Getting involved in STEM education doesn’t have to be hard!
As STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education receives amplified attention across school districts, it’s important to understand the beauty behind STEM’s accessibility. STEM lessons or an expansive STEM project aren’t limited to older students.
In fact, there are numerous STEM activities and projects geared toward younger learners. Interested in learning more? Check out Thimble’s quick guide to easy STEM activities for fifth graders!
Science & Technology Projects
Purposeful science comes from intentional projects. Try some (or all) of these exciting activities that require simple materials and will challenge students’ critical thinking skills.
1. Invisible ink
Who doesn’t like writing secret messages? In this experiment, baking soda is used to make a non-toxic invisible ink. When mixed with equal parts water, this solution can be used for writing (take a toothpick, Q-tip, or thin paintbrush, dip into the mixture, and spread on paper). In order to see the secret message, hold the paper up to a heat source, like a common light bulb. The writing will turn brown, showing the secret text to whoever’s reading!
2. Micro water purification
Chances are, you drink purified water. However, have you ever taken the time to consider how the purification process works? That’s what this project is about. In it, you and your future engineer(s) cut a small hole into the bottom of a plastic cup. Next, line the inside of the cup with coffee filters (3-4), followed by a layer of clean sand and then gravel.
Afterward, stick the plastic cup into the top of a glass jar. Use an additional jar to pour dirty water into the plastic cup (…maybe from a nearby pond, stream, or retention area?). Take a look at the end result – the difference is sure to surprise you!
3. Who needs a kitchen oven?
This project allows you to temporarily put a pause on cooking in the kitchen oven….because you create a solar-powered oven that makes s’mores!
For this makeshift oven, you need personal pizza boxes (or a larger one), black construction paper, aluminum foil, glue, plastic wrap, scissors, a pencil, and markers (if you want to decorate your oven). Cut an opening on the flap of the box…this will serve as the “oven door.” Black construction paper is glued to the bottom of the box in order to absorb heat, and aluminum foil attaches to the inside of the door in order to reflect the sun. The plastic wrap is taped over the door opening so that the “oven” will actually heat up.
After that, it’s baking time! Prop the door open with a pencil so that sunlight can enter, and then place outside with your s’mores ingredients ready to rock. The best part? You can watch the process as the oven makes use of solar energy in order to bake the s’mores.
4. The floating stick figure
Maybe you and your young scientist have relegated yourselves to stick figures when it comes to a potential art career. No worries – with this project, you can take that stick figure and make magic happen!
Dry erase markers use low-adhesive ink (makes sense…after all, it’s typically wiped away shortly after use). Turns out, though, that dry erase ink is also insoluble; meaning, it can’t be dissolved in liquid (and is also less dense than water).
So, draw a stick figure on a smooth surface, pour water over it, and voila! The overpowering buoyancy will pull the stick figure off its surface, allowing you and your student to control the magic.
5. Ye olde soda explosion
No science project has stood the test of time better than the diet soda and Mentos catastrophe. Warning: You don’t want to do this indoors.
The science behind this giant geyser of soda is a classic reaction. Mentos catalyze the release of gas that comes from diet soda, causing things to go “boom.” Interesting, too, is that this is a physical reaction as opposed to a chemical one. Since it became widely popularized in 2005 thanks to YouTube, the experiment has been done at varying levels of altitude, with results showing that higher elevations produce stronger reactions.
Still, no matter your location, you can complete this experiment and achieve the desired effect. Simply take a 2-liter of diet soda (fun fact: diet soda is used because it contains artificial sugar as opposed to regular soda…this makes for an easier, non-sticky cleanup). Next, drop the Mentos. How many is up to you, though more promises a larger reaction. Also note that the trickiest part of this seemingly simple experiment is that you need to find a way to drop the Mentos as close to the same time as possible. Loosening them up from the package beforehand is advised.
There’s not much to do after this except run away, look back, and behold the glory of basic science at work.
6. Thimble’s wifi robot
Want to take your technology project to the next level? Let us help! At Thimble, we specialize in creative STEM activities and projects made for kids of all ages. Our WiFi robot project allows you and your student(s) to operate a remote control robot from a phone, tablet, or computer. This is an awesome way to explore digitalization and how various technologies communicate with each other.
Engineering & Math Projects
1. Acoustic rubber bands
Musicians in the family? Try this neat activity. The goal is simple – explore what happens to sound in different environments.
To do this, you need a few things: Your fingers, a plastic container, rubber bands, and a small towel. First, have your child stretch a rubber band between his/her thumb and pointer finger. Take note of the sound that is produced when you “flick” it.
Next, stretch rubber bands across the top of a plastic container, a la a guitar. Play around with this. Does the sound change? How?
Finally, stuff a small towel into the container and see how it changes the acoustics. The end result of this experiment is a fun study on acoustics and how sound is shaped. Give it a try!
2. Archimedes’ screw
Future mechanical engineers will love this project, which teaches students how to construct a basic water pump capable of transferring water from a lower location to a higher one.
Admittedly, this one might require a few purchases. Specifically, PVC pipe (1/2-inch diameter, 2-foot length) and clear vinyl tubing (10-foot length, 3/8-inch outer diameter, 1/4-inch inner diameter AND 10-foot length, 3/4-inch outer diameter, 1/2-inch inner diameter).
Aside from that, you need several materials that can hopefully be found at home: Strong tape, permanent marker, scissors (or retractable blade), measuring cup, spoon, water, food coloring, two bowls (at least 12-oz), scotch tape, pen, books.
The idea here is to transfer water from a lower bowl to a higher bowl. You’ll use books to vary the bowls height, the tubing as a transfer vessel. and food coloring in the water so that it’s easier to see the movement. Given the complexity of this one (which makes it all-the-more worth it), we suggest visiting here for step-by-step instructions.
3. Catapult chaos
You don’t have to travel back to ancient times or turn on Game of Thrones in order to make use of a catapult. The famed launcher actually comes from basic science concepts related to design and mathematics.
Things you need: cardboard, large plastic cups, ruler, paper, pencils, rubber bands, paperclips, tape, scissors, aluminum foil, tape measurer, space for catapult launching. Let’s be honest – there’s a 99.99% chance that these items are all lying around your house right now!
Once you have these items, the fun begins. There are many ways to build your launcher; the main idea, though, is to craft a launching structure. Use the cups/pencils/cardboard as your base. The cups function as side-by-side towers atop cardboard (and with lots of tape), while the pencils connect them at the bottom and top. Tape the top of your ruler across the middle of the top pencil and guess what? You got yourself a catapult. Bombs away!
4. Snacks? Yes please
Simple machines are the building blocks of anything more advanced. In this project, students build a snack mix machine using simple mechanisms. Materials here are relatively straightforward: Notebook, pencil, cardboard (and/or other recyclables), PVC pipe (for building an axle), rope or twine, screws and screwdriver, wood (for wedges), cups and/or bowls, tape, glue, scissors.
Oh, and you’ll need some snacks.
Like many creation-based projects, the at-home snack machine presents many paths that you can follow. Keep your eye on the main goal: To be able to take multiple snacks and mix them into one cup. By gluing small cups or bowls to PVC pipe (or a rod), you can create a basic wheel/axle. Next, use your recyclable materials (like empty milk cartons or other cardboard products) to help the machine stand up.
The cardboard inclined plane that you run from axel to bottom is very important, as its angle will determine whether or not the snacks actually mix together on their way down and land into the bowl.
This project takes patience, a bit of trial and error, and the occasional “back to the drawing board” mentality, but it’s a lot of fun (and tasty).
5. Thimble’s piano synthesizer
Another shameless plug here, because we love offering cool STEM projects for you and your family to complete. If you enjoyed learning about acoustics with rubber bands, Thimble has your next project: A mini-keyboard that can be assembled and used to explore the complexities of sound design and creation (while simultaneously growing your music career?).
We hope you found this starter guide instructive, and that it leads to much fun and learning for your student(s). At Thimble, we believe in empowering the next generation of engineers through science subscription boxes, STEM toys, and online classes, all geared toward teaching students the science behind how things work and allowing them to make new discoveries of their own.
Learning should always be fun, and Thimble’s happy to provide this experience.
Want to learn about 8th grade science projects? Click here to find out about the best 8th grade projects for science fairs!