STEM in the summer: Cool activities for our hottest months

This is a reoccuring monthly columns about Science Technology Engineering and Math in Juneau: what it is and why it’s important to all of us.


Summer is a time when kids can learn through play in a way that’s often not available during the school day. Much of this “play” time can offer rich STEM learning opportunities. As we get farther into summer break and kids are fully immersed in their weeks of freedom and no homework, I’ve gotten many requests from parents searching for fun activities to encourage breaks from Netflix and video games. I always recommend that parents take advantage of the great summer camp options in Juneau (JEDC, Discovery Southeast, the Canvas and Rally all offer summer programs with STEM activities), but it’s nice to have an arsenal of activities ready to go at home, too.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, but the acronym means more than the sum of its parts. It refers to teaching those subjects through an interdisciplinary and hands-on approach that develops the kind of learners and thinkers we need for our evolving economy. STEM helps kids learn about the different content areas while practicing the process skills of closely observing, questioning, experimenting and finding ways to communicate their discoveries. These skills will allow them to be lifelong learners in whatever field(s) they choose.

Here are just a few ideas contributed by some STEM experts in town to help parents that may be searching for some great options for our long summer days:

• Ever wonder how easy it is to make a beaver dam? Find one in the Dredge Lakes area and note what materials they have used and the patterns of how they have arranged those materials. Now find a creek, gather materials and see if you can slow the water down. Remember to disassemble your dam before leaving!

• Find an area of forest or meadow with at least 10 different plant species. Can you find where these plants are hiding their seeds? How has each species adapted to spread its seed? Are they successful — look around you to see how many others there are. Visit the Jensen-Olsen Arboretum to see some more unique species and ways that plants spread seeds.

• Have you mastered the art of rock skipping? What makes the perfect skipper? Find a collection of rocks of various types, shapes, sizes and weights. You may have to visit more than one beach or river for a thorough test. Identify what makes a good skipping rock. Is it the same rock type, size, shape and weight for each person? Head to the city museum and check out their rock collection to learn more about geology in Juneau.

• Do you dream about being an astronaut? Build a paper rocket launcher and experiment with different rocket shapes, launch trajectories, and more. Plans to build the launcher can be found at Follow this with a trip to the airport or float plane docks downtown and watch planes take off and land. How is it similar to your launches at home? How is it different?

• Run to the top of a hill. Can you feel your heart racing? Keep a chart of your heart rate throughout the day. How is it affected by different activities? Foods? What can you do to control it? Does everyone’s heart rate increase and decrease in the same way? Next time you visit the doctor, share what you’ve learned!

• Is it time to clean out the garage? Take your old cardboard, string, and other materials and upcycle them into a kid’s “Upcycled Inventor’s Box.” Check out the free project-starter cards with invention ideas at the Modern Parents Messy Kids website. Want to take your inventions to the next level? Check out the resources (like a 3D printer and laser cutter) at the Juneau Makerspace during their free open studios on Monday nights.

• Looking for a way to cool down on those hot summer days? Build your own “kid wash” with PVC pipe and a garden hose. Experiment with different diameters of pipes and holes, and get creative with water features using other materials like sponges and pool noodles.

Whatever activities you choose to do this summer, keep asking questions, making observations, and encouraging your kids to explore the world around them. Want more ideas or a place to share your summer creations? Follow the Juneau STEM Coalition on Facebook, where we post links to community events, project ideas, and more.

If you’re interested in being on a volunteer list for or receiving emails from the STEM Coalition, please contact

• Rebecca Soza is a Juneau STEM Coalition Co-Chair, STEM Program Manager at the Juneau Economic Development Council and a Discovery Southeast Board Member.


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