Category Archives: Education Today

Tornado Tube: Vortex in a Bottle!

You can use our tornado tube experiment to introduce students to kinetic energy, potential energy, and weather. This simple plastic tube can help kids discover how air pressure and density work together to create an incredible force of nature.  To put it simply, Spangler Science’s tornado tubes are all about the science of vortex energy, the swirling, twisting and spiraling action that can be found everywhere in nature – in the air, in the water, in the sky. . . everywhere!

When you let the water out of the sink or tub, that swirling that you see is vortex energy.  What you see in your bathtub is what Dorothy Gale and Toto saw right before they were whisked away to Oz, only theirs was in the air and yours is, well, in the bathtub.  Or sink.  Kitchen or bathroom – it doesn’t matter.  It’s a vortex.  Take cover.

Tornado tubes:  all different colors to create a vortex in a bottle!
Tornado tubes: all        different colors to         create a vortex in a                  bottle!

I like to do this experiment immediately after doing the Mentos/Diet Coke experiment, because after the Mentos Geyser goes off, you’ve got all those empty two-liter Diet Coke bottles anyway!

Mentos Geyser!  Don't throw the 2-liter bottles away!
Mentos Geyser! Don’t throw the 2-liter bottles away!

So rinse them out, peel off the label, and fill one of the bottles with water.  Add a little food coloring to make the vortex show up more clearly.

Screw your tornado tube to the filled bottle.  Turn the empty bottle upside down and screw it into the remaining half of the tube.  Make sure your seal is good.

Tornado TubeNow turn your bottles over so the one filled with water is on top.  Watch the water spiral through the tornado tube, creating a whirling vortex that looks exactly like a waterspout.  Or, in the air, a tornado.  Or, in your bathtub, a swirling tube of water that sometimes goes clockwise, and sometimes goes counterclockwise.  Google THAT.  Black holes are vortexes, too.  Wow.

Big Blue Vortex!
Big Blue Vortex!

Steve Spangler’s Tornado Tube is one of the simplest and most interesting science projects; it appeals to every age.  Very young children can use it, and so can everybody else!  It can introduce a unit on weather, and it can demonstrate quite a few aspects of physics.  It’s made of tough plastic, so if a child drops it, it probably won’t break.  If you order several, each student can have his/her own color so there won’t be any mix-ups.

And we all know that we all want our own tornado tube in our own color.  For our very own.  They’re inexpensive enough so that everybody in the group can have one.

Be ready to hear large groups of students muttering “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.”




UV Beads and Bracelets and Amber, Oh My!

Spangler Science’s UV Beads are one of my (many) favorites of Steve’s products, and there are so many interesting things that can be done with them!

Combining science and literature is also one of my favorite things to do with students, and since science can be teamed up with everything else, creating a combination mystery story/fairy tale/science project is easy!

I like mysteries, and I like fairy tales, and I like science. Let’s put them together!

What possible mystery could there be about UV Beads?  Well, for starters, they’re all identical in the package – snow white,  and not really very interesting in appearance.  Ah, but appearances can be deceiving. . . .

And what connection could we make between UV Beads and fairy tales?

What if an intrepid young person were to be given a goal, say, the King offered his kingdom as a prize to whoever brought him the most interesting object in the kingdom?  Young men and young women everywhere would flock to the palace in hordes, each with ideas and suggestions and examples, and it would be up to the King to select the most interesting object and award the prize.

Now, one young man in particular had an idea, and he knew it was a good one.But he needed to package his idea in such a way that he could easily transport it to the palace.

His idea?  UV Beads.  They were white and mysterious, and yet when exposed to the sunlight, they turned into a beautiful rainbow of bright colors.  That’s pretty interesting, don’t you think?  This young man thought so.  His name was Sol, and he was a young man of many talents.

One of his talents was needlework, and he decided to get out his crochet needle and work a simple bracelet containing five beads, one of each color, to bring to the King.

He started with a basic chain stitch.

Basic chain stitch, with five stitches.
Basic chain stitch, with five stitches.

After that fifth stitch, Sol slipped a UV bead over the loop.

Sol slipped a UV bead over the loop after every five stitches!
Sol slipped a UV bead over the loop after every five stitches!

Five plain white UV beads with five stitches in between layers, and Sol snipped the yard and tied the ends into a bracelet!

Sol's finished UV bracelet!
Sol’s finished UV bracelet!

Sol slipped the bracelet onto his arm, but on his way to the palace, he thought of some other ways to prove to the King that his contribution to the contest was the most interesting one.  He made a few more bracelets, and put them into amber medicine bottles!

Sol made a bracelet for everyone in the King's court, and put each in an amber medicine bottle!
Sol made a bracelet for everyone in the King’s court, and put each in an amber medicine bottle!

He put all the bottles in his backpack and set out to the palace to show the King.  The UV beads were so fascinating to Sol that he just knew the King would think so, too.

Here’s a closeup of what the bracelets looked like in their amber bottles:

UV bead bracelet in amber bottle
UV bead bracelet in amber bottle.

When Sol arrived at the palace, he presented a bottle to the King, who said, “What is this?  An amber bottle with a simple bracelet inside?  How is this interesting?”

“Just you wait, Your Majesty,” said Sol.  “Slip this bracelet on your wrist, and go stand by that window with your bottle.”

The King did so, and the moment the sun’s UV rays touched the plain white beads, they began to turn beautiful colors.

“This is amazing!” shouted the King.  “This is by far the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen! Please tell me more!”

So Sol explained to the King about the sun’s UV rays, and about the amber bottle being able to block these rays.

The sun , but the UV rays are invisible.
The sun , but the UV rays are invisible.

“So this is why my medicine always comes in an amber bottle!”  shouted the King.  “UV rays have the power to change things!”

“That’s right!” said Sol happily.  He had a feeling that he knew who was going to inherit the kingdom, and he was right, too.

“I brought enough amber bottles and bracelets for everybody in the court,” said the new King Sol.

And they all lived happily ever after, and nobody was ever sunburned again.

The end.


SITR Encouraging Teachers to Fill Classrooms with STEAM

Steve Spangler Hosts a Hands-on Science Institute for Teachers – Science in the Rockies – that Explores Strategies for Incorporating the Arts with Current STEM Initiatives

Lanyards for teachers ready for Science in the Teachers SITR

With more emphasis being put on teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), teachers are eager to learn how to integrate more science and engineering challenges into their daily curriculum. 

The business community has also discovered that students need more than facts and concepts to compete for STEM-based jobs.

Learning how to effectively communicate scientific ideas and engineering solutions requires a connection to the arts (oral, written and visual communication). STEM is turning into STEAM, and Steve Spangler is leading the charge.

Teachers learning and having fun at Science in the Rockies #SITR

That’s why 168 teachers from 5 countries are attending Science in the Rockies this week at the Sheraton Denver West Conference Center. During the three-day training, teachers will participate in more than 75 hands-on science experiments and engineering challenges aimed at engaging students on many levels.

The leader for SITR is none other than Denver’s own Steve Spangler, who is well known throughout the country for his eye-catching science experiments and engaging presentation style as a science communicator. 

Science in the Rockies Flash drives and test tubes - take home learning materials for SITR

“I believe that at its root level STEM is all about creating the next generation of young scientists and engineers,” says Spangler, who started his career as a science teacher in the Cherry Creek Schools from 1991-2003. “Science in the Rockies is all about teaching teachers how to turn ordinary activities into unforgettable learning experiences that will spark passion and enthusiasm in the students they reach.” 

Given Spangler’s reputation for making things fun, participants never know what to expect. What’s in store for this year’s participants? If you’re a betting person, place your money on messy and memorable.

 Teachers Send Home Multiple Boxes of Take Home Supplies from Science in the Rockies SITR

Kid City Does Spangler Science!

Bloomington, Indiana’s Kid City had a Spangler Science experience this week at Ivy Tech Community College, and according to a very professional exit poll* it was a big hit!

Kid City Science started off with marshmallow/toothpick towers.  The goal:  HEIGHT.
Kid City Science started off with marshmallow/toothpick      towers. The goal: HEIGHT.

After this project (Prize:  Insta-Snow!) a trip to the restroom to wash all that marshmallow dust off our hands was in order.  Before the students left the room, however, each got a squirt of GlitterBug Lotion to rub all over his/her hands.  They were then told to wash their hands thoroughly.

A casual handwashing will NOT get all the dirt off your skin!

One black light viewing later, and the students decided to go back to the sinks and try again.

That official exit poll* indicated that the hit of the morning was Insta-Worms.  The excitement also indicated that Insta-Worms were a popular activity.  We used Atomic Insta Worms because, well, they’re COOL, and we already had the black light.

They GLOW!

Polymer science is awesome in so many ways, and Insta-Worms is one of those ways.


Kid City students agree:  Insta-Worms rocked.

Both boys and girls agreed: Insta-Worms were awesome!
Both boys and girls agreed: Insta-Worms were awesome!
If it breaks, you can just stick it back together!  Polymers!
If it breaks, you can just    stick it back together!    Polymers!
You can make those Insta-Worms really long, too!
You can make those Insta-Worms really long, too!
The Kid City counselors loved the Insta-Worms, too!
The Kid City counselors loved the Insta-Worms,    too!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, you’re NEVER too old to have fun with science – just ask those Kid City counselors up there!

And the QUESTIONS!  All morning, super questions about polymers, and pyramids, and black lights, and more.  When there are lots of questions, there is lots of learning going on.

QUESTIONS!  There were     questions!
QUESTIONS! There were    questions!

And there was tie dye – not the t-shirt kind – the milk kind!

Tie Dye Milk
Tie dye, using whole milk, food coloring, and Dawn dishwashing detergent!
And more tie dye!
And more tie dye!
. . . and MORE!
. . . and MORE!

Color-changing milk is such a simple experiment, and yet the results are beautiful.  All you need is a plate, a cotton swab, a dot of Dawn dishwashing detergent, and some whole milk.  I think it usually looks like tie dye, but some of the Kid City students thought theirs looked like stained glass.  It did, too.

We did a lot more in our three hours together – culminating with some ice cream in a zip-lock bag – but these were some highlights.

The morning with Kid City was a lot of fun, for the counselors, for me, and from the reactions, questions, and laughter, for the students as well.  And, as with most things that create genuine laughter and fun, there was a lot of learning, as well.  I hope much of the morning’s lab ended up at each student’s dinner table, because, as Steve Spangler himself often says, “If it ends up at the dinner table, it was a success.”

As for that exit poll I was referring to up there, I asked each student, as he/she exited the lab, what they liked best.  The Atomic Worms pretty much won, but every experiment we’d done that morning was mentioned, so I count them all a success.

A success.  You know – like each and every one of those wonderful Kid City kids are now and will be for the rest of their lives.


Cold Equations

When I was a kid, I read a short story called “The Cold Equations,” by Tom Godwin.  It scared me to death.  It was wonderful, but it scared me to death.  That there could be a situation wherein the milk of human kindness had no power, that there could be a situation wherein someone, of her own free will, could happily and blindly enter into something with the best of intentions, and die for it, gave me nightmares for years.  The cold fact that there are, indeed, cold facts, still gives me the shakes.

Tom Godwin - The Cold Equations

Now, equations are made up of factors, and once certain factors are selected, the combination thereof is an absolute, unless the factors are changed.  However, UNLESS the factors are changed, the answer can’t be any different than the natural result of those particular factors.

If any other number wants to elbow in, it must be rejected, if the 3 and the 2 are to stay, and if the answer MUST be 6.
If any other number wants to elbow in, it must be rejected, if the 3 and the 2 are to stay, and if the         answer MUST be 6.  There is no room for a 4 in this equation, unless we change the whole intent of the equation.

When the weather is such that it creates snow, or tornadoes, or rain, etc, those things are the natural result of a combination of factors which have no choice but to produce that particular outcome.

It’s an equation.  It’s a cold equation.    When the factors are there, the product, or outcome, is assured.

When the equation contains these factors, a tornado is inevitable.
When the equation contains these factors, a tornado is inevitable.

When the equation is set. . . when the factors are selected. . . . when the product is assured. . . . no amount of bargaining or begging can change the natural outcome of this equation, whether it concerns math class, or the weather, or a spaceship on which everything was measured and weighed and ANY additional ANYTHING will result in the loss of many lives.  Even if the additional something is a sweet, innocent teenage girl who just wanted to see her brother.  Even then.

As humans, we don’t like cold equations.  I don’t like them.  You probably don’t like them, either.  They’re too, well, cold.  Humans have compassion.  We love.  We make adjustments and we adapt circumstances to meet other circumstances.

Every once in a while, “Values Clarification” makes a comeback, is tried, and is rejected again.  Compassionate people don’t like to think that any of us would ever toss someone in a lifeboat overboard, even if doing so would insure the safety and survival of everybody else in the lifeboat.  I know I would not want to make that decision.

lifeboat, values clarification


There are aspects of life, however, that make use of cold equations.  Math.   Science.  I’ve read that many people think they dislike math and science when it’s really the idea of a cold equation that they dislike.

With math, there’s not much we can do with a cold equation.  2+2 is going to equal 4, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

In science, sometimes we can.  Oh, there are cold equations in science, but we can almost always do some experimenting.  Sure, if you drop Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke, the result is pretty much assured, but what if we drop more, or fewer, or diet, or flavored Mentos?  What if we use Fanta soda?  The variety of factors, while sticking to the gist of the equation, can yield all kinds of products.

Tom Godwin’s short story is about an equation that allowed no deviation.  It’s truly a cold equation.  The young girl begs for her life, and insists that she didn’t do anything to die for.

But child, you did.

Of her own free will, she inserted herself into an already factored equation, and the addition did not fit.  Any altering of the equation would bring death to several others.  There could only be one solution.

The Cold Equations, Tom Godwin, MarilynCold equations.

Most situations allow for variation, but not a cold equation.  Not everything can be altered.  Sometimes, we have to alter ourselves, FORCE ourselves to do things we really would rather not do.  Those who insist that life be altered to suit them are living in a fool’s paradise.  All the insistence in the world will not stop a tornado in its path, or make a tidal wave change its mind and turn back.   The factors in such equations can only equal a set product.


Human beings have the power to set the factors and change them if we desire, in order to produce the product we desire.  Not always, but sometimes.  We have to deal with some cold equations, but most human experiences do allow for deviation.

Now, click on the link in that first paragraph and go read the short story, “The Cold Equations.”  Don’t read it right before bedtime.  Tom Godwin, your story is absolutely superb.  I was horrified, and terrified, and lost in admiration.