Pair changing leaves and temperatures, apple season, pumpkins, Thanksgiving, and fall festivities with these free lessons and activities for enriching hands-on STEM.
1. Invisible Ink with Turmeric
The same turmeric you might have out for Autumn cooking or as a seasoning at Thanksgiving, can be used as a revealing agent in the Secret Messages With Invisible Ink! chemistry activity. Write secret messages and then decode them using the kitchen spice. Investigate to find out what other foods or substances work as a decoding agent and why! (For other chemistry lessons and activities, see 15+ STEM Lessons and Activities to Teach Chemical Reactions. For other fun “magical” science activities, see the suggestions from this week of wizard-themed STEM.
2. Leaf Colors
What pigments make up the beautiful colors associated with many Autumn leaves? With the Find the Hidden Colors of Leaves activity, students use paper chromatography to see the individual color pigments that make up a leaf’s color. (Note: for students interested in using paper chromatography for an independent science project, the Candy Chromatography Kit is available and can be used for leaf, candy, flower, and marker projects.)
With so many fruits harvested in fall months, this is a great time to explore seeds! Students likely associate “having seeds” with their definition of fruit, but what fruits have the most seeds? Why do fruits have seeds? Why do some have lots of seeds, and some have only a few or even just one? In the How Many Seeds Do Different Types of Fruit Produce? activity, students get hands-on comparing the number of seeds found in different fruits. With an assortment of fruits, including things like cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, lemons, pumpkins, and peppers, this activity can work well for individual exploration or in groups, with each group gathering data about a specfic fruit to share with the class for a multi-fruit comparison. Students can also compare the number of seeds found in different samples of the same type of fruit to see how consistent the numbers are. (Tip! This is a great way to have students practice keeping a log of data and performing simple calculations to get averages and put math skills to real-world use.)
4. Make a Weather Station
As temperatures start to drop during fall months, students can make and use their own weather station and DIY weather tools to observe and track weather changes, learn about weather patterns and forecasting, and talk about climate. The Weather Stations and Weather Forecasts: Can You Do It Yourself? lesson incorporates lessons for building simple weather monitoring instruments like an anemometer, a hygrometer, a thermometer, a rain gauge, and a barometer and provides educators with a weather forecasting activity for use with students. (Note: all of these DIY weather tools can be made and used at home, too!)
5. Colors of Fall Density Column
If you are making pumpkin pie, you likely already have one of the key ingredients for making a density column—corn syrup. Choose fall-colored liquids (or food coloring) for the Stacking Liquids physics activity to make a colorful stack of floating liquids.
6. Branching Structure in Leaves and Trees
With the Designs in Nature: Investigate the Branching Structure of Trees lesson, students use leaf rubbings, drawings, and an activity with parsley to learn about the branching patterns of trees, plants, and leaves. What function do branching structures serve?
7. Candy Diffusion
Pull out colorful hard-shell candies for the Candy Rainbow activity and learn about the chemistry of diffusion while creating colorful patterns as the candy coatings dissolve. See what this family learned when they did this hands-on experiment at home. For other candy-based science activities, see 20 Halloween Science Experiments!.
8. Make Sunprints
With the Make a Sunprint Using Objects from Nature! activity, students use special paper and the heat of the sun to make special prints of objects. Try making prints of leaves to use in Autumn crafts.
9. Learning about Seasons
As leaves start to fall and temperatures change in areas where it is Autumn, it is a great time to talk with students about seasons and the patterns that go along with seasons. In the What Season Is This? lesson, students learn about seasonal patterns by matching various pictures to the different seasons. Two other lessons, Kinesthetic Astronomy: Longer Days, Shorter Nights and How Sunlight Warms the Earth also help students explore seasonal changes.
10. Make a Thermometer
A full “weather station” was outlined above, but making a thermometer is a great weather-focused activity and one kids can immediately put to use as they think about changing temperatures and even differences in temperatures at different times of the day during Autumn months. The Make a Thermometer to Study the Temperature lesson guides educators in building thermometers with students. (A family-friendly activity version is also available.)
11. Feed the Birds
As temperatures turn colder, birds that stay in your area (and don’t migrate to warmer locations) may have a more difficult time finding food. This is a great time to make feeders for your backyard or school science area. Just make sure you have a plan to keep them filled during the winter months, too! For related lessons, try the Using Empirical Data in the Classroom: Raptor Migrations! lesson to investigate how seasonal changes influence the behaviors of birds like raptors and What Animals Need to Survive to help students identify an animal’s basic needs.
12. Make a Toy Mayflower
Use the Make a Toy Sailboat activity to make toy sailboats from corks and craft materials. These can fit right in with discussions of the Mayflower that carried the Pilgrims to North America. For other creative building activities, see 8 Free Science Activities with Toilet Paper Tubes and 12 Engineering Design Challenges Perfect for Remote Learning.
13. Shadow Puppet Stories
Encourage creativity and storytelling with homemade shadow puppets. Whether their stories are spooky Halloween tales or something else, the Making Shadow Puppets activity helps students explore the science that brings shadow puppets to life. (For other storytelling-themed STEM activities, see Imagine Your Story – STEM Activities for Storytellers of All Ages!.)
14. Make Seasonal Cards
With the Make Marbled Cards Using Science! activity, students can make creative and colorful cards to use for greeting cards, gift tags, or refrigerator art. Choose seasonal colors for a fitting fall craft that combines STEM and art. When these students did the activity at home, they showed how individual this activity can be.
15. Explore Veggie Power
With the Potato Battery: How to Turn Produce into Veggie Power! project, students learn about circuits and alternative energy. The project shows potatoes in the circuit, but students can experiment with other fruits and vegetables as they investigate what works, why, and how much power this kind of circuit generates. We’ve had families experiment with butternut squash and small pumpkins for fall-themed electronics fun. The Veggie Power Battery Kit contains all the specialty parts you’ll need to experiment with fruits and vegetables you choose.
16. Make Rock Candy
Fall festivities are often marked with baked treats and Halloween candies. Shake things up a bit with the Grow Rock Candy Crystals activity. If you get creative with your flavors and colors, you can make unique rock candy that tastes like your favorite fall flavors.
17. What Causes Apples to Brown?
Fall harvest can mean lots of apples, but they won’t last long once you take a bite! The Fruits Gone Bad? Discover Enzymatic Browning plant biology activity helps students learn why their apples (and other fruits) turn brown.
18. Cranberry Side Dishes
Some people like their cranberry sauce solid (or jellied), and others like it runny. Use the Comparing Cranberry Condiments activity, to learn about the chemistry that makes the difference in these two dishes.
How many types of apples can students name? Students may be surprised to learn that there are more than 7,000 varieties of apples grown around the world! With hands-on lessons and activities, students can learn more about apple farming and the agricultural technology and biotechnology involved in crossbreeding apples. In the Apple Science: Comparing Apples and Onions lesson, elementary school students observe differences in apples and onions (or other produce) to talk about heritable traits. What makes an apple an apple and different from an onion? A set of traits and characteristics! After considering the many traits of apples, students learn about crossbreeding and grafting and the ways in which apples are produced to yield apples with specific features. In the middle school version, Apple Genetics: A Tasty Phenomena, students also use Punnett squares to determine probabilities for certain characteristics when crossbreeding different types of apples.
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