STEM education related projects, activities, and challenges are a wonderful way for even the best and brightest STEM-minded individuals to truly get out and explore their world, develop new skills that will make them successful, and really test the skills that they thought they already had. For these reasons and so many more, all three of the activities and projects below do not have strict systematic instructions, a solidified list of tools and materials, or a suggested final project description to use as a template. That means that you can experiment and are encouraged to substitute along the way.
Build Yourself a Catapult That All Will Envy
The beauty of this project is that it can be adapted for literally any age and any skill set from the basic beginner to the complex-thinking career engineer. That is why the project has been outlined in three stages below.
The Very Bright Beginner
Children are learning at younger and younger ages, just what it takes to be a STEM-minded genius with a great set of skills. To this task, you’ll need a spoon, a square eraser, a finger, and a soft, harmless, and unbreakable object to catapult. Take the eraser and lay it flat on a flat surface. Then take the end of the spoon that is typically held onto and hold it against the eraser. Once you have done this, carefully hold your object to the spoon, pull back just a little bit, and let the object soar. This activity will teach you the basics.
Stepping up The Challenge
You will notice that the further along and more challenging that these projects get, the more creative you will have to be about the materials that you use, the procedures that you use to complete each project, challenge, or activity, and just about everything else about the finished project that you will be completing. For the second level catapult, we recommend using popsicle sticks, a plastic spoon, and a bunch of rubber bands. You will need to figure out how to build a base for the spoon to stand against, a functioning “pulling” mechanism, and what soft projectile you would like to test out. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first time.
Professional Quality Skillset
There are many things the distinguish a professional quality catapult from the two listed above that have mainly been geared towards a younger developing crowd. For this level project, you will be responsible for finding or creating a catapulting “seat” as well as the base. You are going to want to use materials that could create a larger scale catapult than the table-top suggestions above. You may use a combination of wooden boards, metal hardware, springs, and power tools. This is a fun project, especially if you’d like to catapult such things as pumpkins in October or November for competition or pleasure.
The Jack-O-Lantern That Ate Too Much Halloween Candy
If you are the type of person that just loves the many activities that you can do around the holiday, then you are one of millions that enjoys Halloween as well. You may love everything about Halloween, just the “innocent” or more religious takes on Halloween, or a combination of the two. Regardless, you have likely heard of carving pumpkins with faces or images, and setting them out with candles or artificial lights to light up porches and yards. Yes, Jack-O-Lanterns are a ton of fun to make and there is a strong possibility that you either will be carving a pumpkin this season or you want to carve a pumpkin. That is what makes this project so great. Here are two levels of mastery.
Mastering the Basics
To make your Jack-O-Lantern sick, you’re going to want to carve a “sick” face into it. Then add a decent amount of baking soda to the floor of your Jack-O-Lantern and keep the mixture as dry as possible. You may still add your light to the pumpkin, but it would be most effective if taped to a wall of the inside of the pumpkin so that it does not get destroyed in the chemical reaction. When you are ready to make your pumpkin “sick”, simply add a small amount of vinegar through the top and watch it regret its decision to consume all that delicious Halloween candy at once.
So, by now, you know that the reason paper mache volcanoes erupt and the reason pumpkin above “got sick off too much candy”, is because vinegar is an extremely strong acetic acid and baking soda is a bicarbonate (also known as a pretty strong base). Together, the materials try to counteract each other and a violent reaction occurs producing a mixture of bubbling liquids, solids, and highly-charged gases. Knowing that this reaction occurs because of a strong base interacting with a strong acid, try experimenting with different materials to achieve the same “sick pumpkin” result. Make sure that you are using these acids and bases in a highly responsible and extraordinarily careful manner.
What Really Makes Leaves Change Color in Fall?
There are literally hundreds of theories circulating among school children as to why leaves change color in the fall. There are even adults with college educations that do not actually understand the math and science behind this phenomenon. Do leaves change color because they get old and die? Do they change color because they do not get as much sunlight in the fall? Does temperature have a role in this process? This little experiment will tell you what you need to know and give you the skills you need to continue learning even more fun and challenging skills that you will normally learn at STEM Schools.
To complete this extremely easy project, simply go out and collect leaves of different colors. If you live in a place where the leaves either do not change, the change is minimal, or the leaves have not yet changed, this is a project you can still learn from. Quickly pull up a scientific method procedures poster, link, or website from your mobile device and start making your predictions. Once you have made your predictions, boil all the different leaves, and place them in separate clear jars with sealable lids. Then all you must do is observe what you see. If you need a keyword for your research, try “chlorophyll”.
While the STEM education related projects, activities, and challenges listed above are fun examples of what you can produce using STEM procedures, the real purpose behind these activities is to develop new skills and to truly test the skills that have already developed. There are no real “right” or “wrong” ways to complete any of the items on the list provided above. There is also no one way that a project should look or function. That means that you should be as creative as possible when working on these STEM projects this fall.