STEM Launcher’s Science Gift Guide for Kids- Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of STEM Launcher’s 2023 Holiday Science Gift Guide for Kids. I’ve gathered up some of my favorite science gifts that are perfect for the science loving kid on your holiday list. Please note some links are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you click and buy through those links.

I only list gifts here that I actually have tried and love. I’m generally not a huge fan of many of the science kits that are out there- they’re often not the best quality, their explanations are lacking, and they’re sometimes just expensive versions of ingredients you can find in your kitchen!

Here are some of my favorite science gifts!

Thames and Kosmos Magnetic Science Kit

This kit comes with some great magnets and magnetic items to explore! My favorite item in the kit is the floating magnets, but you’ll love the variety of activities you can do with the materials provided in this kit.

Stay Curious and Keep Exploring Book

Written by the amazing Emily Calandrelli of Emily’s Wonder Lab, this book has easy and fun science activities that you can do at home along with some great easy-to-understand explanations. If you loved the Netflix show, you’ll love this book even more!

Old Nobby Molecular Model Kit

Chemistry-loving kids will have hours of fun building molecules with this molecular model kit. It’s a nice screen-free option- I haven’t found an app-related modeling kit that I like yet, so until I do, this is what I’ll be recommending.

Snap Circuits

I have nothing but good things to say about Snap Circuits! We discovered them during our pandemic homeschooling time- and they were easy enough that my (then) 1st grader could use them. They’re an excellent and relatively safe way for kids (and adults!) to learn about circuits. The included activity book is fantastic and very thorough and will give a solid foundation for kids to branch out and try their own projects.

I Take Naps Periodically Pillow

I may be a little biased since this is my own design, but I think this pillow is the perfect gift! Featuring a fun periodic table design with ‘naps’ spelled out with elements, it’s sure to get a spot of honor on the recipient’s bed or couch.

I take Naps periodically on a white pillow by STEM Launcher

The Element in the Room Book

If your kid is obsessed with the periodic table, this book will teach them all kinds of fun and quirky facts about the elements! It’s not by any means a comprehensive book about the elements but does provide some fun new facts that even surprised me!

Kaboom! The Chemistry of Fireworks


Do you ever wonder what makes the brilliant colors that we see in the sky when fireworks explode? The answer is salt! Now, I’m not talking about the stuff on your kitchen table (although that’s a salt too!) Salts in chemistry are ionic compounds- made of a metal ion and a nonmetal ion. And different metals produce light that’s different colors.

Download this FREE coloring sheet to learn which elements give fireworks their colors. Then, put your new knowledge to use with a color-by-element sheet. Finally, use what you’ve learned about the chemistry of firework colors to impress your family the next time you watch a fireworks display!

And if you’re looking for another fun fireworks activity, check out our fireworks in your kitchen! This activity is easy and fun to do over and over again!

Also, check out these amazing infographics about fireworks by Compound Interest.

Happy Fall!

I love fall! The colorful leaves. Pumpkin spiced everything. Apple cider. The cooler temperatures…oh wait. Where we live, at least, it’s been in the 90s for what feels like forever! We actually set record highs on October 1st and 2nd. Even though it doesn’t FEEL like fall, the days are definitely getting shorter, and when I go to Trader Joe’s, there is no shortage of pumpkin spice food.

My love of fall spills over into my STEM Launcher classes this year, as I designed 5 classes just for fall. These classes will ONLY be offered in October and November. From pumpkin spice slime to extracting DNA from your carved pumpkins, there’s something for everyone! (no pumpkins were harmed in the making of the pumpkin spice slime) And the best part? All of these classes are $15 or less!

Here’s the lineup of our limited-time fall classes:

Extracting DNA From Your Halloween Pumpkins All living things have DNA- including the pumpkin that’s sitting on your front porch! In this class, we’ll learn about the structure of DNA and extract some DNA from that pumpkin using things you probably already have in your kitchen!

Hands-On Science: The Bubbling, Oozing Jack O’Lantern In this class, we spend some time learning about chemical reactions before learning how to make your carved pumpkin bubble and ooze!

Pumpkin Spice Slime You’ve had pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bread, and you may even have a pumpkin spice candle. But have you ever made pumpkin spice slime? In this class, we put a seasonal twist on a favorite science experiment after talking about polymer chemistry.

The Chemistry of Colorful Fall Leaves If you live in a place where the leaves change color every year, you’ve probably wondered how it happens. In this class, we talk about how and why leaves change color, why leaves fall off the trees (spoiler: they don’t!), and I even include instructions for an experiment that you can try at home to extract and separate the colors of the leaves in your backyard!

Trick-or-Treat! Halloween Candy Chromatography After trick-or-treating, you probably have more candy than you know what to do with. Put some of it to good use while learning some science in Halloween Candy Chromatography. All you need are some Skittles or M&Ms and a few other basic supplies to learn about separating mixtures and analyzing dyes.

Want to keep up with the latest STEM Launcher news? Sign up for our monthly newsletter! Each month, you’ll get a fun science activity, news about our classes, and other fun science tidbits!

5 Reasons to Take Online Science Classes With STEM Launcher

Have you looked at our list of classes and wondered “Why would I want to sign my kid up for an online science class?” Well here are 5 great reasons why you should!

1. You don’t need to leave the house
Are you tired of running everywhere around town and spending hours a day in the car to get to classes and activities? Do you have a baby at home who has a nap schedule that makes going anywhere difficult? Online classes are perfect for your family! You don’t need to convince your kids to get their shoes on (or find them!) No need to worry about strapping everyone into car seats. If someone’s napping, no need to wake them up- your child who’s taking classes can wear headphones and learn without disturbing their younger siblings. Plus, think of all of the money you’ll save on gas and drive through fast food!

2. They’re taught by a science content expert
I get it- lots of people are scared of science. In fact, when I tell people that I used to teach high school chemistry, they most common responses are “I HATED that class!” or “Wow, chemistry was NOT my thing!” Well, chemistry IS my thing, and every class I teach on STEM Launcher was written and designed by me. I do everything that I can to make even the most challenging topics approachable by everyone AND I can probably answer a lot of your kid’s “but why???” questions!

3. Enrichment
Does your kid want more science than what they cover in school? Or maybe you homeschool and your current curriculum has your kid hungry for even more science learning. STEM Launcher classes are perfect for kids who always want MORE science, regardless of what kinds of schooling you choose. With our flexible schedule classes, even students with sports practice, dance class, or music lessons can fit in extra science when they have time. Which brings me to reason number 4…

4. Flexible schedules
While some of the classes I offer are live (and typically during the day in my time zone- US Eastern Time) I do offer a variety of flexible schedule classes (referred to as Flex classes on Outschool) These classes aren’t just something that you purchase and then are on your own for learning- you always have the ability to ask questions, interact (via message boards) with other learners and get help when needed. I add new content to each course weekly, and check in every day to see if there are questions. They’re perfect for families who need a more flexible schedule and can’t necessarily commit to the same time each week for a class or for families who can’t fit one of my live classes into their schedule.

5. Awesome topics!
Unicorn-themed science experiments, making your own acid/base color-changing indicators, learning about astronauts and Nobel prize winners- these are some of the topics that you’ll find covered in STEM Launcher classes!

Want to keep up with the latest STEM Launcher news? Sign up for our monthly newsletter! Each month, you’ll get a fun science activity, news about our classes, and other fun science tidbits!

8 Awesome Classes on STEM Launcher

It’s fall, and that means we’re launching a lot of new classes on STEM Launcher. Here are some of my favorites- and the best part? They’re all under $15 each!

Amazing Astronauts– Ages 8-13
I’ve always been fascinated by the space program- in fact, when I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. In this class, we’ll talk about some of the amazing people who have left the Earth’s atmosphere and what contributions they’ve made to both the space program and the world.

Kaboom! The Science of Fireworks– Ages 8-16
I offer two sections of this class- one for ages 8-12, and the other for ages 12-16
Both sections of this look at what a firework is made of, what makes the brilliant colors that we see, and different types of fireworks. The biggest difference is that the one for ages 12-16 also discusses the electron energy levels and the environmental impact of fireworks, while the one for 8-12 does not. After this class, you will never look at fireworks in the same way again!

Be a Color Detective with Chromatography– Ages 8-13
In our newest hands-on class, we will separate the various pigments in washable markers and colorful candies (M&Ms or Skittles) using a technique called paper chromatography. We’ll discuss why the colors separate and how that technique is used in real labs.

Marvelous Molecules– Ages 8-13
There are so many molecules that have changed the world! In this class, we will learn about 8 of them. We’ll talk about their structure, where they come from, when they were made or discovered, and why they’re important.

The Chemistry of Colorful Fall Leaves- Ages 9-14
Fall is my favorite season. I love warm apple cider, crunchy leaves, and pumpkin spice everything! If you live in an area where the leaves change color each year, you’re familiar with the amazing transformation that happens from the lush greens of summer to the brilliant golds, oranges, and reds of fall. In this class, we discuss why the leaves change color, why some trees don’t change, and compare the structure of plant cells in spring vs. fall leaves. I also include video and written instructions for how to extract the color pigments from green tree leaves and use paper chromatography to separate them. This is a really cool experiment, because you get to see that even green leaves have other pigments in them!

Why Are Lemons Sour? Hands-On Acids and Bases in Your Kitchen– Ages 8-13
In this class, we start by talking about acids and bases, learn about pH indicators, then make our own color-changing pH indicator and test various substances in the kitchen (including lemon juice!) to determine if they’re acids or bases!

Why Is Water Wet? A Hands- On Exploration of the Properties of Water– Ages 8-13
Water- a simple molecule made up of three atoms that is absolutely essential to life as we know it. What makes water so special? Its molecular structure! We will explore the structure of the water molecule and discuss how it makes water so important in this hands-on course.

The Chemistry of Rocks and Minerals– Ages 8-13
Geology may be the study of rocks, but did you know that geologists use a lot of chemistry to classify and identify rocks? Learn where many minerals and gemstones get their colors and how geologists use chemistry every day.

You can find all of these classes on my Outschool page! Feel free to send a schedule request if you’re interested in a class but none of the options work for you- I’ll do what I can to make something work! Hope to see you in a class soon!

Fireworks in Your Kitchen!

You might be looking at the title and thinking, “This doesn’t sound safe!” In fact, when my son saw me type this title, he said, “But Mom, that would be dangerous! Please don’t do it!” But the fireworks that we’re looking at aren’t the kind that you have to do outside with close adult supervision- these are fireworks that you can do even with a preschooler!

This simple experiment is packed with science concepts- density (the oil floats on the water), polar and nonpolar substances (the oil and water don’t mix), and even reaction rates (if you try it with cold and warm water)- but it’s easy enough for kids of any age to watch or do.

Click here for the pdf of instructions and check out the photos of each step of the experiment below.

What’s Up With Jupiter This Month?

It’s been all over the news the past few weeks- “Jupiter is About to Be So Close, You Can See Its Moons”, “Jupiter Comes Close to Earth in June 2019” But what does this all mean? Will the night sky look different this month?

“It really is a great time to see (Jupiter), as it will appear biggest and brightest for the year,” said Dr. Chris Palma, a faculty member in Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State. “Unfortunately, the sites quoting this article from NASA are blowing it out of proportion, like they do with the “SuperMoon” stories. One article I saw on Google News was saying “Jupiter will be so bright you can see its moons without a telescope.” They mean you can see them through binoculars, which technically is without a telescope, but they don’t mean with the unaided eye, which is how I think most folks will interpret that headline. So don’t fall for the hype! Jupiter will look awesome, and you should go out and see it, but it is nothing out of the ordinary compared to a typical opposition of Jupiter, which happens roughly once per year.”

He went on to add, “Some articles say that “It is so bright you can see the moons with only binoculars” as if that is not usually possible. You can always see the Galilean moons with binoculars!”

The reason why Jupiter is so brilliant in the sky this month is that Jupiter reaches opposition on June 10. This is when Jupiter, Earth, and the Sun are arranged in a straight line as shown below. It occurs approximately once per Earth year on a specific date. The weeks around opposition are really the best time of the year to see Jupiter, as the planet is visible in the sky for the entire night. It is also the time when Jupiter is closest to Earth.

Simplified image of Jupiter at opposition. Note that the image is NOT to scale and is missing many objects in our Solar System, but it does show the relative positions of the Sun, Earth, and Jupiter.

During opposition, Jupiter will rise at dusk in the southeastern sky (northeastern if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere), and will stay visible in the sky until dawn. If you’re having trouble finding it, try downloading a stargazing app on your smartphone (SkyView Free, Night Sky, or Sky Safari all have free versions) to help guide you.

If you’re wondering what you’ll see with binoculars, check out this Astronomy Picture of the Day from May 23, 2019, which shows Jupiter and some of its moons taken with a camera with a telephoto lens.

And if the weather isn’t cooperating this week and you don’t get to see Jupiter’s moons, don’t panic! Remember that they’re always visible with binoculars, so get out and enjoy the wonders of the night sky whenever you can.

What is Outschool and How Do Online Classes Work?

I currently teach my classes through a website called Outschool. Outschool is a marketplace for live online classes for ages 3 to 18. I sometimes think of Outschool as an Etsy of online courses- you can find classes on so many amazing topics- Spanish, Biology, Civics, the history of Stan Lee comic books, the evolution of Pokemon characters and how it relates to Darwin’s Finches…you know, your typical subjects that you’ll find in any high school. 

There are two types of classes that you can take on Outschool- live classes, where you are video conferencing (similar to Google hangouts or FaceTime) with a teacher and other students at a pre-scheduled time and flexible schedule classes (often called Flex in Outschool) where you can choose to work through that week’s course material in your own time. 

In my live online classes (and really, on all live classes through Outschool) I use a platform called Zoom. Zoom is video conferencing software and is very easy to use! On your screen, you’ll see the my video stream, whatever presentation slides I’m showing, and the other students’ video streams, as shown below (minus the other students of course!) You can talk with the instructor and students in real time and can all see each other. It really is like sitting around a virtual table learning together! If you need to, you can mute your audio and video feeds so that the other students can’t see or hear you (like if you need to step away for a moment) and I will sometimes mute all students while I’m talking if there’s a lot of background noise to make sure that everyone hears what I’m saying.

What you’ll see during a live online class on Zoom.

Each live online class also has a virtual classroom, which is basically a message board where I can upload files of handouts or quizzes, pose questions to the class, or post announcements and reminders. I also will post a link to the class video so that you can go back and refer to it after class is over in case you missed something or want to replay it. 

For my Flex classes, I use a platform called Canvas. Canvas is a website used by many high schools and colleges as a course management system. When you register for one of my Flex classes, I will send you a message with instructions for how to log in to Canvas and get to our classroom. Setting up a Canvas account is free, and it’s relatively easy to find your way around! On Canvas, I post short videos of recorded lectures or explanations of how to do a problem, links to online quizzes, notes, and class discussion questions. Even though you aren’t taking the course live, you are always able to ask me questions and interact with the other students- you just don’t have to do it at a scheduled class time. 

I hope to see you soon in one of my live or flex classes. If you have other questions about online classes, post them in the comments and I’ll answer them!

About Me

Hi- I’m Julie, and I am the person behind STEM Launcher. I’m a mom to an awesome 6 year old, a scientist, a teacher, a hockey fan, a nerd, and a food-lover. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and I studied Chemistry at Pitt and Chemistry and Science Education at Penn State. Along the way, I’ve taught college chemistry labs and recitations, worked for 6 years as a high school chemistry teacher, instructed camps for SCIENCE-U at Penn State, interned at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and worked at countless science outreach events. I am also the recipient of the NSTA Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award for New Teachers and was selected for the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy. 

I love teaching science, and the idea for STEM Launcher was born out of this love. I want to bring the spark of loving science to as many people as I can, and online hands-on science classes allow me to do exactly that!

There are lots of great classes in the works, but if you ever have ideas for a topic you’d like to see, you can always email me with your requests! Looking forward to seeing you in a class soon!