Category Archives: Education Today

Drinking Problems

Steve Spangler, the Master Teacher himself, has admitted that most plants have a drinking problem, so I thought I’d see for myself if that was true.

I started out with four clear vases.  I didn’t have any two that were alike, but that just makes my experiment more interesting.

No two alike!
                      No two alike!

Since I would be dealing with fresh flowers, my next step was logical: I filled each vase with some full-blown Water Jelly Marbles.  I also got out the food coloring.

I never use fresh flowers without jelly marbles.  And sometimes, food coloring.
I never use fresh flowers without jelly marbles. And sometimes, food                                                                     coloring.

Next I filled each vase with water, and then put a few drops of food coloring in each vase.  This resulted in some interested formations.

It's beautiful, isn't it.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it.

Then, I got my sharpest kitchen knife and cut a diagonal piece off the end of each flower stem.  Steve likes to give each flower a split end and let it share two vases, but I thought I would try it another way and see what happened.    Each of my flowers got its own vase.

Aren't they pretty?  You should try this!
Aren’t they pretty? You should try                                this!

The big vase got two flowers, but the three smaller vases each got one flower.  Would the size of the vase influence which flower “changed” first?  We’ll see.

Each of my four vases got a different color: yellow, blue, red, and purple.  I wondered which color would show up first. . . .

I put all of this together on Sunday afternoon.  Today is Tuesday.  Look at which color showed up first!

The little vase with the blue water won!
The little vase with the blue water                                          won!

What exactly happened here?  It’s interesting!  (All science is interesting.)  We can compare the way flowers suck water up their stem to the tips of their petals with YOU, sucking soda up your straw into your mouth.  To quote Steve Spangler:

“Okay, now it’s time to get technical. There are two things that combine to move water through plants — transpiration and cohesion. Water evaporating from the leaves, buds, and petals (transpiration) pulls water up the stem of the plant. This works in the same way as sucking on a straw. Water that evaporates from the leaves “pulls” other water behind it up to fill the space left by the evaporating water, but instead of your mouth providing the suction (as with a straw) the movement is due to evaporating water. This can happen because water sticks to itself (called water cohesion) and because the tubes in the plant stem are very small (in a part of the plant called the xylem). This process is called capillary action.”

So much of science is also beauty.  Fresh flowers in the home add beauty and fragrance, and using them to do a little science adds to the enjoyment, especially when there are children in the home.

This is a science experiment that the whole family can enjoy.  It’s simple and pretty and inexpensive, and the science fair judges would be very impressed.

Now I can hardly wait to check on my flowers tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  If one day can show results, what will three days show?  I’ll update this post for you so you can all see what I’ll be seeing in my dining room.


Will Wheaton Anti-Bullying Message is Right On

This video is a few years old, but we thought it needed to be shared. Again. Wil Wheaton was in Denver at Comic Con and was asked if he was bullied as a child and what he did to deal. The question came from a young girl in the audience. His anti-bullying message was spot on.

Wil Wheaton at Denver Comic Con 2013 From CGPhotogcom

When a person makes fun of you or when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. It’s about them feeling sad,” Wheaton explains.

Every parent and every child should watch this video. When we all understand where bullying comes from and how to defeat it, maybe then it will disappear from our culture.

There’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing and we are all doing really well.

“Don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something that they decided was only for nerds,” he ended with. “Your loving things for you.”


Science and Cupcakes

I wonder sometimes if people realize the incredible wonder of everyday science. . . . .  things we do every day, things we see, things we touch, things we eat. . . . you know, like cupcakes.

Cupcakes are science.  Without science there would be no cupcakes.  Imagine a world without cupcakes.  It would be bleak.  We need science so we can have cupcakes.

Without science, there would be no cupcakes.
Without science, there would be no cupcakes.

Cupcakes are not a single entity, you know.  Cupcakes are a combination of several things, and it is the combination that creates cupcakes.  It’s chemistry.  Kitchen science is chemistry.  It’s other kinds of sciences as well, but it’s mostly chemistry.

In a lab, we add different things together to create reactions, and to create new things which would not exist were it not for the COMBINATION of various other things.

Before you begin this experiment, you need to anticipate the receptacle that will induce the chemical reaction needed.  For this experiment, you need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  And then you need to begin mixing the single ingredients together to create a new whole.

With cupcakes, we need flour.  Three cups of flour.

Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.
Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.

Put the flour in a  medium-size bowl.  Kitchen science – chemistry – requires specific kinds of containers; test tubes are too small, so you’ll need a couple of bowls.  You’ll also need a cupcake pan and some paper liners.

In that medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.  They’re chemicals, too.

Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride.  Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.
Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride. Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.

Ma Ingalls, in The Long Winter, was glad to finally, after months of near starvation, get some supplies that enabled her to cook good meals once again.  Now that I have cream of tartar and plenty of saleratus, I shall make a cake.”   Which is what we’re doing right now, only we’re putting the batter in cupcake pans, and we don’t have to make our own baking powder, which is what Ma was doing with the saleratus and cream of tartar.

In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.  (Creaming, in kitchen science, means softening and blending things with the curved side of a large spoon.  You can also do this with a mixer, but that’s not as much fun.) Add the eggs to this bowl.  Blend thoroughly.

eggs, butter, sugar

Add the milk and vanilla to the mixture in the large bowl.  We use vanilla extract in baking, but let’s not forget where that vanilla extract comes from.

See that orchid?  That's where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn't it; almost like a. . . . flower.
See that orchid? That’s where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn’t it; almost like a. . . . flower.

Blend the vanilla and milk with the mixture in the large bowl; be sure you mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Proper mixing is important in chemistry.

Now start adding the dry ingredients to the mixture in the big bowl.  Add them a little at a time, blending well between additions.  When all the dry ingredients are added, start beating the batter with a large spoon or a mixer.    For good cake/cupcakes, the chemistry of the ingredients must be blended thoroughly and smoothly.

Pour the batter into your cupcake pans, put the pans into the oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes.  The heat will create a reaction that will turn all those ingredients you mixed together into. . . . cake.  After 15 minutes, check for doneness; there are several ways to check.  When the cupcakes look done and spring back when you tap them with your finger, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.  Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Cupcakes.  All those ingredients turned into cupcakes.  Kitchen science.
Cupcakes. All those ingredients turned into cupcakes. Kitchen science.

Put some icing on them if you like icing.  Icing is kitchen science, too, but for now, we’ll let you wonder about that one as you devour your cupcakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody talk about leftover cupcakes.



Jelly Marbles: Oh, the Versatility of Polymers!

I love to play with jelly marbles!  These polymer orbs have so many uses, from play to gardening to home decorating to party fun and who only knows how many other uses!

Just add water!
Just add water!

Who could ever guess that a pinch of tiny rock-hard “things” would grow into beautiful crystal-clear orbs, hundreds of times their original size!

The snow is finally gone and the weather has been spring-like for a few days, and this always makes me want to have fresh flowers in my house.  In my house, fresh flowers in a vase also means getting out the jelly marbles.  The marbles are often used in gardening of all kinds because they are mostly water and will hydrate your plants for weeks.  That’s right.  If there are jelly marbles underneath each of your flowers or vegetables, you can go on vacation and not worry about your garden.  These jelly marbles are also used in dry areas, to help keep the plants hydrated.  But I digress.  Back to ME.

Just a pinch of dried-out jelly marbles in a vase, and in an hour they look like this:

These started out as just a pinch.  Seriously, just a pinch.
These started out as just a pinch. Seriously, just a pinch.

Now, I could have left the flowers in the jelly marbles and they would have been fine.  But I wanted to take the magic a step further.

Now you see 'em, now you don't.
Now you see ‘em, now you don’t.

Oh, the water jelly marbles are still there.  I just added some water.  The clear water jelly marbles are now invisible.  If you put your hand in there, you would feel them; they would feel like eyeballs, but that’s for a Halloween post later on. . . .

When the orbs start to show, that means I need to add more water.

Fresh flowers brighten up  the home, don't you think?
Fresh flowers brighten up the home, don’t you think?

Polymer science is one of my favorite areas, and Spangler Science’s almost-magical Water Jelly Marbles are one of my favorite products.  They’re inexpensive, and a pinch goes a long way.  They’re also indestructible; if you get tired of the way you’ve been using them, just put them in a bowl and let them dry out.  When you’re ready to use them again, add water and they’ll burst into bloom.

Just a little pinch goes a loooong way!
Just a little pinch goes a loooong way!

Why not order some today?  It’s time to think about gardening. and it’s always time for some science play!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day – add a few drops of green food coloring to your vase of orbs!  They take the color beautifully!  Don’t know if you believe that?  Check this out, then:

Seven years old and still going strong!

And who WOULDN’T want a bowl of invisible eyeballs?  But you’ll have to wait for that one.

Education, Connections, and Humpty Dumpty

Sometimes I feel like several different people when I talk or think about education.  Most of me can’t even begin to comprehend how anyone could not want to learn as much as possible, every passing moment.  Some of me can understand how a person can be too exhausted from the labor and stress of a typical day to even think about thinking.  And all of me wonders how people who hate everything about learning can remember to breathe.  Education is too important.  How can a person be too tired to live properly in the universe?

Turn off the TV and pick up a book.  Go outside and do things.  Look around – the world is a beautiful, fascinating place.   Play games.  Playing is learning.  Climb a tree.  TALK to each other.

I write about connections a lot.  Once a person of any age – and it can start in infancy – learns that everything in existence and out of it is connected, the learning will never end.  Things like nursery rhymes (which were not intended for small children, but that’s another topic.) connect to adult literature and history and sociology.  Did you really think Humpty Dumpty was an egg?  I’ve had students who didn’t know a single nursery rhyme, which makes me despise their parents, but that’s another topic, too.  (They were not in the top class, by the way.  Or the average class. Far from it.) Connections.

connections, education


Fairy tales (also never intended for small children) are also a wonderful connection to modern literature, history, and many other topics. (Not the Disney versions – the real ones.) Connections.

Humpty Dumpty, Battle of Colchester, cannon, king, not really an egg
. . . not really an egg. . . .


As for mythology. . . . well, connecting the dots from mythology to science to literature to music to poetry to everything else will give you great works of art, not just a hen and chicks, when you stop and take a good close look at the picture you’ve made by connecting.  Almost everything in the night sky is named for a mythological character, as are most of NASA’s spaceships and a great deal of scientific vocabulary.  Oh, and a great deal of every other kind of vocabulary, too.  Connections.

connections, education


I know there are people who care nothing for learning.  They come home from work or school and sit in front of the TV and cherish their mindless, effortless evenings.  It’s beyond my comprehension.  I’m so sorry for their children – the children who will come to school with no connectable schema – no prior knowledge.  It’s hard to learn anything without something to tie it to.  Shame on these parents.

turn off the TV, education

Educators owe it to the universe to try harder with these poor neglected children, to give them a base on which they can start making the connections necessary to become a learner – an educated person who is curious about the world and never stops trying to find out “why.”

There is no such thing as a subject that exists only unto itself.  Everything is connected to everything else.  You know something about everything.  YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT EVERYTHING.  Just think about that.

contented cowsPlacid contentment is a good thing only if you’re a cow.

ONLY if you’re a cow.