At-Home STEM

At-Home STEM: Escape Rooms

I got locked in an Escape Room with my kids…and we all lived to tell about it!

Escape rooms are all the rage right now, and I participated in one a couple of years ago with my mom and my siblings (and a man and his son that we didn’t know). Doing escape rooms with family members has its pros and cons, but for the most part we worked well together and escaped the room (although I’m pretty sure we needed a few extra minutes, which the owners kindly gave us).While normally I would do anything and everything to avoid getting locked up with my pubescent boys (who are under 11 months apart in age), this was actually an incredible experience for all of us. Escape rooms are a fantastic way to teach STEM concepts and critical thinking skills under the guise of a game. I was able to watch my boys work together, problem solve, and deal with “failure” by trying new tactics.

I ordered this one on Amazon, and it was definitely a good beginner game for us. Once I knew they enjoyed it, I proceeded to order another couple online that I could print from home. We haven’t done those yet, but we plan to do them this weekend.

We started out by opening the box and investigating the contents. There was a sheet with instructions, a large “note card”, a wheel that included dials and symbols, and several sealed envelopes. As instructed, we read the first note card with the instructions and the back story. And don’t worry: clues and even the solutions are provided online if you get stuck.

The first card basically had instructions on how to use the enclosed wheel to “solve” each puzzle and move on to the next envelope.

Just like a “destination” escape room, we had to use every piece of the game we had access to in order to search for clues. So we might find clues on the outside of the last envelope that we needed to solve the second puzzle.

We actually had to look up a clue one time because my boys were getting frustrated. The way the clues are provided is nice because you have to click to uncover it. That way you don’t accidentally see a clue or solution you don’t want to.

 

And because I know you’re dying to know whether or not we made it out…

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Salt Art Chemistry

(Posted by Anne Seneca, CEEF Director of Marketing)

My middle kid Claire, is always looking for fun new ways to utilize her art cart. This well-loved cart is filled to the brim with markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, clay, shrinky dinks, scissors, chalk, craft punches, yarn…you name it. If you can craft it, we’ve done it.

Since being on lockdown, we’re always looking for new ways to get our crafting wiggles out – and learn at the same time! So today we introduced a new art medium to the ever overflowing art cart: salt.

The technique of “Salt Art” has been around for a long time, and it’s a super fun way to utilize materials you already have around the house. It’s also a colorful way to introduce your at-home artists to the chemistry involved with this project, while capitalizing the “A” in “STEAM”! We popped over to A Dab of Glue Will Do for inspiration.

For this STEAM project, you’ll need the following materials:

Materials

  • Mixed media paper like cardstock (we used stiff foam board)
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Table salt
  • Watercolor paints
  • Paint brush
  • Cup with water

Start by sketching out your project shapes. Claire chose to do a STEAM themed board!

Salt Art

When you’re drawing is ready, pipe over your pencil marks with glue. Claire used a flat tipped bottle for the larger drawings and a smaller tip for going over finer lines.

salt art

Once your board is glued up, shake salt all over the glue. Make sure you shake, shake, shake to cover it all! No shiny spots should show.

Let the glue and salt sit for at least 30 seconds before you shake off the excess salt to reveal your new crystallized artwork.

Now you can start “painting”! Dip your paintbrush in a little bit of color and a splash of water. Gently dot along the glue lines and watch the watercolor instantly get absorbed by the salt. Cool!

Why does this happen?

The salt absorbs the water. Salt is hygroscopic, which means it can absorb both liquid water and water vapor in the air. There are many other hygroscopic substances around, including wood, clay, and wool. And have you ever found one of those “silica gel packets” in food or a shoe box? That substance is also hygroscopic and is placed there to absorb moisture so your products don’t get ruined.

See the example below:

Enjoy this fun STEAM activity at home today!

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At-Home STEM Activities

Outdoor STEMJust because school’s out, it doesn’t mean the learning should stop. As health and safety concerns have more people opting to stay home, we’ve curated a guide of fun-filled, educational activities that don’t require leaving the house. Check out these hands-on activities that will keep your students engaged and entertained with science, technology, engineering and math.

 Creative STEM activities

Learning to think outside the box and use deductive reasoning are just a few key problem-solving skills students learn from STEM. Exploring trial and error techniques teaches students to overcome challenges and provides the opportunity to celebrate little victories. These activities from Little Bins for Little Hands use household items to bring learning home.

  • Catapult Challenge: Using rubber bands, pencils, marshmallows, LEGO, popsicle sticks and more, kids can learn about physics while creating a catapult that will double as an educational toy.
  • Balloon Rocket: Race to the finish using a balloon, a straw and string while exploring Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion (or here for a simpler explanation).
  • 100 Cup Tower Challenge: Learn the fundamentals of engineering as kids see what it takes to strategically balance and stack 100 cups.
  • Build Structures: Using toothpicks and candy or other supplies, kids will become junior architects building towers and bridges.

Energized STEM activities

Just because you’re staying home doesn’t mean you can’t be active. These motion-powered projects are the perfect way for kids to release some energy while learning about sports science. The best part is that these activities from the Science Buddies Hands-on Project Survival Guide don’t require too much space and can be done inside a large room or in the backyard.

Slime STEM activities

Learning about polymers is a sticky science but these recipes from STEM Powered Family make it easy and memorable. From potions that change color with heat to learning about magnetism with “troll bogeys” to edible marshmallow play dough, each concoction teaches a different lesson. For easy, ready-to-use slime kits and other STEM toys, check out KiwiCo’s spring break sale.

Computer Coding for kids

As technology becomes an increasingly important part of everyday life, coding is no longer a skill just used by computer scientists. Basic computer coding is used in a wide variety of careers and according to Tech News World, “coding is a necessary literacy in the technological age.” Take advantage of this time to help your student get ahead with Tynker Coding for Kids. You can also find “unplugged” coding activities (as well as many others) on our Energy Day site.

STEM movie marathon

Turn your living room into a mini movie theater, complete with popcorn and other snacks, before breaking out the STEM-inspired cinemas. From astronauts to science fiction to inspired female heroes, here are a few favorites:

  • “Flubber”
  • “Back to the Future”
  • “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”
  • “Tomorrowland”
  • “Big Hero 6” – Check out these science activities, like making oobleck, inspired by the movie.
  • “The LEGO Movie”
  • “Wreck It Ralph”
  • Hidden Figures”
  • “Apollo 13”
  • “Spare Parts”
  • “The Martian”
  • “Interstellar”

Make your own hand sanitizer

If you’re concerned about hand sanitizer shortages, here’s an easy scientific solution; make your own! Simply whisk together 2/3 cup rubbing alcohol and 1/3 cup aloe vera. An optional step is to add vitamin E to make it softer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has official instructions for making your own sanitizer, so just be aware that anything short of this may not actually work well to fight COVID-19. The CDC actually recommends washing hands over using hand sanitizer, but this is helpful for the times when you can’t wash your hands.

Apply for a STEM scholarship

The Energy Day Academic Program provides opportunities for students and teachers to earn a number of STEM scholarships and awards. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Energy Day, we’ve kicked off our Energy Day 2020 Media Contest. Teachers and students can win up to $300 for producing a short video and/or designing an Energy Day mascot. All entries must be submitted by May 31.

Our friends at Texas Girls Collaborative Project have an ongoing list of resources  Mommy Poppins and Science Bob also have fantastic ideas for activities for all ages.

Check out additional opportunities in Houston and Colorado.

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At-Home STEM: Homemade (Antibacterial) Putty

At-Home STEM

Does this look like a kid who is bored at home and hates learning? Admittedly, I don’t do as many experiments and activities as I’d like to do with my kids, but this one was so easy! I really didn’t do anything except take the pictures. There was a total of about 10 minutes between the time my kids said they wanted to do the activity and us actually finishing.

We’ve made ALL the slime recipes, and we love messing with Oobleck in our house, but let’s face it: most of that stuff gets pretty messy. This experiment is not only quick and simple, but you probably have the TWO ingredients at home right now. And here’s the BONUS: if you use antibacterial soap, you’re getting your kids to clean their hands without them realizing it (super important during this COVID-19 situation).

I originally found this activity on Mommy Poppins and followed a link to this site. Because it looked so easy and I had the ingredients (usually the biggest issue when my kids find something online they want to try), I immediately went into the kitchen with my boys and got out the necessary materials.

Materials

Corn Starch
Dish Soap (colored soap makes colored putty)
measuring spoons
a small bowl
a spoon to mix the ingredients (not pictured)

Directions

Start by adding 1.5 TBSP of dish soap to your bowl.
add soap
Next add 2 TBSP of corn starch to the soap.
add corn starch
Stir them together.
stir ingredients
If your mix is too runny (which was the case with ours), add a bit more corn starch. Alternatively, if your mix is too dry, add more soap. Note that it doesn’t take much of either to change the consistency, so add a little at a time and stir.

When the mixture becomes too difficult to stir, dig in with your hands to finish the job.

Finally, take it out and enjoy your creation!

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