Make This a DIY Summer, Part Five: Science Activities

Using everyday items to create engaging activities and experiments that explore a variety of scientific concepts.

As summer saunters towards hibernation, we’re sharing our last installment of Make This a DIY Summer. It’s certainly no secret that teachers invest a lot of time and money in creating the best learning environments they can for students. The goal with this summer series was to curtail the money portion of that equation. The prior DIY projects shared focused on seating, reading spaces, math manipulatives, and bulletin boards. In Part 5, the focus is on garnering the supplies and/or creating the elements to conduct engaging scientific studies at a fraction of the cost that a canned experiment or device would entail. These 10 experiment ideas will have students reaching for their safety glasses and crying, “Eureka!” with glee!

  1. Film Canister Rockets– Students will have a blast with these easy-to-construct rockets. The DIY component here is found in the gathering process. The clear plastic 35mm film canisters aren’t in widespread use these days, so putting some feelers out to family and friends or even on a social media post can get the collection started. A fun activity to get students outside with lots of data collection options as experiment components are altered.
  2. Egg Bungee Jump– This experiment could be done with real eggs or plastic Easter eggs all filled with the same weighted filler (e.g., coins, birdseed, sand). By setting a drop height and directing students to ensure their egg doesn’t hit the ground, an experimental challenge is set. The DIY gathering component would be for the eggs and the nylon stockings, yarn, rubber bands, etc. that would be used to test out the best bungee option. Be sure to check out the host of other great ideas from PBSKids!
  3. Conductivity Tester– This DIY conductivity tester can be created from materials gathered from a basement, garage, retired electronics collection, etc. Items that can’t be found from existing goods may require purchase, but the cost of a couple of the needed materials won’t be a bank buster. Once the board is created, students can test out a number of solutions. By making multiple boards for lab groups, this becomes a great resource to use for years to come.
  4. Hovercrafts– Don’t pitch the old CD or DVD collection yet. These fun and simple hovercrafts can be made by supergluing the pop-up top from a water bottle, dishwashing soap bottle, etc. to those shiny, vintage discs; a hovercraft base is born. After students secure the base pieces together, they simply blow up a balloon, place it over the pop-up top, pull the top open, and watch the craft hover.
  5. CD Greenhouse– This simple experiment makes what typically happens under the surface easy to view. With all the activity ideas involving old CDs or DVDs, there are surely a lot of cases strewn about that could be put to good use. A little soil, seeds, water, and some observation time make for a great lesson in the plant growth process. The clear cases can be dunked for watering, and a permanent marker can be used to record growth and/or identify plant parts.
  6. Marble Roller Coasters– What better way to study some basic elements of physics than by constructing roller coasters? The DIY search for this one is simple. Table edge guards for baby proofing, pool noodle halves, garden edger, etc. make the track. By adding a marble and/or bouncy ball, the physics of placement come into play. Let the thrill of experimenting begin!
  7. Lemon-Powered Lights– These lemon-powered lights will offer a real Eureka! Obviously, some fresh produce will be needed, but the other parts can be gathered and/or purchased during the summer DIY days. The LED lights needed can be procured from strings of holiday lights; a great reason to not toss a string with a few unlit bulbs. Raid the tool chest for galvanized nails and copper wire. The electrical wires may need to be purchased, but they can be found at a relatively low price. It’s important to note that the used lemons should not be upcycled into lemonade or some other consumable!
  8. Egg Drop– Pulling out the spring holiday décor is a great way to teach inertia. For classroom usage, the plastic egg option is definitely the way to go. Do some DIY collecting, start saving (and asking others to save) toilet paper roll tubes, gather a couple other items, and this one is all set. This experiment is simple, fun, and a great visual for a big concept.
  9. Spectrometers– This is another upcycling project from the recycle bin and those CDs/DVDs that keep making their way into all these DIY projects. The pre-experiment portion could simply be in the collecting of the discs and cereal boxes, or teachers could actually make the spectrometers. A great way to study the differences found in common light sources. The spectrometers lend themselves to seeking out lots of different light sources and making predictions about the viewing experience that will likely occur.
  10. Balloon-Powered Vehicles– So many variations of vehicles could be created for this one. In a true “maker spirit” the design pool could be limitless. Per TSU’s example, teachers should start collecting cardboard (save all those Amazon boxes), bamboo skewers, bottle tops, decorative supplies, etc. The sky is really the limit on what could be used to create the vehicles. Great discussions and multiple trial methods could be used for manipulating speed, distance, alignment, etc.

Every summer DIY project doesn’t have to involve a tool belt and a trip to the home improvement store. Oftentimes, the school year just gets a little too hectic to do all the gathering that is required to bring some engaging activities and learning environment additions to light. In our five part series, we’ve shared a variety of ideas for making learning fun in an engaging environment. While the ideas were shared during the summer, a good DIY project can happen any time throughout the school year. It’s time to get creative and watch students flourish!