Science Challenge

Week of May 18, 2020

The goal of the NEWESD 101 Science Kit Cooperative is to send out weekly science challenges to our members. The challenges will sometimes be tailored to a grade level, or a more general challenge which can be adjusted or added to based on the grade level you are teaching.

If you are needing any science materials to show demos to your students during your virtual meetings, please let me know and we will do our best to accommodate any requests.

Thank you,


Grades K-2: Using Wind Power

This challenge involves small vehicles built from Legos, however, students can use any building sets they have, or even a pre-constructed car or vehicle that is pretty light. Students will also need a stick or dowel to tape to the car to use as a mast and some paper. They will also need access to a box or oscillating fan (oscillating feature turned off).

Your goal is to see how far they can make the car travel.They can cut the paper into different sizes and color/decorate as they'd like. Student should figure out how they would like to attach the sail to the mast.

Does it make a difference if the sail is higher or lower on the mast? For an added challenge, students could try different materials (cloth, plastic bag, etc.) to see if they can find the type of material that makes the car travel the furthest. How far did each sail go?

Grades 3-5: Make a Solar Oven

There are lots of great reasons to learn how to make a solar oven! Maybe you're going camping. Maybe you're interested in learning about different ways to concentrate the sun's energy. Maybe you're interested in methods of cooking that don't add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

Several scientific phenomena are involved in making your oven the best heater it can be. Heat is the form of energy (sometimes called thermal energy) that is transferred by a difference in temperature. You want to transfer the sun's heat to your solar oven. Reflection is the throwing back of light, heat or sound by a body or surface, like a mirror. The shiny foil you’ll use in your oven will reflect the sun’s light and heat inside your oven. During absorption, energy is taken into a material rather than reflected. You will line the inside of your oven with black paper so it can absorb the light and heat being reflected into it. Another energy process you should be familiar with for this project is convection, which is the transfer of heat by the movement of a gas or liquid. You’ll use plastic wrap to make your oven airtight so the air warmed by the sun doesn’t leave your oven through convection. One final energy term important to this project is insulation. Insulating materials prevent heat leaving your oven through radiation. That’s why you are going to line the inside of your oven with a cheap and effective insulator—newspaper!


  • Cardboard pizza box
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Box cutter or scissors (adult help, please!)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Clear type of tape
  • Black construction paper
  • Plastic wrap or large, transparent plastic bag
  • Newspapers
  • Dish or pie plate
  • Smores ingredients (or whatever you'd like to cook - no raw meat!)


  1. Clean any stray bits of cheese, sauce or crumbs out of your pizza box.
  2. Using the ruler and pencil, draw a square one inch in from the edges of the top of the box.
  3. Use the box cutter or knife to cut out three of the four sides of the square.]
  4. Make a crease along the uncut side of the square to create a flap that stands up.
  5. Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the inner side of the cardboard flap.
  6. Wrap the foil tightly, and secure with tape. What purpose does the foil serve?
  7. Line the bottom of the pizza box with black construction paper. What purpose does the black paper serve? Would white paper work as well? Why or why not?
  8. Cut two pieces of plastic wrap that are the same size as the top of the pizza box.
    Use tape to secure the plastic wrap to the inside edges of the square window you cut into the box. You are creating an airtight window. Why do you want to make your oven airtight?
  9. Roll up some newspaper pages into tubes to stuff into the sides of the box. Make sure you are still able to close the lid of the pizza box. Remember—what purpose does the newspaper serve?
  10. Now it is time to cook something! The best time to use your oven is between 11 AM and 2 PM. Make sure to set the food on a dish so you don’t mess up the interior of your oven.
  11. One food option is a solar s’more. Place one or two marshmallows on top of a graham cracker. Put two to three squares of chocolate on top of the marshmallow. Wait until it’s done cooking to top it with the second graham cracker. Any idea why it might be smart to have the chocolate on top?
  12. You could also make nachos by placing grated cheese on top of tortilla chips, or use the oven to heat up leftovers or soup.


On a sunny, warm day, your oven could reach about 200 degrees F. You will notice that the food takes longer to cook in a solar oven than a regular one.

Grades 6-8: Make a Seismograph

Scientists study earthquakes so we can understand them better and hopefully one day predict them so we can save thousands of lives. A seismograph is a tool scientists use to record earthquakes and measure their strength. In this activity you will build your own seismograph using simple materials.


  • Medium-sized cardboard box
  • Paper or plastic cup
  • String
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Paper, or a very long printed receipt from a store
  • Tape
  • Coins, marbles, small rocks, or other small, heavy objects to use as weights
  • Another person to help


  1. Cut the lid or flaps off the cardboard box. Stand the box up on one of the smaller sides.
  2. Poke two holes opposite each other near the rim of the cup.
  3. Tie a piece of string, slightly longer than the length of the box, to each hole.
  4. Poke two holes in the top of the box, making sure they are the same distance apart as the holes in the cup.
  5. Push the two pieces of string through the holes and tie them together on the top of the box, so the cup hangs down inside the box. The bottom of the cup should be about an inch above the bottom of the box.
  6. Poke a hole in the center of the bottom of the cup. Remove the cap from the marker, and push the marker through the hole, so its tip just barely touches the bottom of the box.
  7. Fill the cup with coins or other small weights, making sure the marker stays vertical.
  8. Fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise, then fold it in half lengthwise again. Unfold the paper and cut along the folds to form four equal-sized strips. Tape the strips of paper together end to end, to form one long strip. If you have a long printed receipt, you can skip this step.
  9. Cut two slits on opposite sides of the cardboard box, as close as possible to the bottom edge. The slits should be wide enough to pass the paper strip through one side, across the middle of the box, and out the other side.
  10. Make sure the marker is centered on the paper strip. You might need to poke different holes in the top of the box and re-hang the cup if necessary.
  11. Now you are finally ready to use your seismograph! Stabilize the box with your hands as your helper slowly starts to pull the paper strip through the box from one side to the other side.
  12. Now, shake the box back and forth (perpendicular to the paper strip, keeping the bottom of the box in contact with the table) as your helper continues to pull the paper strip through, doing their best to pull at a constant speed. How does the line on the paper strip change?
  13. Pause your shaking for a few seconds (as your helper continues to pull the paper), then try shaking the box harder.
  14. Pause for a few more seconds, then shake the box very gently.
  15. Pull the paper strip all the way out of the box and look at the line.


When your helper pulls the paper through the box with no shaking, the marker should just draw a straight line on the paper. When you shake the box, it moves back and forth, and the paper moves along with it. Because of the heavy mass of the cup and the way it is suspended by strings, the cup does not move as much. This means that the paper moves back and forth under the (mostly) stationary marker, resulting in a squiggly line. The size of these squiggles (their amplitude) corresponds to how hard you shook the box, just like how the line drawn by a real seismograph corresponds to the strength of the earthquake.