The University of Utah is recognized as the flagship university for higher education in Utah, but it’s much more than that. The U is also a top-tier research institution tackling some of today’s most pressing societal issues such as mental health, air quality, water conservation, cancer treatment, and more.
At the same time, the university aims to serve the community in a lighter, more family-friendly way by offering a wide variety of activities on campus all summer long including youth programs, camps, events and classes. We tapped into the experts who run these programs to get some ideas for fun, low-cost science experiments you can do at home this summer.
Youth Education at the U
Elliott Fraughton is the associate director of Youth Education at the University of Utah, which has upwards of 500 children attending its programs, including Club U Summer Camp (which offers 11 weeks of full-day programming for youth ages 5-15) daily during the summer.
“There are a number of great activities here that can easily be replicated at home for families,” Fraughton says. “Personally, I love any activity that involves upcycling household items and repurposing them for art or science activities.”
Here are a five of Fraughton’s favorites: 1) Lever and Screw Simple Machines Lesson, 2) Stem Activities from Ziploc, 3) DIY STEM Kit Ideas for Kids, 4) STEM Trifold: Flotation Device, and 5) Make Your Own Solar Oven. Parents can also go to Club U’s Pinterest board, where Youth Education has collected more than 400 ideas for Club U summer camps.
The U’s College of Science
Marina McNeill Gish, outreach coordinator for Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering, has developed lesson plans for the U’s College of Science focused on Earth sciences, mostly geared toward high school-aged students.
The lesson plans are on a variety of topics, such as air pollution, Bernoulli’s Law 1, climate consulting, the Greenhouse Effect, how hail forms, and much more. To see McNeill Gish’s full list of lesson plans for high schoolers, click here.
Natural History Museum of Utah
Glynis Bawden is the School Outreach and Professional Development Manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah. She suggests that parents visit the “Summer Science Projects” page on the museum’s website. On this page, parents will find curated lesson plans that help children of all ages practice their science skills!
The U’s Genetic Science Learning Center
Paul James Gabrielsen is a science writer at the U’s Genetic Science Learning Center, who produces science curriculum materials for middle school ages and above. Here are three of his top recommendations:
How To Extract DNA From Anything Living—This project teaches how to extract DNA from the cells of a food ingredient such as split peas, spinach, strawberries, etc., and it only requires household ingredients as supplies.
Traits Activities—This collection of paper-based activities focuses on inheritable traits, particularly human traits. It includes inventories of your own traits as well as ways to collect and display traits in family members. This could be a way to keep kids engaged at a family reunion, and is available in both English and Spanish.
Edible DNA Model—In this activity, kids will learn how DNA is structured by building a model out of licorice and marshmallows that they can later eat.
The U’s Red Butte Garden
Jason Alba and Heidi Anderson, Red Butte Garden’s Youth and Family Programs team, created a page entitled, “Boredom Busters’' during the COVID-19 lockdown to help the Garden’s class offerings remain relevant. The fun activities for kids, adults and families include:
Learn About Different Kinds of Roots—Roots are not all the same! In this experiment, children learn that different plants have different kinds of roots. For this fun activity, all that’s needed are paper towels, tape, scissors, rice, water, food coloring, and four clear cups.
Pine Cone Science—In this experiment, learn why pine cones open and close. As children follow a simple experiment, they investigate the unique phenomenon of pine cones. With just three pine cones and simple supplies found at home like dishes, hot water, and permanent marker, children can learn the science behind open and closed pine cones!
Tree Scavenger Hunt—Take a walk around your local neighborhood or park and see how many different kinds of trees you can identify. On the Red Butte Garden’s website, they provide 16 images of trees found in Utah, including Maple, Oak, Spruce, Chokecherry, Mulberry, and Willow.
Calculate a Tree’s Age—If you have trees in your yard or neighborhood and you wonder how old they are, this activity is for you! While trees don’t celebrate birthdays the way people do, they grow a little every year. Each year that passes, trees grow a new layer of wood beneath their bark, and people can learn how to estimate their age without chopping them down.