Category Archives: Education Today

5 Non-Volcano Kids’ Science Activities Using Vinegar

Want science activities using vinegar? Look no further than Classroom Thumb War with DJ.

Vinegar is a smelly staple of science educators everywhere. The solution of acetic acid is the most often-used, simple acidic solution in the lab, and it’s non-toxic and safe to be handled. It’s no wonder that vinegar is a key component of tons of activities and projects for all sorts of chemically based experiences. What’s that? You only know that classic vinegar and baking soda volcano? C’mon, science-based blog reader!

The dinosaurs are a nice touch, though.
The dinosaurs are a nice touch, though.                                                                                                     (Source)

There are better, more exciting uses for that funky fluid. We’ll help you out with a few ideas to take your vinegar from dull to delightful with these science activities using vinegar. Did I mention that all of the materials are readily available at most stores (if you don’t already have it at home or in class)?


 5. Flame Light Relight

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If you weren’t aware of just what makes the old science fair volcano “erupt,” it’s the production of carbon dioxide gas from the combination of baking soda and vinegar. Now, what’s a fantastic use of carbon dioxide? If you said, “Warming the global climate,” you’re correct, but mistaking this blog post for a political rant.

But if you said, “Extinguishing flames!” you’re even more correct and definitely thinking on the right tracks.

Consider that fire as good as out!
Consider that fire as good as out!      (Source)

The CO2 gas produced from the most basic of acid-base reactions is exactly what you need to perform the Flame Light Relight activity. You’ll also need to commandeer a bit of yeast and hydrogen peroxide but everything for the activity should be at your disposal or easily purchased at a store.

The smoke is really just the bubbles screaming.
The smoke is really just the bubbles screaming.

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 4. Folding Egg

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Perhaps the only things that are on par with the smell of vinegar are eggs and sulfur. We definitely aren’t going to send you out to find some sulfur, so you know this experiment will involve the incredible edible egg. At least, the egg will have been edible when you started.

Eggs aren’t the most malleable item in the world. It’s tough to bend, let alone fold, when you’re known for cracking. With the Folding Egg project, though, you’ll be folding an egg in absolutely no time.

Looks good enough to eat... Later. Eat it later.
Looks good enough to eat… Later. Eat it later.

The Folding Egg is a result of the acetic acid’s reaction with the calcium carbonate found in eggshells. You can see the reaction in the bubbles that form on the egg’s shell. (It’s our good friend CO2, back for another appearance.) Eventually, all that remains in an inner membrane from the egg’s shell. Now you can fold that egg up and stack it neatly with the rest of your linens, or whatever it is you people who fold things do.

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 3. CO2 Sandwich

30abc13cc534f50d7e91a2fd6a66b470332ba6dbI’ll admit, it’s hard to feature vinegar in an experiment and not have it’s gaseous buddy CO2 come along for the ride. Them’s the facts of life, Brostrodamus, so saddle up and prepare to make a delicious sandwich with your favorite acid-base bi-product.

Of course, you’re not going to get much digestive satisfaction from a sandwich full of CO2-filled bubbles. What you will get, however, is a fantastic demonstration of how the vinegar-baking soda reaction can change air pressure in a closed space.

Consider that fire as good as out!
It was the dog, I swear!        (Source)

Not only does the CO2 Sandwich provide an excellent opportunity for scientific exploration (try altering the amounts of each chemical), but the POP! you hear after the zipper-lock threshold is broken? Let’s just say that it’s like the first time I heard The Turtle’s sing “Happy Together.”

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 2. Chemistry Rocket

19310341183c3e4763930296726b1e564d07a3c7“More air pressure activities? DJ, you’re boring.” Is that so? Then how come I’m teaching you how to make a rocket ship that will fly you to the moon using vinegar and baking soda? (Since we’re getting involved with projectiles, it’s the best practice to make sure that plenty of adult supervision is involved.)

The Chemistry Rocket uses the same principles of acid-base reactions and air pressure to launch a soda bottle into the atmosphere. By atmosphere, I mean like…  100 feet or so. I hope you weren’t actually expecting some sort of DIY space program. I’ve got nothing for you, there.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 1.09.16 PMWhat I do have for you, is all of the air pressure, acids, and bases contributing to a spectacular display of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unscientific explanation: the bottle goes WHOOSH when the contents go KABLOW!

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


1. Ice Tray Battery

3eef8fb276f7e8a9782135d3f54d61966f9dd37cWhat do you get when vinegar, copper wiring, an LED, and some galvanized nails walk into an ice tray? It’s not a joke! You get a voltaic battery and a simple closed circuit. It may seem like creating a battery would have a lot more to it, but I speak the truth, people!

The Ice Tray Battery is the ultimate when it comes to kids’ science activities using vinegar. Simple household items throw their current-conducting properties into the pot to create a basic version of the batteries you buy at the store.

Love me yet?
Love me yet?                              (Source)

The look on young scientists’ faces when items that they know produces the unexpected result is like watching an LED light up from vinegar in an ice tray. It’s worth it, and isn’t that why we do things like this?

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 

486275_604344292689_1597661315_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

The 4 Elements of a Memorable Science Demonstration

Since starting at Steve Spangler Science in 2009, there’s one question that gets asked of our team more than any other: how do you create a memorable science demonstration? And the truth is, from our customer service team to our production team to Steve Spangler himself, we’ll all give you a different answer. So which answer is right? All of them!

Nobel Prizes for everyone!
Nobel Prizes for everyone!                             (Source: Wikipedia)

No matter who is supplying the formula for a memorable science demonstration, they’re correct. Every demonstrator uses the same 4 elements to create the perfect demo for their group, family, kids, or audience, though their methods may be different. They happen to correspond very well with the 4 classic elements. Most people start with…


DirtEarth – Research
Earth is the most familiar of the elements. We spend every day traversing its dusty, dry surface, but we have no clue what’s actually going on inside of it. For all we know, the core of the earth is a big, bubbling vat of baking soda and vinegar waiting to erupt with dyed carbon dioxide bubbles.

Science fair basics aside, it’s good to reacquaint yourself with the science behind the demonstration you’re going to perform. Even if you’re confident in your answer as to why you can create a teeter-totter by with two candles, it will be beneficial to get a refresher. Who knows, science could have uncovered a different answer!

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The world’s most sinister seesaw results from a children’s demonstration.

Researching your demonstration is also a great opportunity to discover ways of taking your experiment further. Find ways to spin off of your initial demonstration. This is your chance to really find ways of driving your lesson home.


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Water – Practice
More often than not, mysterious happenings come from the water. Flesh eating river fish, mythical monsters, and giant snakes make sure that no human (scientist or otherwise) ever gets too comfortable within a triple-jump of water’s edge.

You shouldn’t be too comfortable in the performance of your demonstration, either. No one (read: actually, literally no one) likes having their demonstration, presentation, slide show, or what-have-you fail to perform. Geysers that don’t explode, launchers that don’t launch, and paper airplanes that don’t do the “plane”-part are all sure-fire ways of winding up red-faced in front of your audience.

IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!
IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!

Now, this is science, so there’s always a chance that things just won’t go your way. THAT is what makes practicing your demo so valuable. Practice gives you the chance at troubleshooting possible issues with your demo. From setup to procedure to clean up, practicing makes sure you’re ready for anything that science throws your way.


air-19227_640Air – Application
Without air, we’re dead. That’s just a fact of life, and YES I intended that horrible pun.

We all require air to run our body. While you never forget how to breathe, we don’t think about it very often, unless we’re really USING our breath. Runner, yoga instructors, midwifes… these people know what it means to really use our breath, because they learned to apply it.

The same goes for so many science demonstrations and lessons. When our minds learn new information, like that hot air has low pressure and rises, we are much more likely to remember it with a direct application. Talk to them about how the downstairs of their house probably feels cooler than the 2nd story or talk to them about weather, wind, and pressure.

Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know... it's science.
Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know… it’s science.

When demos don’t match up with a solid application, you create the dreaded, “When am I ever going to use this?” You need earth and water to be ready for that one!


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Fire – Passion

Earth is solid, water is liquid, and air is gaseous. Fire is plasma? Fire is flame? Fire is part of a grouping of things called “intangibles” by sports coaches everywhere; just like passion.

Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.
Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.                           (Source: Flickr)

Passion may not be absolutely required to pull off a memorable science demonstration, but it definitely aids in the effort. People of all ages can tell when someone is passionate about what they’re doing. The more genuinely excited you are about the demonstration you’re doing, the more excited your audience is going to be. Your energy is contagious.

Now just go and do it!

 

541289_10151141696561242_1371670891_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

STEM and Humanities are The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter, a film by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is an illustration of why we need to build an education system that goes well beyond the teaching and memorizing of facts and the ability to regurgitate those facts on a standardized test.

The Heart of the Matter from americanacad on Vimeo.

We need to give the students of today a well-balanced education that includes all factors, including STEM and Humanities to create well rounded members of the work force and society tomorrow.

“Philosophy, religion, history, literature, music, culture – the humanities are those subject areas that allow us to probe what it means to be human” - Earl Lewis, Historian and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The short film includes many of America’s brilliant minds who are part of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences sharing their inspirational quotes and thoughts to illustrate our need to combine STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) along with Humanities and Social Sciences to fully paint a picture of history, development and progress in our society.

“If we look at what’s beautiful and ask the question, is our lives only about the mundane? Was it also about the beauty?” – Earl Lewis, Historian and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In other words, teaching the power of technology and advancements along with human emotion and the WOW of it all.

“If we leave behind the humanities and see it as unimportant, I think we will lose our ability to dream.” – Billie Tsien, Architect.

To be truly valuable members and innovators in our society, STEM students must graduate with  an appreciation of the humanities and humanities and social science students must graduate with an understanding of STEM.

“No humanity is no soul” – George Lucas

Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Commission

 

 

 

 

 

School Supplies For All

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite days of the year (besides Christmas Day) was the day the newspaper posted the list of required school supplies, and Mom took us to the drug store  to buy them.

I loved looking at that list, and Mom always let me put the little checkmark beside the items as we put them in our basket.

Prang paints. Check. Paint pan. Check. Rectangular eraser. Check. Blunt-tipped scissors. Check. Etc. Check.

On the first day of school, I loved bringing my beautiful shiny school supplies into my new classroom, and I loved arranging them all inside my desk. I loved to look inside my desk and just savor the sight: all those cool things I could draw with and paint with and write with. . . and they were mine, all mine, and nobody else could touch my things unless I gave them permission. Me. I was the boss of my desk things. I took such pride in my school supplies, and mine were usually still looking pretty good even at the end of the year. They were mine, you see, and I had a vested interest in them; therefore, I took pains to take care of them. Back then, down in lower elementary, the school supplied only the special fat pencils and the weird orange pens.  Oh, and that huge jar of smelly paste that bore the germs of generations past. . . .

pencil-chewing girlWhen my own children were little, I looked forward to Buying School Supplies Day with just as much delight as I did when I was a little kid. New binders. New pencils. And the most fun of all, choosing the new lunchbox. My own children loved the new school supplies, too.  I think it is of vital importance that all children have their own school supplies; it is the beginning of them learning the pride of possession and the importance of caring for one’s own things in order to keep them for any length of time.

It’s not like that in many schools nowadays. Many teachers do not allow their students to have their own supplies now; the little sack of a child’s very own things is taken from the child on that first day, and dumped into the community pot for all the kids to dip into and out of. There are no “my scissors,” there is only a rack or box of scissors for everyone. “Look, there are my scissors; my name is engraved on them; I wish I could use them but they’re so cool, other kids grab them first every time. . . .” There are no more personalized pencils or a child’s favorite cartoon character pencils to use and handle carefully; there is only a big bucket of chewed-on germ-covered pencils grabbed at and used by everybody in the room.

And since nothing belongs to anybody, who cares about taking good care of them?

I fully understand that the community pot of supplies is much easier for a teacher to control. I wasn’t, however, aware of the fact that teacher convenience was any kind of issue here. I taught in the public schools for 26 years and I never expected things to happen for the convenience of me; that wasn’t why I was there.

I fully understand, too, that some children’s little sack of supplies won’t be as individualized or cool as another child’s sack of supplies. I know for a sad fact that some children will never have their own little sack of supplies, at least, not one brought from home. That’s life; that should not even be an issue. Some children’s shoes aren’t as cool, either; do we throw shoes in a box and let the kids take pot luck with those, too? I understand that in some classrooms, a child’s packed lunch is sometimes taken apart and certain things confiscated or distributed, lest some child have a treat that another child doesn’t have. (this actually happened to both my children, and more than once!)  When my kids were in grade school, my mother would occasionally stop by at lunch time with a Happy Meal for them – and for me! – and I was told this had to stop because other children didn’t have that option. Well, you know what, my children were often envious of another child’s dress or shoes or lunch or cool pen, but I would never have tried to ensure that other children would never be able to have anything my own kids couldn’t have. Good grief. Such insanity!

Teachers should keep an eye out for those kids who don’t have supplies, and the school should supply them, but after that point, they become the child’s own and he/she should be required to take good care of them, just as any and every kid should be required to take care of his/her things. Children who take good care of their things should not be required to supply children who had their own things but didn’t take care of them properly. As a little child, I was horrified at the thought, and as a parent, I’m even more horrified. It was like a reward for being negligent! Every year, I donate tons of school supplies to my neighbor’s children’s school; I’m delighted to do this, and I recommend this to all of you. Perhaps, if schools have enough donated supplies, our little children will be allowed to keep their very own supplies once again.

I think most people would be happy to donate a full set of school supplies for children whose families couldn’t afford them.  I would, and I do.  But I fully expect my donated school supply set to be given to an individual child and become his/her very, very own, carefully tended, appreciated, and lovingly used school supplies.  If each parent, or each parent who was able, donated a complete set or two each year, I’m betting the school itself wouldn’t have as big a burden in supplying freebies to needy kids.  But community bins containing chewed-on, drooled-on, broken-on-purpose junk that everybody is required to dip into?  Required? Absolutely not.  No.  NO.

A few bins for the forgetful or temporary lack might be a good thing, but the option to keep one’s very own stuff to oneself should be upheld, too.

When I was a child, I had very little that was my very own. Everything that was supposedly mine was expected to be shared with anybody else in the house that wanted it at any given moment. But at school? In my desk, in my very own desk, were things that were inviolably mine, and I can not even describe for you the sensations that went through me when I looked at those things that my teacher had ruled were mine and only mine. Kids who violated another kid’s desk were quite properly labeled ‘thieves,’ and they soon learned what happens when a person put his hands on property that was not rightfully theirs.

Things are very different now. I hate it. The rare teacher who takes the time and trouble to allow his/her students to have their boy breaking pencil from bin things is often castigated by the other teachers who are taking the easy ‘community property’ route – or being forced to by an administrator. Kids are sharing more than gluesticks and pencils, too; I don’t even want to THINK about the incredible pot-o-germs they’re dipping into daily. Gross. My child using a pencil some other child gnawed? I guess so, because teachers who don’t want to bother with a child’s private property are forcing the kids to dump it all in the pot for everybody to use. “Don’t be selfish.” “Share.” Well, you know what? I don’t like that kind of forced sharing. I had to share everything, EVERYTHING, and that little pile of school supplies was my only private stash of anything. I do not feel it was selfish, or is selfish, to want to keep school supplies that were carefully chosen, to oneself. Children who have their own things learn to respect the property of other children. Children with no concept of personal property tend to view the world as a buffet of free, unearned delights awaiting their grasping, grabbing hands. Both tend to grow into adults with the same concepts learned as children.

This business of everything being community property in the classroom causes problems in the upper levels, too. Junior high, high school, even college students, are expecting things to be available for them without any effort on their part. Upper level students come to class without pencils, erasers, paper, etc, because they’re used to having those things always available in some community bin somewhere in the room. They have never been required, or allowed, to maintain their own things, and now they don’t know how to. The stuff was always just THERE, for a student to help himself to. And now that they are supposed to maintain their own, they really don’t know how. Plus, why should they? HEY, I need a pencil, gimme one. Not that one, that other one there.    Indeed,

Well, it worked down in the lower grades, with community property. You just get up and help yourself; everything in this room is for me, ain’t it? Gimme that pretty one, I want it.

But guess what, kids, it’s bad enough down in the lower grades,chewed-up pencil from a bin but it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, work at all when you hit the upper grades. I’d like to have a penny for every hand that tried to help itself to things on my desk, because, well, they were there. I’ve even had students who opened my desk drawers, looking for supplies. Not poor kids who didn’t have any; just a kid who didn’t bring any and expected everything to be supplied because, well, down in the elementary, everything WAS.  I have had COLLEGE STUDENTS look around the room expectantly, looking for the bucket of pencils and pile of paper.

Oh good grief, teachers or principals or boards or whoever has the authority, let the little kids keep their own things, put their names on them, and learn how to be responsible for them. Secondary teachers and future employers will greatly appreciate it.

I know that in some cases, it’s not the individual teacher’s decision – it’s a corporate mandate. This is even worse. It’s like a national plot to make future generations needy and dependent and reliant on others to fulfill all their needs. And don’t we already have more than enough of THOSE people?

Let me sum up, as Inigo Montoya would say: Community school supplies are wrong on every possible level. Period.

broken pencil from a community binParents, if I were you – and I am one of you – I’d buy the required community bin stuff at the dollar store instead of the overpriced educational supplies store in the strip mall that the school supplies newsletter instructs you to patronize. Send them to school and let them be dumped into the bins for mass consumption and germ sharing. Then you and your children go shopping and pick out individual supplies – favorite cartoons, personalized, Hello Kitty, Avengers – whatever your child likes. If your school informs you that it’s against their policy for any of the children to have their own supplies, you inform the school that you did your chipping in and now you’re seeing to it that your children have their very own things and that you expect your children’s very own things to harbor no germs except your own children’s germs, which will be considerable, but that’s another topic. What’s more, if your children come home and tell you that their very own supplies are not being respected and are in fact being accessed by others without permission of the owner, please hightail it down to the school and let them know what you think about that.

If I am privileged to supply individual children with supplies, however, I will buy them the best – personalized, if possible.  No child should go without, and each child deserves the good stuff to be kept in his/her own desk to be used by only him/her.  Generic supplies go in the bin; personalized supplies stay in the desk.

But stuff I know is going into a bin?  Dollar store.

School SuppliesI am happy to see to it that all of the children in the room have adequate supplies, but I can’t stress strongly enough that each child needs and deserves to have his/her very own personal private stash of supplies that nobody else can ever touch.  Maintaining one’s own personal things is a life lesson, and will benefit the child for the rest of his life.

Do I seem overly obsessed about this topic? Darn right.  As a parent and as a teacher and as a former child, the very concept of community school supplies makes me so furious I become incoherent. Which is apparently happening right now so. . . .

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Science and Helping Verbs

I love teaching Einsteinian theory, physics, and non-linear time in my basic writing classes.

non-linear time

 

Oh, it’s called Chapter 10: The Perfect Tenses, but that’s just a cover for what it really is: our language’s ability to describe complicated scientific theories with just a handful of helping verbs.

How wondrous is our language, that with the simple addition of “had” or “have,” “shall” or “will,” we can demonstrate that two things happened in the past, but one was before the other. Or that something began in the past and is still happening. Or that something will be done in the future after something else is done in the future.

I think it’s fascinating that what a scientist must explain with diagrams and long complicated essays and models, any one of us can demonstrate with a helping verb.

Matchbox carsI love the whole concept of ‘time,’ anyway, and for this chapter, I try to remember to take three little Matchbox cars to class with me. I almost always forget, though, and I end up using something else to represent the little cars. Today I used tiny boxes of raisins, and pretended the little maiden on the cover was the driver.

Three cars on the highway, all in different spots, yet close by each other. Each is in a different period of time relative to the other. To the one in the middle, the one in front is in the future because it is where the middle car is going but hasn’t reached yet, and the one in back is in the past because it is where the middle car once was but has passed through.

To the car in back, both the other cars are in the future.

To the car in front, both the other cars are in the past.

To Superman, flying above, all the cars are in the present.

To the hitchhiker standing by the side of the road, each of the cars is in the future as long as they are moving, until which time they whizz past, one at a time, briefly sharing the hitchhiker’s present for a split second before zooming into yet another perspective of the future.

Scientists are still trying to figure out the whole space/time thing.  They haven’t figured out, yet, how to travel to the past or the future.

Writers have known how for years.

Our language makes this complicated concept of time into a relatively simple thing.  A tiny little helping verb can illustrate the past, present, future, and any combination thereof.

Back in the middle school, the students fought for the little cars or whatever substituted for them, after this lesson.

Today, at the college level, I asked if anyone cared to have the tiny boxes of raisins and every hand went up. And because I am ever the cool, level-headed, serious professional, I placed all three little boxes on the floor in the middle of the room and walked out. I heard chaos behind me but it really wasn’t any of my business.

Time. It may not be as linear as you think. I am sometimes more inclined to believe that time is more like a tree, or a spiral, than a flowing river. Yes, a tree that grows upward and at the same time puts out intertwining branches that touch, or don’t touch, or a spiral that coils round and round. . . .

Then again, perhaps I’ve been reading too much Madeleine L’Engle. If there is such a thing as too much Madeleine L’Engle, which there isn’t.

Chapter 10: Non-Linear Time and Its Relation To Tiny Boxes of Einstein, raisinsRaisins Which I Understand Einstein Was Very Fond Of The Perfect Tenses.

It’s the same thing, you know.

Relatively speaking.

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.