Hands-on science activities

Need a quick activity for earth science education? Below are hands-on activities that can be done in 15-30 minutes that get students thinking about how things really work. Activites were developed by NOAA Teacher At Sea alumni and other NOAA partners and each has been tested with students of various ages.

Five students and an adult looking at preserved marine life in jars and in trays.
Summer campers investigate marine life with the help of NOAA staff. (NOAA - J Schull)

A drop in your hand: Water stewardship

See the relative volume of water available that is clean, safe, and available to drink.


Boat building challenge

Use aluminum foil to make boats and then test designs by seeing how many pennies or paperclips they can hold.


How marine mammals stay warm

Wear a “blubber glove” and plunge your hand into an ice water bath to investigate the insulative properties of blubber.


Hydrographic surveying: Mapping the sea floor

Hydrographic surveying is a scientific career that many people may not know about. In this activity, a sealed shoe box with a varied topography made out of clay will be measured by taking depth “soundings” with a skewer.


Ocean acidification and dry ice

Explore the chemical reaction between frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) and water and compare this to changes that are occurring in ocean ecosystems, as excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean.


Ocean motion: Wind-driven currents

Model the flow of ocean surface currents by blowing air across a tub of rheoscopic fluid and water, with clay structures simulating coastlines, islands, and sea floor features.


Plate tectonics and lava lamps

Use discovery and inquiry techniques to investigate a lava lamp and relate it to Earth’s internal processes that cause geological phenomena such as earthquakes, mountain building and sea-floor trenches.


Tying science to history: Making rope by hand

Participants will make cordage (rope) from fiber. This activity can be used to explore the development of technology as it relates to rope making, cables in suspension bridges, and the role of ropes in the maritime and fisheries industries.


Cool catch matching game

In this memory game students will examine photographs taken on a NOAA research ship to discover the diversity of organisms found in the Atlantic Ocean.


Fins, tails, and scales: Identifying Great Lakes fish offsite link

Working with a set of illustrated Great Lakes fish cards, students identify distinguishing characteristics of fish and use a dichotomous key to identify 10 common fish families.