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Summer Science

By Crystal Jeter
Product Developer

As the school year draws to a close and summer begins, many teachers are searching for hands-on activities to keep students thinking about science during their summer break. Below are some of our ideas and their connections to students’ studies.


  • Grow and care for a plant from seed. Care of the plant can be continued in the classroom or at home through the school year. You might keep a paper or electronic plant journal to record observations and measurements throughout the summer. (This experience can enhance later discussions of plant germination, anatomy, photosynthesis, and reproduction, as well as how to make observations and record and analyze data.)
  • Collect leaf and flower samples locally or from your summer trips. You can place specimens between 2 sheets of waxed paper, enclose these in newspaper, and press them between large books. Label the pressed specimens with the location and date of collection. Try to identify the plants and flowers using Internet sources or field guides. (Topics: biodiversity, ecosystems, classification, structure and function, and evolution)
  • Collect insects. You can make a killing jar from any clean glass jar, several coffee filters, and some ethyl acetate (which can be purchased from a chemical supplier or found in a large enough concentration in some fingernail polish removers— read the label). Cut several coffee filters to fit in the bottom of the jar and stack them there. Immediately before placing a captured insect in the jar, saturate the stack of filters with ethyl acetate (pour off any unabsorbed liquid). Insert the insect(s), firmly seal the lid, and wait several minutes until the specimen is dead. Pin the prepared specimens to a mounting board (such as heavy-duty cardboard or Styrofoam®) and label each with the location and date of collection. Try to identify the insects using field guides or the Internet. Organize your collection according to insect taxonomy. (Topics: biodiversity, structure and function, ecosystems, classification, and evolution)
  • Create a nature journal or blog to document your observations of a different site each week (e.g., your yard, a park, nearby woods, a vacation spot, or a friend or relative's home). Take pictures or sketch the living and nonliving things that you see. (Topics: characteristics of living and nonliving things, biodiversity, habitat types, ecosystems, and genetic diversity)


  • Take pictures and describe some of the chemical reactions that you see over your summer vacation. (During the school year, these images can be used to discuss chemical and physical changes, chemical reactions, types of chemical reactions, and the scientific method.)
  • Research the chemistry behind a favorite dish (such as bread or meringue) or a new molecular gastronomy concoction (such as melon caviar). Practice perfecting these techniques or dishes over the summer and present your findings when you return in the fall. (Depending on the techniques that students use, these findings may enhance a variety of topics.)
  • Research and perform a chemistry demo using standard household ingredients (e.g., blowing up a balloon with carbon dioxide produced by combining baking soda and vinegar). Be ready to present these demonstrations during the next school year to introduce specific chemistry topics.

Earth and environmental science

  • Record daily weather conditions during the summer (rainfall, temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed). Be prepared to present your data in a journal, in tables, graphs, electronic presentations, videos, or other media. (These activities add relevance to next year’s weather-related topics.)
  • Grow crystals from supersaturated solutions and examine the crystal structure with a hand lens. Some good household chemicals to use are alum, table salt, sugar, and Epsom salts. (Topics: minerals and soil types)
  • Collect rock or soil samples locally and in areas to which you travel. Label them with the location and date of collection. (Topics: rocks and minerals, soil formation, geographic differences, and Earth’s formation)
  • Regularly observe the night sky and note the movement of constellations and the phases of the moon. You might use time-lapse photography, photographs, or drawings. Record any constellations you identify and track their movement over time. Note any special events that you see, such as comets, meteors, and eclipses. (Topics: space objects, phases of the moon, the earth-moon-sun relationship, seasons, tides, and the rotation of the earth)
  • Create a solar oven. Experiment with different materials. Try to create the solar oven that reaches the highest temperature, or one that maintains the correct temperature for cooking a particular food. (Topics: alternative energy and solar radiation)
  • Design a plan to reduce your ecological footprint, and then implement the plan over the summer. Challenge one another to achieve the lowest footprint. (Topics: human impacts, global warming, and energy use)


  • Design the “best” paper airplane—e.g., the one that stays aloft longest, goes farthest, flies fastest. (This activity can add to discussions of lift, drag, momentum, force, acceleration, and friction.)
  • Determine the stopping distance when running, skateboarding, or biking at different speeds. (Topics: momentum, acceleration, and force)
  • Determine the fastest way to cool a soda (e.g., freezer, refrigerator, ice, ice with water, ice with saltwater). (Topic: thermodynamics)
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