Category Archives: Contributors

Look Up! The Night Sky is Full of Awesome!

Does this look like a Big Bear (Ursa Major) to you?
Does this look like a Big Bear (Ursa Major) to you?

You don’t need a big, strong telescope to see wonders in the night sky.   All the ancients had was their eyes, and since the air was unpolluted and without the interference of electric lights, they could see quite a lot up there.  I’ve often thought that the ancients must have been able to see a lot more stars in the constellations, because none of them looks much like its name these days.  These ancients, with only their eyes, charted and mapped the sky, and did it so well that we are still able to use these same charts and maps. We also still use the names the ancients gave to what they saw in the sky.

Add to your eyes a pair of binoculars, and your night sky wonders will increase more than you could ever imagine.  Those first telescopes, remember, weren’t nearly as powerful as those pink Happy Meal binoculars on the floor of your van.  If you have powerful big-boy/girl binoculars, all the better.

Without a telescope – with just binoculars – you’ll be able to see several of Jupiter’s moons, and Saturn’s rings (if it’s turned the right way) and Venus & Mars as discs, not just dots.

Remember how to spot a planet:  they don’t twinkle as stars do.  Only objects that shine with their own light will twinkle; the objects that shine with reflected light will just shine; they won’t twinkle.  Think about it: a twinkling moon would be more than just a little bit scary!

I used to be a little girl who sneaked outside late at night to lie on top of the car and scan the sky with those very same pink plastic binoculars.

Thank you, Santa, for granting my only wish that Christmas.  I still have the telescope; it’s leaning in the corner in the living room.  Thank telescope, Spangler Sciencethe elves for me, too; they did a great job.

So yes, I have known what it feels like to have a genuine wish come true.  While other little girls crossed their fingers and shut their eyes and hoped for Barbie under the tree that year, all I wanted was a telescope.  And I got it.  I can still remember the sensation of realizing my wish had been granted.

And with it, I could watch the universe, unfolding, closer and clearer than ever.  It’s not all science, you know.  It’s everything.  Science just helps us make sense of it.

Earn a Science-Themed Badge at Junior Ranger Programs at a National Park

By Contributor Jacquie Fisher, KC Edventures

The Junior Ranger programs in our National Parks are a wonderful way to introduce kids to hand-on science opportunities.  Science and nature activities are offered to kids and families are more than 200 of our National Parks and Monuments.

Where to earn science-themed Junior Ranger badges | Steve Spangler Science

We love the Junior Ranger programs and have attended quite a few over the years.   Kids as young as 4 years old can get involved in the programs.  Activity booklets are available at the park ranger’s stations or online.  To become a Junior Ranger, a child just needs to complete the activities listed for their age group.  Many Junior Ranger programs can be completed in one or two visits to the park and some activities can be done at home (or in the car if you’re traveling).

Fun activities such as animal observations, nature exploration and ranger workshops are available.  If you have a child who is interested in a specific area of science, attending one of the Junior Ranger programs is the perfect way to extend their interest and learning.

Junior Ranger Programs for science-based badges in National Parks


Many of the National Parks will offer ranger-led astronomy programs during the summer months.  Seeing the sky from a National Park is an outstanding experience as there is little man-made light in the parks.  Families will be amazed at how many stars can be viewed on a clear evening.  For many Junior Ranger programs, attending a stargazing event will help kids to earn their badge.

A few of the parks have very extensive astronomy offerings:

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Joshua Tree National Park (California)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)



Many children love to read about dinosaurs and fossils.  In fact, some even dream about growing up to become paleontologists.  Our National Parks can help with that dream — the parks offer Junior Paleontologist Programs that can be completed at locations across the country.  Currently, more than 200 parks and sites help to preserve fossils.  Some of the more fossil-rich parks include:

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Colorado)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado/Utah)


Marine Science/Oceanography

If you have children who are interested in ocean life, they will enjoy activities that focus on learning and protecting our marine life and coastlines.  Visit some of the following National Parks for Junior Ranger activities that emphasis marine science:

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Mississippi National River & Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Olympic National Park (Washington)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)


Volcanoes & Geysers

In addition to protecting our wildlife and natural areas, Junior Ranger programs are also very focused on educating kids about natural formations.  There are very few places where visitors can walk on a volcano or watch a geyser erupt.  Ranger talks and activities at these National Parks will introduce your family to the underground workings of our Earth:

Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana)

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii)

Capulin Volcano National Monument (New Mexico)

Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)



Speleology is the study of caves and the National Park system is host to some of the most beautiful and longest caves in the world.  If you’re child is interested in these amazing underground passageways, a visit to one of the following parks to explore an amazing  underground world!

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Oregon Cave National Monument (Oregon)

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)



Yes, rocks!  What kid doesn’t love to do some rock-hounding.  Some of the parks have Junior Geologist programs available for kids who want to learn about rock layers, erosion and all those cool colorful stones!

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Capital Reef Nationa Park (Utah)

North Cascades National Park (Washington)


In addition to discipline specific Junior Ranger programs, you can also find a Young Scientist program at Yellowstone National Park.

And if you aren’t able to visit one of our beautiful parks, kids can also learn about science and nature right in their own home.  Visit the National Parks Webrangers online program for fun activities that teach children about nature and animals.

Junior Ranger Programs Across the Country - Hands-on Science | Steve Spangler Science

Jacquie Fisher ECEdventures

Jacquie Fisher is the found of Edventures with Kids where she shares unique ideas for keeping kids creative & curious.  She believes that kids are more likely to enjoy learning when they are offered hands-on activities and the opportunity to explore new places.   ‘Edventures’ are fun ideas that encourage families to try new activities, get outdoors, travel to new locations and connect kids with great books.  You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Zipwire Science – A Lesson in Gravity and Friction

 By Maggy Woodley from Red Ted Art

We do love to have FUN in our house and we love nothing more than a bit of PLAY. The best part about play however, is that you are learning WHILST having fun. But I am sure I am “preaching to the converted.”

A few weeks ago, we decided to put up a little Superhero Zipwire in our garden (I actually thought it may make a great Party Game for our Superhero Party, so we were testing it out).

It was quick and easy to set up and provided a GREAT science learning opportunity for us:

1)     We got to talk about GRAVITY

2)     We got to talk about FRICTION

My kids are only 5 years old and 3 years old, so of course many science concepts and terms are quite “above their heads,” however, I found that still talking about and introducing concepts is a great way to help them familiarise themselves with what seems tricky and science becomes kind of second nature.

So. Firstly, we set it up our zipwire:


  • 2 different pieces of string (we used garden twine and curling ribbon)
  • toy
  • paper clip
  • somewhere to span your zip wire between

We tied one piece of rough garden twine on the top of our playhouse and the other at the side of our fence. (Basically tie your rope at a slope anywhere you can and of course you can do this indoors too). You could tie it to a door handle and the bottom of a chair. I find a taught bit of string is better to get a good flying motion.

Our superhero had “cupped” hands so we were able to whizz it down like that, but some of our other toys didn’t, so we attached a paper clip.

We let our superhero go… and whizzz…. off he went. Red Ted LOVED it. So we discussed WHY the superhero was whizzing along: GRAVITY. I told him how gravity makes us stay on the ground and that it is the reason that things drop down. We talked about how there was less gravity on the moon (they had been covering space at school), as the moon is smaller. And that if you are in space, there is no gravity at all (and the zip wire wouldn’t work!).

The next day, the garden string (which is quite rough anyway), was damp. And the superhero wasn’t whizzing down so well.

“MUMMY! Why isn’t it working today?”

I told him about FRICTION and how friction slows things down. It is absorbing some of the gravitational energy. The wet string clearly had a higher friction as the dry one. To show the point some more, I fetched some curling ribbon – which is strong and SMOOTH. We created a zip wire from it and sent the Superhero down that – JOY it was SO FAST.

We compared the smooth ribbon with the frayed sides of the string – what was the difference? Can you see the smooth ribbon and can you see all the “bits” standing up on the string? What do you think is happening as the superhero goes down?

By the end of the weekend the garden was covered in criss crossing zipwires and the kids spend hours outside experimenting and observing.

A simple lesson in both GRAVITY and FRICTION and lots of FUN had!

Maggy Woodley is best known for her craft blog Red Ted Art, where she loves to get crafty with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter and has just written her first wonderful craft book for kids: Red Ted Art. With a background in Engineering, she is passionate about Science and making it fun for kids. She also regularly explores sciences with fellow bloggers at Life At The Zoo and can also be found on Theatre Books and Movies.




How the Planets Got Their Names – Stories, Not Science

By Jane Goodwin

There have been some awesome sights in the night sky lately – the triangle of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus, for example, and right now, the brightly shining Saturn.  Every night sky is full of wonders, and every night sky has many stories to tell.

It is impossible to study the heavens with science alone – we need the stories to explain the whys and wherefores of the objects “up there.”

Yes, I said “stories.” Let’s talk about the planets.  We’ll talk about constellations later.

Courtesy – Great interactive resource for learning more about the solar system.

Put yourself in the place of an ancient Roman or Greek, standing outside in every season, gazing up at the night sky, and seeing patterns.  Patterns that stay the same, and patterns of movement and color, as well.

The gods of Olympus ruled, during these times, so these ancient skywatchers and philosophers called these objects in the sky after the gods or goddesses that seemed to resemble them in some way.

Mercury was the messenger of the gods; he was the fastest, moving like lightning with his winged sandals. (FTD florists use his shoes as their symbol, because they deliver quickly!)  There was an object in the night sky that seemed to cover more distance than other moving objects; therefore, it was given the name “Mercury” after the swift-moving messenger of the gods.

Venus was the most beautiful sight in the night sky, so it was only fitting that it carry the name of that most beautiful of goddesses.

Mars, the bright red planet, was named for Mars, the god of war, who is associated with blood. (Mars never won a battle – his sister Artemis, who was skilled at both battle AND strategy, beat him every single time.)

From our small world we have gazed upon the cosmic ocean for thousands of years. Ancient astronomers observed points of light that appeared to move among the stars.


Jupiter was large and powerful looking in the sky; Jupiter, the king of the gods, was large and powerful, too.

Saturn puzzled the ancients somewhat; sometimes, it seemed large and bright and glowing, and other times it seemed to dim itself.  It was given the name of the king of the Titans – Saturn, father of many of the gods.  Have you ever seen a picture of Father Time?  That’s Saturn – called Cronus in Greece.  Chronological things are time things.  The rings weren’t discovered until a few hundred years ago – and did you know that Galileo’s telescope was less powerful than the little pink plastic binoculars your child got in his kid’s meal?  That means you can see those rings even more clearly than their discoverer could!

Uranus is visible to the naked eye, but it’s so dim and moves so slowly that the ancients never recognized it for what it actually is – a very large planet.  It gets its name from Ouranus, the sky – who was the father of Cronus (Saturn) and the grandfather of Zeus (Jupiter.)  And its correct pronunciation puts the emphasis on the first syllable, so stop your giggling.

Neptune cannot be seen with the naked eye, but with a moderate telescope, it appears as a green dot.  Green, like the sea.  That’s why it was named after the god of the sea, Neptune.  You know, the Little Mermaid’s grandfather?

As for poor Pluto, it was named for the god of the underworld, called Hades in Greek.  (Hades is not a place; he’s a god!)  Dark and cold and sort of cast out from the rest of the planets, Pluto seemed a logical choice.

Pluto lost its planetary status, though, and is now considered a dwarf, or minor planet, along with Ceres and Eris.  The campaign to label Pluto as a planet again is going strong, though.  How many of you think Ceres and Eris should get their status back, as well?  Believe it or not, they were once considered planets, too.

People ask how to easily recognize a planet in the night sky – how can we tell at once the difference between a planet and a star?  That’s an easy one.

Stars shine with their own light, so they twinkle.  “Like a diamond in the sky,” remember?  Planets, however, shine with reflected light, so they do not twinkle.  They just glow.

Mars glows bright red, and Venus glows very, very white, but the other planets just glow.

Oh, and those morning and evening stars we see?  They’re not twinkling, are  they.  Guess what: they’re Venus and/or Mercury, both of which are always fairly low on the horizon because they’re between earth and the sun.

And speaking of earth, have you noticed that “earth” is seldom capitalized?  That’s because “earth” is not our planet’s name; it’s just a nickname.  Our planet’s actual name is every bit as mythological as all the other planets’ names.  Do you know what it is?   Because we’re not telling until you guess.

10 Simple Tips for Bringing Science into your Home

By Kim Vij, The Educators’ Spin On It

Do you ever wonder if your child is getting enough Science?

As an educator and parent I have observed over the years that with more and more time focused on Reading, Writing and Math our children are not getting enough time for deeper levels of understanding of in science at school.  Children need more opportunities for hands on exploration and time to process the experiments and concepts at their own pace.  Are you thinking this is something I can help with at home but where to start? Do you know what concepts your child is supposed to be learning in science at school?  It’s easy you can just check the Standards for their Grade Level and support from home.  Your local school board website will have a link.

At The Educators’ Spin On It we try our best to insure that our children have the opportunity to explore science with our After School Express Series and our Tot School Series. We share ideas that you can incorporate as a stay at home parents, after school or on the weekends with your child. You would be surprised how many other subject areas a simple science experiment can lead to… Reading, Math, Writing and more!

10 Simple Tips for Bringing Science into your Home

  • Create a Science Station at Home

Include a Microscope, Binoculars, Magnifying Glass, Tweezers and Containers which are all tools a Scientist Needs to explore.

  • Create Science Trays

Provide items on a science tray such as Magnets, Rocks, Shells or Fossils to provide opportunities to explore and investigate and question.

  • Visit your local library to check out books from the Non Fiction Section

A deep understanding of a concept can come from a self-driven question.  Before you get there ask your child what they want to learn about prior checking out books.  Reptiles, solar energy, volcanos, insects, or chemistry, which topic will it be?  Keep a list posted of the Dewey Decimal System as a menu to choose from and to record on what you’ve discovered already.

Stepping out and into your garden has so many benefits to your child.  Simple good nutrition is the first step as well as discovering the process from seed to plant to fruit or vegetables and all the stages in between.  Does your child know where potatoes grow?  Or how many peas grow in a typical pod?

Have you ever really talked about the chemical & physical changes that happen while something cooks?  Observe active yeast?  Egg or no egg, baking soda or no baking soda?  How can kneading bread change from a sticky mess to something extremely soft and smooth? It’s all explained with science.

Have your children record observations of the world around them.  Create a Hypothesis for an experiment they want to do.  Encourage them to look at the world as a scientist would.

  • Plan Family Outings

Plan trips that support Science Concepts they are learning at school.  A local trip to a science museum or park might be the first step to learning about the land forms and animal life in your area.  Zoo, local nursery, Pet store, Animal Rescue, or even your neighborhood can provide real life experience of many science concepts.

  • Keep simple items on hand for experiments

You would be surprised with how much you can do with baking soda, vinegar, sugar, food coloring, dish detergent, glycerin, corn starch, dirt & seeds. Plus check out Steve Spangler’s Store for some amazing options for teaching children about science.

  • Don’t be afraid of a little mess
  • Ask questions that are open ended

This is one of the biggest keys to remember.  We need to encourage our children to think about a topic and originate their own questions and answers it prevents them from thinking outside the box.  As you see them observing something, encourage them to talk about their questions and observations.  It’s also a great way to build vocabulary too!    

Bonus Tip:  Follow Steve Spangler’s Science Experiment of the Week.  Plus don’t forget you can use Pinterest as a source for Science Experiments.  There are always amazing experiments being shared.  We have a Science Board that we encourage you to follow.

We hope that you’re able to bring science into your home with these simple tips. With these simple tips you can create great thinkers and develop a strong science background.  Plus these experiences will help to build their imaginations to form the skills necessary to discover new things for our future!



Kim Vij is the co-author of The Educators’ Spin On It . As an early childhood teacher and a mom of three, she’s learned many tips and tricks of parenting and teaching along the way in the past 20 years. She shares her “Educator’s Spin” on parenting issues and how to make learning playful and playtime meaningful. You can also join The Educators’ Spin On It on Facebook and Pinterest.