School's Out!

Written by Rusty Low, IGES

School’s out, but education doesn’t stop! The excitement of informal science programs is ramping up for the summer. NASA Wavelength provides access to posters, lithographs, videos, puzzles and games that can support summer STEM explorations for students, as well as captivating activities that students can do in an informal science setting or even on their own at home. And some of the activities are just plain fun.

One of the great things about informal science education is the opportunity to dig into topics that often don’t find their way into a classroom curriculum. How about exploring comets as a way to build science knowledge? The activity "Vegetable Light Curves," has the built in fun-factor of observing the surface of a rotating potato (yes, a potato!) as a clever model showing how astronomers deduce the shape of asteroids from variations in reflective brightness. And in doing so, students learn about the properties of light, optics, and remote sensing. Students interested in learning more can continue their exploration with the Find a Meteorite activity, a self-guided tutorial where students explore the characteristics of asteroids and meteorites, and conduct simulated experiments in their digital laboratory. Venturing further into space exploration, the “Explore!” series – specifically designed for kids to use in libraries and other informal settings – leads users on an exploration of Earth and beyond.

Looking for a website where you can let middle school students loose to explore and soak up science without supervision? Space Place and Climate Kids have a variety of activities, so they can pick and choose according to their own interests. At the Space Place, students can select from the categories “explore,” “do,” or “play,” and find activities that range from learning about binary and hexadecimal notation in What is the Secret Code Used by the Voyager Spacecraft?, to exercising their creativity in Writing Your Own Zany Adventure Story, as they imagine surfing in space or traversing black holes. Back on Earth, students can play games, such as Play Power Up! where they are challenged to light up a whole city with renewable energy, or they can choose to “Make Stuff” and learn about solar energy when they Make Sun S’smores or upcycle used clothes into a shopping bag in Bag an Old T-Shirt. If you are leading a group, there are ready to use PDFs available for these activities that can be distributed and used in your program.

Introducing art as part of the scientific learning experience is becoming more and more popular, and is a great way to let students add visual creativity to the process. Art and the Cosmic Connection features creative exploration of the elements of art, such as shape, line, color and texture while simultaneously learning about remote sensing and building inquiry skills in the fields of Earth science and planetary geology.

Want to get students up and moving? A keyword search using the terms “Outdoor” or “Kinesthetic” will lead users to a list of resources specifically designed for physical participation. The team at NASA Wavelength recently created a sampler of fun and educational activities specifically for summer camps, but browsing the collection of “Informal Education” resources will allow you to find all of our resources meant for learning outside of a formal education setting. And, of course, we have plenty of science games for the whole family.

What’s your favorite summertime STEM/STEAM activity?