Family STEM: A Week of Fun Challenges

By Cait Goodwin, Oregon Sea Grant

Are you tired of all of the screen time associated with work and school? Are you looking for simple STEM activities that you can do at home with your family? Check out the daily challenges from STEM Week Oregon. There’s an activity for each day of the week!

INSPIRE

STEM Week Oregon is a week-long event that takes place annually in May. This state-wide movement celebrates and engages communities in activities involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Although this year’s STEM Week was officially celebrated May 9-17, you and your family can participate in daily STEM challenges any time!

This spring has been unusual, to say the least. A lot of us have been stuck indoors and spending a lot of our time looking at screens. That’s one reason why Oregon’s STEM Hubs decided that the theme for this year’s STEM Week would be:

STE(A)M Unplugged: Explore your world, Design your world.

Below are seven daily challenges – one for each day of the week. Each is suitable for the whole family, suggests using materials that you already have at home, and doesn’t require you to be on a computer!

Download all of the challenges in English or in Spanish

TRY IT

MAKE IT MONDAY

Paper Tube Raceway
Design a structure that is either freestanding or attached to a wall. This structure will be your raceway for marbles, a car, or another object of your choice.

Download the Monday challenge description in English or Spanish

Image: K. Townsend


TAKE APART TUESDAY

Take Something Apart
Take something apart and try to re-purpose the pieces into something new! Some of the items taken apart by last week’s participants include a vacuum cleaner, bicycle wheel, computer, model locomotive, feathered costume, skateboard, and the front suspension of a Jeep.

Download the Tuesday challenge description in English or Spanish


WHAT ARE YOU WONDERING WEDNESDAY

child holds and examines an insect

Notice and Wonder
Find a live animal and observe its characteristics. Write about or draw what you notice. Ask any questions you have about what you see. For more ideas about how to make and record observations of the natural world, see this FAMILY STEM blog post.

Download the Wednesday challenge description in English or Spanish


THINK ABOUT IT THURSDAY

Build a Paper Structure
Using only paper and tape, create a freestanding structure that is at least one foot high, and can hold a small stuffed animal or toy. Think about what shapes will work best. Could you build a structure that holds a heavy book instead of a stuffed animal? Try it!

Download the Thursday challenge description in English or Spanish


FIELD TRIP FRIDAY

Backyard Scavenger Hunt
What can you find outside? Explore the outdoors by staying in one place and making deep observations, or search for a list of natural items that could be discovered near your home.

Take a walk from your home to a place you’ve never been before, or try making a map for other members of your family to follow.

Download the Friday challenge description in English or Spanish


SOUNDS AND SHADOWS SATURDAY

Create Shadow Art
Line up objects and trace their shadows. Even if the sun is not out, you can still do this activity using a strong light inside. Once you start noticing shadows, you’ll start seeing them everywhere. What makes shadows longer or larger? Write down some thoughts and test your ideas. You can also create a profile portrait or tell a story with a shadow puppet show!

Image: C. Goodwin

Download the Saturday challenge description in English or Spanish


SOARING SUNDAY

Paper Airplanes and Flight
What is the best way to fold a piece of paper to make a paper airplane fly the highest, the farthest, or the fastest?

For this project, use paper from your recycle bin! If you need more design ideas, consult online resources like Fold N Fly, but then unplug once again to generate more iterations and test your design. Make this challenge meaningful by creating an engaging and real-world context. For example:

“Mary the librarian wants to share a message with a coworker who is shelving books on the other side of the library, 15 feet away. However, they are both practicing social distancing and neither wants to speak loudly and disturb others who are working. Design a paper airplane to help Mary send her message.”

Download the Sunday challenge description in English or Spanish

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

STE(A)M PRACTICES

Each of the daily challenges described above provide opportunities to use different skills and disciplines, just like most real-world activities. Looking back, how did your activity involve science or engineering, the “S” and “E” parts of STEM? Educators have identified eight practices that people use in science and engineering. Did you do any of these things when you were engaged in one of the daily challenges?

Science and Engineering Practices
from the Next Generation Science Standards

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using math and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Think about how you used math during your challenges. For example, did you count, take measurements, make graphs, or make alterations to scale, proportions, or angles? 

How did you use technology in these unplugged challenges? What tools did you use to make structures, dismantle objects, and research new designs?

Finally, you may have noticed the (A) tucked in to the word STEM in this year’s theme. “A” stands for art, which is another subject that can be found throughout disciplines. Did you draw, build, or use other forms of art in your challenges?

STE(A)M FOR ALL

No matter how old you are or whether or not you become (or already are) a STEM professional, everyone can participate in activities involving science, technology, engineering, art, and math! Our daily lives are full of STEM, and there will always be opportunities to use STEM to learn more about our world.

Scientists are always wondering about the world around them and those curiosities are what inspire them to learn more. Here’s what scientists from South Slough Reserve were wondering during the 2020 STEM Week What Are You Wondering Wednesday Challenge.

Image: https://www.facebook.com/SouthSloughEstuary/

CELEBRATING AND SHARING

During the 2020 STEM Week Oregon (May 9-17), thousands of families and educators across the state participated in one or more of these challenges, and their activities populated the online STEM Week map. Some participants (including folks from Tillamook, Newport, Florence, and North Bend) even received prizes when their names were drawn at random.

Image: Google Maps 

STEM doesn’t stop when STEM Week is over! Share your family’s activities with the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and the rest of the state any time through social media using the hashtag #STEMWeekOR.

Good luck, and have fun Exploring and Designing Your World!

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Cait Goodwin is a Special Projects Coordinator at Oregon Sea Grant, and is also the Communications Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

STEM Week Oregon is a collaborative effort involving STEM Hubs throughout Oregon.
Learn more at http://stemoregon.org/stem-week-oregon-2020/ or https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/stem-week

The 2020 Family STEM series is brought to you by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and its partners as part of its Let’s Keep Learning! Initiative. You can find more resources, live events, and lesson on our website: https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/

Gold Beach Students Explore Watershed Issues

By Cait Goodwin, Oregon Sea Grant
with Debra Watson, Riley Creek School and Lindsay Carroll, Oregon Sea Grant

When rain falls on Riley Creek School, where does it end up? Are there pollutants in the watershed that could travel to the ocean? Debra Watson’s 5th grade students wanted to find out.

On a rainy day in December, the students headed outside to collect data that could help answer some of their questions. “It was a day when we were having rain and 60MPH gusts of wind, so we were WET!” recalled Debra. Walking around the schoolyard, students observed that the grounds were generally free of litter. But, what about the dog poop they observed near the school? Would the dog poop have an impact on surrounding areas? This led to a great discussion about what is in rainwater and where it goes. The students were left curious about where the water runoff from their playground went after it disappeared down the storm drain.

Riley Creek School is located just south of the Rogue River in Gold Beach, Oregon, and is named after a small creek that flows into the Pacific Ocean. Its location provides students with ample opportunities to explore the watershed and to make connections between the land and sea.

Debra began planning her watershed unit in November, when she first joined a cohort of other south coast teachers in a year-long MWEEs by the Sea project. “MWEE” stands for Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences, a framework used by the NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program, which funded a professional development series facilitated by Oregon Sea Grant in partnership with South Slough Reserve. To ensure field experiences would be “meaningful” for their students, Debra and the other MWEE teachers created long-term project-based learning units that would take their students on repeated, hands-on trips outside to learn about watersheds, local environmental issues, and stewardship opportunities.

Debra Watson participated in several teacher professional development trainings in 2019-20. In this photo she is taking part in a workshop focused on marine debris. Photo credit: C. Goodwin

Here are some highlights from Debra’s classroom activities in early 2020.

JANUARY
After their initial stormy field experience, the Riley Creek 5th graders spent the early weeks of January learning more about their watershed through readings, discussions, and videos. To introduce her students to the problem of plastic pollution in the watershed and ocean, Debra used curriculum from Washed Ashore and then took her students on a field trip to the exhibits in Bandon. “The students got to work on pieces for a condor sculpture, and they just thought the museum was the coolest thing they had ever seen.” said Debra. “They were thrilled to be there.”

three students examine a wall mural showing ocean gyres
Riley Creek 5th Grade Field trip to Washed Ashore.
Photo credits: Debra Watson

To prepare for their trip to Washed Ashore, local artist Elizabeth Roberts from Make Art Not Trash visited the students in their classroom. Her presentation about marine debris and the conversations that followed helped set up the students to understand what they would be seeing during their out of classroom experience. “They all know what a gyre is now,” Debra reported, “and they were able to match the artistic mural of gyres that they saw on the wall at Washed Ashore with the NOAA pictures they had seen back in the classroom.”

FEBRUARY
In February, Debra’s students conducted experiments to learn more about the characteristics of marine debris. They made hypotheses about whether different types of plastics were likely to sink or float in water, and then tested their ideas. They observed how plastics can hang in the water column and create a “soup”, how bottles full or empty behave differently, and how plastics might look like food to wildlife.

Late in the month, the students took a field trip to the new state-of-the-art Gold Beach Sewage Plant, as well as to the Water Treatment Plant located 5 miles upriver.

The students found out the differences between the two plants, and learned that their drinking water comes from the Rogue River.

“We are in the Rogue River watershed.”

Two Plants: One processes wastewater from people’s houses, and one gives us clean water to drink.

Back at school, the 5th graders spent time outside exploring Riley Creek and collecting macroinvertebrates. These “water bugs” helped them better understand the health of the creek.

MARCH
By March, the students were ready to brainstorm the issues they wanted to explore further. They discussed their interests and ideas, formed groups, and narrowed down the topics to a few main projects:

  1. Dog Poop – How does dog poop that is not picked up affect the school field, grassy play areas, and stormwater that flows to the ocean? This group was interested in coming up with policies, outreach messages, and other strategies to change the behavior of dog owners. 
  2. Marine Debris Art – How can we help the public understand the problem of marine debris? This group was interested in creating art projects that communicate marine debris impacts and solutions.
     – See examples of projects
  3. Beach Clean Up – What can students do to remove debris from local beaches? This group was interested in working with SOLVE to organize and advertise a beach clean-up event.
  4. PSAs – What kinds of things can people do to protect the environment? This group used Scratch.mit.edu to create digital media public service announcements.
     – See examples of projects here and here
  5. Inventions – What solutions could we design to address the problem of plastic pollution? One team in this group focused on ideas for inventions that would keep plastics from going down storm drains, and another team worked on designing an instrument that would separate microplastics from sand.
    Hear a student describe his design
Students working on projects at school.
Photo credit: Debra Watson

TRANSITION TO DISTANCE LEARNING
Today, as school has transitioned to distance learning, Debra and her 5th grade students remain enthusiastic about the topics they have been working on together. “We had just begun working when the pandemic hit” said Debra. Unfortunately, plans for additional field trips were canceled, and student projects were left in a variety of stages when schools closed. To see some of the projects students have been working on this year, visit this Student Work Folder.  For now, the Riley Creek team agrees: “We really enjoyed learning about watersheds!”

———————-
Cait Goodwin is a Special Projects Coordinator with Oregon Sea Grant Marine Education, and she coordinates the “MWEEs by the Sea” teacher professional development program in partnership with Jaime Belanger from South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Gold Beach teacher Debra Watson from Riley Creek School is one of 17 South Coast teachers participating in the 2019-20 MWEES by the Sea cohort.

Family STEM: Take a Fresh Look at Nature

By Cait Goodwin, Oregon Sea Grant

As we head into a third month of staying home to stay safe, it can be easy to look around at our familiar surroundings and think “I’ve seen this all before!” But how close are we really looking?

INSPIRE

Nature observation is a great activity for families to engage in together because everyone has an opportunity to learn something new. Despite living close to natural areas, we often don’t stop and take time to really notice our surroundings. Many of us cannot name — or even describe — the various plants and animals we walk by every day. Here are some ideas to help you and your family look at nature together, with new attention to detail.

ASK A QUESTION

What kind of plant is that, really? How do I know?

Trees and plants are everywhere, and this is especially true in Oregon. So much grows here! But what do you know about the vegetation growing nearby? For example, you may look out the window at a tree across the street and call it, simply, “tree”. But perhaps you know a little more, and call it an “evergreen tree” because you notice it has needles and stays green all year. But is it a shore pine? Douglas fir? Hemlock? Spruce? You might need to go look a little more closely to gather more evidence.

TRY IT – Observation

Once you take time to stop and notice, it’s obvious that there is more than one kind of tree in the neighborhood, more than one kind of “grass” on most lawns, and more than one kind of bird at the feeder. It’s time to explore! Don’t worry about assigning names to organisms you see at this point; you can think about that later.

Here are some ideas to help you and your family make scientific observations together:

  • Start a nature journal for recording your notes, drawings, and questions. All you really need is a blank notebook and a pencil. Here’s a nice description of keeping a journal focused on bird-watching.
  • Create an Observation Circle to help focus your attention. Learn more with this lesson and video from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
  • Make observations in different locations, and then compare and contrast what you find.

Check out the Oregon Outdoor School website, which provides families with excellent resources that focus on nature observation and nature journaling. Each week they publish a new Nature Observation Activity set in English and Spanish.

A Deeper Dive for Parents and Teachers
* Making Observations from the Lawrence Hall of Science BEETLES Project
* Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills  – from the Pacific Education Institute
* How to Teach Nature Journaling – by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren

Observing animals can be a little bit trickier than observing plants because animals might be able to walk or fly away from your area of observation. But the more you practice, the more quickly you can record your observations. Tips for getting started:

  • Focus on slow-moving animals.
  • Take a photo that you can reference or share later.
  • Use an animal webcam to observe animals living far from your home. List of webcams

TRY IT – Identification

Scientists know that categorizing and naming organisms is very useful for understanding species characteristics and how organisms are related to one another. Practically speaking, it’s also helpful to assign names to plants and animals just so everyone knows they are talking about the same organism. There are big differences between the Dungeness crab and the European green crab. While they are both “crabs”, one is a tasty, native species that supports a thriving Oregon fishery, and the other is a smaller, invasive species that causes problems for Oregon’s ecosystems.

Pick one organism that you observed in the first section and focus on finding out its scientific and common name. The careful observations you made earlier will help you make an accurate identification. You may also learn that you need additional information and will need to return to the organism to check something you didn’t think to look at before.

Here are some resources that can help you identify and learn about organisms you might observe near your home:

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

What can we learn by closely observing nature?

GAIN A SENSE OF PLACE
Observing nature can help children and adults develop meaningful connections to the environment, and lead to feelings of stewardship towards local places.

wooden footbridge

IMPROVE YOUR OBSERVATION SKILLS
The process of taking detailed notes or making an identification requires you to look closely at nature. 

IMPROVE YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL LITERACY
Once you’ve gone through the process of noticing and identifying an organism, you may suddenly start noticing it everywhere!

USE EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT A CLAIM
Identifying organisms models an important practice of science*. Scientists must use evidence to support their conclusions.

LEARN TOGETHER OR ON YOUR OWN
Nature observation and journaling are practices enjoyed by people of all ages, and there’s always more to learn. Your journal observations may be kept private, but nature explorers can also work with others to identify species and make new discoveries. 

CELEBRATE AND SHARE

Connect your observations to a larger network by contributing to an online community science project! iNaturalist is one of the best apps available for sharing your nature observations, and you can download and start using it immediately. You can find additional locally-relevant projects on the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Families page, or search for a project through the large citizen science website SciStart.

What are you waiting for? Turn off your computer and go outside! Tap into your inner naturalist, “see” all the things you were previously missing, and have fun watching your world come alive.

_____________
Cait Goodwin is a Special Projects Coordinator at Oregon Sea Grant, and is also the Communications Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

The 2020 Family STEM series is brought to you by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and its partners as part of its Let’s Keep Learning! Initiative. You can find more resources, live events, and lesson on our website: https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/