers of gaming in an online forum. Gaming rules should be set by parents and followed by their STEMists.

Using Minecraft for learning

Minecraft Japanese architecture

Teachers and homeschooling parents have successfully integrated Minecraft into their curricula for STEMists. Here are a few resources to check out to see how you can use Minecraft in your STEMists’ everyday learning:

Minecraft is available as a computer game for your PC, and has been developed for Xbox, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Just like the monthly-themed Groovy Lab in a Box, Minecraft, when played according to family rules, fosters creativity through discovery and engineering design.

Homeschooling is Groovier with Groovy Lab in a Box


Homeschooling has its challenges from developing curriculum to finding educational activities that will keep your students engaged. 
Monthly themed Groovy Lab in a Box is the ideal complement to your curricula, traditional textbooks and supplementary workbooks. Collaboration is key to learning and each groovy box can fit the needs of up to five STEMists – STEM Team titles are outlined in the extended learning portal Beyond…in a Box!

Homeschooling is Groovier with Groovy Lab in a Box

Groovy Lab in a Box will quickly turn your homeschoolers into true STEMists through hands-on experiments that teach science, technology, engineering, and math.

What is a STEMist?

STEM•ist /stĕmʹĭst/ n. Expert in applying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Explorer, creator, inventor…STEMist!

Groovy Lab in a Box lab notebook

Groovy Lab in a Box fosters imaginative innovation and encourages problem solving through project-based learning. Each month’s box has a theme, such as Lunar Launch, Fly with Me, What’s the Matter, and Greenhouses.

Our Groovy Lab Notebook

Your homeschoolers will be delighted when they open their Groovy Lab in a Box to find all the supplies necessary to complete the investigations and engineering design challenge outlined in a retro-style custom, subject-specific lab notebook.  Full Steam Ahead homeschool educator Kristi Smith wrote in her blog titled, What I Learned About my Son,

While he was opening it, my son was beaming, exclaiming, ‘This is better than Christmas!’ (Note to self: Return dirt bike!) He wanted SO badly to just start tinkering, and I wanted SO badly for him to listen as I read through the included Lab Notebook, absorbing all the information on electricity, neutrons, circuits, etc.”

The custom Lab Notebook is where your STEMists will find easy-to-follow directions for each investigation, take notes, draw each project’s design plans and record their findings. “The lab notebook was set up to make it easy to record what we thought would happen, our actual results and what we thought of them.  My oldest loves building and doing experiments, but usually hates the writing/data portion. The question prompts and simple charts to record info made it more fun,” said Cheryl, the creator of Sew Can Do, and a self-taught crafter, designer and homeschooling mom of 3.

Cheryl recently tried our “Here Comes The Sun” solar energy-themed box. “It gave us everything we needed for 4 experiments AND a bonus item (solar paper) to use as we wished. I sometimes found projects like this kind of confusing back when I was a kid, but the lab notebook gave really clear, step-by-step instructions,” says Cheryl. “It was also nice to see the notebook reminding kids that failed results aren’t something negative, but rather an opportunity to learn more and redesign an even better solution.”

The Engineering Design Process for Project-Based Learning

Groovy Lab in a Box presents an engineering design challenge that takes great effort and requires STEMists to first identify the problem through investigative questioning, deduction and reasoning.  Unlike the investigations, the Lab Notebook does not have instructions on how to complete the Engineering Design Challenge, making it the most challenging to perform It’s true project-based learning where your homeschoolers will have to:

Engineering Design Process

  • Ask a question
  • Investigate to solve the problem
  • Brainstorm a possible solution
  • Plan and then build their solution
  • Experiment and run tests to see if the solution works
  • Redesign to improve the original solution (because almost no one designs it perfectly the first time!)

Even more benefits for homeschoolers

STEMists also have special access to our online learning portal, “Beyond…in a Box”.  Interactive activities, videos and other information are available on the portal to help homeschoolers learn about that month’s topic in addition to providing help to complete the engineering design challenge.

Cheryl says, “What I thought was most fantastic was that one box could be used just as easily with a single child or as a team – we tried it both ways.  Having several kids, at different levels, is sometimes a challenge for us in homeschooling, but Groovy Lab in a Box made it a lot easier.”

So, whether you are homeschooling one child or ten, Groovy Lab in a Box has you covered with our monthly subscription or our single box orders.  Visit Groovy Lab in a Box today to bring unique STEM-related, project-based learning to your homeschoolers.

3 STEM Activities To Light Up Your Summer Nights

Dark and eerie nights can be turned into cool summertime memories for your STEMists with glow-in-the-dark activities.  To add an educational spark and light up their summer nights, check out these 3 glow-in-the-dark activities that you and your STEMists can create at home:

STEM_activities_light_up_summer_nights

Blazing Bubbles

Bubbles are fun for everyone, especially when they glow in the dark!

Materials you will need:

  • Bubble solution (store-bought, or make your own solution by mixing ½ cup dishwashing liquid, with 4 ½ cups of water and two tablespoons of glycerin).
  • Washable glow paint (can be found at any craft store)

To make your glow-in-the-dark bubbles, mix the bubble solution with the glow solution.  Start with a 50/50 mix; you may have to adjust this measure depending on the strength of your solutions to obtain the glow you desire.  Also note the glow-in-the-dark solution requires exposure to bright light before your bubbles will glow.  Groovy Lab in a Box recommends planning as an outdoor activity for easy clean-up.  STEMists will have fun chasing and dancing amongst the luminescent bubbles under a dark summer star-studded night sky.

Fun with Duct Tape

STEMists can experience triboluminescence, which is light triggered by mechanical energy or a mechanical action, such as friction with duct tape. This luminating experiment is perfect for a summertime sleepover. Press two pieces of duct tape, sticky sides together, and then turn out the lights. Wait until your eyes have adjusted to the darkness of the room before you quickly pull apart the two pieces of tape.  What will your STEMists witness?  They should see a streak of blue when the tapes separate.  Transparent Scotch™ tape works as well.  Results may vary with different brands and types of tape used.

At-home Cosmic Bowling

STEMists compete to see who can knock down the most pins in this nighttime cosmic-colored activity.  You can make the bowling pins yourself with water bottles and glow-sticks.

Materials you will need:

  • 10 glow sticks
  • 10 water bottles
  • 1 small-sized basketball

Your STEMists might have as much fun creating the game as they do playing it!  First, peel the labels from the water bottles and then remove enough water to leave approximately one inch of space from the top.  Next, open the glow-stick packaging and crack your glow-sticks (follow packaging instructions for cracking).  Then, add one glowing stick (the thicker the diameter, the better) to each water bottle and recap.  Set-up your glow-in-the-dark bowling game in a clear indoor hallway, or on a patio, driveway or clear patch of low-cut grass.  Cosmic bowling also works well at a nighttime beach or pool party. Don’t forget the pencil and paper to keep score (although, the true winner of this game is you for providing a unique night-to-remember idea for your STEMists)!

If you are looking for more ways to keep your STEMists entertained this summer, check out Groovy Lab in a Box There is no better way to educate your STEMist than to keep their minds working to create, design and solve, through the engineering design process and STEM-related activities.

5 STEM-Related Ways to Celebrate the 4th of July

2014June27-4thofJuly

Fourth of July is one of the best holidays for STEMists to get engaged in celebration preparation and super groovy activities.  From yummy recipes and STEM-related activities, to watching the night sky light up with fireworks, the STEMist in you and your children is bound to show up for America’s big celebration!  Here are 5 ideas to get you started:

Layered Patriotic Drinks

It’s all about the density of sugar in this celebratory drink.  The trick to the layering is to remember that the more sugar content, the heavier the liquid. First, pour Hawaiian Punch, Fruit Juicy Red flavor to fill your glass ¼ full.  Then, carefully add ice cubes to just below the rim.  Now add a white beverage to your drink, pouring slowly over one of the ice cubes, or tip the glass and pour along the inside wall of the glass—SoBe Piña Colada flavor works well for this task.  Gatorades’ G2 Blueberry-Pomegranate flavor is the perfect topper to complete your patriotic-layered drink.  Add a red, white, and blue straw or favor, and your guests will be thrilled to sip this festive beverage.

Pop-Rock Sprinkle-frosted Cupcakes

Everyone loves a cupcake.  Add an explosion of taste and texture to any cupcake with this Pop-Rock sprinkle frosting. Homemade or store-bought, frost your cupcakes, and add colorful red, white and blue sprinkles, then top it off with a dash of red or blue Pop-Rock candies. Your cakes are sure to add zing to your celebration!  While making these delicious cupcakes, explain to your STEMists the science behind their favorite candy.  Pop-Rocks is hard candy that has been gasified with carbon dioxide under super-atmospheric pressure.  When these gasified sugar granules come in contact with moisture, in someone’s mouth or in a drink, the candy dissolves, and the gas retained inside the carbon dioxide bubbles is released, causing the characteristic crackling and fizzing sounds.

Rocket Launch

Most STEMists are anxious to launch their own fireworks during Fourth of July celebrations.  Groovy Lab in a Box recommends a safer way to launch objects into the sky—launching rockets!  Decorate and launch your own rocket by using the Parents’ Choice® award-winning Lunar Launch Groovy Lab in a Box. Your STEMists can add red, white and blue streamers, or glitter to their rocket to commemorate the Fourth of July.  Or, inflate a white balloon, and use a red and blue Sharpie to decorate it. Then, tie the balloon to your rocket with double thread, fishing line, or light-weight string, and launch it high in the sky. Note the difference in speed with the added weight of a balloon.

Patriotic Getaway

Capture the patriotic pride that comes from being American with a visit to our Nation’s Capitol during the Fourth of July holiday.  This is one of the best times to visit Washington D.C. , and your STEMists will learn all about the great leaders in history who helped shape our country.  Don’t miss the Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Plus, listen to a Capitol Fourth Concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.  End your visit with a viewing of the fabulous fireworks display at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, illuminating the sky behind the Washington Monument!

Whether you host your own small gathering or hit the road for a patriotic family weekend getaway, Groovy Lab in a Box hopes you have a chance to celebrate Independence Day in a big STEMist way!

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