Each STEM field—science, technology, engineering, mathematics—offers a choice of three Supernova activity topics. These are two-part, hands-on, high-level activities created to challenge you and help you continue along your STEM journey to excellence. Part 1 involves research, preparation, set up, coordination, and/or organization. Part 2 includes elements such as analysis, reflection, experimentation, design, or invention, and culminates in a report created by you.
Report Format Options
No matter what STEM activity you choose, you will need to create a report. Reports are a regular part of the work of professionals in various STEM fields, so these tasks will be good preparation for future career demands. Notice that it doesn’t say write a report. You are not restricted to just writing a report, although you may choose to do so if you like. Any report will probably involve some writing on your part, but the report itself may be created and presented in any number of ways. Use your imagination!
You may choose from any of the formats below for your report, or you may create a combination of these formats. You may create something entirely new as long as your Supernova mentor approves. The objective is for you to communicate what you have learned to others in a way that helps them understand what you learned and how you learned it.
The report must provide sufficient detail so that someone unfamiliar with the topic can understand the content. For each format, you are encouraged to incorporate a variety of ways to present your information and to use technology to create a polished presentation. For example, an oral report might include a PowerPoint presentation as a visual aid, or a poster presentation might include a slide show of your activity. Be creative.
A Note About Resources
The books and websites provided for each superactivity topic are presented as optional resources and are merely suggestions. In most cases, they are not crucial to the corresponding activities. The Boy Scouts of America makes no guarantee that they will be available in local public libraries, from booksellers, or online.
The resources represent examples of the types you might use to support your work on a particular activity. You may very well find alternative and/or additional resources that serve you as well or better than those presented here.
Supernova Activity Topic: Science
If you are fascinated by how things work and you want to help contribute to a better planet Earth, the Supernova activity topic choices for science give you a hands-on chance to:
Choose any one of these activities and discover how it drives your imagination, your curiosity, and your fascination with science.
Environmental Science: New Things From Old
This activity can be done individually or in a group. Your task is to investigate the logistics and environmental value of recycling and repurposing used items into new products and to invent a product that is predominantly made from used item(s).
Part 1: Research
Part 2: Product Invention and Report
Susan Casey. Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors (for younger youth). Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Russel Gehrke. Recycling Projects for the Evil Genius (lots of how-tos). McGraw-Hill/ TAB Electronics, 2010.
Garth Johnson. 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew (pretty pictures, good inspiration, no how-tos). Quarry Books, 2009.
Movie “Science”: Misconceptions, Misunderstandings, and Mistakes
This activity can be done individually or in a group. There are many popular movies and television shows with plots that involve space travel in the near or distant future. Your task in this activity is to watch one such production and identify scientific or technological advances that appear to be possible and those that appear to be impossible and explain.
Part 1: Research
Part 2: Report
Create a report that is addressed to the producers of your chosen movie or show, from the perspective of a scientist hired as a consultant on the production. Include suggestions for the producers to make the movie more scientifically or technologically accurate, realistic, and plausible.
Jeanne Cavelos. The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist’s Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films and Books. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000.
Michio Kaku. Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. Anchor, 2009.
Lawrence M. Krauss. The Physics of Star Trek. Basic Books, 2007.
Tom Rogers. Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics: Hollywood’s Best Mistakes, Goofs and Flat-Out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe. Sourcebooks Hysteria, 2007.
Household Chemistry: Diet Coke and Mentos Explosions
This activity can be done individually or in a group, but it is much more fun as a group. For this experiment, you will investigate how and why dropping a Mentos candy into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke creates a massive explosion.
Part 1: Research and Experiment Design
Research this Diet Coke and Mentos phenomenon by doing the following:
Part 2: Experiment and Report
Conduct your experiment. You might want to videotape your experimental trials and include some video clips in your final report.
Theodore Gray. Theo Gray’s Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home- But Probably Shouldn’t. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2011.
Robert Bruce Thompson. Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture. O’Reilly Media, 2008.
Using your favorite search engine online (with your parent’s or guardian’s permission), enter search terms EepyBird, Mythbusters, and “Diet Coke and Mentos.”
Supernova Activity Topic: Technology
From the energy that keeps our homes comfortable and our lights on, to the communication that lets us talk to people around the world, to the special effects used in the movies, we depend on technology. Choose any one of the following projects and you will have fun while learning about today’s technology.
This activity can be done individually or in a group. The technology to harness energy has always been a significant factor in human progress. The harnessing of energy from wind, sun, water, biomass, fossil fuels, and other sources has evolved dramatically over time.
Part 1: Field Trip
Arrange and go on a field trip to a site where you can learn about innovative and/ or historical examples of energy production, storage, and use and the ways people are making such processes sustainable. Possible sites include power plants, fuel manufacturers or refineries, power generation sites, energy- or resource-efficient buildings, historical sites of energy use or production, educational centers, museums, and so on.
Part 2: Analysis and Report
John Perlin. From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity. Harvard University Press, 2002.
Terry S. Reynolds. Stronger than a Hundred Men: A History of the Vertical Water Wheel. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Robert W. Righter. Wind Energy in America: A History. University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.
This activity can be done individually or in a group. It requires the participation of 20 to 30 people.
The scenario: You are the communication chair for a science fair being organized by your unit. Your responsibility is to gather contact information from all participants (contestants, judges, staff, and so on) and formulate a communication plan that will be effective for anticipated communications and necessary-but-unexpected communications as well. You will need to be able to communicate some information to everyone, other information to subgroups, and additional information to another group of individuals.
Part 1: Communication Plan
Before you get started, share your plan with your mentor. Then do the following:
Think about the kinds of information you will need to communicate. This sometimes influences the mode of communication and should also be a part of your communication plans.
If you don’t get responses, follow up with additional messages, perhaps via different communication modes. When you have what you need, make sure you communicate the finished Mad Lib back to the relevant individuals.
A Mad Lib is an unfinished story that is complete except for missing words, indicated by blanks. The words for each blank are in categories such as verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Missing words are supplied by folks who don’t know the story, thus creating a funny, crazy, mad story.
Part 2: Analysis and Report
Gather some statistics relevant to your communication plan and your participants. Then do the following:
Roger Price. Best of Mad Libs. Price Stern Sloan, 2008.
Roger Price and Leonard Stern. More Best of Mad Libs. Price Stern Sloan, 2009.
For information about Mad Libs, go to www.madlibs.com. Click on the “Mad Libs Online Widget” to try it out.
This activity can be done individually or in a group. Many of today’s movies involve extensive use of technology to create illusions of magnificent landscapes, mythical beasts, epic battle scenes, and so on. This activity involves learning about some of these technologies and applying them in a real-life setting.
Part 1: Building Knowledge
Choose a favorite, recent movie that is heavily laden with special effects, available for home viewing, and accompanied by supplemental material that describes and shows how the special effects were created. After you have chosen a movie, do the following:
Part 2: Creating a Grand Illusion
Develop a plan for creating a still photo or a short video that would require special effects to convey the image or action that you desire to show. Be sure you share your plan with your mentor before you get started. For a still photo, make a crude sketch of what you want the photo to look like. For a video, make a storyboard of the action sequence.
A storyboard is a sequence of rough illustrations that depict the primary scenes or action shots of your story.
In either case, describe the special effects you would use to create each element of the piece. Discuss the following with your mentor:
The elements of the video/photo that you created must be planned and implemented using the highest safety protocols. Have your mentor examine your plan and suggest improvements. Your mentor must approve it before you get started. Create a report that shows your understanding of special effects and how they might be applied to the photo or video that you envisioned.
Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols. Filmmaking for Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts. Michael Wiese Productions, 2010.
Richard Rickett. Special Effects: The History and Technique. Billboard Books, 2007.
Steve Wolf. The Secret Science Behind Movie Stunts & Special Effects. Skyhorse Publishing, 2007.
Supernova Activity Topic: Engineering
Have you ever studied how your bicycle works? To learn how a bicycle is put together (or engineered), here is a project for disassembling one. Or what about making a high-performance paper glider? Or having a contest to see who can drop a raw egg without breaking it? Choose any one of these activities to learn more about engineering.
Deconstruct and Analyze: Mechanical Designs
This activity can be done individually or in a small group. Your task is to take apart a bicycle (or other suitably complex mechanical device; see the note below), analyze the components, and describe how the components work (both separately and together).
Part 1: Preplanning and Set-Up
Part 2: Deconstruction, Analysis, and Report
This next phase involves deconstructing the device. Take pictures as you work, and make notes of what is happening in each picture.
It is not crucial for the object you deconstruct to be a bicycle. Any mechanical device, machine, or tool will do, as long as it is suitably complex for your abilities and knowledge and is approved by your mentor. Examples include but are not limited to manual typewriters, old clocks, old sewing machines, and so on.
If you wish to deconstruct something that is electronic in nature (rather than just mechanical), then you will need to learn about additional safety protocols that must be observed while deconstructing electronics. Your mentor may suggest and help to secure the help of a qualified electronics expert for those projects. You must demonstrate to your mentor that you know and understand these additional safety protocols prior to beginning your deconstruction.
Whatever you choose to deconstruct, you must adapt the questions above to suit the object you are deconstructing and address those questions in your report.
Bryan Bergeron. Teardowns: Learn How Electronics Work by Taking Them Apart. McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics, 2010.
Naval Education and Training Program. Basic Machines and How They Work. Dover Publications, 1997.
Build and Test: High Performance Paper Gliders
This activity can be done individually, but works much better with at least two people. Your task is to measure how differences in design affect the flight characteristics of a glider. You will accomplish this by building and testing some high-performance paper gliders. These gliders use a laminated construction method that helps simulate a real glider much more closely than a simple folded piece of paper.
Part 1: Background Research, Baseline Design Selection, and Test
Part 2: Analyze and Report
Present to your mentor your recorded data in a tabular format as well as a graphical format. (You may use Excel if you wish.) Then do the following:
Source: The idea for this activity is based on the work of Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies, What Makes a Good Aerodynamic Design? Test Your Ideas with High-Performance Paper Gliders. Visit http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Aero_p009.shtml.
Science 85 Magazine. The Paper Airplane Book: The Official Book of the Second Great International Paper Airplane Contest (best book for laminated paper techniques). Science 85 Magazine, 1985.
Hubert Smith. The Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics (for background research). McGraw-Hill Professional, 1991.
AG Industries WhiteWings
NASA Beginner’s Guide to Aeronautics
The Online Paper Airplane Museum
Design and Redesign: Egg Drop Contest
This is a group activity and requires at least two youth. Your task is to design a container in which to place a raw egg, so that when the container with the egg is dropped, the egg survives the impact without breaking.
Part 1: Research, Design, and Contest Set-Up
Research and describe to your mentor:
Part 2: Analysis, Redesign, and Report
Analyze how your container performed, and discuss with your mentor your design strategy and how well the container you designed performed. Then do the following:
3-Egg Drop Challenge
Supernova Activity Topic: Mathematics
Have you ever watched bungee jumpers and wondered why they don’t hit the ground? You can make a model of your own and figure it out. Or, what about the Yellowstone geyser Old Faithful—how can you tell when it will erupt? What about voting—can you imagine how so many people in so many states can go in, cast a vote, and come out with a fair result? Mathematics is the key. Choose any one of these projects to learn how it’s done.
From Simulations to Real Life: Modeling Bungee Jumping
This activity requires at least two people and works much better with a group of three to six people.
The scenario: The Acme Daredevil Adventure Company provides rock climbing, skydiving, extreme skiing, and cliff diving adventures to the public. To appeal to a broader market, the board decided to add bungee jumping to its list of offerings. The details of this new venture now need to be worked.
The company has several sites planned for bungee jumping, and each site has a different jump height. Your task is to simulate bungee jumping using rubber bands and an action figure (doll) to determine the ultimate length, or the number of rubber bands to be used with your action figure at any given height to guarantee a safe jump. For maximum thrills, the jump must allow your action figure to come as close to the floor as possible.
Part 1: Set-Up and Simulation
Tape a weight(s) to the doll’s back so that it is heavy enough to stretch the rubber band “bungee cord.” Tie one or two rubber bands (the unstretched size should be about 4 inches) to the doll’s feet and drop it, headfirst, from various heights. Keep raising the jump height until the head no longer hits the floor.
Once you reach this height, perform three trials, measure the height of the drop each time, calculate the average, and calculate the maximum error between the average and the drop heights used to find that average. (Conduct a test drop several times to practice taking readings.)
Continue adding rubber bands to see what the average drop height will be for different numbers of rubber bands. Do the experiment with at least six different numbers of rubber bands. Use a tabular chart to help you organize and record your data. (You may use Excel or create your own tables.)
What Is a Scatter Plot? Scatter plots use horizontal and vertical axes on a graph to plot data points and show how much one variable (or measurable “value”) is affected by another. Each variable can be represented on the scatter plot with a dot. Once the scatter plot has been filled in with a number of dots, you should be able to see how the variables are “scattered” to show a trend. For more information about scatter plots, use your favorite search engine on the Internet (with your parent’s or guardian’s permission), or ask your mentor.
Part 2: Analysis and Report
Source: The ideas for this activity are based on multiple versions of an activity available online titled Bungee Barbie and Kamikaze Ken. The originator of idea for this activity is unknown.
Linking the Past to the Future: Predicting Old Faithful’s Next Eruption
This activity can be done individually, but works much better with three to six people.
The scenario: You have lined up a summer job as a junior park ranger at Yellowstone National Park, where you know many visitors come to see the geyser Old Faithful. Many visitors arrive just after Old Faithful has erupted and they typically ask a nearby ranger when it is next expected to erupt. Your task is to analyze past data on Old Faithful’s eruptions in order to devise a strategy for predicting the next eruption.
Part 1: Data Gathering and Initial Analysis
Part 2: Further Analysis, Refinement of Prediction Strategy, and Report
T. Scott Bryan. Geysers: What They Are and How They Work, 2nd ed. Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2005.
William J. Fritz. Roadside Geology of the Yellowstone Country. Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1985.
For more data, visit the Geyser Observation and Study Association at www.geyserstudy.org.
A Paradox of Counting: Voting Methods and Fair Decisions
This activity can be done individually or with a group of two to six people, and requires cooperation from about 20 to 30 individuals.
The scenario: Your unit wants to plan a superactivity for next summer but cannot agree on what that activity should be. There are four options under consideration, and your unit decides to vote. Your task is to collect ballots and tabulate results using several different voting methods.
This is not a binding decision on your unit! This is an exercise, but one that will be more meaningful if you use real-life possibilities.
Part 1: Ballot Setup, Gathering, and Tabulating
Part 2: Analysis and Report
Donald G. Saari. Chaotic Elections! A Mathematician Looks at Voting (for youth with stronger mathematics backgrounds). American Mathematical Society, 2001.
William Poundstone. Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It). Hill and Wang, 2008.