My books contain original hands-on STEM activities. Order via my Book Orders page. See also SF Writing Exercise, activities below, and some I've used for teaching physics & astronomy for download via Teachers Pay Teachers.
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- Moon Maps
- Earth-Moon Distance Model
- Make an Edible Moon Rock
- Make a Space Drink
- Build a Robotic Hand
- AlkaSeltzer Lunar Rocket
- Egg-citing Impacts
- Gravity Detector
- Solar System Live Game
- Big Dipper Up Close
- Local Group of Galaxies Model
Moon MapsWhere is the Ocean of Storms? What does the far side of the Moon look like? Check out features, learn lunar geography, and test your knowledge with puzzles. Check out Moon Maps.
Earth Moon Distance ModelMake a model of the Earth/Moon system. HOME ON THE MOON contains an activity Scaling the Moon that shows you how. Using Adobe Acrobat Reader (free via www.adobe.com), you can print out Earth/Moon images to cut out and glue on your scale model. If Earth is 8 inches, then the Moon is 2 inches; if Earth is 4 inches, then the Moon is 1 inch in diameter.
Make an Edible Moon RockHome on the Moon includes an edible model of a lunar breccia, a type of rock that includes bits of basalt and anorthosite melted and combined with regolith (crushed rocks, represented by rice cereal in the recipe). The recipe is also available via Teachers Pay Teachers for a dollar.
Photo of Real Moon Rocks to compare with your creation. From L to R, basalt (dark because of iron and magnesium, is represented in the recipe by chocolate), breccia, anorthosite (light-colored aluminum and silicon represented by marshmallows in the recipe), and another breccia. The first breccia is dark and the second is light. Which one most resembles your "rock" when sliced open?
Space Drink ActivityHow is a space drink different from an Earth drink? The water is carried to space separately from the drink mix. Why? It takes less energy to carry a packet of drink mix than a jug of lemonade whether you are hiking to a picnic or blasting into space. On Earth, we can add the water via a fountain at the picnic site, and in space, the water is provided as a byproduct of the Space Shuttle's electrical power system.
This drink is appropriate for all ages and can double as the refreshment for children's snack time, a star party, or as part of an outdoor fair or picnic. Party organizers can set up a 3-table assembly line, or prepare bags ahead of time and start with step 5 of the Directions.
Note: classes can make a space lunch to go with their drinks using the "Prepare A Space Meal" activity in Space Station Science.
Space Drink Supplies/Assembly LineSupplies for Space Drink for 150 people, assuming assembly line with 10 people standing at each table (5 on a side) at one time and preparing snack-sized drink:
1) Two boxes of Gladlock Zipper sandwich bags, 6 5/8 x 5 7/8, 100 to a box; 2) Ten Marker pens (that can write on plastic bags); and 3) Ten rulers.
1) Ten Tablespoons, and 2) Seven cans of drink mix that make 8 quarts (each can has about 48 TBSP, so can make 24 drinks).
1) 150 bendable plastic straws; 2) Seven gallons of water in easy pour containers or several water fountains; and 3) Large trash can for waste.
Space Drink Directions
- Take one reclosable plastic sandwich bag (Gladlock Zipper, 6 5/8 x 5 7/8, 100 to a box).
- Mark a horizontal line up from the bottom of the bag to show how much water to add. For full-sized drink (which will use 1 1/3 cups water), mark the line 2 1/2 " from the bottom. For snack-sized drink (which will use 2/3 cups water), mark the line 1 3/4" from the bottom. Lay new bags on top of already-marked bags to avoid having to measure each time.
- Measure powdered drink mix (Tang!) into bag. For full-sized drink, use 1/4 cup mix. For snack-sized drink, use 2 TBSP mix. Note: drink mix cans that make 8 quarts have enough mix for 12 full-size or 24 half-size drinks.
- Add one bendable plastic straw to bag.
Drink photo 1
Step 5 should be done over a sink, outside, or in a non-carpeted area!
- Using a water jug, faucet, or fountain, add water up to the line on the bag.
- Seal the bag (with the straw inside).
- Knead the bag until the drink mix is completely dissolved.
Drink photo 2
- Pop open one corner, slip the straw out, and drink!
- Reseal the bag when finished and refill or dispose of properly.
Robotic Hand ActivityHow do you pick things up in space? You let a robot do it! This activity is to make a robotic hand that uses the same principle as the ones on the space shuttle and space station. If there is only time for one activity, this one is recommended because it gives the students something to take home, can be done all indoors, and leaves no mess to clean up. Directions are in Space Station Science. A paper lunch bag works well to hold supplies. Distribute supplies prior to the start of the activity, either in bags or via an assembly line of 5 stations. Activity requires 20-30 minutes. Author requires a microphone to avoid having to shout directions to "uncontrolled" robots.
- One toilet paper tube/student. (Author can supply these for Houston-area workshops.)
- One cardboard cereal box with the front and back cut in half lengthwise provides enough cardboard for 4 students. Pieces should be no wider than 4" and about 9" long to fit around the outside of the toilet paper tube with a finger-width gap between them.
Photo showing size of outer tube
Note: if the cardboard is not cut ahead of time, it adds a significant amount of time to the activity, and scissors must be supplied.
- Need 3 thin (size 10) rubber bands (about 2" in diameter)/ student. Fat ones will not work! Rubber bands must be cut. (Do ahead of time or provide scissors.)
- Marker pen (optional) helps in placing the rubber bands on the tubes, and allows students to decorate their "hands."
- A roll of scotch tape/2 students. Book directions call for using a stapler to make the outer cylinder and to attach the rubber bands. Staples make the hand stronger, but are not necessary. For workshops, especially with younger children, use tape instead of staples.
Photo of robotic hand with toy
AlkaSeltzser Lunar RocketThis activity involves shooting off rockets that can sometimes reach the ceiling in a classroom. Therefore, it is recommended that the rockets be built in the class and taken outside or to a gym for launching. Author requires a microphone to maintain "mission control."
- Each student will need one Fuji film canister (the kind with lids that fit inside the canister) - Kodak canisters will not work! Most film processing stores will provide these for free. Author can provide canisters in the Houston area.
- Each student requires one seltzer tablet cut in half.
- Each student needs a plastic spoon and a source of water.
- Author will provide a master of the rocket for hosts to copy on heavy colored paper and cut-out for each student. This must be done ahead of time or it takes an additional 15 minutes.
- Each student should have their own roll of tape.
It takes about 30 minutes to assemble the rocket probe and launch it (one half tablet/launch). The water and seltzer leave a gooey mess on the floor, so paper towels are needed for clean-up if done indoors. This activity is for 4th grade and up, though can be done with younger students if parent volunteers are provided.
Egg-citing ImpactsHow does speed change the force of an impact? Find out for yourself! The directions for this activity are in Space Station Science.
Each student will need 1) a raw egg in a plastic cup, 2) a meter stick or tape measure, 3) a nickel, and 4) a pencil. The cups are best placed on the floor, so this is best done in an uncarpeted room. The activity takes 10-15 minutes, and is for grades 3-8.
Gravity DetectorHow do oil and water behave differently in freefall versus in a gravity field? This experiment will show you!
To save time, it is best to have students grouped at tables of 3-5 with 1) one bottle of cooking oil, 2) a teaspoon, 3) and a squeeze bottle of food coloring (red, blue, and green work well - yellow is too hard to see) at each table. Each student needs a trasparent plastic cup or test tube filled to 1/4" of the top with water. This activity can be done by all ages, but note that the food coloring stains, so that if young children are involved, it is a good idea to do this at tables outside and have lots of paper towels ready! This activity takes 10 minutes.
Solar System Live Game
Solar System Live at Westbrook Intermediate, Nov. 2011
This is a game to show how the planets move in orbits around the sun. There are "parts" to play for up to 24 students. Before heading outside, the students are assigned their parts and shown a graphical representation of how they will move once outside.FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING: ONE STUDENT AND PARENT OR TEACHER CAN DO THIS ACTIVITY USING 11 ROCKS OR BALLS IN BOWLS (to keep them from rolling!) TO MARK THE PLACES OF EACH WORLD, and then MOVE THEM IN SERIAL.
Preparation. One student is assigned to each of the 8 planets and Ceres (representing the asteroids) and the moon and sun. The remaining 12 students are each assigned a sign of the zodiac (plus optional 13th sign Ophiuchus). One student is designated TIME and given a whistle or bell. They will be responsible for counting out the months!
The students are given a colored circle with the name of their world on it attached to a length of string tied to a stick or pencil on the other end and representing their world's distance from the sun in astronomical units. (Use 1 AU=10 feet for the inner planets, and then 1 AU=1 foot for the outer planets.) The zodiac constellations are drawn on large sheets of paper and labeled with their names and the number of the month the sun is in that sign, starting with Aquarius as 1 and Capricorn as 12.
The Inner Planets. The students will line up with the sun first followed by the planets (the Moon should be behind the Earth) and then by the constellations with the sign that is OPPOSITE the sun (south at midnight, subtract 6) being behind Neptune with the numbers increasing to 12 and then starting over with 1. For example, in November, the sun is in Sagittarius (number 11), so the opposite is Taurus (number 5). The kids would line up 5,6,7...12,1,2,3,4.
Use a tape measure or pace off the distances. (If possible, mark the starting positions of the planets and constellations in chalk ahead of time.) Have the sun stand at the center of the outdoor area. Hand the pencils with the strings to the sun, and place the inner planets 3 feet, 7 feet, 10 feet (with the Moon in the proper position for its current phase), 15 feet, and 17 feet (Ceres) away with their strings tight. (To prevent strings from tangling, hold Mercury in the left hand and the others in the right.) Have the outer planets walk to the opposite side of the sun and stand about 20 feet out. (Remind the students that on this scale, Jupiter would be 50 feet away.)
Have the OPPOSITE sign stand about 25 feet from the sun. The others should stay this distance away and spread around in a counterclockwise fashion with the current sun sign being on a line with the planets (and hopefully facing toward the actual sun in the sky!).
Now it's time for Time to pass! If you're using 1 AU=10 ft., the circumference of Earth's orbit is then about 31 feet (pi x diameter). So every time the bell or whistle sounds, every planet takes 3 steps counterclockwise which is about 2.5 ft. The Moon should run around the Earth once for each month. Stop after each month and note the sun's new sign and which one is now opposite. Note when Mercury and Venus return to their starting point. After 12 months, Earth and Moon should be back where they started, but the other planets will not be lined up.
The Outer Planets. The inner planets will now collect their strings and roll them up. They will sit down in a ring around the sun (who remains standing) with the Earth on the original line just 1 foot from the sun. The outer planets give their pencils to the sun with Jupiter held in the left hand. Note that the scale has changed and 1 AU=1 foot. Place the outer worlds at the proper distances by unfurling their strings with Jupiter at 5 feet, Saturn at 10, Uranus at 19, and Neptune at 30. The constellations will have to back out to 30 feet.
Now when Time rings the bell, instead of a month, a year will go by. For every ring, the Earth should get up and run around the sun like the Moon did in the previous part. Jupiter's orbital period is 12 years, so Jupiter should move enough to "change signs" each year, and make one trip around after 12 rings. With Jupiter's distance of 5 ft., the circumference of its orbit is about 16 feet. So for every ring, all the planets should take about 16 steps counterclockwise. After each ring, point out how Jupiter's position has changed during the lifetime of the students and how slowly Neptune changes signs.
Big Dipper Up Close
This activity appeared in Odyssey magazine and shows the impact of distance on perception. The activity involves having 10 students become the stars of the Big Dipper. They first line up side by side (some standing on chairs) in front of the room (holding sheets of paper with their star's name on it) to form the familiar asterism. Then they move to show their true relative distances away.
The distances are given in generic units which can be converted to feet or meters depending on how much room is available. The largest unit is 4.5. The activity can also be done individually by having the students place markers on toothpicks stuck into balls of clay and then sliding them backwards in a shoe box. Download the one-page Dipper directions.
Local Group Model
The Local Group of Galaxies, drawing by R. Powel.
Build a mobile in your bedroom or classroom showing the relative sizes, directions, and distances of the Local Group of galaxies with each other. Directions for this activity originally appeared in my Stars & Galaxies book, though I have updated the relative orientations of satellite galaxies to more correctly show the relative spacing. To build your mobile, you'll need to download and print out three files:
1. Galaxy Cutouts Note, the same photo is used for both "sister" galaxies, but Andromeda is larger.
2. Satellite Galaxies Satellite Cutouts. These are not to scale, only bigger and smaller, because at true scale they'd be too small to cut out!
3. Local Group of Galaxies Placement Charts. There is one sheet for Milky Way and one for Andromeda that show where to hang the satellites for each one. Note there are many more satellite galaxies, but they are farther away, so don't fit on one sheet of paper on this scale where each 1.5-inch block is 50,000 light years.
Note that the Milky Way and Andromeda are on a collision course! The two get closer together by about 100 miles every second. But don't worry, it will take billions of years for them to collide, and when they do, it will be VERY slowly. Stars are so widely spaced that there's only a one in 1,000 trillion chance for a star crashing into another one.
All activities copyright, Marianne J. Dyson, all rights reserved. This page may be copied/downloaded for personal use only. Contact the author for reprint permission.
Note: Home on the Moon is available in Korean, Romanian, and Arabic. Space Station Science is available in Korean.
Robonaut shakes my hand at Johnson Space Center. (Photo by author, 2011)