Category Archives: Informal Science Education

Students Break World Record for Longest Human Electrical Circuit Using Energy Stick

After several practice runs and dress rehearsals, the students at Coulson Tough Elementary in The Woodlands, Texas broke the World Record for the world’s longest human electrical circuit on October 24, 2013.

The students at Tough Elementary in Texas broke the World Record for longest human electrical circuit

Every student in the school, from kindergarten to sixth grade participated in holding hands in a giant circle around the playground to complete an electrical circuit. The school used an Energy Stick from Steve Spangler Science that buzzed and lit up when the circuit was complete.

Continue reading

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

Astronomy

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)

 

Paleontology

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

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)

 

Geology

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.

Dr. Mad Science Featured in New York Daily News Keeps Kids Learning Over the Summer

One of our favorite kid scientists, Doctor Mad Science, was featured last week in the New York Daily News. His science videos share DIY science experiments and activities to an audience of kids and their parents.

We were introduced to 11-year-old Jordan Hilkowitz a few years ago. He is an amazing online video star who shares his versions of kid-friendly science experiments inspired by the big guys.

Doctor Mad Science Featured in NY Daily News

He has performed science experiments from Steve Spangler, Paul Doherty from San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Science Bob and the Whiz Kid.

Jordan is autistic and until about six years ago, barely spoke at all. He enjoyed trying science experiments at home. His babysitter Tracy Leparulo suggested he perform them while she videotaped him. They then posted the videos on a YouTube channel they named Doctor Mad Science. Tracy thought the video practice would help his speech and gain a little confidence.

Today, Jordan writes his own scripts and chooses the experiments to perform. He has almost 20,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, and a following on Twitter and Facebook.

“If you had told me six years ago that my autistic son who was non-verbal, had temper tantrums, and banged his head against the wall, would be giving lectures in front of hundreds of people, I would never have believed it,” his mom Stacey told the NY Daily News.

Jordan has grown into a confident scientist who wants to share his love and knowledge of science with his viewers. We enjoy following his journey and will continue to cheer him on in his endeavors.

 

 

 

 

Ultimate Science Vacations – Science at Sea Takes an Up Close Look at Alaska

For the third time, the Steve Spangler team and award-winning naturalists explored the inside passage of Alaska. The group, along with teachers and science enthusiasts boarded a Holland America cruise ship earlier this week for a special Science at Sea excursion.

Science at Sea -  Cruising in Glacier Bay, Alaska

Alaska is known for its spectacular scenery, glaciers, mountains, untamed wilderness and vast wildlife populations. Science abounds in the largest U.S. state. Cut Alaska in half, and each half is still larger than Texas.

The state not only boasts the biggest land size, but also holds the smallest population of the 50 states. Only 650,000 people call Alaska home. Twice as many tourists visit every year.

Google Maps
Courtesy: Google Maps

Alaska contains more coastline, more lakes, more streams and rivers, more National Parks, more wildlife refuges, more natural resources, more forests, more glaciers and more wildlife than any other state in America. Seventeen of North America’s twenty highest mountains, including the tallest, Denali at over 20,000 feet, are found in Alaska. It is also home to the largest National Forest and largest National Park in the 50 states.

Alaska has more earthquakes, more volcanoes, more glaciers, more mountains than anyplace in North America. – John Scheerens, naturalist.

The crew cruised the famous Inside Passage of the the Pacific Northwest Coast or southeast Alaska for one week. They viewed spectacular, rugged, high mountains cloaked in lush temperate rainforests, enormous ice fields and glaciers, scenic 1,000-foot deep fjords, and a plethora of marine mammals and sea birds. Alaska also has a rich human history and social sciences story anchored by Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast that have lived in the area for over 8,000 years, and also includes the great Gold Rush of 98 and World War II.

Some of our guests for Science at Sea 2013
Some of our guests for Science at Sea 2013

The tour included visits to some of Alaska’s most popular towns and cities. Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, enjoys perhaps the most scenic setting of any state capital in America; Sitka, a most charming village on Alaska’s outer coast once known as the Paris of the Pacific, ancient home of the Kiksadi people and seat of government and administration for Russian America; spectacular Glacier Bay National Park, home to half the tidewater glaciers in North America; Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world known as Alaska’s First City; and Victoria, a lovely small city on the southern coast of Vancouver Island and provincial capital of British Columbia. Native traders, fur trappers, gold seekers, and sightseers have all marveled at the magnificence of the Inside Passage.

Global Warming is at work in Alaska and you can witness it firsthand. Glaciers and the sea ice are melting at a rapid pace, so fast, that some glaciers are in danger of becoming extinct. New shipping routes have opened in the Arctic making it easier to travel between Norway and Asia, specifically. The wildlife is also suffering. Polar bears are drowning while swimming and looking for food.

Glacial Ice Melting in the Arctic - Global Warming

Alaska is full of geography and geology lessons as well. When asked where the most northern and western extremes of America are found, Alaska is an easy answer. The eastern part of the 50 states is also found in Alaska. The state’s Aleutian Islands cross the dateline so the eastern extreme of the U.S. is also in Alaska.

The Aleutians were the first parts of Alaska settled by Europeans. Two of the larger islands, Dutch Harbor and Kodiak are two of the largest seafood producing communities in the world.

Geology dictates the natural environment of Alaska. Particularly the southeastern part is one of the most geologically active places on earth. There are more earthquakes, more volcanoes, more glaciers, more mountains than anyplace in North America.

Plate tectonics is also a huge part of the Alaskan geology. The North American Plate is riding over the top of the Pacific Plate in a process called subduction under Alaska. The Pacific Plate is moving north and counterclockwise against the western moving North American Plate causing a shearing action. The subduction causes Alaska’s massive mountain features and volcanic activity. The mountains are grow taller at a rate of about an inch or more a year. The shearing action creates earthquakes along the coastline.

Can you spot the kayaker?
Can you spot the kayaker?

Glaciers are also an incredibly important part of Alaska’s past and present. They are responsible for thousands of islets, fjords and waterways. A large part of our tour included visits to the largest and most spectacular glaciers.

Finally, Alaska has abundant wildlife on land and in the water. Long daylight hours in the summer encourages a lot of vegetation growth on land and algae or plankton in the water. Marine life teems in the oceans, mammals large and small thrive in the forests and tundra and millions of birds nest along shorelines and in forested areas.

A whale breaching in Alaska - Science at Sea from Steve Spangler Science

Scheerens adds “Alaska offers some of the finest habitat and food resources on the planet to support some of the largest wildlife populations anywhere in the world.”

Many thanks to our naturalist John Scheerens for the research and information included in this article and for all of his knowledge, insights and enthusiasm about the great state of Alaska.

John is considered the teacher of teachers in Alaska serving as the training consultant for most of the major tour companies throughout Alaska. John has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, ESPN’s Outdoor Adventure Series, and Outdoor Channels Pathfinder’s Series, and his educational tours have received the highest praise among his peers. We cannot think of the better tour leader for our Science at Sea experience.

 

Take a Science Vacation – Summer Learning in Yellowstone National Park

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

My family and I visited Yellowstone last week. The girls and I had never been, but my husband had spent a few summers in the Youth Conservation Corps back in his youthful days. I knew Yellowstone was full of geothermal features and a lot of wildlife, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much science abounds in the park. If you are looking for an unplugged, family learning vacation, head to Northwestern Wyoming and Yellowstone.

Yellowstone was the first national park established in 1872.

As we drove into the park on a hot Friday evening, it was quiet. Just the forest and the setting sun. Until we reached the center of the park and the edge of the caldera. Steam was rising into the air from vents along the road. Even more steam was rising from the edge of the lake. The edge of the lake!! I felt like a kid as I was surrounded by geology. Living geology. The stuff I read about in school – geysers, vents, mud volcanoes, hot springs and fumaroles. Even after reading about Yellowstone, I wasn’t prepared to be this excited.

I grew up in Colorado – visited the hot springs, hiked and camped in the mountains, seen elk and deer. I thought I had already experienced the majority of natural wonder and magic in the mountains of Colorado. I’ve also visited Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala crater in Hawaii. I’ve seen lava flows and volcanic cones. I’d I had no idea what I was missing (besides Old Faithful).

Yellowstone holds half of the earth’s geothermal features in its more than 3,400 square miles. You can walk, hike and even just drive up to many of the 300 geysers and 10,000 thermal features. As the mud bubbles and the steam blows over the crusted earth, you know you are standing on top of a live volcano.

If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, prepare for a lot of science.

Junior Ranger and Science Badge

Young scientist badge at Yellowstone National Park

The Junior Ranger program is free for children ages 5 to 12 visiting the park. Stop at any Yellowstone visitor center and request a 12-page activity guide. Based on age, children will need to complete a required number of pages inside the guide as well as attend a ranger talk, hiking on a park trail and completing activities. Although at least a day or two to complete the packet. Return the packet to the visitor center to receive your badge.

Yellowstone also offers a Science badge at the Canyon and Old Faithful areas. (My advice is to do the Old Faithful badge – it involves the geysers and geothermal features.) Children ages 5 and up purchase a booklet at the Canyon Vistor Education Center or Old Faithful Visitor Center for $5. Learn more about the science of Yellowstone by completing the booklet. The rangers will also check out a Young Scientist Toolkit that includes a thermometer, stopwatch and other gear needed to complete the assignment. This activity will take around three hours to complete as you explore the geyser basin near Old Faithful. Young Scientists will earn a badge or keychain.

Geothermal and Hydrothermal Features

Yellowstone has a diverse collection of geysers, hot springs (which can reach temperatures of 400 degrees +), mudpots (bubbling and boiling “muddles”), fumaroles (steam vents), hot spring terraces, and lava flows. Park rangers, visitor centers and maps will direct you to these features. I also tried several apps while we were there. The best one was from Chimani. They offered a driving tour which described several of the best features and areas.

Don’t miss Old Faithful…a spectacular earth science show that will excite. This isn’t the fountains at the Bellagio. Our planet puts on this show. After watching it erupt (about every 90 minutes) take a walk around the other geothermal features in the area. Hot springs and smaller geysers are gorgeous and just as spectacular. You can also hike up to a nearby hillside and watch Old Faithful erupt from a different angle. There are so many features close together, you can spend an entire day in the Old Faithful area.

Just up the road from Old Faithful is the Midway Basin. This area offers several parking areas, walkways and hikes to waterfalls and more hot springs. Don’t miss the Grand Prismatic. This hot spring is about 200 meters across and is the biggest of its kind. Just don’t wear a hat on a windy day. The pools are full of hats, even just a few feet off the path, lost forever.

And one more thing – keep in mind these are natural features, not wishing wells or trash cans. Morning Glory Pool – one of the most beautiful springs in the park, gets plugged up from people throwing trash, coins and other items into the hole. As the hole clogs, the water temperature changes and many of the microorganisms in the pool are killed. The organisms are what create the beautiful colors. Treat the living earth with respect.

Microbiology and Microorganisms

My 8-year-old budding microbiologist found a book in the National Park gift store on all of the tiny creatures living in Yellowstone. Algae, and bacterial mats live in the springs and the rock, giving Yellowstone its color. There are unseen, fragile forests of bacteria that stretch out from the hot springs in brown ribbons. Astronomers study these tiny life forms in Yellowstone in hopes of gaining knowledge on potential life on other planets. If these micro-animals can live where nothing else can on earth, they may also hold the key to life across the universe.

Flora and Fauna 

The park abounds with wildlife. Bison are everywhere – walking down the roads, in front of cabin ice machines (it’s a long story), in open meadows and anywhere they want to visit. We saw bison hoof prints in the mud volcanoes and along the dangerous and unsteady land near the hot springs. Even with all the bison in plain sight everywhere, you realize that this is still a small percentage of how many roamed the west before they were almost wiped out.

Deer, elk, moose, big horn sheep, fox, black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves are the most searched for animals in the park. You may spot one in the back trails or alongside the road. It all depends on luck. The Yellowstone website has a map and checklist of the best places to spot certain animals.

Wildlife watchers hang out on overlooks in Hayden Park, watching for anything that moves. We observed some wolves across the meadows nipping at a bison, testing it for weakness. There is nothing like watching wildlife behave like the wildlife you see on nature shows right before your eyes.

There are more than 1,350 species of plants and wildflowers in the park. We apparently weren’t there in wildflower season, but wouldn’t have had any idea. A huge variety of plants and flowers were everywhere.

Even More Geology

The park has diverse geological features. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was formed from erosion. There are also glacial deposits, rhyolite lava flows, faults and my favorite, hoodoos. Hoodoos are tall, skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of basins. Look closely at the rocks in the canyon – they contain a variety of different iron compounds. Exposure to the elements causes the rocks to change color or oxidize. The canyon wall is rusting.

Wildfire Science

Yellowstone’s landscape has been shaped by fire. There is still a lot of evidence from recent and past fires, including the 1988 fires, in the park. We looked closely at the landscape and tried to make educated guesses on how long ago fires had burned in a specific section. Some areas had few blacked trees standing, while most had fallen to the forest floor, and small to medium sized trees growing. Other areas barely had new grass on the forest floor with most of the burned trees still standing. For more on Yellowstone wildland fires, the 1988 fires and how fires are a part of the ecology, visit the Yellowstone website.

Even if you aren’t headed to Yellowstone in the near future, you can take a virtual tour and learn more about what the park has to offer through its Kids Online website.

What are your favorite places to explore in Yellowstone? Where do you take a science vacation?