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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!

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

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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!

Pride in Our Box

Every month subscribing STEMists (kids ages 8+) receive our groovy, retro style Groovy Lab in a Box that contains hours of exciting STEM fun and engineering design challenges.   Each box is carefully put together and filled with theme-specific objects that make up our Groovy Lab in a Box. Many STEMists don’t realize that there is more to the friendly, retro Groovy Lab in a Box packaging than meets the eye. So, who puts our Groovy boxes together?  Employees of the non-profit Versability Resources of Virginia get the job done.

Pride in Our Box

“Groovy Lab in a Box is proud to partner with VersAbility Resources to ensure our subscribers receive their completed box delivered right to their STEMists’ door,” said Elaine Hansen, co-founder of Groovy Lab in a Box.

Since 1953, VersAbility Resources has been helping individuals with disabilities gain independence through work and living experience to help them lead fuller, richer lives. VersAbility creates opportunities for individuals to make the most of their abilities, contribute to society, and enjoy the satisfaction of working and earning their own living. “There is much excitement when the new boxes are being built,” said Laurie Williams, Senior Operations Manager.  “A job filled with a colorful variety of elements like Groovy Lab in a Box work is fascinating.”

VersAbility Resources

The VersAbility business services team carefully assembles all the Groovy Lab in a Box parts, including every electronic, Groovy lab notebook, pipette, battery and other materials that make up the themed Groovy Lab in a Box. VersAbility now serve over 1,400 people with disabilities and their families each year in employment, community living, day support, and early childhood programs explained Williams.

“There is planning discussion in the weeks leading up to the fulfillment with Groovy Lab in a Box creators to collaborate and design the best product while keeping in mind any special needs of the business services staff. The process to assemble the boxes is collaborative with some people building smaller elements that make up the box.  Other individuals may make the box itself, while someone else is putting the final touches on placing all the products in the box,” said Williams.  “The work between VersAbility Resources and a customer is a true collaboration that can enhance a great product through the fulfillment and delivery.  We have an excellent relationship with Groovy Lab in a Box, which makes for an amazing product and an enjoyable work relationship.”

VersAbility’s goal is to help people obtain meaningful work opportunities and participate fully in their communities.  The business services aspect is only one of several services available through the non-profit.  Other services that provide VersAbility participants the opportunity to earn a living and lead an independent life include bulk mailings, publishing, linen and food services, community service, summer camp counseling and more.

Monica Canavan, co-founder of Groovy Lab in a Box said, “Groovy Lab in a Box places great value on VersAbility’s vision that helps to improve the quality of life at work, home, and in play for persons with disabilities at all levels.”

So, the next time you find your STEMists’ Groovy Lab in a Box on your doorstep or in your mailbox, know that the assembly of all its parts was carefully and proudly packaged by individuals who may have a disability, but have an enormous heart and display great pride in their work.

Subscribe to Groovy Lab in a Box or check out a Single Box today to help your STEMists continue to stimulate their science, technology, engineering, and mathematic abilities.

Groovy Solar-Powered Gadgets for Summertime Fun

U.S. landfills are littered with 2.4 billion batteries every year, leaving toxins in our groundwater supply. Ditching battery-operated gadgets is one way you can make a conscious environmental statement. There are many gadgets that use the sun’s solar power instead of batteries as the main source to fuel energy. Check out these groovy solar-powered gadgets that you and your STEMists can use in your efforts to go green.

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Solar-Powered Lawn Mower

Economical, clean, low-maintenance solar-powered lawn mowers are at the forefront of the fast-growing green, renewable energy movement. A solar-powered lawn mower harnesses the sun’s energy to produce the electrical current required to run the mower.

SOFT Rockers

The solar powered lounge chair recharges you and your gadgets.  Designed by a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the SOFT Rockers are disguised as outdoor rocking furniture in MIT’s Killian Court.  The unconventional futuristic charging stations use the human power of balance to create an interactive 1.5 axis 35 watt solar tracking system. Users put their body weight in play with a real-time energy harvesting feedback loop that senses how you orient the soft wood rocker to the sun.  Any USB device can be charged using a solar powered SOFT Rocker charging station.

Solar Chargers

Are you tired of hearing the cries of your STEMists when they can’t use their tablet or portable gaming system because it is charging? Solar chargers give you portability and flexibility by providing you charging on the run.  There are many solar charger products available.  Check out Amazon’s listing for many useful solar powered gadgets. We also think these two products are groovy:

The Electree: The Electree, by French designer Vivian Muller is shaped like a bonsai tree, and contains 27 leaves or solar panels that can charge a 13,500mAh battery. Rotatable branches allow users to customize the look of the Electree, just like pruning a real bonsai!

Solar-Powered Gadget Charging Beach Bag: Whether you are at a picnic in the park or building sand castles at the beach, this solar-powered beach bag is the ideal solution for charging your gadgets.  This unique beach bag generates 6.3 watts of power with its flexible solar panel and will keep your cell phone, MP3 player, digital camera, or any other small electronic device charged and ready to use.

Young STEMists are learning from unique solar powered toys and gadgets used in everyday living.  These groovy solar powered gadgets will inspire imagination and may encourage how they work out the experiments and engineering design challenge in the solar-themed Groovy Lab in a Box.  Order your solar-themed box today!

Capture Summertime Fun with Catapults

Catapulting is fun and provides a frame of reference for physics concepts your STEMists are learning in school.  Why not plan to build a catapult this summer?  Kids love to watch objects fly through the air, across the room or in the yard. It’s easy, and you can do so with items found around the house and in your STEMists’ toy closet.

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Build a LEGO Catapult

Anytime your STEMists build with LEGO blocks is time well spent and a sure way to improve the creator, explorer, and inventor in them!

Young STEMists can easily build a catapult with LEGO building blocks.  All you need to do is build a catapult platform with an arm and snap it onto a set of LEGO wheels attached to a LEGO axel.  And, voila, you are ready to launch!

Older STEMists can create a more sophisticated catapult using LEGO building pieces and a rubber band to create the right amount of torque for firing projectiles. FrugalFun4boys.com offers an easy to follow pictorial on how to build this LEGO contraption.

No matter what materials are used to build your catapult, you will enjoy watching your STEMists use their design engineering skills to tweak their creations to launch their projectiles further and further from where they first landed.

If your STEMists love catapults, check out our “Out To Launch” single box today!

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