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Outside the Classroom

Engaging in Summer Science Fun AND Learning!

Summer is a time for kids to sleep in, escape the structured routine of school, play, and reconnect with family and friends. It can also be a time to explore, create, and try new things. And encouraging students to do that can be really helpful for their next teachers, as it can reduce the learning loss so many students experience during long breaks from school.

Reading is one of the most effective ways to lessen and even prevent this learning loss, but how can teachers and parents prevent science learning loss? Opportunities abound for science learning for students of all ages, especially for our youngest learners. It’s easier than you think to add scientific analysis without much fuss, so check out the activity below to see how you can do it. All it takes is a few minutes, and a couple cereal boxes!

Cereal Box Puzzle

Have you ever played a minute-to-win-it game, or watched the gameshow? As the title suggests, players have 60 seconds to complete a task, which starts off easy and gradually increases in difficulty as time goes by. Minute-to-win-it games exist for every subject you can imagine, so why not use this idea to design a fun and easy science experiment?

  1. Gather your materials. You’ll need two empty cereal boxes, scissors, two small plastic sandwich bags, a pen or pencil, the data table you can download here, and a digital timer (check your phone for a timer).

  2. Carefully cut out the front of the cereal box, and make sure to tidy up the edges. Set aside.
  3. Do the same with the back of the cereal box, and set those pieces aside, too.
  4. Cut the front of the box into 15 differently sized pieces and put them in one of the sandwich bags. Do the same with the back side of the cereal box using the second bag, making sure to not mix the pieces. (Reduce number of pieces if working with K–2nd graders.)
    Cereal box puzzle
  5. Set each sandwich bag on a table and say to your child, “Inside this bag is the front of a cereal box. Our job is to put it back together, like a puzzle. Before we start though, let’s guess how many seconds it’ll take to put it back together.” Write your guesses on the data table.
  6. Then discuss, “Here is the back of the cereal box, cut up into puzzle pieces. How many seconds do you think it will take to put it back together?” Record that time on your data sheet, then ask, “Do you think it’ll be easier to put the front of the cereal box together or the back of the box together?” Record any answers on the data sheet; there are no right or wrong answers here.
  7. Set the timer to 60 seconds. Say, “Pick the front-of-the-box puzzle and begin.” Do this eight times, with the hope that the amount of time it takes will start to decrease and the child will begin to develop a strategy. Record the results, and don’t worry if there is a variety in the times as there is no right or wrong time. Debrief by asking him or her what was easy, and what made this hard. Did he or she get better at recognizing the puzzle pieces and take less time to complete the puzzles?
  8. Repeat these steps with the back-of-the-box puzzle. Follow up with another round of questions. Was it easier to put together the front of the box or the back of the box? Why was there a difference? What was your strategy to decrease the amount of time it took to put the puzzle together?”
  9. To step this activity up another level, add a line or bar graph, and calculate the mean, mode, and median times it took to complete the puzzles.

Take Summer Science Fun Outside!

You can apply this mindset to many more activities to keep things interesting. Try going outside at 10 am, 4 pm, and 8 pm, and identify the sounds in your neighborhood. Which sounds occur throughout the day? How do the sounds differ? List them first in a chart, then gather “evidence” for several days. Repeat the questions, and also ask which sounds changed over the course of several days. What sounds are new? Which sounds are missing? Compare weekday sounds to those heard at the same times on the weekend; how are they similar and different, and why?

Once you’ve established a “baseline” for your neighborhood, change your environment. What sounds are at your favorite places like the park, the baseball field, the library, and your friends’ houses?

When it comes to discovery and science at an early age, change the conversation from right or wrong, yes or no, and expand it to finding patterns and explaining your thoughts by including evidence.

What Does Your Community Offer?

If you’re looking for other ways to engage in science learning throughout the summer, visit a natural history museum, or even an art museum, where you can talk about pigments. Visit your local library and ask the librarians to show you maps of your area, and other interesting science books. Plant a garden and nurture the plants and watch them grow. If you grow fruits and vegetables, take it a step further and cook with those foods. Join a club, like FIRST® Robotics, VEX Robotics, and Marine Tech, or find a Maker class. If your child uses Edgenuity® products during the school year, ask their teachers about using them over the summer to stay sharp on math and ELA skills as well.

There are countless other ways to continue science learning during long breaks from school, which can help prevent summer learning loss. Look to the Internet and your students’ teachers and librarians for more suggestions. It’ll go a long way in helping them prepare for the challenge that waits for them at the beginning of the next school year!

About the Author


Teresa Tucker

A California native, who now calls Michigan home, Teresa graduated from MSU with a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Education and Secondary Teaching minors in Earth Science and Physical Science, as well as an M.S. focusing on the use of real-time data to motivate students. With 20 years of experience in the classroom and 6 years of online teaching experience, she continues to enjoy working with students, helping them think critically about scientific information.