Category Archives: It’s Not Science But…

Little House Science: Greased Paper Windows

Animals and birds are limited  to what kind of house or nest they can build. When we discover an animal’s home, we can almost always tell what sort of animal it belongs to.  Even with birds, no two kinds will build the same sort of nest.  Some nests are tidy and tight and look just like a bird’s nest from a picture book, while other kinds of birds will be content in a nest that looks like a pile of grass or straw with no visible means of support.  Some birds don’t build at all; they just lay their eggs in another bird’s nest and take off!

Little House Science: Greased Paper Windows


People, on the other hand, can build any kind of house they can imagine.

As Charles Ingalls reminds Laura in “The Long Winter,” p. 13, “. . . look at that muskrat house.  Muskrats have to build that kind of house.  muskrat houseThey always have and they always will.  It’s plain they can’t build any other kind.  But folks build all kinds of houses.  A man can build any kind of house he can think of.”

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,  p. 11, she describes their latest little house in Minnesota, which was a dugout.  Now, a dugout is really nothing more than a dirt cave with a door and, if you’re lucky, one window.  The Ingalls’ dugout had a door and a window beside the door, so there was some natural light inside.  “But the wall was so thick that the light from the window stayed near the window.”

Little House dugoutThat window was made of greased paper, not glass.  Pioneers didn’t put glass in their windows until they were sure they were going to stay a good long while; glass was expensive.  It was an investment in longevity.  A house with glass windows represented people who were there for the duration.

Most pioneers started out with greased paper windows because they weren’t sure how long they might be in that particular house.log cabin with greased windowsThe window had to be covered so the insects and wild animals couldn’t get in, but it also needed to let the light in.  Whatever the window cover was, it had to be super cheap.  Voila:  greased paper.

Now, you might be wondering how a window covered with paper could be of much use.  How much light could get through paper?

Not much.  But GREASED paper, now, that was an entirely different thing.

When you grease a piece of paper, the grease fills in all the fiber gaps, and any light that hits it doesn’t scatter; it passes right through. Water doesn’t do this; it dissolves the paper, whereas grease or oil just reinforces the paper and lets the light pass though.  Not transparent, exactly, but certainly translucent. It let enough light through to be useful.

Until someone accidently poked a hole in the paper, or a bear punched through, the family inside had enough light to get by until they could afford glass.


Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Avengers, X-Men, Loki, the Culinary Arts and Polymers

As I dug through my briefcase last Friday morning, I discovered some test tubes full of polymers. What. Doesn’t everybody carry test tubes of polymers in his/her briefcase? Well, apparently I do.

test tubes of polymers
I didn’t want to waste an opportunity.

Just down the hall from the college office, there is a Culinary Arts department full of high school students earning dual credits for both high school and college. They are fun and funky kids, so I took the test tubes down to the big kitchen and poured them into a fishbowl wine goblet that happened to be sitting on the counter behind the teacher’s desk. I don’t judge.

I told the students that the tiny little polymers represented them, themselves, a few pieces of what looked like cookie sprinkles and rock salt, and that to transform these insignificant little specks – and the students – only one ingredient was necessary.  I told them to add some water to the goblet.   I went back to the college office, and waited.

culinary students, polymers

There wasn’t long to wait before I heard them screaming about “how awesomely cool, how absolutely awesomely cool!”

I went back down to the kitchen and took a few pictures so you can share in the excitement.

I‘ve posted before about using polymers as analogies for patience, tolerance, learning, and personal change, but each time I do this with students, I learn as much if not more than they do.  Kids that spend more time out in the hall doing lines than time in the classroom will try extra hard to behave so they, too, can stick their hands in the swollen polymers and give them a squeeze.

A tangible example of what change can mean can be the catalyst that will set a stubborn student onto a path of learning no book or set of rules could ever hope to do.

culinary student, wineglass full of polymers

Be sure to bring a box of baggies with you whenever you do this with students; they’ll all want to take home a handful of the swollen polymers to put in a little glass, set it in the windowsill, and water it regularly to remind themselves of the power of learning, and how one simple little thing can genuinely transform one thing into another: a tiny rock-hard piece of polymer or a human being.  Justone simple little addition, and there is a transformation that rivals anything an X-Man or an Avenger could dream of.  Even Loki.

Loki, glorious purpose

Our students, too, are burdened with glorious purpose.  This is something we must help them continue to nourish.  Some tangible examples help tremendously.

Loki is a villain, of course, but even from the villains there is learning to get.  Besides, if you show them Loki, you’ll have their attention for sure!

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.

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Have You Heard of How to Navigate This & Other Teen Social Networks

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Raising a child today is more complex than dealing with our childhood bullies who teased us and made nasty comments about us to others, but within our own earshot. Some even wrote nasty things about others on the bathroom stall walls. The bullies of our childhoods, as painful as they were, didn’t have half as many routes and opportunities as they do today. Yesterdays bullies couldn’t operate as anonymous and we had time to recover in the safety of our own homes.

Have You Heard of How to Navigate This & Other Teen Social Networks

Today, teens and tweens deal with bullying around the clock, in the safety of their own bedroom as well as the school yard and even from those they don’t know.

Just as we began to get a hold on our tweens and teens Facebook and Twitter accounts, they began to expand into Instagram, YouTube, Vine, SnapChat, Tumblr, the list goes on and on. The latest network to catch fire in the under 18 crowd is A network that is only recently becoming recognized by parents.

According to a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, American teens are not concerned about their privacy  -

  • 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
  • 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
  • 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.

Teens aren’t the only ones guilty of over sharing online. Most of us on social networks have shared a piece of our privacy or personal issue without stopping to think about the repercussions.

Just as in school and person, teens are deeply vulnerable and malliable to the responses and comments shared with them.

That’s the basis behind, a network based in Latvia. Anyone can create an anonymous or fictitious account without providing personal information. This respects the privacy of the users, but opens up the network for anonymous and vicious users. The site is supposed to be a place for teens to ask all types of (embarrassing) questions anonymously and receive responses.

The site is instead becoming a place for malicious attacks and has been linked to two suicides in the United States and even more in Great Britain, including Rebecca Sedwick. She was 12 years old when she jumped off a tower to her death in September because of bullying on Two girls, ages 12 and 14, have been charged with felony aggravated stalking.

In less than five minutes of surfing around on, we found attacks and negativity. Although the majority of what we found was innocent and teen stuff, there was a lot of disturbing chats and harassment.

Have You Heard of Your Kids Have...How to Navigate This & Other Teen Social Networks

Here’s one teen’s perspective on from the Huffington Post.

But this isn’t the only site your teen or preteen is visiting, nor is it the cause for all suicides. There are several apps and networks where our young adults are spending time without parental guidance. Don’t you worry – once these are discovered by the parenthood, new ones will crop up without our knowledge. The key is to stay up with current teen trends the best you can and keep an open dialogue with your teen. If you don’t know your Pheed from your Wanelo, read this post on The Mirror.

Whatever you do, don’t turn a blind eye and bury your head in the Internet noise.

Have You Heard of Your Kids Have...How to Navigate This & Other Teen Social Networks

Test Tube Desk Organizers for a Teacher or Science Fan

The main purpose of all of our products at Steve Spangler Science is to make science fun. It’s even our slogan. But not everyone uses our science supplies for their intended purpose. We always enjoy hearing about innovative ways that our customers are using our products.

For your favorite teacher or science fan - a Test Tube desk organizer | Steve Spangler Science

We decided to take a step back from our science focus and look at some of our products more creatively. Our Baby Soda Bottle Test Tubes and Rack are purchased for so much more than lab supplies. Some use them to store beads and buttons and other sewing items, fishing lures and hooks, jewelry kit accessories, earrings, travel products like shampoo and anything and everything that should stay dry and fit into the tube. A woodworker even recommended Baby Soda Bottles for safe small saw blade storage.

Here’s a new idea we came up with  for the science fan or teacher in your life – use Baby Soda Bottles and a Rack for a desk organizer. The test tubes will hold all of your small pushpins, staples, paperclips, rubber bands and anything else you want to stuff into them. It’s also a safe place to store scissors.

The Baby Soda Bottle Desk Organizer is an inexpensive and creative gift or organizing solution for disorganized teachers, students and science fans.

For your favorite teacher or science fan - a Test Tube desk organizer | Steve Spangler Science

For thirty science activities that use Baby Soda Bottles, visit the experiment page.

To purchase a set of six Baby Soda Bottles and a Rack, visit the Steve Spangler Science store. Office supplies sold at local retailers.