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Tag Archives: science

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!

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.

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!

Groovy Water Wheels

Groovy Water Wheels

Water wheels come in all shapes and sizes. Prevalent through the industrial revolution in America where they were used for navigation, raising waters and milling, water wheels were originally created for irrigation by the Greco-Romans. Water wheels often bring on a postcard sense of nostalgia, but for the young STEMist, they invoke curiosity.  And, though they may seem a part of the past, water wheels are still used in some areas today. Check out these groovy water wheel destinations you and your STEMists will enjoy:

 Old Spanish Sugar Mill, DeLeon Springs, Florida

The coolest part of the water wheel at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill is its location.  Found inside DeLeon Springs State Park, the 30 foot undershot water wheel powers the Old Spanish Sugar Mill and is a backdrop for activities including swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and dining.

According to legend, DeLeon Springs is home of the ‘fountain of youth’ discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León in the early 1500s. A $6 entrance fee gains you access to the fowl and fauna-filled state park by the carload. Locals find the park and its constant 72 degree waters a refreshing retreat while area tourists discover an outdoor playground unlike the numerous amusement parks about an hour south, in Orlando.

Your trip to DeLeon Springs is not complete without a visit to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant where you and your STEMists can cook your own pancakes on the hot griddle set in the center of your dining table.  Guests choose between a stone ground mix of five grains, or unbleached white flour— both ready-to-pour batters are delivered right to your table. To top it off, fresh blueberries, bananas, pecans, and other pancake toppings like chocolate chips and syrup are at hand.  Other breakfast items plus salads and sandwiches also are available at the reasonably priced restaurant.

Old Mill at Berry College, Mt. Berry, Georgia

Though it only runs one day each year – for a Mountain Day fall festival – the overshot water wheel stands 42 feet and powers the Old Mill at Berry College in Mt. Berry, Georgia.  The once necessary mill is an impressive picturesque site with a great history. Open to visitors all year, be sure to stop at the Berry College Gatehouse near the entrance for a map to easily direct you. Be sure to check out how the water wheel is fitted with a hub that was provided by Henry Ford during the Old Mill’s construction.

Rittenhouse Paper Mill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A national historic landmark and considered the birthplace of paper in the United States, the Rittenhouse paper mill was built in 1690 by the Rittenhouse family.  Eight generations of the Rittenhouse family and their workers ran the paper mill for 150 years.  The water wheel located along the Paper Mill Run and the Wissahickon Creek worked with a series of gears that created a forced energy to help pound the linen that was turned into paper pulp.   The Mill was the central livelihood of the industrial community, known as RittenTown and ran through the 18th century.  A visit to this historical site will provide a great education on the production of paper that was used for maps, books and legal documents.

If you and your STEMists can’t fit in a field trip to see one of these water wheels this summer, don’t fret.  The water wheel-themed Groovy Lab in a Box excites and challenges your STEMists to learn all about the design and process behind a working water wheel.  Order your box today!

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:


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.

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