Summer Science Ideas for Teens & Tweens

For many families across the country, these past few months have been a struggle. I know keeping kids engaged and learning is not always easy.

Now that summer is here, I find kids are burned out on online worksheets. Fortunately, summer science can be more than hands-on. Grab a dip net and lead the kids on a fully immersive science adventure!

Here are a dozen or more ideas you can use with your middle level science students stay active and engaged in enrichment activities all through summer.

Community Science Opportunities

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and other insects.

Sadly, the number of pollinators is in decline. Other environmental factors are limiting the range of meadows and wildflower habitats, each of which have begun to show signs of succession.

Restoring native landscapes play a critical role in our ecosystem. Native plants provide shelter and food for pollinators, require less watering and maintenance, and add lasting color to any garden.

If you are concerned about saving bees, butterflies and other pollinators, #beecounted by helping the National Pollinator Garden Network reach one million bee-friendly gardens by National Pollinator Week.

The word citizen was originally included in the term citizen science to distinguish amateur data collectors from professional scientists. Today, it is important that we recognize that the term has become limiting in some contexts. As a part of my commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, I have transitioned from using the term “citizen science” to the more inclusive term “community science.” 

The ninth annual National Moth Week, July 18-26, invites novice and experienced “moth-ers,” alike, to observe these fascinating creatures in their own backyards and contribute to our scientific knowledge as part of one of the world’s largest community science projects.

Find more community science projects and opportunities here.

image of teen setting a crab trap at low tide

Hands-on Summer Science

Take a walk outside or along a nearby trail and observe the natural surroundings. Encourage your budding naturalists to start a nature journal.

Consider journaling activities in the classroom or allow them to develop their skills independently.

Have students build something out of recycled materials. Ideas could include a Rube Goldberg contraption, a skyscraper, or a bottle cap mural project.

Have students create a photo journal to document the trees, flowers, or common insects in your area.

Join Ms. Frizzle and her students on The Magic School Bus each month in exploring one of twelve different science topics through hands-on experiments with The Magic School Bus Science Club from The Young Scientists Club.

Practice your navigational skills using only a compass with orienteering! Set up a course in the neighborhood park and invite a few friends.

Virtual Field Trips & Movies

Summer is the perfect time for field trips. There are many benefits of local museums and science centers. Unfortunately, COVID19 restrictions have closed many popular museums and visitor centers.

Don’t worry! Many locations around the world offer ways to visit and explore their exhibits virtually. There are many movies to choose from to inspire further explorations of STEAM concepts. I will share my favorites soon.


What STEAM activities do you and your children enjoy in the summer months? Leave a comment below and share your ideas. 🙂

My First Virtual Classroom: 5 Tips to Design Your Own

As my own children have gotten older, I have gradually taken on more work “outside the home”. I have substitute taught, tutored, and taught a variety of classes online. As I have begun to teach more virtual classes, I have missed having a classroom space for learning centers, resources, and motivational posters.

For the past few years, I have contracted with VIPKID to teach English to children in China. Most recently, I have been teaching a variety of online science classes through Outschool. While I have been able to build relationships with my students and their families and find joy in teaching, a “classroom” space was the one missing component.

To provide a cohesive place to gather all the resources I share with my students and to aid in communicating with their parents, I recently developed a virtual classroom. It’s been so much fun!

Features of My Virtual Classroom

The virtual classroom provides me with a way to immerse my students in the content and maximize the learning time I have with them each lesson. With a handy video tutorial by Thomas Blackmore I was able to set up my virtual classroom in under an hour.

For my virtual classroom, I’ve decided to only activate a few items this week to challenge my students to find the hidden activities. For my “Junior Naturalists” class, one of the features leads to the document where the students and I share our nature journals. Another leads students to a digitized version of Leonardo da Vinci’s journal.

Next week, I plan to add more active links and perhaps a couple of additional objects to my classroom and an ongoing “What Can it Be?” type of activity with either a microscope or telescope. I also plan to add audio messages in the near future.

I have so many ideas on what else I would like to try within my room! For now, I will share my top five tips for designing your own virtual classroom.

Five Tips to Design Your Virtual Classroom

  1. When inserting images, use “png” or “transparent” in your search query to find objects that have a transparent background. You might also consider Lunapic. Lunapic is a free website where you can make the backgrounds of many images transparent, recolor, or add all sorts of effects.
  2. If you can’t find an image in the exact color you desire, first go to Format options in the menu above (or right-click on the image). Then select an option from the Color menu that appears on the right panel.
  3. If you use Chrome and you want to use your Bitmoji, I suggest adding the Bitmoji Chrome extension. This way you can insert images directly into Google Slides. Alternatively, you can create a file folder with Google Drive and download your favorite images. This helps if you plan on attaching audio files to your Bitmoji (see tip 4). Unfortunately, you cannot copy and paste your sticker from the Bitmoji extension and then add audio to it.
  4. To add audio to an image of your choice, first add the audio file to your slide. Then click on the audio icon and click Replace Image which will appear in the menu bar above. Then either search for the image in Google or upload an image. If the new image is not square, parts of it may be cut off. To correct this, click on the “crop image” icon and adjust the bold, black cropping handles as needed. 
  5. For any objects that you wish to keep stationary (i.e. the floor) I recommend that you add those to the slide master. This will clean up your canvas. With several images, it can get crowded and difficult to isolate a single image to make changes. To access the slide master, click on the Slide – Edit master. Keep in mind that the images you place in the slide master can not be linked to a URL or an audio file.

Youth Activism: Don’t Silence Their Voices

At our weekly Scout meeting earlier this week we talked briefly about how we, as individuals can make a difference. If you do your duty, then you can make a difference and though you are just one person, together youth activism has the power to impact the world.

Youth activism is youth engagement in community organizing for social change. Youth participation in social change focuses more on issue-oriented activism than traditional partisan or electoral politics.

As hard as it seems, it’s possible to make a difference. All it takes is one idea and the right mix of determination and willpower to effect change at the local level. Start with one thing you’re passionate about and find small, local ways to organize and find solutions to the problem. 

Image of youth activist Greta Thunberg with her sign "Skolstrejk for Klimatet"

GRETA THUNBERG

By now, everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist focused on the risks posed by climate change. She began her school climate strike only a year ago. This past week, she inspired over 4 million people to take a stand for climate.

“Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed.”⁣⁣ ~ Greta Thunberg⁣⁣

Greta is great. However, if we center our attention and lift up only the white youth leaders on an international scale, we risk recreating the exact same dynamics of instilling a culture of white supremacy that is present in modern, adult organizing spaces. We risk silencing the voices of black, indigenous, and people of color .

Indigenous youth and adults have been tirelessly leading the fight for climate justice for millennia and yet their voices have not received the same recognition. Let’s celebrate a few of these amazing young activists!

Image of youth activist Autumn Peltier

AUTUMN PELTIER

⁣Autumun Peltier, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada, was appointed chief water commissioner for the Ashinabek Nation and was recently nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize, awarded annually to a child who “fights courageously for children’s rights.” She was only 13-years-old when she addressed the UN General Assembly and told world leaders to “warrior up” to protect water.

Image of youth activist Isra Hirsi

ISRA HIRSI

Isra Hirsi, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. She helped launch the U.S. movement the same month her mother, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, took office. She says the climate crisis “is the fight of my generation, and it needs to be addressed urgently.”

Image of youth activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

XIUHTEZCATL MARTINEZ⁣⁣

Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is an indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement.⁣⁣ He has fought for climate protections and spoken to large crowds about the effects of fossil fuels on the Indigenous and other marginalized communities since he was six years old. In 2015, Martinez and 21 other youths filed a lawsuit against the US Federal government, Juliana et al. v United States et al. They argue that the federal government is denying their constitutional right to life, liberty and property by ignoring climate change. 

ROOTS & SHOOTS

Are you a young person interested in making change, but don’t know where to start? Or are you an adult who is inspired by the recent wave of youth activism in the U.S. and want to help out? Consider Roots & Shoots; join an established group in your area or start a new group for your homeschool community or at your school.

Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute, is a global movement of youth who are empowered to use their voice and actions to make compassionate decisions, influencing and leading change in their communities.

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~ Jane Goodall

Founded by Jane Goodall in 1991, the goal is to bring together youth from preschool to university age to work on environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues. Roots & Shoots is a movement for youth just like Greta, Autumn, Isra, and Xiuhtezcatl …. just like you or your children.


Homeschool Science for College Bound Students

As a former elementary science specialist, science has always been a major part of our homeschool. During the grammar and logic stages, I taught each of the kids together following a three year cycle (life, earth, and physical sciences) emphasizing hands-on labs and outdoor experiences.

As the kids have matured and their interests have developed, I have begun to customize their coursework to align with college in mind and their individual career goals. As a result, the courses they have taken (or will have taken in the near future) are unique to each.

*Make sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for an online homeschool high school science course. Giveaway ends 8/30/19!

Disclaimer:  I was compensated for my time for this review. All opinions are honest and I was not required to post a positive review.

Options for Homeschool Science

Providing a quality science education through high school is a common concern amongst homeschool families. Considerations like budget, time, and even your own level of comfort are frequent topics of conversation at co-op or in online forums.

There are many different avenues available for teaching science in your homeschool. While traditional textbooks, lab kits, and literature based instruction remain popular, online courses and dual enrollment are gaining momentum.

Dual Enrollment

In our homeschool, we opted for the dual enrollment option. This was the best choice for us for a multitude of reasons but primarily cost. Keep in mind, it is important to take into consideration the aptitude and maturity of the student prior to making this choice. It isn’t for everyone.

Additionally, the grades the student earns in college courses will forever be on their transcript. It is also critical to research the local regulations and admission guidelines of the universities to which your child intends to apply. Not all schools accept dual enrollment credit.

Another related option is credit by examination. Students may earn college credit through examination by passing standardized exams in numerous subjects including biology, chemistry, and natural sciences. Taking an accredited AP course is NOT required. Students may study independently using textbooks, online courses, or even tutors of their choice.

Online Courses

There are a growing number of companies that provide diverse online educational opportunities for students around the world. From computer programming to local ecology, the choices are endless.

Online classes are not just for kids. There are a wealth of courses and materials available for adults providing both personal enrichment and professional development.

College Prep Science

One provider that stands out is College Prep Science. I am impressed by the acumen of the author. He has worked as a college professor, has more than twenty years of experience teaching homeschooled students, and he’s a homeschool dad!

The course offerings are diverse, here are a few that will be offered September 2019:

  •  Biology – College Prep (9th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Chemistry – College Prep (10th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Physics – College Prep (10th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology (9th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Exercise and Sports Physiology (8th-12th) – One Semester Class

Like most public and private schools, College Prep Science uses a virtual lab service with all classes that allows students to perform very realistic labs online. Students are able to virtually pour liquids and chemicals, light burners, move things in the lab, weigh things, measure temperatures, record results, etc.

The courses provided by College Prep Science are Christ-centered.

Students are instructed on how to produce quality lab reports and they turn-in formal lab reports which are graded. Emphasis is placed on students understanding scientific inquiry, the scientific method, and the resulting science lab reports.

“We focus on building critical thinking skills and developing a research and inquiry mindset with the resulting quality lab reports and thinking skills that affect every area of academics and life.”  ~ Greg Landry, College Prep Science

Summer Camps & Weekend Intensives

Often you can also find incredible summer opportunities at your state university. A year ago, my daughter took part in a week long intensive engineering camp where she was able to take part in authentic research, connect with professors in her prospective field, and make friends with other teens with the same goals.

College Prep Science

College Prep Science offers two day Biology and Chemistry Lab Intensives in 15 locations nationwide. Parents may issue school credit for these as they deem appropriate. According to their website, each two day intensive is the equivalent of a full school year of labs.

They also provide online bootcamps for ACT prep and CLEP Biology prep. For students planning to be science majors in college, doing well on the “science reasoning” section of the ACT is especially important. 

Online Science Class Giveaway

To enter this amazing giveaway of an online science class ($680 value) from College Prep Science, you’ll need to subscribe to their newsletter. One winner will be announced in their newsletter on August 30, 2019.

Teaching homeschool science with college in mind does not have to be overwhelming. I hope these options can help you successfully navigate high school science. Best wishes with the giveaway!

SESEY 2018: Summer Experiences in Science & Engineering

My daughter has been interested in engineering for as long as I can remember. She’s taken part in a numerous STEM workshops for girls over the years. Last summer, she had the amazing opportunity to take part in a summer intensive workshop (SESEY) at the university where she plans to enroll.

SESEY was created to encourage traditionally underrepresented groups to explore the world of engineering and to consider careers in its variety of fields. Initiated by Oregon State University in 1997, SESEY is coordinated by the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering.

Working in the lab as part of her summer intensive workshop at Oregon State University

Participants have the opportunity to interact directly with university students – to ask questions about campus life and how to balance their course load. Presentations and tours of each department are provided to help students better understand the diverse options in engineering.

Learn how to encourage girls in STEM careers with these fun activities.

Best of all, participants have the unique experience of taking part in an authentic research project. Working in small groups, they apply the inquiry method to real life issues. At the end of the week, they present their findings in poster format at the annual DaVinci days celebration.

My daughter was overjoyed to be assigned to the one environmental engineering project this past year – Bioremediation of Chlorinated Solvents Using Aerobic Microorganisms. Here’s a peak at her poster:

The program – especially the professors and university student volunteers who collaborated to make it happen – has cemented her desire to pursue a career in chemical and environmental engineering. She will be applying for admission soon.

You might also be interested in the engineering unit I developed, World’s Tallest Buildings. This short unit study includes a timeline project, integrated writing assignment, and an oral presentation.

Have your teens taken part in summer learning experiences or weekend intensive courses? I would love to hear about opportunities in other parts of the country.

Celebrate America’s Independence and Explore the Science of Fireworks

With Independence Day upon us this week, the fireworks stands are popping up all over town.  With the dry weather and heat wave many are experiencing this year, I am confidant many cities will be enforcing strict prohibitions against fireworks.  Why not then take the time to explore the science of fireworks and perhaps try making a few simple ones yourself?

Learn about the science of fireworks with this awesome video. How do fireworks work? Where do the cool colors come from? What makes the big explosions?

Creating firework colors requires considerable art and application of science. Excluding propellants or special effects, the points of light ejected from fireworks, termed ‘stars’, generally require an oxygen-producer, fuel, binder (to keep everything where it needs to be), and a color producer.

The bright colors visible when fireworks explode are a result of pyrotechnic stars —pellets of chemicals that generate certain colors or produce sparking effects when burned. When the bursting charge is ignited, the main fuel explodes first, transferring energy to the colorant chemicals, which prompts these chemicals’ electrons to move into an excited state. Then, moments later, when the colorant chemicals cool and the electrons fall back to their base state, they release the extra energy as colorful radiation when they are flying through the sky. The specific color depends on the chemical:
fireworks
To achieve unusually-shaped fireworks, such as double-rings, hearts or stars, technicians pack the fuel and colorant chemicals inside a tube in different formations. Chemists design fireworks to burn as slowly as possible, rather than explode rapidly – a slower burn means that a visual effect will last longer and cover a greater area of the sky. To achieve this, the fuel and oxidizer chemicals used are relatively large-grained, about the size of a grain of sand. Additionally, chemists avoid mixing the fuel and oxidizer together thoroughly, making it more difficult for them to burn.

Flame Photometry

If you wish to delve into the science of fireworks even further, consider undertaking flame photometry experiments.  Rainbow Fire, is an exciting activity kit that you may wish to consider; it is available for purchase at Science Buddies. The necessary materials and the experimental procedure are outlined for you on their website.  Of course, adult supervision is required.  The four chemicals used in the kit are:

  • Copper sulfate
  • Strontium chloride
  • Boric acid
  • Sodium chloride

Things to Ponder

  • How are the colors produced by a chemical when it burns related to the atomic structure of the chemical?
  • What is flame spectrometry and how is it used by physicists and chemists?
  • How does this science project relate to what astronomers do when they are trying to identify the atomic makeup of a star?
  • What are metal ions? In the chemicals used in this science project, which elements in the compounds are metals?

Black Snake Fireworks

Do you remember watching long carbon worms emerge from growing tablets our parents lit with matches on the 4th of July?  For a simple do-it-yourself recipe, a homemade black snake is sure to delight.