STEM @ Home

STEM @ Home

The STEM Center is committed to providing science, technology, engineering, and math activities to learners in southern Illinois whether you can reach us or not! Our STEM @ Home series is written for K-12 students in the St. Louis Metro East area, but these links and activities can be used by anyone who wants to learn. Each week we have a particular theme with activity options for different age groups, as well as multimedia resources to facilitate the type of learning that engages students. If you want to contribute a picture to our series or send questions to our educators, you can post to our Facebook page.

You can also connect with us on Instagram @stem.siue and on Twitter @siuestem

STEM @ Home activities are adapted from research-based curricula, so you can be sure you’re providing high quality STEM education for your child that is also fun and engaging. Designed to be done at home, materials needed for these activities are things that you likely have in your home already. You and your child can do each week’s lessons as independent activities, or they can be done throughout the week as continuous learning for an ongoing project. All of the activities need someone to help guide or get your child started, often children can work on the activities on their own without direct supervision. These activities are similar to cooking recipes; the activity may be an hour, but only 20 minutes might be “active” cooking time. As with all great learning, the majority of the effort and time should be on the student, not you, the teacher.

  • THIS WEEK we are talking about Light
  • NEXT WEEK we are talking about Patterns and Functions
Learning about Weather Patterns

This week’s activities celebrate the beginning of spring by helping kids explore changing weather patterns! Set up your own personal at-home weather monitoring station and prepare to have an everyday learning activity while you social distance and learning more about the world.

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Temperature and Solar Stills: In this activity, kids will learn to track weather and outdoor temperatures. They’ll use this knowledge to learn about precipitation, condensation, and build a passive water purification system.

Under Pressure: In this activity, kids learn about air pressure and how it affects the weather. Kids will make their own barometer, track air pressure data, and then forecast the weather by both reading weather charts and using their barometer. Kids also learn how clouds are formed and make clouds.

Measuring the Wind: In this activity, kids build their own weathervanes and a tool to measure wind speed, called an anemometer. Kids will also explore engineering design skills and add to their home weather monitoring station.

Learning about Eggs

This week’s activities explore the wonders of eggs! Using eggs and household items, learn about diffusion, chemical concentrations, engineering, crystalline structures, and make bioplastics! After what feels like an eternity at home, spice up those eggs sitting in your fridge and learn along the way.

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Egg Shell Experimenting: In this activity, kids use eggshells to learn about how foods can affect your teeth. After emptying an egg of its contents without breaking it, kids test the strength of the eggshell, then use egg shells to grow crystals from cleaning supplies.

Protect Your Eggs: In this activity, kids develop ways to protect hard boiled eggs. Using items found around the kitchen, kids will design and build engineered devices to protect their eggs for an “egg drop.” Alternatively, they can build a bioplastic helmet to protect their eggs when they roll them down a ramp. After putting their engineered designs to the test, kids learn where their egg cracked by dyeing them.

Learning about Backyard Ecology

This week’s activities explore backyard ecology! Learn about the biological community of plants and animals living all around you while staying at home. These activities place students in the shoes of naturalists and botanists as they observe, record, draw, and investigate the plants, animals, and fungi living all around them. Take part in citizen science with the iNaturalist app and start an ongoing game of real world Pokemon Go as you collect all the living things you share your ecosystem with!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

The Backyard Naturalist: In this activity, kids train their eyes to see nature’s details. Kids draw the details of the plants and animals that they see around them just as Charles Darwin did. After drawing plants and animals as a whole, kids dissect plants and/or flowers to get a detailed look at the inner workings and complex mechanisms of plants.

Backyard Bioblitz: In this activity, families explore the biological community around their homes, either from their yard or indoors. Every day we see plants and animals all around us, often without even noticing them. Observing the first robin of the year or a surprise lily can be exciting, but many other species play important roles in our ecosystems. Using identification resources and a citizen science app, track the community of plants and animals all around you!

Learning about Earth Day

This week, on April 22, we celebrate the 50th annual Earth Day! Earth Day is a unified response to environmental crises in the world, and this years theme is “Climate Action”. To commemorate Earth Day and Climate Action, this week’s activities explore the wonders of Earth and what you can do to help protect and sustain our environment!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

From Trash To Soil: In this activity, learn how to build a worm composting bin. These compost bins can be constructed with mostly cheap supplies around the house with minimal tools, and they do a great job of created high quality compost relatively quickly. After building the bin, go on a hunt to find food appropriate to feed your worms.

Food Webs: Food webs are diagrams that show what organisms in an ecosystem eat. This shows the flow of energy, starting with plants then to the plant-eaters and finally predators. In this activity, you will create your own food web that reflects what’s going on in your backyard.

Biodiversity Barriers: Biodiversity is an important part of the global ecosystem but threats like habitat destruction, fragmentation, and edge effects reduce populations of sensitive species. In this activity you will create a model of a habitat that borders areas of human activity and figure out how to reduce human impacts.

 

Learning about Lego Coding

It’s not hard to see how important computer coding is, but they can be intimidating if you’ve never tried any coding. It might seem like the sort of thing that only experts can do but with a little help you can get started writing computer codes today! It’s just a different way of writing the ideas you already have so join us in learning the basics of coding using fun items you have around your house.

Make a Meme: Have you ever seen a funny photo with a caption on it that really resonated with you? This is a meme – an image created to express a point of view or generate a reaction out of the viewer. The key to an image becoming a meme as opposed to just an image is the ability of the meme to go viral – that is, to spread digitally across users and platforms. In this activity you will design a meme using pseudocode based on Java, one of many computer languages.

Lego Coding: In this activity, use any LEGO set to tie in concepts of code design and pique student’s interest, creativity, and use computational thinking. Each child has five minutes to create a figure for a video game. This character can be unique to each child. After creating their character, pass out the code block list. If you have children who are visually impaired, shape can be used instead of color. Each block has an action or task associated with it. Give the children 5 minutes to create a program that their character can execute. After creating the program, children can demonstrate to their parent or caregiver. If time, have them exchange codes and try someone else’s program on their character.

Card Sorting – Think Like a Computer: When you ask Google or another search engine a question, you are given items back in a sorted list. Google determines which item is most likely the answer you are looking for, although there are ways those answers can be assigned values based on the user and the search. In this activity you are the search engine and you are limited to serial processing – that is, processing based on one decision at a time. The challenge for this activity is to identify a procedure (or algorithm) to efficiently sort a suit of cards from lowest to highest value.

Learning about Space

This week we’re going to space! Well, not really, but we are learning all about the science of space. It’s a big place and it might be hard to get to, but after this week’s activities you’ll be a little more prepared when the events of Star Wars become reality. Of course, that’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away so we’ll also have to figure out time travel as well as space travel. One thing at a time!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Paper Rockets: Learners will construct paper rockets from a pattern to experiment with thrust. They will then measure the distance the rocket traveled, recorded that distance, and calculate averages. For those who like to compete, the persons with the farthest launch and the best average distance will be rewarded.

Solar System Model: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” This quote from Douglas Adams really sums up the first important thing to learn about the solar system. In this activity, learners will see how vast our solar system is by constructing a scale model of the orbits in a long hallway or across their yard.

Lunar Phases Snacktivity: If you look at the moon daily, you will notice that the view of the moon changes. The changes are called “moon phases” and have been observed and recorded by humans for as long as we have been making calendars. When you complete this activity, you will have your own edible lunar calendar!

Learning about Genetics

This week’s activities explore the fascinating study of inherited traits that affect us all, Genetics. If you thought you already knew everything about your family members by staying at home with them for weeks on end, guess again. After this week’s activities, you will know each other on a genetic level!

Online Videos:Use these links to educate and entertain!

Create a Creature: Animals have a set of characteristics that helps it survive and succeed in an environment. This set of characteristics is called adaptations and include traits like body parts, body coverings, and behaviors. In this activity, you will use some of your favorite snacks to create a creature with adaptations that helps it thrive and pass along its genetic code to the next generation in one of the environments described.

Genetics with RebopsIn this activity, kids learn about the relationship between genes and inherited traits. Kids learn how genetic information is passed from one generation to the next by creating pretend creatures called Rebops.

Genetics Week – DNA: In this activity, kids first learn about how complicated information can be encoded using binary code and then the four DNA bases and use them to send and receive coded messages using DNA. They then extract DNA from cells in a form that they can see. Finally, explore the prediction of genetic traits using Punnett Squares in the final activity.

For additional resources, check out our new STEM @ Home page!

Learning about Chemistry

These days, many of us are spending more time in our kitchens cooking. Did you know that many of the things we do to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner involve chemistry? This week’s activities are designed to teach students more about the chemistry we encounter every day in the kitchen and elsewhere around the home. From acids and bases to dissolving solutions, kids can learn about chemistry just using everyday items in and around the kitchen.

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities:

Which Will Rust? In this activity, kids will learn the chemical change that takes place when iron unites with oxygen to form iron oxide or rust. After making predictions for various household items, the student will determine that a steel nail (which contains iron) will rust more rapidly compared to other household metal objects.

Will It Dissolve? In this experiment, kids will discover that some substances dissolve in water and some do not. They’ll make predictions about what type of common cooking ingredients dissolve in water and how the temperature of the water impacts the amount of ingredient that can dissolve and the rate at which it dissolves.

Quick Bread Chemistry! In this activity, kids investigate how chemical leavening agents work by examining a quick bread recipe and experimenting with the quick bread leavening ingredients. Quick breads provide a very relevant application of acid-base chemistry to the production of food, and this is demonstrated by “baking” a quick bread using a lidded, nonstick skillet, and a hotplate or stove.

Learning about Sustainability

Everyone you knew, know, and will know lives on Earth: our home. One of the reasons we are staying home these days is to protect the people we know. But how do we protect the home we all share? In this week’s activities students will open their eyes and minds to observe a small area of our world; find out how they might reduce, reuse, and recycle our trash; and use experiments to find ways to keep soil from contaminating the waterways. These activities will help kids understand sustainability and how they might make a difference in preserving our world.

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities:

Micro-Habitat Study! Kids and their parents will take a close look at nature by examining what they can see within a selected area of the ground, both living and non-living.

Rethink Trash! In this activity, kids will investigate ways they can reduce, reuse, and recycle trash that their family generates while making dinner throughout the course of a week. Much of the trash we generate can be reduced, reused, and recycled after we identify and quantify the types of items we throw away.

Rip Rap: Controlling Run Off! In this experiment, kids will design their own landscape and erosion control to try and contain the most topsoil and prevent it from entering waterways.  If soil enters the waterways at a large volume it not only washes away habitat, but it also creates turbid and cloudy water for animals living downstream. One of the most common forms of erosion control is rip rap, which is large rocks set on the shoreline of lakes, rivers, and streams.

For additional resources, check out our new STEM @ Home page!

 

Learning about Insects

They’re everywhere! Insects are our neighbors just about everywhere on Earth and they’re pretty interesting neighbors. This week we’ll be looking at what makes an insect and what sort of lives they live. If you’ve ever wanted to practice being a bug or wanted to go on a safari in your backyard, then this is your chance!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities:

Insect SensesInsects view their world differently than we do, in part because of their unique sensory system.  In the following activity your child will pretend to be a bee or similar insect that uses antennae and compound eyes!

Make Your Own InsectInsects come in all shapes and sizes but they share a number of body structures. Students will learn these features and design an insect of their very own.

Observing InsectsInsects are an extremely common type of animal on the planet but they often go unnoticed. Students will take some time to appreciate insects and see what makes them so special, learning about how insects function.

For additional resources, check out our new STEM @ Home page!

 

Learning about STEAM

This week we’re taking a look at an approach to science topics rather than a specific topic. The theme this week is STEAM: Science, Technology, Art, Engineering, and Math.  Artistic expression is a powerful way to engage students in science. The activities we have today let you draw, paint, and tell stories while learning science concepts. From outer space to wild habitats and sidewalk art to composing music, we hope you have fun with our STEAM week!

Activities:

Make an Alien – Animals have adaptations that allow them to succeed in their environment and get enough food to survive. Using some creativity and artistic skills, students will create an alien world and then invent creatures to fill it!

Design for Diversity – Kids explore what happens to plants and animals when habitats become fragmented: a process called habitat fragmentation. They will investigate possible solutions of habitat fragmentation and then design and build models that connect habitats and increase survival rates of species.

Exploding chalk paint – What’s more fun than decorating your walkways with chalk? Creating masterpieces and then making them fizz and foam, of course! In this activity you will use some basic kitchen items to create a chalk paint. For added chemistry fun, spray with a mild acid solution (like vinegar or citric acid) to create a fizzy reaction.

 

Learning about Archaeology

This week for STEM @ Home, we are taking a closer look at archaeology. Archaeologists are scientists who study how people in the past lived. Though many people might think archaeologists study dinosaurs, they actually don’t. Paleontologists study dinosaurs; archaeologists study people. You may also wonder what activities you can do with your kids to learn about people of the past without going to an archaeological site. Well, all the activities y’all dig into this week can be done in doors with everyday artifacts around your home to help get your kids thinking like an archaeologist!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities:

At Home Excavation Unit: Why do archaeologists dig, or excavate, in squares? What can an archaeologist learn when testing an archaeological site? In this activity students learn how archaeologists sample an archaeological site and use the Pythagorean Theorem. 

Sandwich Stratigraphy: Stratigraphy is the science of layers – in the case of archaeology, scientists determine which artifacts are older or younger based on their position in the layers of dirt at an archaeological site. This fun “snack-tivity” is a great demonstration of how archaeologists study the layers of an archaeological site to determine how the site was formed and what people living there in the past did and when.

Everyday Artifacts: Archaeologists study objects made by people who lived in the past. Archaeologists call these objects artifacts. By studying artifacts, archaeologists are able to make interpretations about how people in the past lived and what these people did. In this activity, kids will explore objects around their homes, made by people, to make an interpretation about how their families live.

Learning about STEM Careers

This week we are learning about STEM careers. Do you want to be an architect? A biologist? A computer programmer? An astronaut? These are examples of STEM-based careers. Science, engineering, education, medical, and technology careers require the skills learned through STEM. The activities this week have students explore what it is like to be a cartographer creating a digital map; an engineer designing a bridge; and a nutritionist planning a healthy, colorful, and tasty diet!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities:

Be a Digital Mapper! Digital mappers are people who use maps with data to study an area. Many people use digital maps daily from finding directions online to looking at population maps or even just seeing which parts of the Earth are land and which are water! In this activity, students will learn this process and make their own digital maps on paper.

Be an Engineer! Engineers often work to construct huge things like buildings and bridges, but these are just the most noticeable things engineers work on. The concepts of engineering can be applied to anything big and small, and they can work with any material! In this activity, students will build bridges out of paper and see that, with engineering, they can get them to hold some pretty impressive weights.

Be a Nutritionist! A nutritional counselor works with clients to achieve specific wellness goals. The overall foods we eat, our “diet”, greatly influences our physical and mental well-being. A balanced, nutrient-rich diet is a preventative form of medicine and nutritionists play a critical role in improving an individual’s health. Nutritionists study the chemical and biological properties of foods to understand how they react in our body. Using this knowledge, nutritionists can create a diet plan that incorporates healthy foods for a person to eat throughout the day.


Learning about Citizen Science

Did you know that scientists need your help? Sometimes researchers collect so much data they can’t even begin to look it all by themselves. That’s where you come in! Researchers can use citizen science to have future scientists (like you!) comb through mountains of data that otherwise would be impossible to analyze. This week’s activities turn students into citizen scientists. Scientists need your help to discover antibiotic resistant tuberculosis strains, count and track beluga whales, and examine seasonal changes on Mars!

Activities: 

Here are links to three amazing citizen science projects:

Using Bash the Bug, you help scientists comb through photographs of tuberculosis samples to see which ones are unaffected by antibiotics. This is real research that scientists do, there are just too many photos for one research team!

With Beluga Bits you help researchers count whales visiting a sanctuary. Spot individual whales, look for family groups, and generally help biologists understand beluga migration while looking at photos of amazing whales! (Note for families: this project does involve looking for whales’ sexes based on visible organs).

Explore Mars with Planet Four! The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provides NASA with many images in extreme detail showing the seasons at Mars’ south pole. You can help astronomers looking through the photos to identify seasonal changes and help them better understand Mars’ climate and atmosphere.

Learning about Food

Nutrition, agriculture, and fermentation, oh my! This week for STEM @ Home, we are taking a look at the science behind the food we eat: how is it made, what’s in it, where does it grow, and more. Food is not merely a tasty part of life, food involves science. Perhaps you’ve wondered how a cake bakes, or why we have to shake salad dressings, or if honey really is bee vomit! Our at-home food activities can help answer those bizarre questions and get you doing science!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities:

Make an Emulsion: An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids that don’t dissolve in each other, one just disperses into the other. The liquid that disperses is referred to as being in a dispersed phase while the other is referred to as being in the continuous phase. Emulsions are temporary unless you add an emulsifier. Emulsifiers are molecules that help liquids bind together. Some common emulsifiers found in food science are honey, egg yolks, and mustard.

No Knead Bread: In this activity, kids learn about the complex ecosystem and chemistry that leads to a baked loaf of bread. This recipe helps deliver a delicious loaf of bread without kneading, allowing even children to do most of the work to create their own bread.

Denaturing Egg Proteins: Egg whites cook fastest with heat, but that’s not the only way to cook an egg. In this activity, kids learn about the complex chemistry of proteins by studying how different methods of “cooking” eggs with heat and chemicals affect egg whites.

Learning about Geology

This week we’re talking all about geology! (Insert “This rocks!” pun here…) We’ll be looking at ways to make crystals, how to find and identify rocks around your community, and how to make rocks you can eat. Since geology is literally the study of the entire planet we can only cover a fraction of what this field includes but we hope it gets you excited!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities 

Rice Krispie Rocks: Rock identification in geology involves examining rocks and following flow charts or detail. Does this rock have more of mineral A or more of mineral B? What shape are those pieces and how did they come together? Once you have a name, it can tell you a lot about how the rock came to be there, but identification can take practice and patience. Luckily in this activity you can identify rocks and get a sweet snack too!

Make a Candy Agate: Agates form when water enters the cavities of igneous rocks. The water leaves behind small grains of silica in layers around the inside walls of the cavities. Many agates you see are brightly colored by dye. Minerals deposited by groundwater form the natural color variation of agates. Looking at a natural agate slice is looking at the history of the rock!

Geologic Time: Saying things like “dinosaurs lived for 186 million years” or “the Earth formed 4.6 billion years ago” involves numbers that humans really have no context for. These values are so unbelievably big that they can be hard to imagine. This activity creates a physical model that can drive home exactly how huge a scale we’re talking about when we discuss geologic time.

Learning about Electricity

It’s easy to observe electricity in nature, particularly in the rolling thunderstorms the summer brings. Electricity and energy are present in less visible ways as well – in our bodies and in the circuits that control our lights. With this week’s STEM @ Home we are experimenting (safely) with electricity! Join us as we create circuits from recycled materials and our own drawings, and up your slime game with a charged goo that’s fun to play with!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities

Recycled Circuits – Create a light up house or picture using materials you might find in your recycling bin! With help from an adult you can create a circuit using old holiday lights, tape, and AA batteries. Turn trash into treasure and learn a little about electric circuits!

Graphene Circuits – Electricity is something that most of us use and see daily, but it might seem like a mystery. Even more mysterious is how another everyday object, the graphite in pencils, can be used to create a circuit seemingly out of nothing! In this activity, students will draw circuits on a piece of paper.

Static experiment – Who doesn’t like a good slime to play with? This activity can help you charge up your slime play by using the power of static electricity to make your slime jump and dance. Just be careful to not slime your hair!

Learning about Water

Dihydrogen monoxide? Sounds risky, are you sure at home activities using this chemical are safe? Well yes, of course there are! That’s H2O, more commonly referred to as water! This week for STEM @ Home, discover the chemical properties of water. These unique properties mean we can live! It also means fish do not become popsicles in the winter, massive trees can get water to reach their tallest leaves, and nutrients travel throughout our body. For such a simple molecule, made of just two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, there sure is a lot to learn about water. 

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities

Properties of WaterWater exhibits unique properties critical to life. These properties can be attributed to its polar nature and ability to form bonds. Throughout this activity you will see the various properties of water. Choose to do all three activities or select a few favorites!

Water Filtration – In this activity, kids learn how to make water safe and clean by making a water filter. The filter’s layers mimic those found in natural water cycles. This parallel both makes the filter work and helps kids understand how water is cleaned.

Saltwater Freezing and Boiling – Water is an amazing substance that regularly boils and freezes at temperatures that we can easily observe and recreate. However, saltwater has different properties than freshwater so adding salt to water changes how it behaves. Can you predict what will happen?

Learning about Forces

Things moving, stuff staying put, buildings standing tall or falling down… All of this is the work of forces.. This week we’ll be looking at different forces and how they affect the world around us. From launching catapults and going down water slides to spinning buckets and simple machines, knowing about forces and how they work is essential to understanding our world. Come with us as we look at pushes, pulls, and spinning forces!

Online Videos: Use these links to educate and entertain!

Activities

Build a Catapult – This activity tests your physics skills! A catapult is a simple machine used by many different groups of people throughout history. It relies on Newton’s laws of motion. When you pull down on the lever arm, potential energy is stored up. Release the arm, and this potential energy is converted to kinetic energy. Gravity also pulls your projectile (a pom pom) back to the ground.

Centripetal Force – Why do you seem to get pushed against the car door when you take a sharp turn? Why don’t you fall out of a roller coaster when going upside down through a loop? The answer to both of these are centripetal force—a force that’s all around but often not well understood!

Magnetism – In this activity, kids learn about the Earth’s magnetic field and magnetizing objects by making a simple magnetic compass. They then explore the relationship between electricity and magnetism by making and testing small electromagnets.

Nature Walk Videos

We are also producing nature walk videos with things to find during your trips outside. Check out these short videos as easy prompts of things to watch out for during your walks.

Additional Resources

The STEM Center also has other resources that you could enjoy with your child:

  • Our curriculum page hosts M.A.S.H. kits that can be done as independent activities. These kits are separated by age group, and the topics focus on:
    • Bodily senses
    • Chemistry of colors
    • Dinosaurs and fossils
    • Exploring aquatic environments
    • Gardening
    • Static Electricity
  • Our teaching with primary sources page has sample curriculum that parents could use to teach their children about the following subjects:
    • The Dust Bowl
    • Maps
    • STEM Notebooks

 

Staff Picks

The STEM Center staff also approved resources from other sources that you could do with your child:

  • Codecademy is free for the rest of the year, and a great tool to learn how to code. Some of the coding languages taught through Codecademy are Python, JavaScript, HTML, and CMD Line. Users are able to choose what they want to learn, learn by doing, receive instant feedback, and put learning into practice.
  • Code.org is another free coding resource, leading the efforts to get Computer Science in lower education classrooms. Students in grades K-12 can use Code.org for self-led projects at home.
  • Khan Academy is providing daily schedules for children ages 2-18. Students can utilize Khan Acadmey to study Math, by subject and grade; Science & Engineering, Arts & Humanities, Computing, Economics & Finance, Test Prep, and more. There’s also a Khan Kids app to teach students ages 2-7 about Math, Reading, and Social skills, and emotional learning.
  • SciStarter is a resource that provides Citizen Science projects that students can do at home. With over 1300 projects, you and your child can search their website to find any range of Citizen Science project to get started on.
  • The Library of Congress provides access to millions of historical documents, photos, videos, and audio recordings. Access primary source items from history and learn about various topics and events from artifact collections.