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 (

ExploreHope Outreach – ’20-21 Saturday Events

ExploreHope loves exploring with kids! Not only do we offer exciting science camps during the summer, but we have engaging youth programs for the community year round. While we love bringing youth to Hope College’s campus for learning, we also offer fun, interactive events online.

Summer 2020 Virtual Science Camp

Families enjoyed our virtual summer camps! And so we will continue to offer quality, engaging experiences for K-12 youth throughout the school year. Look for oppportunities to engage scout badges throughout the year, community Brain Day in February and STEM for Middle School girls in March!

Check out the community calendar on our website for more information about each event. Register for community or scout events!

STEM@Home: Design Squad Global

Revisit one of our favorite design blogs for kids: PBS Kids Design Squad!

Welcome back to the STEM@Home blog. My name is Erica, and I’m one of the virtual camp counselors this summer for ExploreHope! This will be my fourth year working with the ExploreHope science camps. I am majoring in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. I was a senior this past year, and I have one more semester left to finish up my student teaching. This summer, I am in Holland enjoying the nice weather, spending time with my family, teaching swimming lessons, and working for the ExploreHope Science Camps.

Are you ready to get your creative juices flowing?! Check out one of my favorite resources to do STEM at home!

PBS Kids Design Squad Global is a place where you can find lots of engaging and fun STEM challenges. The STEM challenges for all ages range from easy to challenging, and you can find machines, building challenges, art projects, music explorations, and more. So many fun options!

When you click on the STEM challenge it clearly lists all materials needed and step-by-step directions. There is also a video that shows children making the project and talks about the science behind it. There are MANY to choose from, but these are a couple of my favorite STEM activities from PBS Kids Design Squad!

Creating a Hovercraft!

Have you ever seen a homemade hovercraft before? If not, no worries! Head on over to the PBS Kids Design Squad Global website and check out their awesome video on creating the hovercrafts. I loved designing the hovercraft and watching it glide on a table. You can follow the directions closely and create a hovercraft of your own! 

Creating an Air Cannon!

I don’t know about you, but I love running around outside in the summer, and this is a fun toy you can make for outdoor play! The air cannon is made with a few materials and would be fun for the whole family to create. Head on over to the PBS Kids Design Squad Global website to find this activity and start building!

Not only are their activities you can do together as a family, but there are online games and videos that are educational and engaging. I can’t wait for you to explore this website and dive into the fun STEM challenges! -Erica

**Images are all taken from the PBS Kids Design Squad Global website.

July Summer Science Camps!

We still have openings in our July camp offerings for the week of July 20-23 – camps for MS and HS. Check here for descriptions and registration.

ExploreHope Summer Camps 2.0: Adapted to ‘Keep Exploring’

ExploreHope Summer Camps were adapted this year to provide opportunities for students to ‘Keep Exploring’. Our creative and dedicated staff came up with the idea of Exploration Boxes! What fun! We delivered supplies to fuel an Elementary Design Exploration to 30 families in June. Each week, families joined in for two Zoom classes to investigate the box and build marble roller coasters, water runs, and chain reaction machines. Continue reading to learn about the ‘Art in Nature’ Exploration Box Virtual Camp that begins July 7.

Partnership is a big part of our programming this summer. We partnered with Holland Public Schools to offer 2 virtual camps in June – an Elementary STEM Camp for 5th Graders and a Virtual Careers exploration for Middle School. We also collaborated with with the CASA summer program to provide weekly virtual science activities.

Summer Camp Staff in Virtual session

In July, we are partnering with Hope College’s STEP UP programs for 2 weeks of virtual camps and with GRAAHI and Hope’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion for a week long virtual College Preview Camp.

We are excited to partner with community families beginning July 7 to offer another ‘Exploration Box’ camp for Elementary students and beginning July 13 we are offering 2 great weeks of PopUp camps on campus for MS/HS students! Read below for descriptions and registration information.

July 2020 Camps are happening!

Elementary Grades (entering K-5 in the fall) 
Family Exploration Box Adventure: Art in Nature!
Get inspired by the natural world. Explore color, texture, patterns and more using Nature as our muse!  Every week features three Zoom calls to investigate the science behind the art, and a family art project to keep creating and exploring at home. Expect a lot of messy making with this Exploration Box! Just $25 for supplies and 12 sessions. Register here!

Middle and High School Pop-Up Camps! Join us on campus July 13-23! Following strict state health guidelines, we’ve reformatted the camps to keep you engaged while also safe. Camp descriptions are on our website – notice some programs are 4 days, some 2 days. A special welcome to Science Olympiad students – join us to get started on many of your events! Thank you again. Stay safe and we can’t wait to see you all soon! Reduced rates for 2020. Register here!

STEM@Home: NASA SpacePlace

By NASA – Great Images in NASA (image link), Public Domain,

Hi all! Welcome back to the STEM@Home blog. My name is Kate, and I’m one of your virtual camp counselors! I will be a junior at Hope College this fall, studying elementary education. I am spending this summer happily in Holland with my family, taking a class online, and working for ExploreHope from home. 

Is your curiosity out of this world? If you ever find yourself looking up into the sky and wondering what on earth (well, what in space) is up there, this is the spot for you. 

NASA Space Place has games, activities, crafts, and informational videos about All Things Space. Use the topic headers at the top of the page to navigate, starting close to home and travelling farther and farther each day. Start at Earth, of course, then on to Sun to Solar System, all the way to the UNIVERSE. Here are some of my personal favorite activities!

Build Your Own Nanorover! 

Not sure what a nanorover is? Don’t worry; this website not only has all the materials and steps you’ll need to take to create your own nanorover, it also includes tons of background information and learning material. Start in the informational column on the right of the page to learn all about the real asteroid rover. 

Write a Zany Adventure Story!

The fun of Mad Libs never seems to go out of style… I love this version of it because the stories you get to fill in are earth and space themed (with topics from meteorites and black holes, to ocean currents and ‘surfing in space’) and after your out-of-this-world story has been created, there are fascinating facts and information regarding the topic at the bottom of the page. This online activity is a perfect way to combine science with language arts, and have a ton of fun doing it!

Make a Topo Map!

Have you ever wished you lived in the days of explorers – charting new routes, fording rivers and climbing mountains? Wish no more! Although most of Earth has been mapped, planetary scientists are eagerly working to map planets like Venus, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter – and learning tons about them on the way. This activity is a fun and easy way to explore the world of map-making — specifically topographical map-making. Map-making is one of the best ways to learn about new lands and environments.

Want to get friendly with topo maps (that’s what their buddies call them)? Check out this world topographical map. Compare where you live with somewhere else in the world. How do the maps of the more mountainous regions compare with flatter areas? What do the different colors and lines represent? And just for fun, here are topo maps for Venus and Mars. Dabble in a little comparative planetology this summer!

Alright, enough talking from me; it’s time for you to let your curiosity sky-rocket. On behalf of everyone here at ExploreHope, have fun exploring! We miss you – to the moon and back. -Kate

STEM@Home: Exploration Boxes

Your cheerful STEM Delivery Service, Miss Danielle

Ah, the start of summer in Michigan. Strawberry-rhubarb pie! Crisp, sunny days! Shockingly cold water temperatures at the Lake! But nothing says early June in West Michigan more than…. the annual kick-off for the Hope Summer Science Camps!

This year, of course, things look a little different for us. But nothing can keep us back from sharing hands-on science with local kids! We’re finding tons of ways to share STEM activities with the community, and the biggest, newest way is a little something we like to call ‘Exploration Boxes’.

Tell me more about these little Exploration Boxes!

Did we say little? That may be a misnomer. The boxes aren’t little (see Miss Danielle, above, in the middle of delivering Supplies Part 1 to a camper’s house). The 4′ x 4′ pegboards definitely aren’t little – just ask Miss Annie, charged with finding a way to fit all those Supplies Part 2 in our delivery vans. And the 47 kids involved definitely make this the biggest camp we’ve ever run!

Assembling the boxes at Schaap Science Center

Opening an Exploration Box means finding tubes, funnels, hooks, buckets, and more STEM materials that can all be hung and attached to the pegboard and used over and over to build your own contraptions like marble roller coasters and water runs. Twice a week, Miss Annie and Miss Danielle host Zoom sessions where they guide kids in designing their own masterpieces, using new and recycled materials – while introducing them to key concepts like friction, momentum, and gravity.

Miss Annie and Miss Danielle’s awesome marble coaster – created with plenty of trial and error!

Week 1 of the Exploration Box Virtual Camp kicked off this week and kids have created some incredible marble runs. Although we can’t meet in person, campers can share photos and videos of their creations (and challenges!) in our private Google Classroom, so the group can ooh, ahh, and ask more questions!

Check in with our blog all summer long to learn about all the exciting STEM that’s still happening with ExploreHope this summer. Camps may be closed for now but nothing can stop your curious mind. Keep exploring!

STEM@Home: Citizen Science

Pardon me, are you Citizen Science? No, that’s not a hip new prefix for your name – it’s a description of your new summer hobby! Citizen science is science where everyone participates – including PhDs, amateurs, students, volunteers. Then, professional researchers use the collected data to come to real-world conclusions.

Why citizen science? Well, we live in a big world with big problems – it stands to reason we need big solutions. By working together, citizen science helps gather positively gi-normous sets of data from across the globe, and over years and even decades. That means scientists can develop stronger solutions to environmental, health, and ecological problems. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

SciStarter is the place to kick off your hopefully life-long citizen science career. Over a thousand projects are listed – some gathering global data, some more locally focused. Most of them can easily be done while maintaining safe social distancing and exploring our wonderful state and county parks. Check out a few of our favorites below!

SciStarter Snakes: Michigan Herp Atlas

As anyone who’s visited the Van Kley Animal Museum knows, we love our Michigan herps. Say what? Herp stands for Herpetofauna – or the group of animals including reptiles and amphibians. Ever hear the spring peepers disturb a still evening with their noisy croaks? Or jumped when a garter snake scurried across your path? You’ve interacted with some of Michigan’s native herpetofauna – and the Michigan Herp Atlas wants to know about it!

Slither on over to the SciStarter Michigan Herp Atlas page to learn more about the project and register for the Michigan Herp Atlas.

SciStarter Kites: Public Laboratory Balloon and Kite Mapping

Snakes not your thing? We won’t tell. How about a family project that uses helium balloons and digital camera imagery to create aerial maps of your neighborhood and city? Now we’re talking!

The Public Laboratory Balloon and Kite Mapping project takes a little up-front prep work, but your contribution helps create high-resolution maps that can be used for environmental research. And there’s no limit to the number of maps you can make!

Let’s go fly a kite! Visit the SciStarter Public Laboratory Balloon and Kite Mapping page to learn more and join the Public Lab mapping community!

Check out our website to learn about the Exploratory Learning Center at Hope College, ExploreHope Summer Science Camps (sample schedule) and our academic year programs.

STEM@Home: For the Birds

“Bird Song Hero” and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Academy

Ah, the sweet sounds of a Michigan spring day. The whisper of a breeze, rustling through branches just burst into leaf. The burble of a creek, swollen with snowmelt and April showers. The vibrant trills of songbirds, swooping and nesting overhead. Wouldn’t it be perfect if we could interpret those liquid melodies, and commune with our feathered friends? What might they be saying, those dainty winged creatures?

  • “Hey! That’s my nest! Get out of here!”
  • “Dude, check out my awesome plumage!”
  • “We’re under aerial attack! Duck and cover!”

Huh. Well then. Perhaps the aviary world isn’t as serene as we imagined… but it’s definitely a whole lot more interesting! Spring is the perfect season to find out more about the complex and crazy world of birds all around us. Luckily, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy has a virtual toolkit to start your birding adventure off right.

Bird Academy

Definitely not a Hogwarts for birds, Bird Academy is chock-full of videos, tutorials, and games to make learning about birds not only easy but fun. Videos give a solid introduction to different birding concepts, like the “Inside Birding” series that runs down all the basic bird ID concepts. Yeah… birding. That’s a verb now. Also, you’re a “fledgling” birder. See what we did there? Classic birder joke.

The Bird Academy Learning Games page is also particularly fabulous, with thoughtfully designed interactive games for all ages. Unsurprisingly, surrounded by the natural beauty of Earth’s birds, the scientists at Bird Academy created visually compelling games and virtual experiences that suck you in to the world of birds. Check out one of our favorites, Bird Song Hero, below!

Bird Song Hero

One of the most basic skills in a birder’s toolkit is being able to identify what birds are around. But there’s a problem for us curious investigators. Not only are birds expert at camouflage, but they’re as comfortable flitting about thirty feet in the air as pecking for worms in the dirt. Humans? We’re what you might call “grounded.”

Enter Bird Song Hero, an interactive online game that helps you train your ear to figure out what birds are around you using only their distinctive calls. Using spectrograms – technical images that “show” what a bird’s song looks like – lets you quickly learn how to differentiate bird calls by visualizing what you hear!

  • On the Challenge Level, be sure to listen to all three of the bird calls as often as you wish. Can you “read” the spectrograms when the birds sing?
  • Beat the Ultimate Level and score 90% or above. Don’t get tricked by the space robot!
  • Take it past the game and to the biggest, best level… Reality! See if you can identify the birds tweeting in your own backyard with just your own two ears.

Check in with ExploreHope all summer long for fun, hands-on ways to engage with the amazing world all around us.

STEM@Home: Kid-ventions

The United States Patent and Trademark Office for Kids

Image credit: Creative Tools from Halmstad, Sweden / CC BY (

Calling all kid-ventors! Are you itching for an at-home kid-venture? Maybe you’ve got dreams of making money with a new product as a kid-vendor? Don’t just whine about it, like a kid-venter – STEM@Home is here to help you become a kid-inventor! The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has shared some fascinating resources on the history of America’s inventions – and you get to step inside the mind of an inventor and patent-holder.

Dream It, Do It: Using Patents to Create

The USPTO has over 10 million patents on record, highlighting the innovation and creativity of Americans for hundreds of years. Get up close and personal with three of them in the USPTO’s Build/Make an Invention page. Try your hand at building the inventions that were once brand-new ideas!

Inventors invent to solve a problem or bring a new idea to the world. What problems of the inventor’s world do you think the following patents might solve? Do we still have those problems today? How do we try to solve them – or can you think of a better way than the inventions below to improve the world?

  • K-2: Flipbook. Make your drawings come alive!
  • 3-5: Paper Cup. Calling all scouts! This patent is held by Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts in America.
  • 6-8: Model Rocket. You can’t really build a model rocket with household materials…. or can you?

How’d They Do That? The Science of Innovation

Inventions aren’t miracles of nature – there are teams of people working on developing some of the amazing inventions that drive (sometimes literally!) our modern world. The USPTO has partnered with NBC to create Science of Innovation videos. Featuring interviews with inventors and patent holders, describing the process of developing their innovative techniques, these videos have There are plenty of topics to geek out over, but some of our favorites are:

  • 3D Printing
  • Anti-Counterfeiting Devices,
  • Driverless Cars

Excited for some hands-on problem solving of your own? Check out Hope Summer Science Camp’s Exploration Boxes, a summer of STEM challenges without leaving home! Banish boredom while you innovate and build your own marble roller coasters, water runs, and chain reaction machines – while getting inspired by virtual design sessions led by our summer camp staff. Register today!

STEM@Home: Let’s Spark! At Home

The Smithsonian Institution’s Spark!Lab at the Holland Museum

Sure, ExploreHope and the Hope Summer Science Camps are your go-to for hands-on summer science experiences. But did you know there’s a nationally-recognized, year-round STEAM lab for kids just down the street from us? The Holland Museum has been a longtime partner for our camps, but especially now that they are hosting the Smithsonian (Yes, THAT Smithsonian!) Spark!Lab, allowing visitors to “explore inventions – and their own inventiveness.”

Hey! You’re inventive! And in today’s world, there are certainly plenty of opportunities for a clever kid to develop a problem-solving product. Although the museum is closed for now, the Holland Museum Spark!Lab website links to tons of great online resources for aspiring inventors to access at home. Check out two of our favorites below.

Spark!Lab Instructables

We love the Spark!Lab Instructables site – a place to virtually try some of the invention challenges. Ever made a spaceship? Today’s your day! Jet over to Instructables’ Design A Spaceship module and use the Spark!Lab approach to “Think it, Explore it, Sketch it, Create it, Try it, Tweak it!” Maybe you can even… “Sell it!” NASA’s always open to hearing from clever contractors!

  • Explore it: Investigate different spacecraft designs over the last 50 years. Why might designs change as missions change?
  • Sketch it: No astronaut would set off in a rocket without a mission plan – so sketch your plan before you start to virtually build!
  • Tweak it: “Faster, Cheaper, Better” – if it’s NASA’s logo, it can surely be yours.

READY TO LAUNCH? Info, tips, and more HERE.

DO Try This At Home!

At home? That’s the place to be these days – so visit DO Try This At Home, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center’s answer to making invention part of your daily routine. Inject a little creative competition into your life with the “Now What?” Invention Game. First, you spin a silly situation. Then add a few crazy limitations – and see where your ingenuity takes you!

Incidentally, the “Now What?” game was developed with Scratch, a FREE online resource for kids (and curious adults!) to build and program interactive stories, games, and simulations. Why not invent a video game to flummox your friends, or animate a recent silly story to amuse your grandma, or just take whatever story is inside your head and get it out there to share? Start your Scratch adventure HERE.

Be sure to keep in touch with Hope Summer Science Camps for great STEM resources throughout the summer, and thanks again to the Holland Museum Spark!Lab for a wonderful partnership!