STEM@home: Crazy Constellations

Orion, Head to Toe. Rogelio Bernal Andreo, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re like most STEM@Home-rs, you’ve always wanted to learn more about astronomy but you just haven’t “star”-ted yet. Do you need special equipment, items, “or-bits”? Worried it’s too big of a “comet”-ment? Well, don’t just”plan-et,” any longer! Winter is the best time in West Michigan to geek out over the night sky. Visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s blog, Keeping It Curious, to find out why!

Not only does West Michigan host an incredible year-round astronomy resource, the GRPM Chaffee Planetarium, winter in Michigan is actually a great time to check out some famous constellations. The Winter Stargazing post from the museum’s blog lays out the top three benefits to constellation-hunting in the winter.

  1. Cold winter air is less humid – leading to a beautifully clear view.
  2. Stars are easier to see at night, and sunset is earlier in winter.
  3. As a planet moving through SPAAAAACE, the northern hemisphere in winter faces a part of the galaxy with very bright stars – like Orion’s Belt!

Hey, those museum folks are very persuasive! Let’s bundle up and head outside to spot some of space’s greatest hits, including the Great Orion Nebula, Sirius, and the Pleides Star Cluster.

The best and brightest of Michigan’s winter sky are known as the Winter Circle, and Greek and Roman mythology buffs are going to recognize plenty of familiar names. Some scholars believe that these groups of stars, or constellations, inspired the classic myths of heroes, warriors, and fantastic creatures. Imagine storytelling with the sky instead of a book!

Ready to start your own story? Look to the southeast after dark and find three bright stars in a row – those are called Orion’s Belt. Spot a blurry patch underneath Orion’s Belt? Don’t clean your glasses – you’re spotting a star nursery, or nebula, over 1,500 miles away! Head to the Keeping It Curious blog for more directions on following the Winter Circle around and finding many more stars, constellations, and wonders of the night sky.

Love exploring the universe? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

STEM@Home: Making Tracks

File:Tracks in the Snow - Flickr - treegrow (1).jpg
Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Winter can be a hard season for the animals who make Michigan their home. From chilly temperatures to ice covered rivers and lakes, the landscape looks a little different. But just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean the animals are staying inside! January’s snowy days are the perfect opportunity to find out what the animals in our parks and backyards are up to.

Head over to Tracks in the Snow, a publication from Nature North, and get oriented to the tracks and patterns of winter animals. Start with the basics – rabbits, squirrels, and dogs. You’ve probably spotted those in your back yard during the summer. What are they up to over the winter? Their tracks reveal all their secrets!

Move on to some more unusual sightings. Ever seen a raccoon in your yard, or a fox? Visit a nature center after a fresh snowfall and hunt for signs from those members of the Canidae family. One thing you know about raccoons and foxes – they’re probably up to no good. You might even spot deer tracks while you’re there, looking for some tender plants under the snow.

Animal tracks are like a record of what they’re up to when we’re not around. Study them carefully and you might be surprised! Is the fox chasing a rabbit? Did the rabbit escape in time? How can you tell if the animal is moving quickly or slowly?

Check out Nature North’s guide to rabbit, squirrel, and dog tracks, bear, raccoon and weasel tracks, and skunk, cat, and deer tracks! You’ll be amazed at all the winter activity these animals are up to – and who knows, maybe your human tracks will mystify the creatures after you leave! Share your track photos and animal IDs with the world, and don’t forget to tag ExploreHope on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

ExploreHope Summer Camps 2021!

June 14 – July 30

Schedule & registration are now available!

Hope College is offering exciting opportunities this summer for students to explore the wonder world of science and more. Staffed by Hope College science and education students, all camps feature ‘hands-on’ interactive investigations. Science-focused camps teach scientific concepts in a FUN, yet challenging way, while non-science camps deliver skill and technique-building experiences!

We are focusing on maintaining our signature engaging explorations for all ages while appropriately adjusting our safety and logistics procedures.

Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see the campers this summer!!

STEM@Home: National Ocean Service for Kids

A post from one of our Summer 2020 Camp Counselors!…

Hey explorers, welcome back again to our STEM@home blog! I am Danielle Reiber, and I am one of the leaders for the virtual ExploreHope camps this year. I will be a senior majoring in Mathematics Elementary Education. This is my first summer working with the science camps and I have loved seeing the creativity and eagerness to learn in all of our campers!

Wow, hasn’t it been hot in Holland the past few weeks? I don’t know about you, but hot weather makes me want to swim. How lucky we are to have beautiful Lake Michigan so close to us! I hope you’ve been spending lots of time at the beach – or that you have a beach trip planned soon!

Living in Michigan, we’re lucky to have the Great Lakes be our beach destination, but the rest of the U.S. heads to the sea shore during a heat wave. So how perfect – let’s learn more about the ocean! The National Ocean Service website has wonderful learning resources and some pretty cool activities as well!

One of my favorite National Ocean Service activities was a boat building challenge! Get creative and build your own little – or not so little – boat! Think about what materials you can use, the density of the objects, what makes a boat float, how to make your boat move, and more! Once you have built your boat you could even try testing it in our own inland sea – Lake Michigan! (Then you can talk about the differences between an ocean and our Great Lakes!)

Some more SUPER cool activities are 360 degree virtual tours of the ocean! What’s the difference between the ocean and Lake Michigan? With these videos, you can compare them yourself. Plus, there’s so much more – tour shipwrecks, the shores of Hawaii and more right from your home!

The National Ocean Service for Kids has so many different resources, so once you try these out keep exploring, and don’t forget to take a swim! Have fun!

*Images all from National Ocean Service*

STEM@Home: Water Quality

Image courtesy of NASA

State slogans are perennial trivia favorites – can you name Michigan’s most recent motto? Michigan, Land of Enchantment! Nope, that’s New Mexico. Michigan, the Show-Me State? Wrong again – that’s Missouri. Need a hint? Picture a pristine beach, blue waves, a pine-topped island in the distance… and the phrase “Pure Michigan” just leaps to mind.

“Pure Michigan” – more than the incredibly vast Great Lakes, “Pure Michigan” evokes the vast aquatic treasures of our rivers, ponds, wetlands and inland lakes. Beautiful? Certainly. But maybe not as pure as they look on a tourist brochure. And as it turns out, totally pure water would lead to a totally sterile state!

What’s Inside Michigan Water?

100% pure H2O is not the best choice for the plants and animals depending on it. Surface water needs to have lots of dissolved oxygen available for fish and amphibians, nitrates and phosphates provide nutrients for growing plants, and an aquatic biome’s pH dramatically affects which organisms can live there. All of these levels co-exist in a delicate relationship – too much of one can deplete another.

Human activity like boating and farming can change the chemical balance of surface water, with drastic impacts on its ecosystems. Fertilizer run-off from farms loads up streams and wetlands with phosphates, encouraging bacterial growth. Boats can disturb sediment on the bottom of ponds and lakes, suffocating fish and other aquatic organisms. Scientists have a set of quick tests to determine how healthy a water source is for the plants, animals – and people! – that rely on it.

How Pure is Your Michigan?

So how healthy is the water in your Michigan backyard, or neighborhood, or town? You’re in luck! ExploreHope has Water Quality Monitoring test kits available for families to borrow, so you can easily learn about the water quality in our community.

All you need is a 1-liter sample from a local body of water and our Water Quality Monitoring kit to find out how your local water measures up on dissolved oxygen, nitrates, pH, phosphates, temperature and turbidity – all important tests to determine the health of the water. Compare the waters in Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan! Learn about your favorite fishing pond or creek. You could even test the water from that one swampy patch in your neighborhood.

Now, You’re the Water Quality Scientist!

Download our free Water Quality Monitoring test kit guide here! To request to borrow a test kit, please contact explore@hope.edu and put “Water Quality Monitoring Test Kit” in the subject line. This kit comes with all the chemicals you need to run your tests.

Once you’ve run your tests, check out these great resources from the Michigan Sea Grant and Penn State Extension to help you start interpreting your results. The Macatawa Area Coordinating Council Watershed Project and Water Quality Monitoring volunteers page are also great resources if you’re looking to dive deeper in local water quality issues.

Share your results with us, fellow citizen scientists! Tag and follow ExploreHope on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to never miss a blog post or outreach event. We’d love to hear from you.

STEM@Home: Science Bob

Actual footage of HSSC Counselor McKenna!

Hello Scientists! Welcome back to the STEM@Home blog. I am McKenna and I am helping run both in person and virtual camps this summer with ExploreHope, along with conducting some research. This is my second year with Hope Summer Science Camps and I am so excited to be a part of it again! I am a psychology major but looking to work with kids, in some way, for a career. 

When most people think about doing science at home, it freaks them out and seems intimidating! But…. no worries now because I have done some research for you, and found the perfect websites to bring Science Class to your home. Check it out! 

Science Bob is FULL of crazy science experiments that can be done at home and give great explanations as to what science is actually taking place. Here are some of my favorites. 

  • Blobs in a Bottle is one of the coolest ones because it looks like this! Most of the supplies can be found in your kitchen cabinets but it looks like a professional scientist created it in a lab. It is a great way to learn about intermolecular polarity which can be kind of tricky. 
Blobs in a Bottle
  • My next favorite is the Electromagnet building activity. This activity makes me feel like a true engineer! It gives step by step directions on how to use tools that you have at home to make an electromagnetic. 
Build an Electromagnet
  • Last but not least, I have one last crazy experiment. Let’s Blow Up A Balloon without using our mouths! It seems impossible but never fear. With simple ingredients from home you can be amazed.
The incredible self-inflating balloon!

Ready to experience some science from the comfort of your home? Check out Science Bob’s website! Continue to learn more and more about STEM, and I hope you’ll come to love it as much as me! 

*Images were all taken from Science Bob’s website 

STEM@Home: Plastic Life Cycles

User Black and White on en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Wait a sec, does the title say PLASTIC life cycles? That’s got to be a mistake. Plants have life cycles, and animals have life cycles but plastics definitely don’t. Who’s ever seen a cute baby plastic toddling around with those squishy cheeks and enormous eyes? And it’s not like plastics turn colors in the fall and drop their leaves everywhere!

Okay, so plastics definitely don’t have a life cycle the way green beans and butterflies do. But all manufactured materials do have a kind of “life” cycle – the journey from raw materials, to useful products, and to obsolescent trash. Yikes! Have you ever stopped to think about where all the stuff we use come from – and where it goes when we’re done?

Using a Product’s Life Cycle: A Family Exploration

If you’ve got apples, applesauce, and an old CD or DVD – you’re ready to master product life cycles! The lessons provided from the team at Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support cover topics ranging from energy and product use to climate change and ecosystems. With just a few props to spark discussion, you can start a CD’s journey from plastic birth to landfill death – or new life through recycling.

Sustainability is a catchy word that reflects an old concept. Whatever we make, use, and discard, we all have to live with. Materials aren’t infinite, and when we’re finished with products they don’t simply disappear. With the Using a Product’s Life Cycle lesson materials available below, both kids and adults will have a better understanding of what goes into using our everyday products – and better understanding leads to better choices.

The parent lesson and student reflection are available here through ExploreHope. Another important resource for this lesson is a digital poster about the life cycle of a CD. Visit the EPA’s website and investigate their poster documenting the Life Cycle of a CD or DVD.

Be sure to share what you’ve learned with us via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! We’re @ExploreHope and we’d love to hear from you. Happy exploring!

ExploreHope event: Sustainability in Your Community and @Home

Sustaining Our World

What is sustainability? How can you have a positive impact on the environment in your neighborhood and community?

Join ExploreHope on Saturday, November 14, and explore how you can contribute to sustainability in your home, your community and the world around you. Interactive sessions will discuss the environmental science and impacts middle and high school students can have. *Scouts BSA: This session starts you off on the right track for many of the Sustainability merit badge requirements. Registration

What is Sustainability?

‘Sustainability is a discipline that attempts to bridge social science with civic engineering and environmental science with the technology of the future. When we hear the word “sustainability” we tend to think of renewable fuel sources, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting environments by keeping the delicate ecosystems of our planet in balance. A goal of sustainability is to protect our natural environment, human and ecological health, and drive innovation that does not comprome our way of life.’ (environmentalscience.org

While the study of the envirnmental science may seem like a big topic, there are very pracitcal implications. There are many things people of all ages can do to increase awareness and practices that help maintain the natural environment. Come learn about what you can do!

Other Sustainability Events you can join…

There are other sustainbility events you can join via the Hope community. SustainableHope promotes stewardship of college and community resources by sharing information and practices that ensure our community is a force for good in the world. October 22 is Michigan Campus Earth Day 50.5, a collaborative event to engage faculty, staff, and studentsin a series of virtual convenings. The event will educate and provide action items for campuses to create awareness and advance environmental science. And you can join the Hope community on October 27 for a virtual film screening and conversation about the film, ‘The Story of Plastic’.

We hope you will join in for any of these Sustainable events! See all of ExploreHope’s outreach events on our Community Calendar and register for the Sustainability event on Saturday, November 14!

STEM@Home: Art in Nature

ART vs. NATURE: The ultimate showdown! So what side are you on? Ecosystems, dichotomous keys and dissection NATURE? Or touchy-feely, rainbows and pretty pictures ART? Hold up there, buckaroo – the line between Art and Nature is not as clear as it may seem.

Throughout history, artists have been inspired by the colors and textures of the natural world, and choose materials from nature to represent what they see. While nature-lovers, also known as scientists, represent the detailed patterns and intricate structures of plants and animals in the natural world.

Let’s put this battle to rest and accept that Art PLUS Nature combines the best of both worlds. So why not study the Art IN Nature? Lucky you – the STEM@Home blog from ExploreHope is here to help you do just that! Our camp counselors Annie and Danielle, from the 2020 Art in Nature Hope Summer Science Camp, will lead you through tons of activities exploring how art and nature intersect. Check them out below!

Color Your World

Ever wonder what color is, anyway? How many colors are there, and where did they come from? Annie and Danielle walk you through experimenting with prisms to find the seven colors humans can see, make paint using natural pigments, and discover a secret color only animals can see!

For the activities in this video, you’ll want a prism, white paper, ultraviolet (UV) pigment or pen, a black light, and natural pigments such as spices, fruits, and egg yolk. Most of the pigments used can be found in your own kitchen. UV pens and UV keychain lights can be purchased for a few dollars from retailers like Amazon and Walmart.

For more information on making natural pigments, check out Experimenting With Natural Paints from the Artful Kids blog. What to do with your homemade paint once you make it? How about making a homemade paintbrush for a totall from-scratch artwork?

Art that Touches Your Heart – and Fingers

Before the Industrial Revolution, artists not only mixed their own paints, but made their own paintbrushes, too – usually from animal hair or fur. Broaden your horizons and try pine needles, blades of grass, or willow leaves in your homemade paintbrush. The only limit is what you can rubber band to a brush stick!

For this activity, you’ll need long sticks (from nature or chopsticks also work), rubber bands, and a variety of natural materials to try. You could try moss, leaves (big and small), pine needles, and even a snip of your pet’s fur – with parental permission, of course!

Once you make your totally once-of-a-kind, unrepeatable artistic creation with natural paints and natural brushes, show it to the world – and especially ExploreHope! Don’t forget to tag us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when you share your amazing art projects. We can’t wait to get inspired!

STEM@Home: Be a Tree Detective!

Hello STEM@Homers! Fall is here and back-to-school is in full swing. Whether you’re homeschooling, virtual schooling, or at-school-schooling, now is always the best time to add a little more STEM to your week, and ExploreHope is here to hook you up!

Got a crick in your neck? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – October in Michigan is peak fall color for our many deciduous trees. Everyone has a neck ache from checking out the blazing reds, vibrant oranges, and golden yellow tints in our neighborhoods and woodlands! Why not take your tree-gazing the next step and learn how to identify the falling leaves all around us? Our double-sided, printable Tree Detective Booklet with guide you as you find and identify Michigan’s most notable native trees!

Trees are truly amazing. Their leafy branches are beautiful in the autumn, shady and cool in the summer, and provide homes for animals all year ’round. But did you know that what we can’t see about trees – their underground root structure – gives our watershed its biggest tree benefit?

Check out this video, created in partnership with the Hope Institute for Sustainability and the Macatawa Water Festival, to learn more about how trees protect our watershed.

Love learning about the watershed? The Macatawa Water Festival is an annual event to celebrate our watershed and learn how to protect it. Visit their website to find tons more videos, crafts, and activities from the 2020 Macatawa Water Festival!

Image credit: derivative work: Pbroks13 (talk)Autumn_leaves_(pantone).jpg: Chris Glass, Cincinnati, USA / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)