Summertime STEM Projects That are Great All Year!

A few years back (okay a lot of years) there was a theme park in Nashville called Opryland. This was the closest park we could get to and it had a fabulous section of kid's rides and even some of the adult rides were tame enough for our children. The kids especially loved the water slides. One was called a "log flume" and you sat in a passenger car that resembled a hollowed-out log. This thing ran along a track and then dropped down a huge slide to splash at the bottom. Just what I wanted- being drenched and still having to walk around a park. But on those hot summer days, it was the best thing ever for my children. (And cheaper than the lemonade.)

So, let's talk about summertime fun. Theme parks, parades, swimming pools, fishing, and carnivals. Kid heaven, right? It is and kids love these projects in the STEM lab, too. We have three we have completed that all mimic a theme park ride- roller coasters, water slides, and Ferris wheels.

Water Slides

To be honest, I had no idea how this would work with kids or if they would like it. Here's what happened. The first group arrived and read the *agenda and then I saw them turning around in line to each other saying,
"We doing water slides!" "Yay!" "I love this!"
Great anticipation. Great fun! (*Tips at the bottom will tell you more about our agenda!)

STEM Challenge- Build a water slide using simple materials and test it with WATER!
Using some interesting materials kids built the slide, an access ramp or ladder, and a support tower. There were waterproof materials to use and then each team was given a container of water to pour down the slide.

STEM Challenge- Build a water slide using simple materials and test it with WATER!
Isn't that fabulous! You can see the water reaching the bowl at the bottom. Yes, we made some messes, but it's just water! If you'd like to read more about water slides here's a vintage post: Four Wonderful Things We Learned from Water Slides.


Ferris Wheels

Let's go back in time again! Our county fairgrounds are close enough to my house that we can hear the noise of the annual fair. When my kids were little we went to the fair every year and rode the little rides including a tiny Ferris wheel. We even have an old photo of me on the tiny wheel with our 18-month-old son because he was too small to ride alone! The adult Ferris wheel was too scary for me because you were only held in by a bar across the front of the seat. Nope, not riding on that!

This Ferris wheel project is one I have wanted to try with kids for a long time! We even tried it with straws one time but found that did not work very well. So, how about craft sticks?
STEM Challenge- build a turning Ferris wheel using only sticks and glue. Can you solve the geometry of this one?
We worked on this one for two class sessions. It took one session to determine how to get the craft sticks in the correct shape. It turned out that a hexagon shape worked perfectly. But, if you will look closely at the photo above you will notice that the hexagon has seven sides!

STEM Challenge- build a turning Ferris wheel using only sticks and glue. Can you solve the geometry of this one?
The hardest part of the Ferris wheel was creating the axle and making it turn correctly. We learned to *snip the ends of the craft sticks when they crashed into the wheel's frame. We alsolearned what would happen if you didn't line everything up correctly- look at the above photo!

Click on the title below to read more about Ferris wheels and there's a tip at the end about *snipping!
Solving the Puzzle of the Ferris Wheel

Roller Coasters

This is our all-time favorite STEM challenge. It's an easy set up after you *cut those foam tubes. Just save them and re-use them. (Tip about cutting those tubes at the end!)
STEM Challenge- our favorite project is all about roller coasters! This is a kid requested challenge that we repeat every year and sometimes more than once!
This is a 2-3 session event during which students experiment with hills and loops. Even though our floor space is gigantic the tracks sometimes have to cross over and under each other, but this just adds to the fun.

STEM Challenge- our favorite project is all about roller coasters! This is a kid requested challenge that we repeat every year and sometimes more than once!
After the experiments, kids use what they have learned to build a roller coaster and then we have a grand time sharing them! The best part is always the names kids invent for the coasters. There's always a Death Drop Coaster.....always!

Here's a vintage post about many different kinds of roller coasters: The Unsurpassed Challenge of Roller Coasters.

STEM Tips- These are just a few things mentioned in this post that might be helpful to you!
  1. Our Agenda! Right outside my classroom door, I have a large easel. Each week I write messages and also list what each grade level will be working on for the week. The kids start checking this easel as they approach the lab for class and even check it out during the week before class! You could do this on a whiteboard or even just a chart paper list.
  2. Snipping craft sticks is easy! We use the narrow sticks most of the time and they are fairly easy to snap in half. We have a rule in our STEM class that you may not try to cut sticks in half with scissors! The scissors sometimes break. Instead, I have a snipping tool. It's actually a set of wire cutters, but they work great to cut a stick in half or cut off the tips.
  3. Those foam tubes for roller coasters can be purchased at a home supply store in the plumbing department. They are actually tubes for pipe insulation. I bought a full box that has been reused for several years. The tubes I got had one side already cut and all I had to do was run a pair of sharp scissors down the opposite side to cut them in half. They are very flexible and this allows for making loops and curves. Pool noodles can be used, but they are a lot stiffer and hard to find sometimes!
Summer Fun for sure, but these challenges can be used all year long! If you need more information click right {HERE}.

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