Three awesome STEM activities for your next pack or den meeting

Burley, Idaho, is a pretty safe community, which made this crime all the more shocking. In the middle of Pack 124’s September meeting, while the boys were learning skills in another room, someone stole the evening’s refreshments. A leader announced the shocking news as the boys filed in for their snack at the end of the meeting.

Fortunately, the thief had left behind some clues, including shoe prints, cookie crumbs and a mysterious coded message. Even more fortunately (and not at all coincidentally), the skills the boys had been learning all related to forensics and STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. They learned to break codes, collect fingerprints and gather evidence. As soon as the boys heard about the crime, they used their newfound skills to investigate. Within 15 or 20 minutes, they had collared committee member Vicki Braegger (who, fortunately, had not eaten her ill-gotten loot).

“We figured it would be fun, but we had no idea,” says Bear Den Leader Amanda Crump, who helped plan the activity. “They went crazy trying to find out who had stolen the cookies.”

As Pack 124’s “get a clue” meeting demonstrates, it’s easy to incorporate STEM activities into just about any pack or den meeting. Some activities will help Cub Scouts complete the Code of the Wolf adventure for Wolf or the Forensics adventure for Bear. Some will count toward a Nova Award, and some will just be fun. In fact, don’t be surprised if your boys decide “STEM” and “fun” are synonymous.

Here are three of Crump’s favorite projects:

Marble tracks

You may have seen a wall at a children’s science center where kids can create tracks for marbles to roll down. Science centers often use sections of PVC pipe with magnets attached; Crump does the same thing with nothing but masking tape and foam pipe insulation split in half to form long semicircular chutes. “They can experiment with how to get the marble down the track,” she says. “That’s a great engineering activity; they can keep trying and trying and trying.”

And the materials are cheap: A 6-foot section of pipe insulation will set you back $1.50 or so.

Oobleck

Drawing its name from the title of a Dr. Seuss book, oobleck is a substance that acts like a liquid when you pour it, but acts like a solid when you put force on it. The technical term for this type of substance is “non-Newtonian fluid,” but “oobleck” sounds much more fun.

All you need to make oobleck is water, cornstarch and a little food coloring; for each cup of water, mix in 1 ½ to 2 cups of cornstarch. You can find all sorts of applications online, but Crump has a favorite: “If you put it on a speaker with some low bass music, you can make it dance,” she says. “The hardest part is finding a speaker you are willing to dance your oobleck on.”

Homemade snow

You’ve probably seen the chemical reaction that occurs when you mix baking soda and vinegar; it has fueled countless kids’ science-fair projects. Crump has another favorite recipe: combining baking soda and shaving cream. “That makes instant snow,” she says. “You can make a snowball out of it; you can build snowmen.”

What’s more, the mixture causes an endothermic reaction, meaning its temperature drops. “The boys can definitely feel that coolness,” Crump says.

Crump, a full-time mom, says she finds most of her ideas online. She’s also a fan of science educator Steve Spangler, whose website, stevespanglerscience.com, is overflowing with STEM ideas. “I just always have enjoyed finding new experiments to do and doing them,” she says.

Although Crump doesn’t have any formal STEM training, she says that doesn’t matter. “You don’t need to be an expert. You can say, ‘I read about this; let’s try it and see what happens,’ ” she says. “Experiment together. Find out together.”

And have fun together. After all, that’s what STEM is all about.

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