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Carnival Science: Summer of STEM (Week 1)

Join Science Buddies this summer for virtual summer camp! Each week, we'll highlight fun STEM themes for kids of all ages, including suggestions for simple hands-on activities, book picks, and more. We'll keep you inspired all summer with creative and innovative science and engineering activities — for free. This week: big-top science with fun activities that tap into the spirit of the local fair, circus, or amusement park.

Ferris wheel image to represent the carnival STEM theme for Week 1 of Summer of STEM with Science Buddies

Carnival STEM

Amusement parks and local fairs are a big part of summer memory-making for many families, at least in non-pandemic times. Standing in long lines at amusement parks may be out this summer, but we've got fun science activities you can line up for a whole week's worth of carnival-inspired STEM!

Could kids set up a fun outdoor amusement-park-style event using some of the activities listed here? Yes! From amusement park games to roller-coaster-inspired builds and even some fun with mirrors, this week's Summer of STEM roundup gives you a number of exciting ways to explore carnival-themed science. With each of these ideas, kids can design or build something awesome that can be used as part of a homemade amusement park! (Don't forget to design some fun tickets, too!)

Tip: This downloadable PDF contains a summary of the ideas for Week 1. Print this out and use it as a check-list for activities you try this week! You can also print and use our simple activity log (PDF) if you want to encourage your younger students to reflect on their activities.

ASK: Science Questions for Week 1

Use these questions to prompt conversation and reflection this week about carnival and amusement park science:

  • What is your favorite carnival or amusement park attraction?
  • What is one science concept involved in a carnival game or an amusement park ride?
  • Which science or engineering activity did you try? What did you learn?
  • What kinds of science jobs are involved in designing and building things like roller coasters or creating amusement park attractions?

DO & EXPLORE: Carnival Science Activities

  • Build a Paper Roller Coaster: if your kids love roller coasters or are fascinated by the way roller coasters loop, designing a roller coaster at home is a lot of fun. Can you get the marble from the top to the bottom? How many loops will your coaster have?
  • Circus-Trick Science: How to Balance Anything: have you ever seen a clown walk around balancing a seemingly impossible tower of objects? There are all kinds of examples of balancing at a carnival or circus! Explore how balancing works with marshmallows and wooden sticks.
  • The Trick to Beating a Carnival Game: before you set up a backyard carnival game, try this activity to learn how the center of mass plays into how easy or hard it is to knock over the bottles in this classic amusement park game.
  • Distorted Images in Curved Mirrors: make your own simple "funhouse mirror" and explore the wacky world of curved mirrors.
  • Build a Marble Roller Coaster: use foam tubing to build a roller coaster with a loop. How high will your coaster need to start to build up enough momentum for a marble to make it around the loop?
  • Build a Popsicle Stick Catapult: you might not find a popsicle stick catapult at the county fair, but you could easily use one to create your own awesome backyard carnival game! Set up a bunch of containers as targets and have players try and launch cotton balls or ping pong balls into the containers to win. (Tip: you can make this game more challenging by color-coding or marking specific targets so that not all targets are winners!)
  • Mini Golf Physics: make your own "mini" mini-golf course to learn more about the science involved in designing and "playing" your mini-golf holes.
  • What Are the Chances?: the "odds" come into play in many carnival games. Some games involve skill, but others just involve luck — or odds. Find out more about the odds and probability in this activity.
  • Construct a Carnival Buzzer Game with a Raspberry Pi: this project is more advanced and requires the Raspberry Pi Projects Kit, but for kids interested in electronics and computer coding, this is a fun project that uses Raspberry Pi and Scratch to create a classic, interactive buzzer-game that tests how steady your hands are!

WATCH: Videos for Week 1

These videos demonstrate activities highlighted for Week 1's Carnival Science theme:

Paper Roller Coasters - Fun STEM Activity!
Marble Roller Coaster Science Project
Explore Concave and Convex Mirrors– STEM Activity.
Popsicle Stick Catapult
Video: How to Balance Anything

The following videos are not from Science Buddies but tie in with this week's theme:

READ: Books to Pair with Week 1's Carnival Science Theme

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel cover Roller Coaster book cover How to Code a Rollercoaster cover Little Elliot, Big Fun cover

For other great STEM stories for summer reading, see our Book list for science-filled summer reading! post. Also, don't miss this roundup of creative STEM activities for storytelling and imaginative play and our 12 Science Kits for Summer Science Experiments and Discovery recommendations.

Summer of STEM Posts

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Free science fair projects.