STEAM ideas to keep kids learning, engaged

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

With schools closed across the country, parents have found themselves suddenly thrust into the role of teacher and activities director. It’s no easy task.

The experts in Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach (YEO) program are here to help you. They have plenty of experience holding kids’ attention while teaching them about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM). They have put together a few fun activities/resources that you can use.

Sweet Chemistry Experiment

In light of the number of students now learning remotely, The American Chemical Society has made the American Association of Chemistry Teachers website more available to the public. Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry, said the site offers high-quality information and activities for students of all ages, including elementary students.

Halmi shared one activity that caught her eye as an experiment that kids would find fun: Analyzing root beer floats is suggested for students in grades 1-5, but we’re guessing “kids” of any age would enjoy it.

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You can see a full list of unlocked activities on the website.

Easter/Spring STEAM Fun

Robyn Taylor, K-12 program educator for YEO, said the website littlebinsforlittlehands.com offers several STEAM activities with eggs that are easy and fun to do at home. Here are a few of her favorites:

Easter Egg Catapults. Experiment with motion, design, and basic engineering and physics principals by designing a simple machine to launch plastic eggs into the air.

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Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Egg Crystals: With just a few simple materials, your young learners will be ready to start growing cool crystals in the shape of eggs in this hands-on chemistry experiment disguised as a fun holiday craft.

egg crystals

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Suncatchers: Bring some sun and color into your home by making suncatchers that incorporate a little science into the art, especially if you choose to make the crystal or slime suncatchers.

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Photo credit: Babbledabbledo.com

Lego Maze Challenge. If you have a bin full of building bricks, kids will have a blast making their own Lego mazes while also learning about engineering, design, and physics. There is no limit to how elaborate or creative the mazes can be – students can incorporate buildings and figures into their mazes and then compete with siblings to see who can race the marble through fastest!

marble maze

Photo credit: Mammapappabubba.com

Take a tour!

Send the kids on an adventure from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can tour a whole host of museums and zoos virtually, including the National History Museum in London and the The National Museum of Computing, where you can take a 3-D virtual tour.

computer musuem

Photo credit: The National Museum of Computing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Erie authors publish one-week novels at College for Kids

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By Robb Frederick
Public Information Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Once upon a time there was a boy named David. He liked to write. He came to a college called Penn State Behrend for a program called College for Kids. He was one of 1,283 kids in the program.

The kids had fun. They launched rockets and built robots and made stained-glass mosaics. David’s class was called “Author’s Club.” The kids in it made their very own hard-cover books. David’s book was “The Magic Stones,” by David Showers, age 10. He dedicated it to his Gramma.

His teacher, Ms. Lenze, helped him write it. She taught him about plot and character and conflict. She made him practice. One time, she gave the class the ending of a story and asked them to write what the characters did to get to that point. That was like a backward book.

Ms. Lenze played classical music while the kids wrote. Some kids sat at desks. Some sat on the floor, their legs folded crisscross applesauce. David sat next to Audi, whose book was called “Mark and Jasmine Meet an Alien.” The boy across from them wrote “Attack of the Changeos.” Whatever those are.

“They are so creative at this age,” Ms. Lenze said. “The stories they come up with are just so imaginative.”

David’s story was about a boy who found three magic stones. The red stone made the boy invisible. The gold stone helped him fly. The black stone granted all of his wishes. But not right away. That was in a later chapter.

“I just moved here like six months ago,” David said. “I read a lot of books. I think it’s cool that I’m making my own.”

He wrote the first draft in a notebook. Then he copied the story into a blank book that Ms. Lenze gave him. He spent a lot of time on the drawings. Especially the first page, where he drew the boy and the boy’s dad and the big house they lived in. He drew all the bricks and shingles and even put smoke on the chimney.

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“I’m really good at drawing houses,” David said. He pointed to the front door, which looked like wood. “Isn’t that good?”

On the next page, the boy goes into the woods. He finds the magic stones. He starts to learn about their power.

Ms. Lenze said a good book should have some conflict. Like a fight. So David made his boy meet another boy – a friend, but not really – who also wanted the magic stones. That boy planned to do bad things with the power. So the boys wrestled, each of them grabbing at the stones, until the magic rocks dropped and broke.

And then?

Then it just ends. The last pages are blank. Ms. Lenze would call that a cliffhanger. David called it time-to-clean-up-for-lunch.

“That’s as far as I got,” he said. “I’ll have to write some more tomorrow, I guess.”

10 things I learned about survival at College for Kids

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By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

My daughter, Lauren, 10, spent last week making rope out of bark, building a fire with one match, foraging for edible plants, and creating a shelter with leaves, mud, sticks, and phragmites.

No, I didn’t drop her off in the woods, cackling “fend for yourself, baby girl.” (We’re only two weeks into summer break so I’m not that sick of my kids yet. Talk to me in mid-August, and I may sing a different tune). She attended “Surviving the Outback” class at Penn State Behrend’s College For Kids.

On the last day of class, the instructor, Tim Lucas, a survivalist and owner of Premier Martial Arts in Erie, invited parents to see what their kids (ages 8-12) had been learning and doing all week.

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If you ever find yourself lost in the woods or otherwise living the primitive life, here are ten things I learned during my one-hour survivalist lesson with Lucas:

  1. When it comes to survival in the wilderness, your four priorities in order of importance are: shelter, water, fire, and food.
  2. You can live for two weeks with just shelter and water. “Shelter is most important,” Lucas said. “You’ve got a couple days to find water and weeks to find food, but exposure can kill you quickly.” According to this site, you can live without shelter for three hours, without water for three days and without food for three weeks.
  3. Jewelweed, a common Pennsylvania weed, is a great poison ivy cure. If you’re exposed to poison ivy, crush the jewelweed in your fingers to make a pulpy mash and cover the poison-ivy exposed skin with it. More on that here.
  4. Cattails are one of the most valuable plants for survival. They provide not only food, but also tinder, insulation, and shelter material.
  5. Aside from a sharp knife, one of the most useful tools for wilderness survival is an arm-length, wrist-thick throwing stick. Properly thrown sticks can be used to take down a small animal (raccoon, rabbit, etc.).
  6. You can make twine/rope/cordage using the bark from dead trees and using your fingers to shred and twist it. “Look for trees with dead bark, and strip off long sections of the softer layer between the wood and the outer bark,” Lucas said.
  7. Phragmites, cut and bundled, make great sleeping mats, blankets, chairs, and shelter cover.
  8. When building shelter, be sure to put down a thick (several inches) layer of leaves (or phragmites) to separate your body from the ground, which can get very cold.
  9. Build a fire ring with an opening toward you/your shelter to conserve and aim the heat. The stones should be nose high when sitting in front of it.
  10. Daisies and clover are edible not just for rabbits and deer, but for humans, too. In fact, many wild plants are edible.

So what are your kids doing this summer? There are still openings in many exciting, fun, and educational (don’t tell the kids that though) classes at College for Kids (Click on the registration link to see which classes still have openings) Who knew summer school could be so much fun?

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Demonstrating their throwing stick skills.

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My daughter, Lauren, in the phragmites chair outside the shelter.

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Mud, grass, leaves, phragmites and more were used to build the shelter. Notice the stone fire ring with the opening pointed toward the chair/shelter, too.