Category Archives: Summer Science

Cool Down With Insta-Snow!

With temperatures up in the high nineties, we’re all looking for ways to cool down – at least, to trick our minds into THINKING we’ve cooled down.

When we were breaking paths through all that snow last winter, who would have thought we’d be remembering that cold coolness so fondly in August?

With Steve Spangler’s Insta-Snow, we can feel a little of winter’s cold right in our homes!


Insta-Snow is a polymer, and polymers increase in size DRASTICALLY when water is added.

You can create a pile of snow right on your kitchen table with just a couple of tablespoons of Insta-Snow and a couple of cups of plain tap water.  This polymer works well with any temperature of water, but if your water is just a tiny bit warm, it seems to work faster.

This is the same kind of polymer found inside a disposable diaper, by the way.  You can tear up the substance inside a diaper and do pretty much the same kind of thing by adding water.  Imagine what would happen if the inside of a disposable diaper didn’t absorb incredible amounts of liquid – what use would a diaper lined with tissue or cloth be?  No, disposable diapers use polymers to absorb all that, um, liquid.

Besides, Insta-Snow polymer powder is just an awesome amount of fun.

This is a large mixing bowl, overflowing.  Awesome, huh!
This is a large mixing bowl, overflowing. Awesome, huh!

After you’ve finished playing with Spangler’s Insta-Snow, you can let it sit, uncovered,  and after a few days, it will shrink back into its original powdery form.  In other words, it lasts forever.

That’s right – it lasts forever.  Just add water to create the snow, and let it dry and shrink to store it so you can use it again.

It might be sweltering summer outside, but in the kitchen, you can play with snow.  Keep it in the freezer and it will be even cooler.

Steve Spangler’s Insta-Snow.  It’s good for any season, but in summer, just the idea of playing with it will cool you right down.  Why not create a Snow Day in Summer?

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.


The Magic of Dandelions and Children

It is a sad fact, sometimes, that when a thing is common and we see it everywhere, we take it for granted.   When there are too many of pretty much anything, we tend to take them for granted and consider them less than first class.

Our overcrowded classrooms are the most extreme example of this that I can think of.  It’s easy to look at that classroom and overlook the fact that it is full of individuals each of which is unique and wonderfully made and equally worthy of time and attention.  It’s a lot easier just to say that there are too many students in there and that we need to get rid of some of them and keep only the ones that meet our specifications and preferences.

On a less serious note, I’ve never understood why people will pay out the wazoo for lovely nursery-bred flowers to plant and then pay out the wazoo again for someone to kill the lovely golden blossoms that are already growing.

The blossoms are lovely, and sprinkled over the lawn like stars in the night sky. . . .
The blossoms are lovely, and sprinkled over the lawn like stars in the night sky. . . .

Is it because dandelions are so common, and grow so easily, that we take them for granted and prefer flowers that really aren’t all that much prettier but which are harder to grow, expensive, and a bit less common?  If dandelions weren’t sprinkled everywhere, turning plain green lawns into starry universes, common, easy, beloved by children, would they be more popular?

If we examine each individual child  flower, we will see that it is wondrously made, unique, adds to the quality of the universe, and is worthy of cultivation and attention.

How could any florist’s creation rival the paper cup with a few short-stemmed dandelions stuffed into it?

I think this is absolutely beautiful.
I think this is absolutely beautiful.

How could any expensive centerpiece be more wonderful than a cereal bowl full of floating dandelion blossoms?

These were on almost every surface in the house when the kids were little.
These were on almost every surface in the house when the kids were little.

Even after “death,” dandelions are awesome.  Those white fuzzy “clocks” will tell a child the time, according to the number of breaths it takes to blow all the fuzz away.  FAIRIES love to ride on the soft, fluffy achenes, granting wishes right and left.  Every child knows – at least the children who are privileged to have dandelions at their fingertips – that if they can blow ALL the achenes off with one breath, the wish will come true.

This is a dandelion clock.
This is a dandelion clock.

How sad, to be a child without dandelions on the lawn, to have nothing but plain green landscaping that he can’t even play on because of all the chemicals. . . to have nothing near his home except expensive blossoms he’s forbidden to pick.  How sad the house containing children but no paper cups of short-stemmed dandelions all over the table and countertops.  My heart breaks over the thought of children living in a house where blowing dandelion clocks is forbidden lest the seeds take root and ruin the “look.”  No wishes or fairies dare come near such a domicile.  There’s a big difference between a house and a home, and to people like me, who believe firmly in fairies, wishes, and stubby little bouquets in paper cups and cereal bowls, a house has a green, chemically-treated velvety lawn, and a home has grass, sprinkled with tiny golden stars.  And, if the children are especially lucky, lots of little purple violets as well.

Little purple violets in the grass. . . .
Little purple violets in the grass. . . .

I believe that dandelions are flowers, in the same way that those expensive hybrid roses are flowers, and every bit as beautiful, especially when they’re thrust in our faces by a grubby little child to be put in a paper cup and placed where everybody can see and admire them.

The medicinal, culinary, and other practical uses of dandelions cannot be denied, either, but that’s a topic for another time.

Dandelions represent summer, and childhood, and the love of a little girl or boy for a parent, and a Dixie cup of stubby dandelions means more to me than anything delivered by a florist’s truck.  When I see a lawn sprinkled with dandelions, I see a home peopled by parents who believe a little child’s wishes are more important than a velvety lawn sprayed with chemicals.

Put that paper cup of stubby dandelions on the coffee table between two cereal bowls full of floating violets and dandelion heads and House Beautiful can go blow.  I prefer the individual touch when it come to home decor.

I also welcome the fairies.  So should you.  Heaven knows we all need all the wishes we can get.

Don't deny your kids the privilege of making wishes on dandelion clocks.  It's more important than a green lawn.
Don’t deny your kids the privilege of making wishes on dandelion clocks. It’s more important than a green lawn.

What’s that?  A lawn full of dandelions and violets would attract too many bees, and you’re afraid of bees?


Geodes and Diamonds – Backyard Geology

Oh, the memories of geodes!  When I was a little kid, I played a lot in the alley that divided our block in two. All of us kids played in the alley. It gave us access to the back yard of every house in the neighborhood, and it was cool in its own right.

Cracking geodes

Alleys were always lined with sunflowers and hollyhocks. In, among, and around the trash cans were the occasional doghouse and small garden. The Pryors had a strawberry patch, which we kids never dared to bother.  There was one huge tree on the alley that was the meeting place for every bird in the county, just before dark. You could hear that tree all over town, as the sun was going down. It was also the only tree in the neighborhood that we kids never played under.

Any day, a kid could find treasure in the alley. Sometimes there was broken glass, which we were forbidden to touch.  Sometimes there were pennies.  Occasionally, there was a quarter, which meant candy bars for all of us!  And there were always geodes.

I never played in that alley without finding geodes. Where they came from each week I’ll never know, but every few days, after we’d gathered them all up and mined the diamonds out of them, more always appeared.

Here in southern Indiana, geodes are everywhere. You can’t plant open geodesflowers without digging up geodes. Any batch of crushed stone you have dumped in your driveway will have geodes in it. It might also have arrowheads; you have to hire your young children to search for those. (That keeps them busy and in plain sight for HOURS; it’s fantastic.)  We can’t mow the lawns here without dulling the blades on geodes.

Geodes come in all sizes and colors; some are as small as marbles, and others are absolutely immense.  I’ve seen people using huge geodes for seats around an outdoor table.  Geodes the size of basketballs on fence posts are a common sight here.  I’ve seen geodes larger than grown men.  People here – including me – line their flower beds with geodes the size of cauliflower heads.

opengeodeWe kids used to gather a pile apiece and take turns ‘busting’ them open with a hammer. The inside is usually a wonderment of sparkly delight. Look up ‘geodes’ and check out the pictures; no two are alike and all have something enchanting inside. We used to pretend we were finding diamonds and rubies and emeralds; once in a while, there will be real amythyst in there.

Clean them, and polish them, and put them where they catch the light. The jewel-lined cavern inside a geode will enhance your dreams and make your wishes come true.

That’s the story, anyway.

I do love finding the geodes, though. You can’t tell by their outsides, what they’ve got on their insides, but you do know that no two are alike, and they’re all beautiful.

Kind of like people.


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.

The Flashing, Color Mixing, One-of-a-Kind White Lightning Stick

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

One of the biggest hits of the summer is the White Lightning Stick. On the Fourth of July, we held a small firework show in our front yard with our neighbors.

Along with the traditional sparklers and black snakes, we also shot off several film canister rockets and Mentos soda geysers. While the kids were waiting for the next activity, they played with the light sticks. Naturally, the sticks were first used as swords and weapons, but as the sun set, they began to really look at the light sticks and made observations.

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