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Moving Shadows

Moving Shadows

How do shadows change during the day?

  • A small toy
  • Paper
  • Coloured pencils
  • A clock

How to do it

Note: You will need to do this activity on a sunny day. You will need to return to it throughout the day.

  1. Begin the activity at the start of the morning. Find an open space in full sunlight and lay a piece of paper on the ground. Then place the toy in the middle of the piece of paper so that it stands up vertically.
  2. Take note of where the shadow of the toy falls by drawing around its outline using a coloured pencil. Label the outline with the time that you have drawn the shadow.
  3. Return each hour to check the position that the shadow from the toy has been cast in, drawing around it and labelling the drawing with the time. You could use a different coloured pencil for each shadow outline to help them stand out clearly.

What are we learning

Light travels in a straight line. When we place an object in its path, in this case a small toy, it blocks some of the light, creating a shadow. As the earth rotates, the position of the sun in the sky changes, which changes the length and position of shadows. In the morning the sun rises in the east, and the shadow is longer and cast west. By midday the sun is directly overhead, making the shadow short. In the afternoon the sun is setting in the west and the shadow grows longer again and cast east.

Investigate

A sundial is a device that uses the sun to tell the time. Find out more about how they have been used by many civilizations in history.

Careers associated with this activity

Measure Scavenger Hunt

 Measure Scavenger Hunt

What different sizes can we find in the natural environment? 

  • A measuring tape or ruler
  • Scavenger hunt list (see example in photo)
  • A pencil or pen
  • A timer
  • A camera (optional))

How to do it

Note: you will need to prepare the scavenger hunt list in advance. Younger children could measure items in cm’s while older children could have a mixture of cm’s and mm’s.

  1. Take a copy of the measure scavenger hunt list and decide on an outdoor area that your hunt will take place in (for example, a garden, park or woodland).
  2. You have 15 minutes to find and photograph an example of each item on the list. You will need to use the measuring tape carefully to make sure you have found an accurate example of each item on the list.
  3. When the time is up, review the findings and count how many items you photographed.

Optional: Make this into a competitive team challenge and see who can find the most items. Alternatively, try going to a different natural environment to see if you can beat your score.

What are we learning

Measuring tapes help us to accurately measure the length and width of different objects. We have been using the metric system, in which length is measured in millimetres (mm), centimetres (cm), metres (m) or kilometres (km). There are ten millimetres in each centimetre. The natural world is full of many different sizes and shapes. Leaves from the same tree or plant can vary in appearance and size. However, they will always roughly correspond to the same basic shape.

Investigate

Choose your favourite leaf or flower from the scavenger hunt and find out what species it is. You could use a nature book to identify it or use an app such as ‘PlantSnap’.

Careers associated with this activity

Tin Foil Cargo Boats

Tin Foil Cargo Boats

Create a boat using tin foil and explore which design can hold the most cargo (coins). Then find out about the forces involved including Archimedes’ principle.

This activity is taken from the book ’15-Minute STEM’.

Frozen Fireworks

Frozen Fireworks

What happens when we mix fluids of different densities? 

You will need

  • A clear glass or jar
  • Warm water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Food colouring
  • An ice cube tray
  • A pipette (optional)
  • Honey and milk (optional)

How to do it

Note: you will need to prepare the ice cubes in advance of the activity.

  1. Fill up an ice cube tray with water. Add a few drops of food colouring to each ice cube mould, either by squeezing them from the bottle or using a pipette. Then place the tray in the freezer for a few hours.
  2. Once the ice cubes are frozen, part-fill your jar with warm water, leaving space at the top.
  3. Then add a 2cm layer of vegetable oil. You will notice that the oil floats on top of the water.
  4. Place the ice cubes into the jar and watch them float in the oil layer.
  5. Watch as the ice melts and the coloured droplets sink down into the water and mix together, creating fireworks!

What are we learning

Density is the mass of an object divided by its volume. Put another way, it is the amount of ‘stuff’ that can fit in a given space. Some materials are very light for their size while others are very heavy. For example, a brick and a sponge might be a similar size but the sponge would be a lot lighter. This is because it is less dense. Oil is less dense than water so it floats to the top of the jar. The ice cubes are also less dense than the water, which is why they float in the oil layer. As the ice melts and turns into liquid, it becomes denser than the oil. This causes the food colouring droplets to sink into the water and diffuse (spread out), creating what looks like fireworks.

Investigate

Now try adding other fluids to your jar, such as honey or milk. How do their densities compare to water and vegetable oil?

Careers associated with this activity

Water Xylophones

Water Xylophones

You will need

  • Glass bottles
  • Water
  • A stick
  • A measuring jug (optional)

How to do it

  1. The challenge is to play a tune on a water xylophone, created from glass bottles.
  2. To produce a different pitch (sound frequency), each glass bottle should be filled with a different amount of water.
  3. Measure out the water and experiment with making different sounds by gently tapping the side of each bottle using a stick.
  4. Order the bottles from lowest to highest pitched. Then perform a tune on your musical instrument. What do you notice about the pitch of the sound and the volume of water in each bottle?

What are we learning

Musical instruments create sound waves, which are temporary compressions in the air. These sounds are made when objects vibrate. When we tap each xylophone bottle we cause the glass to vibrate. These disturbances travel through space and ultimately make your eardrum vibrate, to be heard as sounds. This vibration produces a higher pitched sound when there is less water in the bottle. They produce a lower pitched sound when there is more water in the bottle. If you have used an assortment of different sized or shaped bottles then you may have noticed that you can fill two bottles with the same amount of water and still create different sounds. This is because the sound is vibrating within a different space.

Investigate

Ancient mathematicians like Pythagoras investigated the mathematics of musical scales. Can you find out more about this?

Careers associated with this activity

Water Filter Challenge

Water Filter Challenge

Create a water filter using natural materials and learn more about the challenges of providing clean water to people around the world.

This activity is taken from the book ’15-Minute STEM’.

Water Filter

Robotic Arm

Robotic Arm

You will need

  • Thick cardboard
  • Split pins
  • A sharp pencil
  • A ruler and scissors
  • An elastic band
  • String

How to do it

  1. Cut out two identical rectangular strips of 10cm length out of cardboard. Then cut out two identical cardboard ‘grabber’ arms.
  2. Use a sharp pencil to pierce a small hole in either end of each cardboard strip.
  3. Attach the two rectangular strips together at one end using a split pin. Join the opposite ends to the grabber arms, positioning the grabber hands pointing outwards.
  4. Pull the two grabber arms together so they overlap and join them together with a split pin. Your grabber hands should now be pointing inwards towards each other.
  5. Cut a longer strip of cardboard to act as a handle. Pierce a hole in one end and attach it to the split pin used to overlap the grabber arms.
  6. Attach an elastic band between the two spilt pins at either end of the arm.
  7. Tie a short piece of string to the bottom of the elastic band. Hold the handle and gently pull the string back and forth to open and close the arm. Can you pick up a small object with it?

What are we learning

Robotic arms are a classic use of robotic technology, and can be found on factory production lines, controlled by computers. They have a variety of uses. They can do jobs that are very repetitive for humans such as screwing the lids on jars on a production line in a factory. They can do jobs that are difficult for humans such as putting small parts (such as bolts) onto a car in precisely the right place. They can also do jobs that are dangerous for humans such as moving hazardous materials. Sometimes robotic arms are found on a much larger robot, other times they are a standalone arm. Increasingly, roboticists consider using innovative soft materials (‘soft robotics’) for grippers at the end of the arms. Such ‘smart’ materials include shape-memory polymers (SMPs) that can temporarily deform and then return to their original shape.

Investigate

The Curiosity Rover on the planet Mars uses a robotic arm. Find out more about this.

Careers associated with this activity

A-Z of STEM Resources

When you think STEM education, what kind of resources come to mind? The chances are it’s this kind of equipment…

Expensive stuff basically! Granted, this kind of kit is amazing and you can do some fantastic STEM activities with it. But don’t be disheartened if you don’t have access to these kinds of resources.

STEM doesn’t have to blow the budget.

It can also look like this…

The kind of stuff we have lying around our homes and classrooms. The kind of stuff that fills up our recycle bins and the kind of stuff that we’re turning to particularly at the moment, when it’s harder to get to the shops.

So here’s my A-Z of everyday ‘must-have’ STEM resources, along with some tips and activity suggestions for each!

A4 paper

From recording your observations to creating the longest paper chain you can from just one piece of A4 paper, this is a staple resource for most STEM activities.

Why not try:

No matter how good you are at re-using carrier bags, it’s hard to avoid having a few single-use bags lurking around. Re-use them for egg parachutes or create a kite or a windsock.

Why not try:

This is my absolute top recommendation. Cardboard has so much play potential! Don’t believe me? Check out the book ‘Not A Box’ for inspiration. You never know when a few flat-packed boxes will come in handy!

Why not try:

Wooden dowel or sticks collected from the natural environment can become valuable building tools. For example, they could form the mast of a boat or the chassis of a car.

Why not try:

  • Recycled Boats

Elastic bands are a useful way to create flexible joins between materials. A great example is a lolly stick catapult. Safety note: this resource requires supervision.

Why not try:

…because you’ve got to make your STEM project look good! Beyond the aesthetics, felt tips are an important resource for chromatography based STEM activities.

Why not try:

Give them a wash and these jars can be transformed into all sorts of exciting STEM projects. Safety note: this resource requires supervision.

Why not try:

Place an outdoor hula hoop on the ground outside and use a magnifying glass to explore the minibeasts within the hoop. Or use string to turn your hula hoop into a spiders web!

Why not try:

Ice cubes are a very cheap resource that can be used for a range of activities. Use them to explore properties of materials or to test thermal insulators.

Why not try:

Not only is this resource a lot of fun, you can use it to explore some important real-world scenarios. For example, ’15-Minute STEM’ Book 2 contains a jelly based activity called ‘Earthquake-Proof Structures’.

Why not try:

(Computer) keyboards are central to developing technology skills in young people. We can use them to code, research, create design simulations… so many options!

Why not try:

Lolly sticks form a great building material for lots of different projects. For example, you could use them to build bridges, create catapults or to design a marble maze.

Why not try:

This is one of my ‘must-have’ resources for outdoor, nature based activities. It’s fascinating to take a closer look at the world around us and the plants and creatures within it.

Why not try:

From paper mache volcanoes to newspaper towers, this cheap, easy-to-source resource is worth having in abundance. For more details about the ‘newspaper towers’ activity, see ’15-Minute STEM’ Book 1.

Why not try:

Adding olive oil to water creates some interesting results which can be used as a starting point to exploring density. Drop in an alka-seltzer tablet and you’ve got yourself a lava lamp effect!

Why not try:

 I don’t know about you but these kinds of things often scream ‘stem potential’ to me. For example, a plastic tub lends itself brilliantly to becoming a plastic recycled boat. Note: re-use plastic rather than buying it specifically for an activity.

Why not try:

  • Recycled Boats

Can you tell I was struggling with the letter ‘q’?! Quarters (or coins) can be used in a variety of ways. Explore chemical reactions by adding acidic liquids to dirty coins. Or use coins as weights in a tin foil cargo boat.

Why not try:

Natural materials such as rocks are fun to collect and can be used in a variety of ways. See how many different ways you can sort them or use them as the hour markers on a homemade sundial.

Why not try:

This simple ingredient makes a great building material. You can use it to create structures such as towers or pyramids. Use marshmallows, plasticine or gummy sweets to create the joins between the spaghetti strands.

Why not try:

A measuring tape comes in handy for most STEM activities and is a great way to develop some measuring skills.

Why not try:

Utensils: measuring jugs, cups, bowls, spoons etc. These kinds of household items come in handy again and again for STEM activities.

Why not try:

This acidic substance creates interesting chemical reactions when added to a base such as baking soda. See an example of this in the ‘Volcanic Eruptions’ activity in ’15-Minute STEM’ Book 2

Why not try:

A staple household item, adding a squirt of washing liquid to another liquid such as milk or water breaks the surface tension and creates some interesting results.

Why not try:

Again, can you tell I was struggling with this one?! Forgive me the slightly tenuous link to electrical circuits… Having a simple electrical kit of lightbulbs, crocodile clip wires and a battery is a useful basis for many STEM projects.

Why not try:

From the ‘speakers’ of a string telephone to the container of a salt pendulum, yoghurt pots can take on many different creative forms.

Why not try:

And finally we’ve made it to the letter ‘Z’. Zips can be sewn or glued into your STEM creations to add interest and functionality.

Why not try:

Summer STEM Guide

Welcome to the Summer edition of our seasonal STEM guides! It contains:

  • STEM related summer events and themed days/weeks
  • Quick, easy website and activity suggestions for how to get involved (click on the pictures to find out more)
  • Summery STEM resource recommendations

Diaries at the ready! The events listed below are a really good way to help theme your STEM activities and help children to make real-world links. We anticipate lots of outdoor, nature-themed STEM activities over the next few months while the weather is mild and the natural world is alive with colour and activity.

30 Days Wild (throughout June)

This annual nature challenge is organised by the Wildlife Trust. They want you to do one wild thing a day throughout the whole month: for your health, wellbeing and for the planet. That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness.

How to get involved…

National Dinosaur Day (1st June)

National Dinosaur Day takes place on both the 15th May and the 1st June. It’s a great one for any budding young palaeontologists! Celebrate all things dinosaur by finding out some cool dinosaur facts and taking part in some dinosaur activities.

How to get involved…

World Environment Day (5th June)

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year, and is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Learn how all living things on Earth are connected in the web of life and how we can act for nature.

How to get involved…

World Oceans Day (8th June)

On World Oceans Day, people around our blue planet celebrate and honour the ocean, which connects us all. By working together, we can — and will — protect and restore our shared ocean. Join this growing global celebration on 8 June with continuing engagement year-round! To view the education resources on the World Oceans Day website click here.

How to get involved…

Women in Engineering Day (23rd June)

The 23rd of June celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world. It is is an international awareness campaign which raises the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry.

How to get involved…

The Big Butterfly Count (17th July – 9th August)

The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Over 113,500 people took part in 2019, submitting 116,009 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK.

How to get involved…

National Marine Week (25th July – 9th August)

This event is the Wildlife Trusts’ celebration of all things marine. Despite the name, it lasts 15 fun-filled days to allow for the variation in tide times around the country. During this time, Wildlife Trusts all around the UK put on a jam-packed programme of events and activities.

How to get involved…

Summer STEM Resource Recommendations

Here are a few of our ‘must have’ summer STEM resources. We think you’ll come back to them year after year with your children! Click on each picture to view it on Amazon.

Have we missed off a summer STEM event or a ‘must have’ summer STEM resource? If so then add it to the comments below. (note: this is a UK based website so some events have a UK focus).

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