Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Stop the Summer Brain Drain - 7 Top Ideas for Science Fair Projects

Encouraging teenagers to learn at any age is a challenge in itself. Ever tried to get your kids to do their homework when the sun is shining? Or when the Xbox or PS3 are within their line of vision? It’s even more of a challenge when the long summer holidays lie outstretched before you in one endless run of days spent on computers killing zombies with a new online friend.

If you have a budding entrepreneur in your midst don’t let the summer sunshine drain their brain. Summer camps that focus on education and life beyond school are a great way of maintaining their brain development. Even the most reluctant learner won’t fail to be impressed by the thought of a science fair or entrepreneurial project.

Here are some of our favourite ideas for science fairs with a mix of the obvious and the not so obvious but all practical for those long summer holidays. 
Astronomy What inspires teenagers more than a space fair? Science fairs revolving around astronomy are sure to be a big hit. Encourage them to explore space ‘the final frontier’, with projects like building a working sun dial or creating a telescope. Explore the origins of comets, the individual planets and carry out gravity experiments. Who knows what it might set off in an inquisitive brain?

Earthquakes It’s estimated that there are 500,000 earthquakes detected across the globe each year. Thankfully only a fifth of them can actually be felt and around 100 cause damage, some of which as we know can be catastrophic. Learn about plate tectonics and build a working model of an earthquake. Participants can investigate the different types of faults and learn about how earthquakes are measured. After all, ‘quakes are natural phenomena that fascinate kids of all ages and they may also appreciate how lucky they are living in a ‘quake-free zone.

Volcanoes Closely following on from earthquakes with their link to tectonic plates, volcanoes are guaranteed to hold youthful attention. Discuss how they form, where they are located, why they erupt. Look at the differences between active and dormant volcanoes. Apply practical examples such as the volcanic ash from Iceland that disrupted air flights in 2010.  

Global Warming
Kids today are probably more eco-conscious than their parents, having been educated from an early age on the challenges and effects of global warming. Encourage them to discuss the greenhouse effect, melting polar ice caps and understand how we can help to protect the environment. They may come home with a solution to global warming all ready to go.

The Science of Dating
Yes, it’s unusual and yes there will be a few squirming at the back but at the age of first crushes and broken hearts, a science fair discussion on dating will help teenagers in particular to open up and discuss their emotions. Consider different dating rituals and carry out surveys on what type of looks attract them, such as hair and eye colour. What personality do they prefer? Do they like tattoos? Compare the results of their survey by asking members of an older generation the same questions – you’ll soon quell the hormones (temporarily of course) and it may help them gain perspective. It won’t stop the crushes though.

Spiders, insects, whatever it is that’s easiest, any project that involves a field trip in search of bugs is always a bonus. When it comes to spiders the list of questions is endless. How long do they live? Are they poisonous? How do they create their webs? Who’s afraid of them? Do they have fangs? Which one is the biggest spider? Probably best avoided by the squeamish! 

Body Temperature
This is another great and easy science fair project which will encourage teenagers to discuss topics they would normally avoid. Taking their own temperature at scheduled times during the day will show them how it changes. Send them off exercising for half an hour (easy if they are at an adventure camp) and check their temperature immediately after exercise and an hour or so later. Explain the consequences of their body temperature dropping too low or too high.  

Summer science fairs are ideal for stopping the summer brain drain and getting kids of all ages involved in their environment and understand themselves too. This is your challenge should you choose to accept it. Turn off the computer and get them outside! 

Biog: Kate Smedley looks at innovative summer camps to get through the school holidays. 

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