STEM Archives - Page 3 of 4 - Eva Varga


July 8, 2016

In June Groovy Lab in a Box teamed up with Popular Mechanics for Kids and created the popular Groovy Lab subscription box What’s the Matter? The kids and I recently had the opportunity to review this box and just love everything about it.

Groovy Lab Subscription BoxDisclosure: The links in this blog post are affiliate links. 

What’s Inside June’s Groovy Lab Subscription Box – What’s the Matter?

The first of three Popular Mechanics boxes to launch, What’s the Matter? centers around the scientific properties of ice. It is featured in the June issue of Popular Mechanics for Kids.

My son loves unpacking videos and was eager to humor me for an Instagram sneak peak. Here’s a quick look at everything that was inside the Groovy Lab subscription box

The Groovy Lab subscription box is packed with all the materials you’ll need to do the lab activities. The What’s the Matter kit guides kids through an investigation of the states of matter (gas, liquid and solid) and teaches them about the properties of ice. Each monthly kit comes with an engineering challenge and all the materials needed to complete the project, including a groovy lab notebook that outlines all the activity procedures, asks leading questions, and provides a space for your young STEMist to record their observations.Groovy Lab Subscription Box "What's the Matter?"

Groovy Lab in a Box was named a winner of the Popular Mechanics 2014 Toy Awards, which recognizes the best new toys of the year with a heavy emphasis on STEM-related skills and outdoor or imaginative play. Recipients of the Toy Awards encourage problem solving, inspire creativity, spark imagination, and spur mischief. And they’re fun!

Our Favorite What’s the Matter Activity

There are several well designed activities in the Groovy Lab subscription box. Each activity is purposeful a it develops student understanding of the material to ensure success in the culminating activity. This was our favorite activity, the design challenge whereby students were asked to design the lighting of a “groovy” ice hotel and build a portable lantern out of ice.

This was a fun challenge to undertake and my daughter delighted in brainstorming ideas and then following through with her vision. She chose an aluminum tea tin for the structure as it was rectangular and inside placed a small measuring cup (a little larger than a shot glass) for the interior space for the light. She used botanicals and colored layers for appeal.groovylanterns

There were a couple of small challenges along the way, the biggest of which was getting the lantern out of the tin once it had frozen. The rim of the tin was indented a little to accommodate a lid and it was thereby necessary to melt more of the external side of the lantern than she had desired. Not deterred, “I want to do this again!”

July’s Groovy Lab Subscription Box – Out To Launch!

Do your STEMists love catapults? The second of three Popular Mechanics boxes, July’s Out to Launch is the perfect fit for them! In the Out To Launch box, your children will learn about the forces of catapults and things that are elastic.

The Engineering Design Challenge will test their engineering skills as they build several types of catapults, using only supplies from their Groovy Lab in a Box. As always, the Out To Launch box will have a groovy lab notebook where your kids can read about the investigations and design challenge. Plus, all subscribers get access to the Beyond…in a Box web portal for additional learning and fun.

Be sure to start your subscription today with FREE SHIPPING so you can receive “Out To Launch” before it ships on July 28th. Save $10 on a 3, 6, or 12 month subscription to Groovy Lab in a Box. 



July 3, 2016

Rube Goldberg was a famous cartoonist who took simple and compound machines which are meant to make tasks easier, and made them overly complex. His cartoons depicted complex machines that worked in an indirect and convoluted way, such as the “Self-Operating Napkin”.

Art and Science of Rube Goldberg @EvaVarga.net
As you raise spoon of soup (A) to your mouth it pulls string (B), thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I) which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off sky-rocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth thereby wiping off your chin.

Rube Goldberg Physics

When Goldberg showed his “Self-Operating Napkin” machine to his friend, his friend said it would not work. Using what you know about mechanical advantage and work, prove to Goldberg’s friend that the invention will actually work.

Work (in Joules, J) = Force (Newtons, J) x Distance (m)

Mechanical Advantage of a Lever = Distance from fulcrum to the applied force / Distance from fulcrum to weight lifted

You raise your spoon of soup 0.15 meters with 2 Newtons of force. How much work did you do?

The spoon pulls a string as you move it. How much work is transferred?

The string jerks the ladle, which is a lever. The string is attached 10 cm from the fulcrum and the force is applied 0.5 m from the fulcrum. What is the mechanical advantage?

The spoon throws a cracker past a parrot. The parrot jumps after the cracker, applying force to the perch he is sitting on. The perch spins around throwing the seeds into a pail. The perch is another lever. It has a mechanical advantage of 2. If it would take 0.5 J of work to move the seeds 0.1m without the lever, how much force will be needed with the lever?

The extra weight in the pail pulls a cord, which goes around a pulley and opens and lights an automatic cigar lighter. If the pail can apply 3 N of force to the cord, and the pulley system has a mechanical advantage of 2, how much total force can be applied to the match?

The match sets off the rocket, which causes a sickle to cut the string, allowing a pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth thereby wiping off your chin. If 3 N of force is needed to strike the match, will the system work?

Discover the amazing resources and contests at Rube Goldberg.

Biography

The Art and Science of Rube Goldberg @EvaVarga.netReuben Lucius “Rube” Goldberg was born on July 4, 1883, in San Francisco, California. He loved to draw and received some basic art instruction when he worked with a sign painter as a young teen. Rather than pursue a career in art, though, he followed his father’s advice and attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his degree in engineering.

Mapping out sewer pipes and water mains in San Francisco didn’t hold Rube’s interest for long, though. He began creating cartoons for local San Francisco papers. He eventually moved to New York where he landed a job as a cartoonist for the Evening Mail.

He used his engineering background to create funny cartoons featuring complicated machines that were described as new inventions to accomplish easy, straightforward tasks through a series of convoluted steps involving chain reactions. The public quickly fell in love with Rube’s inventions.

His work became popular nationwide, as his cartoons were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the country. The art world also loved his works, some of which were displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Rube even made it to Hollywood, where his move script “Soup to Nuts” introduced a trio who would soon become famous as the Three Stooges.

Bring It Home

Check out the following activities to learn more about Rube Goldberg and his work:

Dive a little deeper into the history by watching this video that explores the man behind the machines.

If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you can purchase and download Rube Works, a fun game that challenges you to build a virtual Rube Goldberg machine.

Make your own homemade Rube Goldberg machine! Check out Make a Rube Goldberg Machine for ideas to help you get started.

A Rube Goldberg culminating project will be included in the Physics Logic: Simple Machines & Laws of Motion curriculum to be released soon.

Science MilestonesYou may also be interested in learning about other inventors and scientists who have made an impact in our lives.

The bloggers of the iHomeschool Network have teamed up to create fun and original unit studies on fascinating people who were born in July.



March 6, 20161

The diddley bow is a single-stringed American instrument which influenced the development of the blues sound. It was traditionally considered a starter or children’s instrument in the Deep South, especially in the African American community. Other nicknames for this instrument include “jitterbug” or “one-string”.diddleybows

A local teacher has received significant acclaim for a folk instrument unit study he has implemented in his classroom. As a result, he has also coordinated with the local art museum to share his knowledge and skill with the local community. We were recently able to take part in his diddley bow workshop and what a treat!

What is a Diddley Bow?

The lineage of the diddley bow goes back thousands of years. The first prototype diddley bow (in the style also known as a Musical Bow) was painted on cave walls in France upwards of 15,000 years ago!

Here’s a video of American blues musician, Seasick Steve, doing what he does best on a diddley bow:

Traditionally, diddley bows were made using a plank with two nails/posts with a tightened string stretched between them. When that string is plucked or struck with a stick, and a smooth hard object is used as a slide and moved up and down on the string, different pitches result and melodies can be played.

How Does it Work?

The parts of the guitar change vibrations from the string into sound. The string diameter, length, and tension determine the note that is played.

Guitar strings come in various diameters. Thick strings produce low notes, thin strings produce high notes.

String tension is adjusted with the tuning peg. String length is measured from the nut to the bridge.

On a conventional guitar, the string length is changed by pushing the string against a fret. On a diddley bow, a slide is used to change the string length while playing.diddleybow3

Make Your Own

A Diddley Bow is traditionally made of spare parts and a wide variety of parts can be used. We started by choosing an old fence board as our base. We used a cookie or candy tin for the resonator. The instructor shared a few he had made that utilized a glass bottle and as Steve demonstrated in the video, even an old tin can will work.

We used a bulldog clip for the spacer, other workshop participants used a bottle cap and a screw. We also used guitar strings that were donated by a local music store but I’ve read that traditionally, the wire from an old straw broom were preferred.  Lastly, a corner bracket, an eye-screw, and an old fence board were all we needed to attach the string. Two 16-penny nails will also do the job.

diddleybow2Procedure:

  1.  Screw a small corner bracket onto one end of a recycled fence board, a couple of inches from the end. Screw an eye-screw onto the opposite end.
  2. Center the cookie tin atop the board just a few inches away from the corner bracket.
  3. Thread the guitar string through the center hole of the corner bracket and lay the string across the cookie tin.
  4. Thread the string though the eye-screw at the opposite side of the board and continue to twist the screw until the string is tight across the length of the board. The cookie tin will be held in place by this tension.
  5. Place a bulldog clip atop the cookie tin to lift up the string a bit. It is okay if the string touches the tin on the side closest to the corner bracket (the bottom side of the board). You don’t want it to touch, however, on the upper side. The bulldog clip is a spacer designed to lift the string up off the tin.
  6. Use a permanent marker to make marks on the board to indicated the different notes. This is done by ear. As you pluck the strings and slide a metal object (a small metal cylinder, for example) along the string, you can hear the pitch change as the string vibrates.
  7. Make a mark with a permanent marker to record the position of the bulldog clip. If it gets bumped and moved, it will change the position of the notes.

You can gather scrap materials yourself as we did or purchase a ready-to-assemble kit. There are several to choose from online, here are a couple to get you started:

Complete Cigar Diddley Bow Kit – This is a complete, ready-to-assemble cigar box diddley bow kit designed in the C. B. Gitty workshops to allow just about anyone to build a fun, easy-to-play instrument.  $24.99

Complete Cigar Box Guitar Kit – This kit contains all of the parts you need to complete your cigar box guitar – the box, neck, hardware and strings. Everything is pre-drilled and pre-marked, so that all you have to do is put in the screws, tap in the string ferrules, string it up and start playing. $79.99
Handmade Music Factory – Intrigued? Learn how to make eight of the most creative, unique-sounding, handmade instruments you’ll find anywhere with this fully illustrated guide. $17.57



February 15, 2016

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day which aims to mobilize women and men in an effort to connect girls to careers in engineering.

Engineering Day Activities @EvaVarga.netIn years past, we have taken part in several Girls in Engineering events locally, supported by universities and private organizations including the American Association of University Women, The Society of Women Engineers, and SciGirls. As a result, my daughter has been encouraged to pursue a career in a STEM field.

Founded originally by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, National Engineers Week is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers. The 2016 National Engineers Week is February 21st – 27th.

Only 12% of the nation’s engineers are women, and more than half of school-aged girls say they do not consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math. Misha Malyshev, CEO of Teza Technologies,  works with partner nonprofits to increase educational opportunities and encourage young women to pursue STEM careers.

Learn how you can encourage your girl to take an interest in science and engineering.

Girl Day Celebrates Girl Engineers

February 25th has been designated as Girl Day, an opportunity to teach girls about the difference they can make in the world as an engineer or STEM professional and to celebrate women in STEM. The goal is to show girls how creative engineering is and how engineers are changing our world. 

Engineers Week_Girl DayKids (especially girls) often don’t know about engineering, or they have misconceptions about the field. Whether you are a parent, teacher, counselor, or volunteer here are five things to share about engineers and their work.

Curiosity—Engineers ask lots of questions. Why? How? What if? 

Creativity—Engineering is a great outlet for the imagination—the perfect field for independent thinkers. 

Teamwork—Engineering takes teamwork, and engineers work with al kinds of people inside and outside the field. Whether they’re designers or architects, doctors or entrepreneurs, engineers are surrounded by smart, inspiring people.

Opportunities—An engineering degree offers lots of freedom in finding a person’s dream job. It can be a launching pad for jobs in business, design, medicine, law, and government. To employers or graduate schools, an engineering degree reflects a well-educated individual who has been taught ways of analyzing and solving problems that can lead to success in all kinds of fields.

Helping Others—Imagine what life would be like without pollution controls to preserve the environment, life-saving medical equipment, or low-cost building materials for fighting global poverty. All this takes engineering. In very real and concrete ways, engineers save lives, prevent disease, reduce poverty, and protect our planet.

Hands-on Activities 

Looking for a hands-on activity for your co-op or STEM Club? Here’s are a few of my favorites:

Reverse Engineering Activity—The science of taking things apart to see how they work; kids LOVE this activity.

Protect the Beach—Engineers design and build protection for our beaches, lakes, and rivers. From DiscoverE, this activity demonstrates how waves affect sand on a beach.

Seismic Shake-Up—From Design Squad Global: Hundreds of millions of people live in places around the world where earthquakes are common. Can you design a structure that’s stable and sturdy enough to survive an earthquake’s vibrations? Then test your structure on a shake table, a device engineers use to simulate the shaking of an earthquake.

Build a Simple Motor—Explore in depth how we can convert the potential chemical energy inside a battery to kinetic energy by creating a very simple motor.

Emergency ShelterFrom Design Squad Global: Who might need an emergency shelter—and why? People seeking shelter could include hikers, campers, homeless people, or people caught in a flood, hurricane, or other disaster. Decide who you want to design your shelter for. Then build one sturdy and big enough to hold at least one person.

Build a Roller Coaster—Last time you went on an amusement ride, did you realize it took engineers to design such thrill-producing rides and keep them safe? Different types of engineers work together to build roller coasters. Mechanical engineers might design the loops & drops while structural engineers oversee the structural aspect of the design. Let’s get creative! Design and build a roller.

Engineering: World's Tallest Buildings Unit StudyYou might also be interested in the engineering unit I developed for my STEM Club kids as we explored the World’s Tallest Buildings. This short unit study includes a timeline project, integrated writing assignment, and an oral presentation.

Linking up at Junior High Junction


December 14, 20152
I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

computerprogrammingWhy limit your child’s exposure to computer programming to just a single hour annually?  Fischertechnik provides the materials and curriculum support to engage students in basic computer programming skills year round. 

Last month I shared how excited we were to discover the Introduction to STEM I Kit in my post Play and Learn with Fischertechnik. We have since spent weeks building the various models and discovering how everyday technology and simple machines actually work.

How Does It Work In Our Homeschool?

When the Introduction to STEM I & II Kits arrived at our home, we immediately opened all of the materials and of course Jeffrey was SO excited to just BUILD something. I let him experiment with all of the pieces for a few weeks and he built model after model. It wasn’t long before the models he was building caught the attention of his older sister. She wanted in on the fun as well.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we sat down with our cousins (the more the merrier!) and installed the software. This was as easy as putting the disc in the computer.

I promise.

programfischertechnikComputer Programming with Fischertechnik

The girls jumped right in and immediately began to CONSTRUCT a merry-go-round model without any problems. The instructions took them through the process step by step. The process is very achievable for this age level.

They then spent a little time with the software and soon figured out the basic PROGRAM to get the wheel to operate a series of simple commands. The ROBO Pro light software programming is drag and drop, so it’s very easy to learn! A sample is given on screen as well as in the accompanying guide book.

After the model had been built, it was time to CONTEMPLATE why things worked they way they did and for further experimentation. Once the girls were familiar with what each of the different buttons did, they were ready to begin experimenting in all kinds of ways.The curriculum guide provides suggestions for assessment questions to aide students in reflecting on the process.

Finally, students are invited to CONTINUE their learning with more experimentation and a challenge to build and program more complex models and interactions.  My daughter is now motivated to learn MORE.

The Introduction to STEM II kit allows elementary classrooms of different ages to enter the exciting world of STEM and learn the basic skills of computer programming – an exciting activity for young people. 

fischertechnikMaking the Investment in Fischertechnik

If your child is interested in engineering and computer programming, I strongly suggest you invest in Fischertechnik products.

While the cost may at first seem high (the kits begin at $99), you receive a versatile set of bricks, sensors, motors, and a USB connection, along with the software and teacher’s guide. This enables your student to build the 12 models, but from there the creativity is LIMITLESS.

The Introduction to STEM I kit contains 500 pieces with instructions for building 40 different models in all. Students can build a centrifugal governor, manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and so much more.

The Introduction to STEM II contains 200 additional fischertechnik parts, including:

  • ROBO LT Controller (USB interface/USB power supply)
  • ROBO PRO Light software
  • An XS motor
  • 2 lights
  • A lens tip lamp
  • Photo-transistor
  • 2 switches

Of course, my kids love the models they have made with the instructions, but they also loves to be creative. They have now begun experimenting with the variety of components.

The beauty of this is that they are thinking through problems and solutions; asking good questions. Skills that will serve them later in life.

Interested? Order a free sample activity kit today! 



November 2, 2015

I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

When the Fed-Ex truck pulled up and the driver rang our door bell, my son raced to answer the door. He’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a cool new construction toy, fischertechnik, since I first shared with him their website the week prior.

My son loves to build and like many children his age is fascinated by robotics and construction. I knew the fischertechnik system was going to grab his attention and pull him into the STEM concepts we have so enjoyed.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik @EvaVarga.net

Open the World of Technology

fischertechnik is the flexible and innovative construction system built around the unique fischertechnik building block, which allows attachment to all six sides. fischertechnik is used widely in schools around the globe to enable students to explore, hands-on, STEM concepts such as Mechanics, Statics, Pneumatics, Renewable Energies, Electronics, and Robotics.

I am excited to share with you the recently released pair of new products called the fischertechnik Education “Introduction to STEM” I & II. These sets are specifically designed for introducing students in grades 2 thru 5 to STEM concepts and methodology, with the focus on simple machines, and an introduction to robotics and programming.

fischertechnik Introduction to STEM I Kit

Jeffrey immediately began to sort the 500 pieces into the compartments provided within the sturdy storage box (I love this!). As an experienced builder, he knew the time he spent organizing at the start would save time searching for a piece later.

“The pieces are so cool, Mom! They connect on all sides, you can change some around, and they lock in place. These are better than Lego!”

As he continued to sort, I scanned the detailed, full-color 170 page instruction booklet and shared with him some of the projects he could build: a manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and more.

He was immediately drawn to the merry-go-round, one of the more complicated projects, and construction was soon underway. The Introduction to STEM I Kit is a great introduction to how simple machines work.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik @EvaVarga.net

Activities & Curriculum

As an educator, one of the things I love best about the Introduction to STEM I Kit is the curriculum. The standards based curriculum provides everything you need to conduct the various lessons; from activity sheets and step-by-step instructions, to rubrics for assessment purposes. For classroom teachers, the education materials are laid out by grade level and establish a quick look at the goals and models to be constructed.

Having traveled quite extensively, we have had the opportunity to observe windmills in many locations (Maui, HI; Tehachapi, CA; San Francisco, CA, and most recently on the island of Mykonos, Greece). The optional project based research activity was the perfect way to integrate Jeffrey’s real-life experiences with STEM concepts.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik @EvaVarga.netWindmills transform the motion of the wind into rotary motion that humans use to accomplish work. We discussed the windmills we had observed and how each had been designed for specific work.

The wind turbine project described in the enclosed instruction manual requires students to turn a crank which causes the blades to turn and thereby move wind. The problem is to reverse the energy process from the wind turbine project. Utilizing the education materials I had downloaded as a guide, I challenged him to remove the crank and design a method of attaching gears or pulleys to transfer the power to another device. He loved the challenge!

I am confidant kids will love building the models, performing the activities, and then taking it apart to build another project. Join me next month when I share our experiences with the fischertechnik Introduction to STEM II Kit.