Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) and Loaner Kits

GEM of an Idea

The South Dakota Discovery Center offers Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) and other loaner kits for you to use in your classroom or out of school tiem program! Through an affiliation with the GEMS program from the Lawrence Hall of Science public science education center at the University of California Berkely, the SD Discovery Center has expanded its ability to equip teachers with effective, high quality training and kits.

The kits provide all the materials for students to investigate science (biology, earth science, chemistry) and math (probability, geometry, multicultural arithmetic) with inquiry based, hands-on activities.

 Loaner Program

You can borrow our kits for $50 for a 1 month rental period.  The rental fee is waived for teacher members. Restocking and shipping fees are charged on all loans.

Please allow at least one week between submitting the request form and the desired start date, plus 3 days shipping if applicable. Borrowers are responsible for transport and shipping.

For a comprehensive list of kits, see the Google Sheet or download an Excel file.

To check kit availability, see the GEMS Calendar.

To request a kit, complete this form:

PreK – Grade 1
K-Grade 2
K-Grade 3
K-Grade 4
K- Grade 6
Grade 1-Grade 3
Grade 2- Grade 3
Grade 2 – Grade 4
Grade 2 – Grade 6
Grade 3 – Grade 5
Grade 3 – Grade 6
Grade 4 – Grade 8
Grade 5 – Grade 8
Grade 6 – Grade 8
Grade 7+
Other (non GEMS) Kits


Station Kits

Station kits are designed in a “festival” format with children rotating from station to station. The activities are adaptable to a wide range of ages. An asterisk means we have multiples of that kit.

Build It! Festival* Grades K-6
This unit’s wealth of learning-station activities help students make real-world connections as they focus on construction, geometric challenges, and spatial visualization. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Bubble Festival Grades K-6
These captivating, bubble-centric tabletop learning stations are packed with math and science content. The unit includes detailed teacher assistance and classroom logistics, writing and literature extensions, and tips for setting up an all school Bubble Festival. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply and SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.



Grades PreK – 1

Animal Defenses
Beginning with an imaginary defenseless animal, this highly visual kit teaches children about defensive adaptation in the animal world. This kit offers excellent opportunity to introduce biological concepts of predator-prey.

Eggs, Eggs Everywhere
This unit introduces children to the amazing egg and then explores related life science concepts. In addition to observation and skills used in science, this kit uses role-playing, drama, and art to teach about the diversity of animals that come from eggs. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Elephants and Their Young
Elephants – their huge size, unique body structure, and fascinating social behavior – appeal to our sense of wonder. This kit draws on this interest to teach mathematical and physical science concepts including measurement, weight, volume and comparisons. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Children learn about the ladybug’s anatomy, life cycle, behavior and favorite foods. Each child uses a magnifying “bug box” to observe live ladybugs. Math is an integral part of this unit, and role-playing is interwoven throughout the activities. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Mother Possum
Students learn the concepts of measurement as they measure themselves against a life-sized poster of an opossum. Natural science concepts are observed as children study the opossum’s paws and the development of opossum young.

Penguins & Their Young
This appealing guide addresses important math concepts and skills as children learn about the adaptations and habitat of the emperor penguin. With role-play, drama, and multisensory games, children integrate language learning with mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Tree Homes
These activities focus on appreciation for trees and the animals that live in them, stimulating children’s interest in the natural world and emphasizing the biological need for warmth and shelter. Students use role-play to understand adaptation and deepen their math learning by sorting, classifying and measuring. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Hide a Butterfly
Students will learn the concepts of protective coloring as they identify parts of a butterly and a flower. They will make a mural designed with butterflies, flowers and grass.


Grades K – 2

Sifting Through Science
Young students explore buoyancy, magnetism, and the use of tools as they investigate the physical properties of objects. They use learning stations that allow for open-ended explorations to solve a design challenge. Each activity leads students to a greater knowledge of these properties. The final activity challenges students to solve an interesting problem: how to separate the various components of simulated garbage. To solve the problem, students must apply the knowledge gained in the previous activities. Donor: SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.


Grades K – 3

Buzzing A Hive
This guide explores the complex social behavior, communication, and hive environment of the honeybee through activities that mix art, literature, role-play, and drama. (Live bees are not a part of this unit.)

Frog Math
This series of lively activities jumps off from one of the well-known “Frog and Toad” stories, The Lost Button. The story leads to free exploration then sorting and classifying buttons. A Frog Pond board game helps students develop strategic thinking skills, and the Hop to the Pond game is an experiment in probability and statistics. Donor: SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program

Treasure Boxes
Most kids have a box or other container where they keep the small treasures of childhood safe from the prying eyes of siblings and inquisitive parents. This kit is a collection of activities centered on these small treasures. The activities marry math, literature, and cooperative learning in a captivating format. Donor: SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.


Grades K – 4

Group Solutions
This kit focuses on cooperative learning, providing young students with early and valuable experience in working and solving problems together. It also shows how to motivate students to cooperate. Donor: SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.

Group Solutions Too
Like the original, this kit fosters the development of cooperative learning and problem solving.


Grades K – 6

Investigating Artifacts Grades K-6
This kit brings together three activities related to anthropology and archaeology and drawn from diverse Native American and world cultures. Students sort and classify natural objects found on a class walk and then make their own masks from these materials. Teams of student scientists carefully sift through “artifacts” in a shoebox midden, and the class creates its own stories or myths to explain natural phenomena. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Terrarium Habitats Grades K-6
These life-science activities bring the natural world into your classroom and deepen children’s understanding of and connection to all living things. Students investigate soil; design and populate terrariums; and observe and record changes over time. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply


Grades 1 – 3

Involving Dissolving
In Involving Dissolving, your students conduct experiments in which substances dissolve and then are “brought back”. They make solutions, and watch with inquisitive eyes as liquids evaporate and solids crystallize. They gain experience, discovering that some substance dissolve while other doe not; some dissolve quickly, while others take days. In the process, important science skills are practices and refined, including observing, comparing, describing, recording and predicting results. This kit will help your students understand that the dissolved solid is still in the liquid, even though it can’t be seen.

Liquid Explorations
In a series of fun, fluid activities, young students explore the properties of liquids. They play a classification game, observe how food coloring moves through different liquids, create secret salad-dressing recipes, and the class makes an “Ocean in a Bottle”.

Matter: Solids, Liquids and Gases
Designed to meet the demand for improved physical science units in the early grades, the GEMS Matter guide challenges students to inquire into the physical world around them. Within this unit students explore solids, liquids, and gases, then delve deeper into states of matter when looking at challenging substances.

Secret Formulas
In these compelling physical science activities, children investigate the properties of substances as they make their own personal brands of toothpaste, paste, cola, and ice cream. The unit provides real-life experiences with chemistry and conveys key science/math skills and concepts including cause and effect. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply and SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Progam.


Grades 2-3

Mystery Festival-Who Borrowed Mr. Bear
The science of investigation and experimentation will be introduced. Students will do basic exploration experiments to discover who stole Mr. Bear.


Grades 2 – 4

On Sandy Shores
These interdisciplinary classroom activities enable students, grades 2 – 4, to explore and deepen their understanding of many aspects of the sandy shore, from the grains of sand themselves to plants, animals, and the dynamic biological and ecological interactions that take place where the water meets the land.


Grades 2 – 6

Aquatic Habitats
Student groups set up models of a living pond in the classroom. Then they use hands-on activities to study the dynamic interaction of plants and animals. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply


Grades 3 – 5

Math on the Menu
Math, Mexican food and problem-solving strategies may seem like an unlikely combination, but this kit successfully integrates them all to provide students with practical mathematical challenges. Student expand their math and problem-solving skills as they develop recipes, analyze costs, set prices, and refine logistics to help the Rosada family manage and grow its Mexican restaurant. Donor: SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.

Space Science Sequencing
Students learn fundamental concepts in space science using the Sun-Earth-Moon system as the focus. Through models, hands-on activities, and readings, students explore topics such as planet size and distance, Earth’s shape and spin, gravity the apparent movement of the sun and stars, moon phases and eclipses. Each of the 4 units in the sequence contains 4 to 9 60-minute sessions. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply


Grades 3 – 6

Electric Circuits: Inventive Physical Science*
This flexible unit opens with conductors, insulators and simple closed circuits; these early sessions can combine to serve as a basic electricity unit. In later, more advanced sessions, students read circuit diagrams, build circuits, and learn about parallel circuits. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

In All Probability: Investigations in Probability & Statistics
Students gain confidence in these concepts as they investigate chance, gather and analyze data, make predictions and draw conclusions. Provides a solid basis for the development of real-life understandings and skills. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Schoolyard Ecology
Students are introduced to biological sampling techniques and mapping as they survey their schoolyards ecosystem. Based on the results of their survey, they select their favorite part of the schoolyard and then write about it in a concluding activity. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply


Grades 4 – 8

Mystery Festival-The Felix Story
Students will explore a crime scene, use DNA tests and work together to determine the conclusion in this mystery.

Crime Lab Chemistry*
Students become “crime lab chemists” who try to determine which black pen was used to write a ransom note. Using paper towels, black ink, and water, students learn about paper chromatography. Donated by Carolina Biological.

Moons of Jupiter
Observing and recording moon orbits over time, students reenact Galileo’s historic telescopic study of Jupiter’s moons and learn why his observations contributed to the birth of modern astronomy. Over the course of 5 activities, students experiment with craters, create scale models, and take a tour of the Jupiter system.

Microscopic Explorations
Students explore the microscopic world in 10 captivating learning stations. These stations, such as pond life and crystals, present a potpourri of investigations designed to pique students’ interest in science. After they complete the 10 stations, students have the opportunity to show what they have learned at the 11th station, which can be used as a wrap-up or a quiz. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Oobleck: What Do Scientists Do?
In this immensely popular unit, the strangely behaving substance called Oobleck provides students authentic insight into real-world scientific inquiry. Students are totally engaged in observation, hands-on investigation, a scientific convention, and spacecraft design. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Mental Math, fractions, and teamwork are the keystones of this kit. Students work in teams of 3 to solve problems in mental math, manage fraction, use strategy, and consider probability – all in an exciting game format. Teams use a set of 4 dice to play 12 rounds involving any mix of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication problems. To promote teamwork, there is a cooperative-learning option that rewards a high group score. Donor: SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.

Stories in Stone
This earth-science unit explores the formation of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. Students distinguish between and classify rocks and minerals, observe formation of salt crystals and make crystal shapes, and use clay-modeling activities to learn about the rock cycle and more. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Life Through Time
Students are introduced to the concept of evolution. Evolutionary time is captured in evolving dioramas and rotating station activities that introduce students to the concepts of adaptation, relatedness and “deep time.

Students use bubbles to learn about light and color, aerodynamics, chemical composition, surface tension and technology. They observe, set up an experiment, measure and record data, calculate the results and draw conclusions.

Earth, Moon & Stars
Students learn a great deal about Earth and astronomy with modeling and observation activities that focus on gravity, shape of our planet, moon phases and eclipses, and the stars. A questionnaire of Earth’s shape and gravity makes an excellent pre- and post-assessment tool. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply

Environmental Detectives
After learning that fish and other wildlife near Synchrony City and its rural surroundings have been dying, students become environmental detectives. Once armed with the appropriate chemical and biological tests, they try to figure out if chlorine, oil pollution, acid rain, erosion-or just what-is causing the wildlife deaths. Kit contains for prepaid delivery of perishable materials. Return coupon at least two weeks prior to requested delivery date to ensure prompt arrival of materials. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply.

Math Around the World*
This stimulating unit uses games and puzzles from many continents to explore mathematics in a multicultural, international context. Each game can be presented as a two or three-session activity or as a stand-alone learning station. Maps and historical connections provide a social studies element. Donors: Carolina Biological Supply & SD 21st Century Community Learning Centers

Ocean Currents
What causes ocean currents? W hat impact do they have have on Earth’s environment? How have they influenced human history? Students gain fascinating insights into our ocean planet through these innovative activities. They learn how wind, temperature, salinity, and density set water into motion, and they make an “in-depth” investigation of the key physical science concept of density. They model how pollution dumped in one location can spread throughout the ocean. Learn is place in a real world context as students predict and analyze routes taken by shipwrecked sailors in the 1990 Nike shoe spill, the raft Kon Tiki and other voyages. In “Message in a Bottle”, students create stories to show what they’ve learned over the course of the unit.


Grades 5 – 8

Messages from Space
This kit focuses on some of the questions that scientists must tackle when they explore the possibilities of extraterrestrial intelligence in outer space. Students will be exposed to the scientific view of out place in the cosmos, giving them the background to critically evaluate unscientific claims, such as the often sensationalized possibility of an “alien” invasion.

Only One Ocean
As its title suggests, this GEMS guide is designed to help students understand the tremendous environmental importance of the ocean. The unit begins with a revealing hands-on activity, “Apples and Oceans” that focuses on the vast proportion of the Earth that is ocean and the much smaller slices where the ocean resources are concentrated. Students dissect real squids, gaining insight into the adaptations of squids to their open ocean habitat. Students then launch an intensive investigation of species-threatening issues related to key ocean fisheries and the increasing scarcity of ocean resources.


Grades 6 – 8

River Cutters
Creating river models using a dripper system and diatomaceous earth, students acquire geological terminology and begin to understand rivers as dynamic, ever-changing systems. They investigate the concepts of erosion, pollution, toxic waste, and human manipulation of rivers, and gain understanding of controlled experimentation. This unit is an ideal springboard for the full-scale independent student investigations strongly urged by the National Standards. With the GEMS guides Acid Rain and Global Warming & the Greenhouse Effect, River Cutters can be used to good advantage in a unit on environmental issues and human impact.

Space Science Curriculum Sequencing
This advanced kit offers lessons on the Sun’s effect on Earth, why we have seasons, and the Solar System…. and Beyond.

Invisible Universe
Students will deepen their understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum and find real-life uses for wavelengths. They will experiment at “invisible energy” stations, including a TV remote control, AM and FM radios, and black light.


Grades 7 +

Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect
Students explore this crucial topic through a variety of formats. The unit presents scientific theories and evidence and helps students see environmental problems from different points of view. Donor: Carolina Biological Supply.


Parent/Adult Learning

Parent Partners: Workshops to Foster School/Home/Family Partnerships
Parent Partners provides parents and other caregivers with concrete, practical things they can do to help their children succeed in school. This kit is designed for educators and activists parents seeking to increase parents involvement in their child’s education. The varieties of tools in this kit educate parents about current approaches in science and mathematics education and about the enormous positive education impact parents can have.

* We have multiples of these kits to loan out!

Professional Development

Check out our Professional Development page for current workshop offerings.

We can tailor a professional development opportunity focused around any of our GEMS kits.  No need to travel to the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley CA when the same professional development in inquiry, experiential and hands-on learning is available to you.  Contact Kristie at 605-224-8295.

Other (non GEMS) Kits

We love the kit model so much, we have other kits to loan!

Inventing to Learn
This kit is stocked full of materials that will be used to investigate all sorts of fun scientific inventions. Your students will learn about the internal mechanisms of a toy car by taking it apart. They will use what they have learned to build a car of their own, have a classroom car race and graph their findings. They will build a self-propelled boat that runs with balloon power. These and many more inventions will be the highlight of your students’ year if you Invent to Learn with this kit.

Farmers Grow My Plate

Farmers Grow MyPlate is a 5-unit curriculum kit based on the USDA Choose MyPlate food guide. The kit includes a complete set of lessons, visuals for teaching, and supplies for 12-15 youth.

Each unit include lessons on nutrition, food preparation, food production, physical activity, and arts/crafts. Topics cover food groups, fruit and vegetables, dairy, grain and protein.This is versatile and complete for teaching Kindergarten through 4th grade youth. The kit is provided by a Team Nutrition State Training Grant through the SD Department of Education.

Limited Time Offer: Free kit rental and shipping. Book a kit today!