School’s out for the summer! Whoohoo! Just because summer is here doesn’t mean STEM learning has to stop. Whether you are a camp counsellor, a parent, a teacher looking for ideas or the fall, or a kid looking for fun, here are our top 5 favourite low-tech STEM activities that are sure to be a hit!
Admittedly, this one does require the use of a smartphone or tablet, but almost everyone has one of those these days and you only need one even for a large group of people. Green screens are not only super interesting, they are super fun! Who doesn’t want to go to space or Hogwarts? Use the green screen to take goofy pictures or make a short film; the options are endless for activities to do with kids (or even adults). A fabric green screen can set you back a few hundred dollars. A better option? Go to your local dollar store or party supply store and purchase a green tablecloth. They cost around $2 each, meaning you can set up multiple options to cater to more participants. Just make sure you get the right shade of green; green screens really do require that Kelly green colour in order to work. For filming, the best app we have found is called Green Screen by Do Ink. It is made for education purposes and is super user friendly; it is available from the app store for under $5.00. Sadly, it is only available for Apple products. Working with an Android? I’m sad to say the options aren’t great but the Google Play Store has options both free and paid.
This is by far one of our favourite STEM challenges. Do it right, and you can have an awesome learning experience for up to 2 hours. The best part? All you need are popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and plastic spoons.
How we do it to maximize fun and learning is as follows:
1) Participants can work individually, in partners, or in groups of 3 depending on what suits your situation best. Before beginning, we always give a short little intro to the history of catapults and show some different images of catapults to get everyone on the same page.
2) Participants are told that they will be building a catapult. They may ONLY use 1 spoon, as many rubber bands and as many popsicle sticks as they want. Even if there are other materials available they may NOT use them. Real life has constraints and this is where their creativity really shines through!
3) Participants must create and submit an initial design on paper for their catapult before being given their materials. This brings in that Design Thinking element that we are so fond of.
4) Build it! Usually participants need between 30-45 minutes to build their catapults.
5) Test it! We like to do this in the form of a friendly competition. Participants pick a team name and are added to the scoreboard. Assess their catapult based on the criteria of distance, accuracy, destructiveness, and design.
We always tell kids that with great catapult power comes great catapult responsibility; we will never use our catapult to hurt another person and will always be mindful of what materials we are using as projectiles. Some of our favourite projectiles include marshmallows, balled up pieces of painters tape, and styrofoam balls. They have a good weight but won’t hurt anyone.
The best part of the catapult challenge is the diversity of designs; you would be surprised to see what kids come up with given the constraints!
Space Junk Challenge
As technology is increasing, so is our electronic waste. The same holds true in space. A problem the world of space exploration is currently facing is that of space junk; old satellites, broken pieces of other space paraphernalia, and more are all floating around Earth and making it increasingly difficult to get past Earth’s atmosphere into space! There is no perfect solution yet (although there are several teams around the world with some pretty cool ideas), so this gives us a perfect opportunity to invent something and maybe even make a contribution to the world of space! We explain the problem of space junk to students and ask them to invent a solution. This can be drawn on paper or prototyped using basic craft materials. We always tell participants that there is nothing too silly! Many solutions currently being developed by scientists have a silly idea like a giant vacuum or claw at their core. As we’ve learned through Design Thinking, even silly ideas have a nugget of wisdom at their core!
Origami isn’t just for arts and crafts; it’s for STEM! Continue the learning from the Space Junk Challenge or do it on its own; the thinking behind origami has led to some really cool inventions and technology. Check this out for an example! There are tons of cool designs for origami and the paper is usually inexpensive and easy to find at your local crafts store. Once participants have done a few for practice, get them to invent something that would use origami thinking. You’d be surprised at some of the amazing things kids will come up with.
This is one of our favourites because you can put a ton of time or barely any time at all into this activity. All kids need are some basic construction materials like glue, tape, cardboard, markers, string, etc. Their challenge? Create a carnival game! We’ve seen kids make some genuinely enjoyable games that we would love to play at a real life carnival! The best part? You get to throw your own carnival at the end! Have kids set up stations and play each other’s games!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our top 5 favourite low-tech STEM activities! Have a favourite that wasn’t mentioned? Leave a comment below; we’re always looking for new ideas!