Category Archives: Education Today

Top 10 Inexpensive Ways to Show Your Teacher Appreciation

A teacher isn’t just an instructor. They are a mentor, a guide, a counselor, a protector and a large part of the village kids need to grow up grandly. This May, show your teacher appreciation without breaking the bank.

Teacher Appreciation - Teachers are Tired of Apples. Inexpensive ways to show your teacher love.

Parents – We’ve compiled a list of our favorite and unique gifts that kids can give their teachers without spending a lot of money. These gifts give thanks as well as come from the heart.

Kids – Teacher Appreciation Week is just around the corner (May 5 – 9). It’s time to show your teacher how much she/he meant to you this year.

Teacher Appreciation - Top 10 Inexpensive Teacher Appreciation Gifts | Steve Spangler Science

Teachers Don’t Want Apples

When choosing the perfect gift that not only says “thank you” but also “I am indebeted to you” and “I love you,” think about ways to personalize it and stand out from the crowd. Year after year, teachers are flooded with apples, ornaments, trinkets, candles and lotion.

And pass on making them cookies or bread or anything else homemade. They’ve seen where those hands of yours have been. You also may not be aware of all of their dietary restrictions.

We aren’t saying teachers don’t appreciate every gift that is given to them by a student, but we know a lot of teachers and know what makes their heart melt and keeps that gift on their desk for years and years…

1. Write a Letter to Your Teacher
Tell your teacher how much she has meant to you this year. Include what your favorite memory of class was or something he did to help you be a better person. To turn your letter into a real keepsake, visit the dollar store and frame it.

Teacher Appreciation Gifts - Write a letter to your teacher

2. UV Bead Secret Message
Purchase a 2-3 UV Bead Color Packs along with glue and a frame without glass. You can also use something as simple as a piece of cardboard. Glue down one color of beads to spell out or create your message and then glue down the other color or colors to fill in the background. Inside, your message will appear all white and boring. In sunlight, a magic message will appear.  

Teacher Appreciation - Secret Message with UV Beads from Steve Spangler Science

Teacher Appreciation - Secret Message with UV Beads

3. Give Your Teacher a Scrapbook 
You can make your own or ask your entire class to get involved. Ask each student to fill out a sheet of questions about their year and the teacher, then put it all together in a book. Or design your own book using your drawings or photos from the year. Thinking IQ offers some suggestions for questions along with sample titles.

Teacher Appreciation - Make Your Own Scrapbook from Thinking IQ


Extra Bonus Idea  - Take your scrapbook online. Check out A free service that allows visitors to upload photos and notes and then delivers a big digital poster for the honoree. Did we mention it’s free?

Teacher Appreciation - Woo Hoo For You - Digital Scrapbook where everyone can share a photo and a message.

4. Give a Plant in a Special Container
Garden Centers are beginning to offer a wide range of inexpensive flowers and flowering bulbs. Buy a plain clay pot and decorate it.

Here’s a cute idea from Tip Junkie 

Teacher Appreciation - paint a pot with flowers from Tip Junkie

Or give your plant a “science” twist and place it in Jelly Marbles. We hydrated a handful and then placed a daffodil complete with bulb inside a vase. The bulb will stay hydrated as the Jelly Marbles dehydrate and can be replanted outside.

Teacher Appreciation - Flowers in Jelly Marbles

5. Share a List of Why You Are Thankful for Your Teacher
There are many different templates, like this one from Giver’s Log that makes it easy. Or create your own work of art that includes a list of why you are thankful.

Teacher Appreciation - I Love My Teacher from Giver's Log

6. Make a Video
Is your handwriting not where it should be yet? Or are you more of a visual student? Most smart phones have nice video cameras and there’s a lot of easy editing software like iMovie. Write, direct and star in your own movie depicting a favorite lesson or funny moment in class. You can also invite your friends to play themselves in your movie. Or just sit down, hit record and film yourself telling your teacher why they mean so much to you.

7.  Quench Their Thirst or Surprise with a Favorite Snack
Pinterest has lots of ideas on simple ideas for this. We’ve shared our favorites below.

Bottle of water and drink flavor from Blue Eyed Blessing
Teacher Appreciation - Water and Drink Flavor

Creative Treat and Card from Funky PolkaDot Giraffe
Teacher Appreciation - Sweet Candy Notes from Funky PolkaDot Giraffe

8. Give the Gift of Supplies
Teachers spend a lot of money out of their own pockets to fund their classrooms. Why not give them a creative gift that involves a few supplies? Here’s one of our favorites from The Happy Scraps.

Teacher Appreciation - Give the Gift of Supplies from The Happy Scraps

 9. Simple Tie Dye with Sharpie Markers
Sharpie Pen Science is one of our favorite and popular activities using color science and tie dye. Did you know the permanent Sharpie marker ink is actually removable with rubbing alcohol? It will take marker off of floors, walls, skin and other hard surfaces. Draw on 100% cotton, and the rubbing alcohol will grab the color molecules and spread them around. Create tie dye designs on t-shirts, pillows, pillow cases, aprons or anything that is made of 100% cotton.

Teacher Appreciation - Tie Dye Pillows with Sharpie Pen Science

10. Paint Your Own Pottery
There are many shops that offer paintable pottery. Spend an afternoon and decorate a personalized piece for your teacher. Here’s a plate that a teacher received over 20 years ago and still uses it to serve her homemade goodies.

Teacher Appreciation - Paint Your Own Pottery Gift

Bonus Gift Idea - Write a Secret Message
Write a note using an Invisible Pen on a white piece of paper. Just keep track of where you are writing. It may be best to turn off the lights, turn on the Black Light and write out your message. The secret lies in the fluorescent material in the ink. This material is invisible under normal light conditions but lights up under ultraviolet light. Don’t stop at secret messages, draw pictures, make signs or create posters – anything you draw will show up under the black light.  Invisible marker ink can be removed with soap and water.
Or try these secret message techniques >

Teacher Appreciation - Secret Message Letter

Don’t forget to check out our Pinterest Teacher Appreciation board. It’s filled with tons of ideas for teacher gifts.


Bullying Is Not a Game

Bullying makes the news almost every week. It exists in schools, sports fields, playground and online. We’ve also recently learned bullying is also present in professional organizations like the NFL. Children who are bullied tend to withdraw and suffer emotional scars. In extreme cases, some become so desperate, they take their own lives.

Steve sat down with professional speaker and certified professional coach Laurie Flasko to talk about bullying and what we can do as parents and teachers to put a stop to it.

Continue reading

Easing Back to School Stress – Tips for Teachers

Teachers are some of the most creative people out there. If you disagree, just visit Teachers Pay Teachers or Pinterest. Both community sites are overflowing with classroom, lesson, hand-out, activity and organization ideas from teachers themselves. Here are some of the best ideas that we’ve collected from across the Interwebs from teachers to engage their students and instill a lifelong love of learning …

This video is from Singapore but shares the universal message that teachers inspire and impact the lives of their students. Kids never forget their favorite teachers and the memorable moments from their school career.

Back to School Tips for Teachers to Welcome them back to the classroom. Class Bingo

Class Bingo
The Wise Guys from Creativity in the Common Core Classroom get their students out of their seats and talking with their classmates. “When students get to know each other, they realize they have much more in common that what they thought,” adds the Wise Guys. Students have to talk to their classmates to learn more about them to get a Bingo. The Wise Guys also offer a print out of their Bingo card on their TpT site.

Back to School Night Idea - Guess Who

Guess Who Board for First Day of School or Back to School Night
We found this idea on Pinterest without any attribution but we liked it so much, we have to share. If this is your original idea, please let us know so we can give credit where it is due. Have students write down fun facts about themselves on cards but don’t put their names. Have the class guess who each card belongs to for a “get to know your new classmates” exercise or have parents guess at Back to School night.

Back to School Tips for Teachers | Steve Spangler Science

Giving Tree for Parents
Scholastic has a lot of great tips and ideas for teachers. One teacher submitted this idea to it and we love it - In my classroom, I have a “Giving Tree.” I put up a big tree and cover it with paper apples. On each of the apples, I write a supply item that parents can donate to our room. Supplies range from Lysol wipes and Post-its to dry erase markers. The parents take an apple and return it with the supply. I put the apple back on the tree with the parent’s name on it. At the end of each month I have a raffle for the parents who have helped to make our classroom a success. Last year was amazing! I had an overwhelming response. Needless to say, I am ready to put it up again this year. Submitted by Heather Milani (Grade 4 teacher, Illinois)

Back to School Tips and Activities for Teachers to Welcome them back into the classroom Send Text Messages and Reminders
Sign up for an app like Remind101. Instantly send messages to your students or their parents with homework or field trip permission slip reminders. Keep everyone in the loop by sending one text. The teacher never sees the students and their parents’ phone numbers and they never see the teachers.

Back to School Tips for Teachers | Steve Spangler Science

Give the students a taste of success and encourage them to share the success with others. Back to School Tips for Teachers from Steve Spangler Science.

 Recipe for Success
Kendel from Eating Abroad – Adventures of the Traveling Teacher has several activities for her students to work on in the first days of school. Our favorite was her Recipe for Success. She created a recipe that combines personality traits and behaviors with trail mix ingredients. She makes the recipe while explaining each trait and why their classroom needs them to be successful. When the recipe is complete, Kendel then tells her students that success is always better when shared and gives each child a small portion of success.

Now that they had a taste of success, they needed to share it with someone else!” adds Kendel. 


Back to School Tips for Teachers to Welcome Them Back to School

Welcome Exercises
Mia from Ethical Island – How to Teach Without a Lecture, offers 27 different ways to greet your students in the morning. Get them moving, thinking and collaborating right after the first bell rings.

Back to School Tips for Teachers | Steve Spangler Science

Einstein of the Week
Sue Blevins is a second grade teacher at Rockford Christian Elementary School. She has taught for 26 years and is also an adjunct college professor.   Her 
class has an “Einstein of the Week.”  Each week, one student becomes the class scientist. They choose an experiment and bring all of the directions and materials to class. The students start by asking questions, gathering predictions, doing the experiment and discussing the results with the class. If you think this will overwhelm your parents, you can also choose the experiments and materials and have a student be the lab assistant and help perform it.

Team Building Activities for the First Days of School
We also have shared a lot of our favorite activities to welcome them back to the classroom in the First Days of School. Make bracelets that change color in the sun, build structures from long balloons, and help encourage your students to trust you right from the start with these class team building exercises.

We know we have barely scratched the surface with these amazing ideas. What are your go-to activities to welcome them back to learning?

Back to School Tips for Teachers to Welcome them Back to the Classroom from Teachers and Steve Spangler Science

Is the Hands-on Approach Really the Best Way to Learn Science?

Our focus at Steve Spangler Science is teaching hands-on science – don’t read just about it in a text book, touch it, see it and live it. That’s where discoveries are made and real learning begins.

Should elementary students perform hands-on science experiments or focus on learning science concepts first? | Steve Spangler Science

Some are challenging that focus on teaching science and pushing for more of a foundation in content before going into the lab.  Daniel Willingham (Why Don’t Students Like School?) believes elementary students in particular are novices and are therefore unable to think like a scientist. The only people able to think like scientists are the expert scientists themselves, believes Willingham.

Willingham argues that the only way to become an expert is to have a strong foundation in the field coupled with years of practice and experience. He believes students should write poetry and perform science experiments, but they will not have meaningful and memorable lab experiences until they become a real scientist.

Katherine Beals (Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World) explains that labs are essential for the advancement of science, but questions if they are needed to learn what has already been discovered. In other words, is it better for students to study, hypothesize and question about a specific lab topic and then instead of performing it themselves, read about the experts’ findings? She questions if there is a purpose in re-enacting experiments that have been done over and over. The results have already been discovered, so why have students go through the same motions?

We now teach in a world with science videos, science apps and a plethora of scientific knowledge at our fingertips. There are even programs that will step students through complete labs without the students ever having to touch a pea seed, smell formaldahyde or measure a chemical. Virtual labs calculate the results based on past experiments and give students the data they need while saving money on materials and time spent in the lab.

Steve Spangler demonstrates Elephant's Toothpaste on the Ellen DeGeneres Show

There are the students out there that will jump up and down about this type of learning. They will step through the exciting parts of the lab without actually having to do it. But what about those who love putting on the lab glasses and gloves and diving into smelly, messy science to watch their results come alive in front of them? Even if a result has been proven again and again, isn’t there something in letting novice students make their own discoveries?

A picture of Elephant’s Toothpaste is cool, but observing it shoot into the air and then smelling the reaction is something you can’t get out of a book.

Science is explosive, olfactory and incredibly visual. It’s also tedious, boring at times, full of research and writing and results don’t always come out as expected. Shouldn’t students of all ages get the opportunity to experience a slice of what the expert scientists live everyday? Just like reading the real Declaration of Independence with the actual signatures of our founding fathers while standing in the National Archives makes a deeper impression than looking at a copy in a book.

What are your thoughts about hands-on vs. building a deeper foundation before reaching for that lab coat? What creates memorable experiences for students?



Easing Back to School Stress – Tips for Parents

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

The stress of back to school usually starts in our house as the end of July nears, and school supply lists arrive with registration packets. My kids start worrying about losing the later bedtimes, non-stop play dates and extra free time. Over the next three weeks, we will be sharing some tips and advice for easing the anxiety surrounding returning to the classroom.

Tips for parents to ease back to school stress & anxiety | Steve Spangler Science

  • Shop for school supplies early. In my children’s early school years, I’d procrastinate and wait until the first day of school started creeping up on us before I’d shop. I thought this would ease mine and my children’s anxiety by not acknowledging its inevitability until summer was almost over. Simple supplies like pencils, erasers, etc. were still available, but harder to find items like primary composition books were non-existant. I ended up running all over town and searching the Internet for those last few supplies. This caused more stress for all of us, as we spent additional time on search missions. Now, we shop in mid-to-late July and then stack it up in a corner until it’s needed in late August.

Back to School Parent Tips | Steve Spangler Science

  • Get the teacher contact information early and utilize it. Don’t wait until school starts or even those first conferences to express your concerns and challenges to the teacher. Send the teacher an email before school starts. Teachers must jump in with both feet and learn 20-30 kids’ names, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses and skill levels. When meeting with my school’s principal last year, she encouraged me to reach out to my child’s new teacher right away and share my concerns with her. Talking with the teacher before the insanity begins, gives the teacher a head start getting to know their students. Kristen Mason from Busy Kids = Happy Mom also agrees and shares her tips for connecting early…Easing back to school fears & anxiety - write to your child's teacher. | Steve Spangler Science
  • Set all family/homework rules and plans a week before school starts. Charts or posters that list when homework will be focused on, how much time screen time is allowed on school days, bedtimes, wake times and chores. Give your children the expectations in advance so they know what is expected during the week.

Tips for Parents in Easing Back to School Stress | Steve Spangler Science

  • Use a family calendar. Use whatever works best for you – wipe boards, planners, or apps like Cozi are all great ways to display a family calendar and keep everyone notified of the week by week schedule. Again, it is all about setting expectations and keeping everyone organized.Back to School Parent Tips | Steve Spangler Science
  • Take a practice run. If your child rides the bus, walk with your child to the bus stop and talk about what is acceptable and against the rules while waiting for and riding the bus. If your child will walk or ride a bike, take the route on a day before school. Discuss which routes are good to take and which ones aren’t. If you have friends’ homes along the way or “safe” houses, point them out so you child knows where to go if they need help along the way. Go over rules for getting to and from school – can they stop at a friend’s house or go straight home?
    Back to School Parent Tips | Steve Spangler Science
  • Visit the school. Many preschools, elementary schools, middle and high schools all offer visit days before the first day of school. Walk around, meet the teachers and get familiar with the new school to eliminate as many unknowns as possible. Blogger Laura Hutchinson also adds, “If a face-to-face visit with the teacher or school isn’t possible, photos of the school and/or teacher, a Skype interview, phone call, or even just an email or letter can be helpful.”

Tips for Parents in Easing Back to School Stress | Steve Spangler Science

  • Create a worry board. Kim Vij from The Educator’s Spin On It has her children write out their worries on a wipe board and categorize them by big worries and little worries. She also has them list their fears by Likely to Happen and Less Likely to Happen. After the fears are written down, she discusses them and helps the kids find strategies for working through them.
    Big Worries vs. Little Worries - Tips for Easing Back to School Fears from Educators' Spin On ItBig Worries vs. Little Worries - Tips for Easing Back to School Fears from Educators' Spin On It
  • Read books that take your child through the new grade and experience. Here’s a grade-specific reading list from Nyla’s Crafty Teaching. When my girls were in the younger grades, we always read “The Night Before…” books during the week before school started.

The Night Before First Grade - Books to read to ease Back to School fears

  • A visit from the Back to School Fairy. Twas the night before the first day of school and all through the house everyone is sleeping…..or maybe not!  If your child is is a little anxious or dreading the return of school, have the fairy visit them over night. Busy Kids = Happy Mom has a fun printable and explains this activity on her blog. What a great idea. I needed this a few years ago.

Easing back to school fears & anxiety - the Back to School Fairy from Busy Kids = Happy Mom

What are your family traditions or tips to help get your kids back to school while easing the stress?