STEM@Home: Moving Stories

Week3: The Tinkering Studio at

Hands getting itchy to make and do? Head buzzing with ideas? Fingers tingling? ExploreHope knows the feeling, and we’re here to help! This week we’re highlighting The Tinkering Studio, located at one of the coolest museums in the country, the Exploratorium.

Tinkering and storytelling unite as you build a moving machine, and transform light into art. Parents, be sure to check out the rest of the Exploratorium’s website. Make sure you’ve got some time set aside though – there are literally hundreds of STEM activities and explorations available. Now let’s get those busy brains working!

Activity 1: Cardboard Automata (ages 7+)

Auto-Mata. A-tomato? Aw-TAH-mata! However you say it, a cardboard automata is just a fancy way to describe a machine that moves independently. A moving machine? It lives! Run for your lives!

So are automata freaky robots, or fancy machines? Good question! The first automata alarmed and amazed people, who feared they were truly alive. Today’s robots spring from the dreams those historic automata inspired! Master the basic mechanisms, and let your imagination work hand-in-hand with your ingenuity.


  • Three in a Row: Can you master round-and-round, up-and-down, and back-and-forth motion by changing your cam structure?
  • The Storyteller: Illustrate a favorite scene from the books you’re binging using your automata.
  • Earth Day Guru: Let your recycling bin inspire design of your automata. Colors, patterns, texture, shape – how will different materials affect your design?

Activity 2: Light Painting (all ages)

Brushes, sponges, fingers….flashlights? You’ve never painted like this before! Explore light, color and movement over time while you make fabulous art. All you need is a digital camera, a light source, and a dark room! And the best part? Clean-up is a breeze!

READY TO EXPRESS YOURSELF? Info, tips and more here.

  • The Scavenger: How many different light sources can you use in your art? Think about lights on toys, remotes, watches, tablets – just get permission first!
  • Transformers: turn yourself into a butterfly, angel, alien or any other crazy creature.
  • Three’s Company: In the picture above, why don’t we see the motion of the girl’s arms? Who moved the lights? Who took the picture? Experiment with using more than one or two people to design your light painting!

If the intersection of science and art is your favorite exploration destination, check out these Hope Summer Science Camps!

  • Tinker Engineers, grades K-2
  • Science of Art, grades 3-5
  • Art and Design, 4-8
  • Inventing in 3-D, grades 6-12

STEM@Home: Spring Has Sprung

Week2: Ranger Rick Online and iNaturalist

Snowy days? Sunny mornings? Don’t let the weather fool you – spring really is on its way. Our Michigan plants and animals know that a new season of life and growth is in full swing. Don’t miss the opportunity to get outside and watch it in real time!

Trees are budding, birds are calling, bulbs are sprouting, and squirrels are chattering! The whole world is waking up! So get out in your backyard, or maintain social distancing at your nearest nature preserve, and join in the fun with these great online nature resources.

Younger Kids: Ranger Rick online (

Ranger Rick magazine has awesome animal articles, activities, and crafts. Grab a free (no strings attached!) three month subscription to their website chock-full of nature study ideas by visiting


Have you noticed the squirrels out in full force over the last few weeks? Us, too! Hone your spy skills with the Spy on Squirrels activity! First, learn their common behaviors – then grab a notebook and start your backyard stake-out. 

  • Sketch Artist: Add an illustration to your notebook – could you identify your backyard squirrels in a line-up?
  • Bait and Switch: Design and build a squirrel-proof birdfeeder from the recycling bin – it’s harder than it looks! 
  • The Gang’s All Here: What other animals, big and small, do you notice in your backyard? From bugs to raccoons, they’re all part of your neighborhood’s ecosystem.


Older Kids: iNaturalist app for iPhone and Android (

Ever wondered what kind of maple shades your patio? Or tried to figure out if you’ve got English, common, or poison ivy growing up the chimney? iNaturalist is the app for you! Free to download in the GooglePlay or Apple Store, iNaturalist lets kids and adults join a community of nature lovers. 

Snap a few photos of the plant in question (try to get close-ups for best results) and then let the app suggest possible species matches. After you make your best ID, photos are submitted to the iNaturalist community – where both amateur and professional naturalists can give ID input. Trust us – ExploreHope tried it out recently with a group of middle schoolers, and we found it completely addictive! 

  • So…Many… Plants: Can you find 10 different plant species in your backyard? 
  • The Big Reverse: Try to identify another user’s plant submission!
  • Science Loves Company: Send us a message or follow us at explore2019 on iNaturalist, and let us see what you’re finding!


Plants and animals make your heart sing? Sign up for these great Hope Summer Science Camps perfect for budding naturalists!

  • Art in Nature and Cool Critters and Crawlies: Grades K-2
  • Exploring Ecosystems: Grades 3-6
  • Wonders of the Watershed: Grades 6-8
  • Watershed Restoration: Grades 9-12
  • Invasive Species Research Experience: Grades 10-12

Image credit: Paul VanDerWerf from Brunswick, Maine, USA / CC BY (

Stay@Home and STEM with ExploreHope

Week1: Design Squad Engineering Blog

Hope Summer Science Camps wants to make sure your SPRING is full of science, too! Got some unexpected extra time on your hands? Never fear, ExploreHope is here! Each week we’ll share a new site for fun and engaging science projects you can do at home.

This week: PBS Kids Design Squad!

Check out dozens of building ideas, interactive design posts by and for kids, and crazy games that will keep your days full of STEM activities for every age group. Two of our favorite activities are highlighted below!

Challenge 1: Floating Money

Can you make a boat that can carry 25 – or more – pennies? How about a raft, or a canoe? Your challenge: use lightweight objects like straws, cardboard, or plastic wrap to carry heavy cargo like pennies and nickels. In this Hope Summer Science Camp counselor favorite, explore the concepts of buoyancy and displacement – and hope you don’t get too wet!

  • Don’t forget to: spend some time exploring your materials before you begin.
  • Make sure you: draw a picture, and explain it to someone, before you start to build.
  • And you’ve absolutely got to: Redesign and aim to improve after your first test!


Challenge 2: Ready, Maestro!

Orchestra rehearsal might be cancelled for now, but there’s no reason your life can’t be filled with music! With just four rubber bands and a cardboard box, explore how guitars, banjos, ukeleles, and other stringed instruments create and amplify sound. Learn about how sound energy travels in waves, and get a hands-on understanding of the relationship between frequency, vibration, and pitch.

STEAM Connections: Can you adjust the rubber bands to play a simple song like Jingle Bells or Mary Had a Little Lamb?

I’m With The Band: Experiment with making other instruments like drums or rattles to accompany your stringed instrument. 

Singer/Songwriter: Write and perform your own song – then FaceTime your friends for an impromptu concert!


Love building and design? Sign up for these great Hope Summer Science Camps perfect for budding engineers! Visit our website to learn more.

  • Hammer Time and Tykes Lego: Grades K-2
  • Science of Art: Grades 3-5
  • Inventing in 3-D: Grades 6-12
  • Experimental Design: Grades 10-12


Walking into the mercifully air conditioned Jack Miller, I heard soft music floating down the halls. More by ear than anything else, I found Hope’s ukulele camp, where students learn to play in a week. Chord by chord and day by day, students are able to put together whole songs by the end!

The camp is made possible by a local music teacher who comes in during her summer to teach kids. To help her out, Hope Summer Camps provides 3 students assistants to make sure no artist falls through the cracks. The assistants, who help with various camps, also keep things light and fun with games to keep kids occupied.

The mix of hands on learning and fun makes this camp the perfect entry into music for kiddos. I only wish it had been around when I was young…


Tinker Engineers

If you’d walked in at the end of Tinker camp, you would have thought it was all about art. Paint striped paper hung around the room drying as the 3 volunteer teachers wound down for the day.

The start of the day was anything but art. Inclined planes peppered the projector screen and student’s worksheets. Our little engineers learned about simple machines and how they help our everyday lives go. Moreover, the kids learned the “story” of an engineer. They asked, what is it like to be an engineer in today’s world?

How then, did this become an art class? After every lesson we teach, there is a hands-on activity, which is where our art comes in. To show the power of the incline plane, we gave each kiddo a tin foil pan, paint, a marble, and a strip of paper. Our teachers plopped the student’s choice of paint color in the pan and dropped the marble in after. Students then inclined their pan at different angles to “paint” their paper with the marble. The result? A mix of colors worthy of the fridge.


Biofuels in High School

AHope College, where undergraduate research is the norm, poster presentations are not unusual. Wandering into the Intro to Engineering Lab then, and finding students presenting research on Biofuels was not all that surprising. Talking with the students who understood the subtleties of their research and could speak with clarity about the context and stakes of the research wasn’t surprising either. Seeing professors taking a break from their research to learn more didn’t shock me either. What did get me, though, was that these weren’t Hope College students presenting. These were high schoolers here for just a week at one of the many ExploreHope Summer Science Camps offered in the summer. 

In their single week on campus, these students got to grow potential biofuels to measure yields, work with data from MSU’s Biofuel research facility, visit said facility all the way in Kalamazoo, and crunch numbers for their very own research presentation. After all of their meaningful experiences in science, I chatted with the students to see what they’d gotten out of their full week.

While all the students spoke of a real interest in the research and how real world it was, many found within themselves a passion for the gadgets which made the research possible, like drones and satellite imaging. The students spoke excitedly about the potential for drones and AI to change the world of farming (remember, these are high schoolers), even coming up with an AI robotic weeder in our short session. 

Perhaps the most exciting recognition by the students was that the grad students and PhD’s who roamed the fields at MSU’s lab were normal humans, just like themselves (though probably a bit older). Whether the students wanted to be the researchers or the one’s who made the research possible, this experience showed them what was in grasp. These camps give kids a real taste of a possible future. They give them a framework for a story they might one day tell about themselves. 

Whatever story these kids will end up telling about their experience, from talking with these kids, fun will be included. From barbeque sauce ice cream (some poor lady mistook it for chocolate syrup at MSU’s food court) to scavenger hunts in research fields, these kids had a fun, full week to remember.


Step Up Summer Partnership

Stranded on an island, all that lies between you and safety is a nice cozy space to call your own. While (thankfully) none of the students in the Step Up summer camp had to act out the terror of being stranded, they were able to imagine what it’d be like in their reading of Hatchet and their construction of their own little shelters. When I came by this week the students were hard at work with glue guns and popsicle sticks, piecing together a shelter they hoped would weather the elements. 

These kids weren’t building randomly, though. Earlier in the day two teachers, sponsored by ExploreHope’s Summer Science Camps program, had walked the students through the theory / math behind how to build a good shelter. After learning about the nuts and bolts, students then practiced their math and engineering skills by mocking up their own precision design on paper. It wasn’t until all that was done that they set to work building structures that tomorrow would be tested by the elements. Only time would tell if their shelters could stand up to spray bottle storms and hand powered earthquakes. 

As the kids were working to tackle these challenges, I took a couple aside to ask what made this program special. Just watching the kids build and interact with the teachers and mentors made it obvious that something meaningful was happening, but I wanted to get a sense of how the students felt. The students, both in Junior High, both loved the continued adult attention they got here at camp. However, here students are ungraded and because of this, feel free to experiment and make mistakes. The social group work and hands on application at the end of every day was a pleasant change from school, where fun activities occur only every once and awhile. 

That said, it was exciting to hear that in part because of Step Up, both kids want to come to Hope to continue their schooling when the time comes. Being around Hope’s campus allowed them to see what Hope (and college in general) had to offer and their exposure to Hope students as teachers and mentors gave them models. Perhaps one day they will join the many other students who have gone from Science Camper to Hope Student.