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PEN Activities to Stimulate the Interest of Students in STEM

Implement some of these STEM activities to better engage your students

In one of our previous articles, we shared why hands-on learning is important in STEM education. Students learn more by doing and incorporating hands-on activities into your STEM curriculum will ensure that your students not only have fun while learning, you also keep them engaged in the classroom.

At PEN, we have developed quite a number of activities (using local materials) that teachers can use in teaching STEM to their students. Over the past few years, we have developed a training manual that will aid teachers in using the hands-on approach in teaching STEM. We thrive on the fact that teaching is much more effective if the students are able to relate with the topic being taught or the materials used in teaching; which is one of the reasons why we train teachers to use locally-sourced materials in elaborating STEM principles.

Students are much more likely to pursue STEM disciplines in higher levels of education if it appeals to them from a young age. Children love making and breaking things, therefore learning that involves a hands-on approach will most likely stick with them rather than textbook illustrations and dictation. Basic school through to high school is a perfect time to encourage students to take STEM seriously and here are some fun activities (using local materials) that will help your students explore the basics of STEM.

Co2 balloon​

Materials: Bottle, baking soda, vinegar, balloon 

Procedure: Add a small amount of vinegar into a bottle. Fill a balloon with baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) and stretch the balloon over the mouth of the bottle. Lift the balloon to empty the contents into the bottle.

Observation: The balloon fills up with gas and may even explode!

Theory: The vinegar (acid) and baking soda (base) combine to produce carbon dioxide gas, which gets collected in the balloon.

Sand Volcano

Materials: Sand, plastic bottle, water, vinegar, baking soda, food colouring (optional)

Procedure: Fill the water bottle about a third full and add food colouring. Add some baking soda. Gather sand around the bottle and build a sand model volcano (leaving the top of the bottle open). Pour in the vinegar.

Observations: A foamy `lava' erupts from the volcano.

Theory: Acids and bases react to produce salt, carbon dioxide and water. When the baking soda and vinegar mix, they produce carbon dioxide gas which causes the fizzing eruption. The gas is easily forced out of the bottle due to the narrow opening and shape of the bottle.

Simple Motor

Materials: Dry cell, insulated copper wire (1 m), 2 paper clips/safety pins, rubber bands, speaker magnet.

Setup: Make several turns of copper wire around the dry cell, leaving about 5 cm on either side. Use a knife to remove the insulation from all sides of the wire on one end, and 3 sides on the other end. Bend two paper clips as shown to make supports for the wire or use safety pins.​

Procedure: Attach the paper clips/safety pins to either end of the dry cell using a rubber band. Lay the copper wire coil across the paper clip holders. Bring the coil close to a speaker magnet.

Observation: The coil begins to turn when brought close to the magnet.

Theory: The magnetic field applies a force to the current-carrying wire following Fleming's left-hand rule and causes the loop to spin. If the current is increased the coil spins faster, showing the force is proportional to the current. If the current is reversed the coil will rotate in the other direction. If there is a stronger magnet the coil spins faster, which shows the force is proportional to the magnetic field strength. If all of the insulation is scratched off from both sides then the loop will not spin but will instead reach an equilibrium position where the force acting on the top and bottom of the loop is balanced.

Lava Lamp

Materials: Bottle, water, food colouring, oil, effervescing antacid tablets, flashlight,


Procedure: Fill the bottom 10 cm of a water bottle with water. Add a few drops of food colouring. Fill the rest of the bottle with oil. Drop in an effervescing antacid tablet. Cap and put a flashlight underneath the bottle. 


Observation:  Place the flashlight under the bottle. This will illuminate the bubbles. Observe the colours and the movement of the liquids.


Theory: Oil is a compound that is hydrophobic (it repels water). This is why there are two layers when you mix oil and water. The effervescing antacid tablets dissolve and release carbon-dioxide in the water layer. The carbon-dioxide dissolves in the water and forms small bubbles of carbon dioxide which trap small amounts of food colouring. The bubbles rise since they have a much lower density than water. When they reach the surface, the carbon-dioxide escapes and the coloured water bubble falls down through the oil layer.

Materials: Bottle, water, food colouring, oil, effervescing antacid tablets, flashlight,

Doing is the best way to learn. This is why we encourage teachers to make sure that students experience what they are learning instead of just reading about it. A research conducted by PEN proves that students doing these PEN activities experienced a 141% greater improvement in their attitudes towards STEM, more than their peers in counterpart schools.


The PEN Teacher Resource Manual has been a great tool in helping teachers administer these PEN activities in their classrooms and an upgraded version will soon be available.

To purchase a manual, you can place an order here or give us a call on +233 55 861 3600.

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