Category Archives: It’s Not Science But…

Thank a Teacher Day – December 17, 2012

As the horrific events of Friday, December 14th unfolded, we all felt helpless and angry. Angry that someone would walk into a school and take the lives of children and the educators who not only taught them but protected them to the end.

As we all look for ways to do something in the shadows of this tragedy, there is something immediate and easy that we all can do.

Thank a Teacher Day 2012, created in loving memory of those who lost their lives in Newtown, CT, and in honor of the hundreds of thousands of teachers who would do that tomorrow for your child.

How often do you show your appreciation to your child’s teachers? Today, bloggers and those in the media are participating in Thank a Teacher Day 2012. Our teachers spend at least six hours a day with our children. They not only work tirelessly to give them an education, but also provide comfort, support, a listening ear, hugs and safety.

On Monday, December 17, 2012, take a moment and thank a teacher. Send her an email, a card, a bouquet of flowers. Create a “thank you” bulletin board. Offer to help from home. Make time to volunteer in the classroom.

Take a few minutes in your day and connect with your favorite teacher, or your child’s teacher. It’s simple; just tell him or her “thank you.”

If you can’t do it today, make sure you do something this week. Teachers truly dedicate every aspect of their lives to give to their students. It is time we give back to them.

If you are a blogger, please share this message on your blog or website. The original image and post are found here – Julieverse Thank a Teacher Day. You can also tweet at #ThankaTeacher. Or share in your Facebook groups, with friends and family to spread the message of hope and thankfulness.

To discuss the events of Newtown, CT, feelings as a parent and all of the controversy and sorrow surrounding the tragedy, visit the Forums on


Santa and Rudolph Leave Footprints All Over Your Home – Insta-Snow Snowy Footrprints

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Each year I work hard to keep the Santa mystery alive. I find new ways to surprise my daughters’ on Christmas morning…we’ve left a special Santa key, sprinkled reindeer dust on the lawn, taken secret pictures of Santa with our computer and so much more. Last year was my favorite Santa visit “trick.”

This is an activity for parents who aren’t afraid to make a mess!

We have a gas fireplace at our house, so Santa must park the reindeer and sleigh on the front lawn and enter via a special key through the front door. I created Santa and Rudolph’s footprints all over my house. Santa snuck in the front door, but Rudolph and his reindeer friends had to stay outside – they don’t fit down a chimney nor do they belong on my carpet.


I secretly hydrated Insta-Snow and kept it in a sealed bin for Christmas Eve night. I also cut out reindeer hooves and boot forms. After the girls went to bed, I placed the templates near the fireplace, by the door and outside to make a path. I only left Rudolph’s hoof prints. Creative parents who like to spend tons of time outside in nature can leave all 9 reindeer prints and other traces from the sleigh.

The one debate we have in our office about this little activity is either to sprinkle the snow around the template, like the snow has fallen off the boots and hooves or if you sprinkle it inside to make snow tracks. How you do it is up to you. I made tracks in the snow on my sidewalk and then made snow prints inside the house.

The best part? The next day when the snow had dehydrated and the footprints were faint.

If you are lucky enough to have snow Christmas morning, go the extra mile and make a few sleigh tracks in your front yard!

Clean up really isn’t that big of a deal. The Insta-Snow vacuums right up or disappears into grass or the environment. It’s a non-toxic polymer that won’t hurt anything outside.

You can purchase Insta-Snow through Steve Spangler Science or find it from Be Amazing Toys in Target, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s and other local toy stores



The Science Secret Behind Squishy Baff – How to Make Your Own Squishy Bath

By Blog Editor Susan Wells 

If you have kids, you’ve seen the commercials – buy a magic powder, add it to the bath and have a squishy bath. Squishy Baff works when you fill the bath with water, add a special colored powder, and the bath water turns to a soupy, mushy, squishy bath. Then have the kids climb in and have fun.


One of our favorite bloggers Sarah, from Moose and Tater, asked us to do a little work and figure out the science behind this product. We took the challenge and started in with our research.

Squishy Baff – the powder that turns your bath into squishy fun is most likely a polymer. Polymers are long chains of molecules. Water absorbing polymers soak up water through osmosis and swell to a larger size.  The polymer chains have an elastic quality, but they can stretch only so far and hold just so much water.

Most common synthetic polymers are said to be hydrophobic (water-fearing), which means that they do not absorb water. Examples of these polymers might include products such as plastic cups, bags, and plastic toys. There are also hydrophilic, or water-loving polymers. Many natural polymers such as cotton fibers are hydrophilic.

Steve Spangler Science sells several different polymers. These hydrogels come in solid form or in powder form. The Squishy Bath product is a powder. We believe it is very similar to our Water Gel powder.

Water Gel is also known as slush powder. It instantly turns a liquid into a solid or at least into a slushy solid. With Squishy Baff, the powder is super saturated with water, so it goes beyond a solid and becomes more of a goo.

The main ingredient in Water Gel is sodium polyacrylate. It absorbs from 800 to 1000 times its weight in water and is actually the secret ingredient that’s used to absorb “liquid” in baby diapers.

To replicate the gooey bath that Squishy Baff creates, we made a small scale version in a plastic tub. We added about 3 scoops of Water Gel and mixed it with about 2 pitchers full of colored water. Food coloring can stain, so we used our Color Fizzers – True Color Tablets to color the water.

Buy Water Gel now to make your own Squishy Baff

We came up with a very similar bath situation. It was squishy, it was gooey and it was a lot of fun. Hands and feet were quickly added to the solution. The kids couldn’t get enough of squishing the goo in their fingers and toes. I’m just glad we did this on a smaller scale…I couldn’t imagine trying to clean up an entire body covered with goo.

But what happens when the fun is over? The Squishy Baff people include a special powder to add to your bath at the end. The powder dissolves the polymer, allowing it to wash down the drain. Our guess was the “special” powder is really sodium chloride, or some type of salt. Salt breaks the bonds in a polymer, breaking it down.

The problem is it takes a LOT of salt to break down the polymer. We added about 1/3 cup of salt to our mixture and while the polymer did break down, there was still some of it left.

Water Gel is non-toxic, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with care and adult supervision.

Our Spangler Lab Rats, the people behind the scenes at Steve Spangler Science who test all of our products, all winced when I mentioned putting Water Gel or Squishy Baff in the tub with children. For starters, a water-absorbing polymer will absorb water from anything it comes into contact with. If a child accidentally gets some of the powder in their mouth, the polymer will attach itself to all water, including that in the lips, mouth and cheeks. You can’t spit it out, because it absorbs the liquid in saliva. Drinking water will only make it worse and hydrate the powder even more. If you get water absorbing polymer powder in your mouth, your best option is to continually rinse and spit until your mouth is clear.

You also do not want the polymer to wash down the drain. In our experiment, even after adding a lot of salt, there was still a trace of Water Gel left in the water. I was not comfortable washing it down my drain, even if it had completely broken down. A little water absorbing polymer in your pipes can cause problems with clogs. The polymer will take a long time to wash away and will re-hydrate every time water runs down the pipe.

We poured our Water Gel squishy bath out in the garden. The water absorbing polymer helps with water conservation in the garden and will hold moisture in the dirt when it hydrates and slowly dehydrates, like in the experiment we did a few years ago with gardening with hydrogel crystals. You can also put it in a plastic bag and throw it away in the trash.

Whether you try Squishy Baff or our Water Gel experiment, we suggest you do not do it in the tub or sink and instead have the kids play with it in a blow up pool (like in the ad) or plastic tub. We also aren’t sure it’s a good idea to submerge children (or adults) in the hydrogel. The stuff isn’t meant to get into every crevice and just like taking a bath with bubble bath, it could potentially cause some irritation, especially in girls.

We love messy activities at Spangler Science, but cringe as parents when we think of trying to clean up children and tubs full of hydrogel. The stuff sticks everywhere.



The "Take the Stairs" Tour Rolls into Steve Spangler Science

Blog Editor Susan Wells

All of us at Steve Spangler Science know we do not work at your average company. We don’t even work at a normal company. When you show up in the morning you never know what is in store for the day.

So when Steve made the announcement that author Rory Vaden was going to stop by and bring his large tour bus into our parking lot, we didn’t know if he was kidding or serious. At 1:30 p.m., when the huge, black tour bus pulled into our parking lot, we realized Steve was actually serious this time. We all went out to meet the bus and Rory.

Steve and Rory know each other through the National Speakers Association. Rory was in Denver to promote his book, Take the Stairs.

Take the Stairs will help you get motivated, improve your self-discipline and learn strategies for taking action in your life. The book is #1 on USA Today, #1 Wall Street Journal, #1 Amazon and #2 New York Times Best Seller. The Take the Stairs bus tour is going across the country hosting live events to raise money for America’s schools. He hosted three events in the Denver area. To see where Rory will be next and register for an event, please visit his website.

Rory gave us all a tour of his deluxe rock star bus. Did I mention that it was huge? Rory and his staff are traveling the country in style. They have a flat screen TV and Wii just in case they get bored. I wish my house was as supreme as this bus.

Steve gave Rory some science toys to help break the boredom if the Wii loses its appeal. We loaded up his bus with Screaming Balloons, BoomWhackers and Geyser Tubes. Rory gave us all a copy of his book.

Thanks, Rory, and the entire Take the Stairs team for stopping by and breaking up the doldrums of just another day at Steve Spangler Science.

The Republican Candidates' Views on Education – Should We Do Away with the Department of Education?

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

As the field narrows and we get closer to a front runner emerging for the Republican nomination for president, it’s important that voters do their homework and really learn about each candidate and their views. The candidates do not agree on many topics, including education.

We looked at the remaining five candidates and their views on the future of education. Two of the candidates are in favor of eliminating the Department of Education. Is this a good idea?

The U.S. Department of Education’s website states its mission “is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”

ED was created in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. ED’s 4,400 employees and $68 billion budget are dedicated to:

  • Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.
  • Collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research.
  • Focusing national attention on key educational issues.
  • Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.

I think the majority of Americans will agree our education system needs repair and reform. Some of the questions being asked of the candidates include: Do we dismantle the Department of Education? Do we fire teachers whose students do not get high scores on tests? Do we encourage parents to homeschool or place their children in charter or private schools? What about children in low-income areas? Is the No Child Left Behind Act working? Let’s not forget that many, many public school districts are suffering from deep budget cuts. They are cutting school staff, staff development, materials, and teachers. Class sizes are also on the rise.

Teachers, in fear for their jobs, teach to the test and don’t always encourage free thinking and discovery. There isn’t time or money for centers, science, art or music. Teachers are forced to drop engaging and fun learning lessons in exchange for strict math and reading lessons.

What changes would you make to education? Do you agree with the candidates? All five remaining candidates’ views vary widely. Here are their  views posted verbatim from (Rick Perry is not listed on the website, so we used a post from Education News.)


Newt Gingrich’s Position on Education: 

• Gingrich believes that high schools are now obsolete. He would make schools and teachers compete to improve education.

• He thinks that we should focus on patriotic education instead of multiculturalism.

• He thinks education is the most important factor in our future prosperity and national security.

• He insists that failing schools must change and he supports charter schools. Gingrich would provide students at hopeless schools with private school scholarships.

• He wouldn’t charge interest on student loans for science and math students.

• He would bring back school prayer with a Constitutional amendment and thinks that federal aid should go only to schools that allow voluntary.

• Gingrich has said that high school girls who graduate as virgins should be rewarded.


Ron Paul’s Position on Education: 

• Ron Paul thinks that shutting down the Department of Education will improve the quality of education. He wouldn’t dismantle public schools but would encourage homeschooling and private schools with tax write-offs.

• He believes that black and hispanic colleges should not get special funding.

• Paul voted yes on vouchers for private and parochial schools.

• He would support a Constitutional amendment that allows voluntary school prayer.


Rick Perry’s Position on Education: 

Governor Rick Perry believes strongly in accountability.  At the forefront of his plan are the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” for higher education, and while these were initially drafted for just the state of Texas the ideas in these goals likely reflect Governor Perry’s broader vision for education improvement.

Perry’s 7 goals are: Measure teaching efficiency and effectiveness, publicly recognize and reward extraordinary teachers, split research and teaching budgets to encourage excellence in both, require evidence of teaching skill for tenure, use “results-based” contracts with students to measure quality, put state funding directly in the hands of students, and create results-based accrediting alternatives.

Perry urges all universities to use their money wisely so that costs of tuition do not continue to skyrocket.  He would rather have universities invest their research money in projects that will yield a beneficial result instead of researching something for the sake of researching it. These solutions are meant to save money for use on the students and increase the effectiveness of education.

How Rick Perry wants to reform lower education on >


Mitt Romney’s Position on Education: 

• Mitt Romney points out the underperformance of kids in the US saying that they score only in the bottom 10%- 25%. Therefore there is a need to revamp the education system.

• Education should not be confined to a teacher’s union only. There should be involvement from parents, the state, federal government with the support of the teachers.

• Romney advocated better pay for good quality teachers to improve quality of teaching.

• He perpetrates English immersion in schools stressing that English should be learnt at a very young age.

• While Governor Romney brought forth a scholarship for all kids that graduate in the top quarter of the class known as the John and Abigail Adams scholarship, which was 4 years tuition free entry to state colleges and universities.

• He supports the concept of ‘No Child left behind’.

• Romney supports setting up of charter educational institutions and conducting immediate third party audit in underperforming schools, giving authorization to principals to replace 10% of underperforming staff etc.

• Romney supported the elimination of Federal Department of education and favored keeping educational reforms t the lowest level involving parents, teachers and community.

• He was against schools inflicting specific religious practices or prayer in schools. Instead Romney stressed on teaching the importance of economics and family values.

• Romney pledged to vote for a means tested school voucher program which gave the students coice toi attend any public or private school of their choice.

**Romney says he is not for dismantling the Department of Education, although he had supported that plan several years ago. also did an article on Romney’s education views >


Rick Santorum’s Position on Education: 

Despite the 2004 controversy surrounding his children and the Penn Hills School District, Santorum is perhaps better known in the education sector for his effort at including the ‘Santorum Amendment’ into the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. It was an attempt at including the theory of intelligent design, alongside the theory of evolution, into the public school science syllabus. The attempt proved to be unsuccessful, but it has been largely credited as the catalyst for the decade long battle between the Creationist and the scientific community.

I was surprised at how difficult it really is to find the candidates’ specific views and plans on education. Some of their campaign websites do not provide their views on education and I have found conflicting information. Here are a few more articles on the candidates and their thoughts on the education issue.

Time.Com – Grading the GOP Candidates on Education

Associated Press - Candidates seek to limit federal role in education

Huffington Post – Republican Candidates Would Limit Federal Role in Education 

On the Issues – Politicians on Education 


A few definitions from

Charter Schools
‘Charter schools’ are publicly-funded and publicly-controlled schools which are privately run. They are usually required to adhere to fewer district rules than regular public schools.

NCLB – No Child Left Behind

  • NCLB is the 2001 bipartisan law intended to improve K-12 schools, under the theory of standards-based education reform.
  • States are required to establish standardized testing, so that all high school graduates meet the test criteria.
  • States are also required to give options (school choice) to students who attend schools that fail to meet NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
  • The controversy over NCLB currently focuses on funding: Opponents of NCLB argue that states are provided inadequate federal funding for implementation of NCLB, and that therefore NCLB represents an “unfunded mandate” on states.
  • Proponents of NCLB argue that the law provides accountability for schools; fights against incompetent teachers; and provides alternatives to failing schools.
  • Progress is measured in the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly knows as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

School Choice
‘School Choice’ generally refers to a school district allowing parents to decide which school within the district to send their kids to. The political issue is whether to allow the choice to include private schools, parochial schools, and home schooling at taxpayer expense. Taxpayer funding of parochial schools potentially violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. Taxpayer funding of private schools is controversial because it subsidizes parents who are currently paying for private schools themselves, and are usually more wealthy than the average public school family.

‘Vouchers’ are a means of implementing school choice — parents are given a ‘voucher’ by the school district, which entitles them to, say, $4,000 applicable to either public school or private school tuition. The value of the voucher is generally lower than the cost of one year of public education (which averages $5,200), so private schools (where tuition averages $8,500) may require cash payment in addition to the voucher.