STEM inspiration for your classroom
The Atlanta Science Festival is back, and you can celebrate by bringing more fun and enlightening STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities into your classroom! Here at Zoo Atlanta, we incorporate STEM principles into many of our daily operations. Our Animal Care Team uses the latest zoology research to determine how to keep the animals healthy and happy; our Veterinary Team utilizes the best technology available to ensure that the animals get the best medical care; our animal habitats are carefully designed by engineers; and our Animal Nutrition Kitchen relies on math to carefully calculate the right amount of food for all of the animals every day. STEM is essential to the functioning of the Zoo, so generating excitement for STEM learning in your classroom is a great way to ensure that organizations like accredited zoos can continue to thrive in the future!
Even though many classes are still virtual, you can still have fun with science experiments in the classroom. Here are a few of our favorite activities about animal biology, habitats, and conservation!
- Snake fangs and venom. Some snakes use their fangs to inject venom into their prey. However, not all snake fangs are the same! You can use modeling clay to create the following four types of snake fangs. Then, use a turkey baster to squirt colored water through each of the fangs, and discuss with your class how effective each type of fang would be at delivering venom. (Suggested for students in grades 3-4 studying animal adaptations.)
*Normal fang – no holes or grooves; venom is just squirted over the whole tooth
*Hollow fang – there is a hole leading from the top of the fang to the bottom of the fang
*Grooved fang – there is a canal running down the back of the fang
*Hollow fang with front-facing hole – this fang has a hole on the front of the tooth instead of the bottom, so it can “spit” the venom forward, like a spitting cobra
- Animal poop. What kids don’t love learning about poop? Start the activity by talking about what poop is, how animals use poop (such as marking their territory or rubbing on themselves for sun protection), and the ecological benefits of poop (such as seed dispersal and soil enrichment). Then, fill a pastry piping bag with chocolate frosting and make some poop! Pipe the following types of poop onto a flat surface and ask your students to guess which animal made the poop. (Suggested for 5th grade students studying ecosystem dynamics or 7th grade students studying interdependent relationships in ecosystems.)
*Herbivore poop – Many herbivores, like rabbits and deer, will have small poop that is shaped like pellets.
*Carnivore poop – Carnivores tend to have longer poops that are divided into segments.
*Elephant poop – One piece of poop can weigh 2-5 pounds, so pipe some big poops for this one!
*Panda poop – Use green frosting for this one. Pandas will have greenish poop because they eat so much bamboo!
*Wombat poop – Wombats have unique cube-shaped poop.
- Vulture vomit. Vultures are important but often misunderstood animals, so spend a lesson talking with your students about their vital role in breaking down dead animals and reducing the spread of disease in ecosystems. Their highly acidic stomachs and gut bacteria help them digest carrion. Sometimes, when they feel threatened, vultures can throw up acid vomit, which burns any potential predators. Demonstrate this to your students by dropping a Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke! (Suggested for students in grades 3-4 studying animal adaptations.)
If you want to develop your own STEM activities, here are some fun ideas on ways to engage students in a virtual classroom.
- Do a live demonstration for your class. Set up an experiment that demonstrates a science concept and do it on camera. Make a show out of it! One classic activity is to make a baking soda and vinegar volcano (suggested for students 5-6 studying Earth changes). You can jazz up this activity by contrasting that classic volcano with an elephant toothpaste-style volcano, which uses yeast, warm water, dish soap, and hydrogen peroxide to create a volcano with slower-moving lava. This is a great way to start conversations about Earth science and geology. Another option is to show a recorded talk or demonstration from another institution. For example, Zoo Atlanta’s Zoo2You videos would be a great way to show your students some different types of animals and learn about species classification.
- Set up an experiment that your class can observe over time. For example, you can plant a seed and observe it every day, watching as it sprouts and grows into a plant (suggested for students in grades K-2 studying the needs and characteristics of plants). Students can all make hypotheses and observations about the plant, and the class will learn about botany as they bond over a shared experience.
- Assign a science activity that students can easily do at home. Then, the students can all come together to share their work virtually. For example, you might do a virtual egg drop activity, where students explore physics and engineering concepts by constructing a box, shield, or parachute to protect an egg from breaking when dropped (suggested for grades 6-8 to engage with science and engineering practices, including planning/carrying out investigations, building models, and designing solutions). Then the class can come together for a virtual egg drop where everyone drops their egg on camera one at a time! You might also give everyone instructions for making a solar oven at home, then have them try cooking a S’more in it. You can easily make a solar oven using a pizza box, aluminum foil, and black construction paper, then discuss the benefits of using solar energy instead of fossil fuels (suggested for students in grade 3 studying pollution and conservation).
- Get involved in a citizen science project! You can collect data together as a class or encourage students to collect data at home. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a project that asks citizens to measure precipitation in their communities to assist with meteorological predictions (suggested for students in grades 1 and 4 studying the weather and climate). The Celebrate Urban Birds project asks participants to look for specific bird species in a defined location (suggested for K-5 students to engage in science and engineering practices such as obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information). There are plenty of other citizen science projects out there, so find one that suits your class!
Above all, science is about exploration and experimentation, so get creative and have fun finding new ways to bring STEM learning into your virtual classroom! If you need more inspiration, visit our Teacher Resources page.