How to Get Teens Interested in STEM at School

From hands-on experiences to museums and mentors, here are some tips on how to get interested in STEM in school

If you want to nurture your child’s interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), it’s important to go beyond the four walls of their classrooms. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine revealed that only 22 percent of American high school graduates are knowledgeable in these particular subjects. In fact, the chair of the committee stated that students have limited learning experiences that are confined to reading textbooks, passive listening, and memorizing disconnected facts.

That said, the chances are that your teenager probably needs more opportunities if they are to become more interested STEM. So here are some tips that can encourage them to take most interest in STEM subjects:

Show how to apply STEM to real life

It’s hard for your child to gain an interest in STEM if they can’t see why it’s relevant to everyday life. STEM education can be pretty intensive, so the whole process can get a little overwhelming. Thus, it’s important that your child takes a step back and looks at how it is relevant to their day-to-day life.

Digital Learning emphasizes that students must also be given a chance to see the concepts come to life in a real, physical environment. Allowing them to see how robots or even statistical software are developed, which can boost their interest and their confidence in pursuing a career in STEM. The key here is to expose them to experiences that can help them understand its importance.

Provide hands-on learning experiences

Hands-on learning experiences are very important. STEM experiments and projects provide your child the opportunity to witness firsthand how cool STEM is as they get to deep dive into certain fields.

Education design consultant Karen Aronian looked at how chess incorporates math and logic, which allows kids to learn while also enjoying the challenge of playing board games. On the other hand, they can be introduced to electronics through online resources like Upverter, which is a free, web-based printed circuit board (PCB) design tool. Upverter is the educational and student-friendly version similar to the industry standard design platform Altium 365. Both platforms allow users to design, share, and manufacture electronics all in one place. Through these hands-on activities, your teen can gain first-hand experience in these academic fields.

Take them to exhibits and museums

Another great way to encourage an interest in STEM is by visiting exhibits and museums. These centers not only improve their knowledge regarding STEM subjects, but they can also pique their curiosity when it comes to certain subjects.

Orlando Science Center is a staunch advocate of STEM learning through museums and their exhibits. This is an avenue to introduce teens to new and exciting STEM concepts. For instance, the Flight Lab allows visitors to learn more about aviation through virtual reality simulators. The simulators evoke a sense of wonder in teens that will encourage them to learn more about the science of aviation. So, it’s super important to allow your teen to go on field trips to museums or to join STEM exhibits.

Connect your child to a mentor

The teachers in your teen’s school can be the key to igniting their interest in STEM. By connecting them to a mentor, it will enable them to receive career advice which will help them map out a career path in STEM. This is even more significant for girls who want to join male-dominated fields, such as engineering and computer science.

If your child has a good role model in their school, encourage your teen to interact and learn more from this specific teacher. STEM after school clubs are a great place to meet good mentors. They provide them with an opportunity to talk about their interests with like-minded students. This allows their ideas to flourish, further encouraging them to delve deeper with regard to STEM topics.

At the end of the day, your teen will be more interested in STEM if they have opportunities to learn more about the subjects they are interested in. As a parent, you provide support by broadening their exposure to professionals and real-life STEM applications.

5 Fun Facts About Fossilized Feces

Fossilized what?! Drop in and check out some fun facts about fossilized feces!

When you think about fossils, you probably think of dinosaurs or other old bones, but did you know feces can be fossilized? From crocodile caca to dino dung, join us as we explore the crappy world of coprolites with these 5 fun facts about fossilized feces!

To learn more about prehistoric poo, stomp into the Poozeum at Orlando Science Center!


What is a coprolite? 

Also known as fossilized feces, coprolites are very old pieces of prehistoric poop that have become fossilized over a very long time. Coprolites come in a variety of shapes and sizes and they have been discovered on every continent on earth.

a very poop looking fossilized feces

The world's largest corporate has a name.

Meet Barnum! At over 2 feet long and 20 pounds, or 67 centimeters and nearly
10 kilograms this eye-wateringly huge T. rex coprolite earned its title in 2020. 

But why is it named Barnum? The coprolite is named after Paleontologist Barnum Brown, who discovered the first Tyrannosaurs rex. Interestingly enough, Barnum Brown was named after P.T. Barnum, the American showman, and Barnum & Bailey Circus founder.

worlds largest fossilized feces

You can make an awesomely crappy career out of it!

Scatology is the study of fecal excrement, as in the fields of medicine, paleontology, or biology. Archaeologists, paleontologists, and paleoscatologists study coprolites to learn more about a species’ diet, habits, and geography.

The “King of Fossilized Feces” George Frandsen on the other hand, opened his own museum -- or Poozeum, part of which is on display at Orlando Science Center! He has spent his life, scouring the globe for these specimens, and sharing facts about fossilized feces, hoping his enthusiasm for coprolites inspires others to immerse themselves in prehistoric history.

poozeum founder George Frandsen

Coprolites are actually incredibly rare.

Coprolites are quite rare because they tend to decay rapidly. The quicker an object is to decay, the less likely it is to successfully fossilize. Fossilization takes time, and if the whole thing decomposes before it can finish, well, no fossil. That’s why hard and durable objects, such as bones and teeth, are much more common fossils than soft tissues like hair, cartilage, or coprolites. When they are found, they are most commonly found among sea creatures.

facts about rainbow fossilized feces

Where can I find fossilized feces?

Corporate has been found all over the world! But the good news is if you really dig fossilized feces, you can drop in to Orlando Science Center! 

From dino dung to crocodile caca, over a dozen prehistoric poo-poos are currently on display. Specimens range in size and date back 11,700 to 200 million years ago. They were discovered all over the world, including some spots in Florida.

fossilized feces facts 2

Learn more! 

3D Printing Assistive Technology • How the Maker Movement is Making A Difference

How open-source 3D printing is changing the world of assistive technology

The concept of 3D printing, or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) has actually been around since the early 80s thanks to Dr. Hideo Kodama, with the first 3D printer commercially available in 1986. 3D printing became a revolution in the STEM community with use by engineers, inventors, and even medical professionals when a 3D printed kidney was successfully transplanted to a patient in 1999!

As 3D printing technology became more diverse and affordable, it has continued to gain popularity among scientists, makers, and hobbyists alike. From a 3D printed car to a 3D bioprint of Vincent van Gogh’s ear, it seems creativity is the only limit.

 

3D printing also increases accessibility with much success in printing casts for broken bones, prosthetic limbs, even wheelchairs that can be customized and created for a fraction of the cost. These are a cost-effective way to keep up with a child as they grow, or damage their current one in the act of being a kid.

Limbitless Solutions, a UCF-based nonprofit organization, dedicated to empowering children through expressive bionic arms at no cost to their families surprises 7-year-old with 3D printed Iron Man prosthetic arm presented by Iron Man himself, a.k.a. Robert Downey Jr.

While it seems almost anything can be 3D printed, it must first be designed and modeled – a process which is often easier said than done. Even that skill is no match for the triumph of the human spirit. Open-source websites have become popular hubs for professionals and makers to freely share their designs.

Websites such as Thingiverse, e-NABLE, and NIH 3D Print Exchange - COVID-19 Supply Chain Response, not only allow designers to help each other improve their work, but makes affordable technology more accessible.

From 3D modeling to soldering a circuit board, The Hive: A Makerspace Presented by The Isaacs Family is one of OSC’s newer exhibits, that focuses on learning new maker skills, as well as new and creative ways to use them. Whether you’re a tech tycoon, or a happy hobbyist, it’s never a bad idea to add another skill to your metaphorical, or literal, toolbelt.

A boy examining a 3D printed object in The Hive.

Learn more about the Maker Movement!

Simple Spooky STEM Activities to Scare Up Some Fun

Get into the Halloween spirit with these simple spooky STEM activities!

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays at the Orlando Science Center, so we’ve rounded up some of our favorite simple spooky STEM activities that you can do at home!

We’ve also included instructions on how to give some activities a special Halloween twist. From making the slimiest slime to exploring art with candy, find them all in one place below.

STEM Slime Time!

Our staff concocted the slimiest slime recipe for you to try at home! For glowing slime, use tonic water or highlighter water instead of regular water. Click here to make highlighter water!

Spooky Oobleck

Make an ooey-gooey mess with just two ingredients! Learn about the states of matter and viscosity, practice lab skills like measuring and mixing with this educational messy science experiment that's so fun, you won't even realize you're learning!

To make pumpkin oobleck, color the oobleck orange with paint or food coloring and add pumpkin-scented oil. Alternatively, you can mix a can of pumpkin puree in a pitcher of water and use it in place of the regular water.

Ectoplasm Detector

Have you ever wanted to make something glow under a blacklight? Let us teach you one of our favorite hacks, which you can turn into an Ectoplasm Detector!

Write or draw messages, then hide them in a dark place. Make the Ectoplasm Detector by following the instructions for your DIY Blacklight Hack then use your ectoplasm detector to find and reveal the ghostly messages!

Ghosts in the Graveyard

Have you ever wanted to make something glow under a blacklight? Let us teach you one of our favorite hacks, which you can turn into an Ectoplasm Detector!

Write or draw messages, then hide them in a dark place. Make the Ectoplasm Detector by following the instructions for your DIY Blacklight Hack then use your ectoplasm detector to find and reveal the ghostly messages!

Sweet Science

Trick or Treat! In this experiment, science is sweet! Use a little bit of candy to make Halloween pictures that swirl like magic, to explore chemistry, and to practice making predictions and observations.

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In these ever-changing times, it is our pleasure to adapt quality Orlando Science Center experiences to engage with everyone while they are safe at home. Please consider supporting our operating fund to ensure we can continue developing resources today and well into the future. Thank you for your generosity and support!

Can Service Dogs Help STEM Professionals?

Learn how service dogs can help people with disabilities breakdown barriers!

Have you ever seen a person using a service animal? Why do some people have animals that help them complete tasks? 

When most people think of service animals, what probably comes to mind is a person who is blind using a seeing-eye dog, but there are a wide variety of disabilities and medical conditions where a service animal can be used to help people.

People who have disabilities sometimes use service animals, like dogs, to help them complete day-to-day tasks easily. Service dogs are specifically trained to help their owners complete tasks they would not be able to do independently; like open a door, bring them their car keys, and even guide a person who is blind across a street. Some dogs can detect when a person’s heart rate lowers, or when they are showing signs of anxiety from previous trauma. The dogs can alert their owners, and they can then take medications they need, prevent an anxiety attack, or get to a safe space away from people.

Service dogs are “tasked trained” meaning there is a specific task or behavior they have been trained to perform to help their owner. This is what separates them from just your average pet dog. Not every person with a disability needs a service dog, but some people can’t imagine trying to live their life without one!

Sierra Middleton was an animal care intern at Orlando Science Center where she helped to clean enclosures, walk animals outdoors, provide a science learning experience for guests, performed water chemistry testing, and learned how to train exotic animals, accompanied by her loyal service dog, Duke. 

To me, Duke is more than just my service dog - he’s my lifeline in a lot of ways. He means an increased quality of life; helping me with things every day as simple as picking up my dropped phone to as great as alerting me to an impending medical episode.

The many ways I have trained him to help mitigate my disabilities have certainly helped me in more ways than I can count, but in all honesty it was the mere existence of his unconditional love that acted as a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Sierra Middleton
OSC Intern & Volunteer
a STEM professional with her service dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. 


Learn More!

Soil Science Experiment • How to Demonstrate Soil Erosion

Learn about erosion with this soil science experiment!

Forces of nature like wind and rain shape and reshape Earth’s surface by gradually wearing away, or eroding rocks and soil.

When it rains, water that is not used by plants or dried up by the sun slowly flows through the topsoil downhill into nearby water basins like lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers. Natural areas like Mangroves, Cypress Swamps, Coral Reefs, and Pinewood Flats act like buffer zones which lessens the harmful effects of natural disasters like tropical storms and hurricanes have on Florida.

In this soil science experiment, you will see how different environments can affect water runoff and soil erosion. 


Materials:

  • 3 plastic bottles
  • 6 cups of soil
  • 1 cup of mulch with some leaf litter
  • 1 square of grass taken from outside. Not the grass pulled out, but a small section removed with a garden spade to be placed inside one of the bottles
  • 1 watering can which will simulate rainfall
  • 3 clear disposable cups
  • 3 pieces of twine that are 12 inches long
  • Scissors or a box cutter
  • Hole puncher (optional)

 

Let's get started! 

  1. Begin by cutting off one side of all 3 of the plastic bottles. (Cut the bottles vertically in half from top to bottom.)
  2. Place the bottles on their sides and fill each one with two cups of soil.
  3. In one bottle, add the 1 cup of mulch and leaf litter and pack it down.
  4. In the second bottle, add the grass that was collected and pack it down.
  5. Lay the bottles horizontally with the mouth of the bottle hanging over the edge of a table.
  6. Make 2 holes at the top on each side of the “catch-cups” using the hole puncher or you can use the scissors or box cutter.
  7. Pull the twine through the holes and tie them to make handles for the cups.
  8. Attach one cup with twine to each one of the bottles so that each one has a cup hanging from the mouth over the end of the table (see photo).
  9. Now the fun part! Use your watering can to simulate a rainstorm by watering each of the soil science bottles
  10. Make observations and record your findings about which model held the most rainwater, and what the water looks like in the catch cups.
Soil Science Experiment

Expand on the Activity

 

Post-Activity Discussion Questions:

  1. Which model did the best job at keeping the soil in place?
  2. Do you think it’s a good idea to have natural areas with a lot of plants to protect Florida when it rains?

How to Turn Leftover Food into a Science Experiment

Whoever said "Don't play with your food" never learned how to turn leftover food into a science experiment

Grab an apron and convert your kitchen into a chemistry lab with ingredients you can find around the house!

From DIY tie-dye to marshmallow molecules, join us as we reduce, reuse, and recycle leftovers and food scraps into some exciting science experiments! 


 

Science experiments that look good enough to eat!

Science and chill

This (literally) cool fan-favorite science experiment is not only delicious, but dives into the science behind this classic sweet treat. 

Chemistry rocks! 

Check out the chemistry behind candy with this crunchy and colorful creation.

DO play with your food!

Never trust a molecule, they make up everything

This make-a-molecule activity is a great way to introduce little learners to chemistry or and makes a delicious study tool for rising researchers!

Dig in!

If your little learners really DIG dinosaurs, step into the role of paleontologist with a chocolate chip cookie archaeology activity for kids!

Science is sugar, spice, and everything nice

If you need to give your sweet tooth a break, check out what to do with leftover candy! You'll love this sweet take on STEM!

Turn scrap food into science

You don't need a Ph.D. to make your own pH indicators 

Turn your leftover fruits and veggies into natural DIY pH indicators and use them to test the pH of things you find around your home!

Try this DIY tie-dye

Did you know that you could use avocado scraps to make fabric dye at home? Learn how to extract tannin from the pit and skin of avocadoes!

Rise and (coffee) grind!

Real fossils can take 1000s of years to form, but you can make your own in about an hour using coffee grounds

Sensory Soap Experiments • 5 Brilliant Ways to Learn About Bubbles

Learn about the science of suds with these sensory soap experiments!

Double, double, science, and bubbles!

Bubbles are everywhere! We see them in soap, soda, and even our own saliva (gross!)Have you ever wondered why and how scientists study bubbles? Try it out for yourself with these five sensory soap experiments that will teach you all about the science of suds and bubbles.

Water you waiting for? Let's get started! 


Bubble Snakes

Make bubble snakes with this sensory, early childhood approved activity! With just a few items, you can make long, endless bubbles. To make this more fun, add some washable paint to your bubble solution!

Lava Lamps

Lava lamps are making a comeback with this DIY project! With some simple items found around the house, your young scientist will learn all about density with these simple steps.

Un-Poppable Bubbles

If you’ve ever wondered why bubbles pop, you’re not alone. Other than being poked or landing on something sharp, bubbles pop when the water between the soap film surfaces evaporates.

Want to make your own un-poppable bubbles? All you need is water, dish soap, and glycerin. 

Bath Fizzers

It’s time to make bath fizzers for you and your friends! This chemistry project introduces chemical reactions.

Make your bath fizzer as unique as you by experimenting with different scents or colors. 

Iridescent Bookmarks

Iridescence is a rainbow-like coloration that changes colors when you look at it from different angles. It can be found naturally in animals like fish scales or a butterfly's wing.  It can also be seen in bubbles!

Using just drops of clear nail polish, you can achieve this effect at home and create a customized iridescent bookmark!


 

How to Identify a Legless Lizard from a Snake

Slither in and learn how to identify a legless lizard you may think is a snake

What do you call a lizard with no legs?

You may be waiting for a punchline, but legless lizards are real reptiles that commonly get mis-snake-n for another commonly limbless creature. Florida is home to a few legless lizard species and, you may even come across them while hiking, playing outside, or doing yard work.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences and learn how to identify a legless lizard from a snake. Help remember what you've learned by downloading and filling out this Research Learning Adventure activity sheet as you go!

Research Learning Adventure Activity Sheet


Eyes

While looking right at the eyes of the legless lizard, you can see that they have eye lids. Kind of like you and me! Snakes, however, do not have eye lids. Snakes’ eyes are protected by a durable, see-through eye scale. Glass lizards can blink, but snakes cannot!

close up of a legless lizard eyes
Legless lizard
close up of a snake eye
Snake

Jaws

Now let’s take a look at the legless lizard’s jaw structure. The upper and lower part are not detachable like in snake species. Snakes can dislocate their jaw using their face muscles to eat large prey. Eastern glass lizards have minimal jaw muscle control and eat mostly insects, small mice, and bird eggs. How wide can you open your mouth? Is your jaw more like the legless lizard, or the snake?

legless lizard jaw
Legless lizard
snake jaw
Snake

Ears

Legless lizards have on opening on their head for hearing, just like us! Snakes actually use their jaw bones to hear vibrations. Have you ever felt the sound vibrations from a really deep or loud sound? Snakes rely on that sensation to hear all the time! Sound information travels in the form of vibrations from the jaw to the cochlea, a special hearing structure. We have cochlea in our ears too!

Legless lizard ear
Legless lizard
snake ear
snake ear

Legless Lizards & Snakes

Legless lizards and snakes are very important parts of Florida habitats. Glass lizards help control our insect populations, while snakes help to control rodent, lizard, and bird populations. Together they help to balance Florida food webs.

Both legless lizards and snakes pose no major threat to humans. Any bites that do happen are usually on accident because the animal was startled and scared. The best thing to do with all wildlife is to keep a safe distance of at least 15 feet away at all times.

Make sure to visit Orlando Science Center to see all the amazing snake species in NatureWorks or learn more about legless lizards and snakes in Florida by checking out this video.

Expand on the Activity!

A Sweet Archaeology Activity for Kids

Dinosaur lovers will really dig this sweet archaeology activity for kids! 

When paleontologists dig up dinosaurs, they think about a few things. One of the things they think about is where the fossil was found, or its context.

Where in the dirt? Was it near the surface? Deep underground? Was it near footprints? Next to a fossilized tree? Where a fossil was found can tell us more about it.

If you dig dinosaurs, this archaeology activity will turn kinds into junior paleontologists!


Materials:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Tray
  • Toothpicks aka your chisel and hammer
materials for activity

Step 1:

Place your paper on the tray.  This will be your excavation area.

 On the blank side of the paper, use the ruler to mark out a 5cm x 5cm grid.  Each square in the grid should be 1 cm down and 1 cm across.

Label the boxes across the top A, B, C, D, & E, and the boxes down the side 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5. 

a 5 x 5 archaeology grid for activity

Step 2:

Place the cookie in the middle of your plate on top of the squares you drew.

Very carefully, chip the cookie dough away from one chocolate chip.  Watch your fingers!

archaeology activity for kids

Step 3:

Try to excavate as many chips as you can. Use the grid to remember where you found them, and make note of unique shapes or sizes.

recording your archaeology cookie

 

You have now excavated your chocolate chips and noted their position just like a paleontologist does with a dinosaur skeleton. Each numbered square helps them remember where they found a fossil.

an excavated cookie activity for kids

Expand on the activity!