Category Archives: Teacher Spotlight

Greystone Elementary's Science Week Goes Beyond the Classroom

Each year, Greystone Elementary in Birmingham, Alabama chooses a topic for a school-wide enrichment week dedicated to help all students learn something they may not learn in the classroom.

Greystone Elementary Celebrates Science Week

This year, teacher Mandy Fox decided to make the week dedicated to science after watching experiment videos from Steve Spangler. Mandy and her co-teacher put together a schedule full of science activities and lessons. They chose activities based on what would “wow” the students and get them interested in science.

Mandy says, “it was great seeing so many kids excited about learning more about science.”

Greystone Elementary Celebrates Science Week

The week was packed with small and large group experiments like Walking on Eggs, Burning Money, Iron for Breakfast and Film Canister Rockets. They had guest speakers like an archeologist, forensic scientist, wildlife rescue officer, chemist, dog agility trainer and a robotics team. The week ended with a paper airplane building competition.

Do we even have to state that the kids had a great time? Mandy says the kids are still telling her that the science week was awesome. Some wish science week could be every week. Now that’s getting it to the dinner table.

Greystone Elementary Celebrates Science Week

The teaching staff also enjoyed  the week. One teacher told Mandy that she didn’t like teaching science because it always seemed so hard. Mandy shared, “with Steve Spangler experiments, it made it so easy and she LOVED sharing in the learning with the kids. She said it had made her a believer in the ease of getting kids to question and want to learn more about science. ”

Mandy Fox and all of the teachers and staff at Greystone Elementary are teachers making a difference. They don’t just teach with worksheets and to the test. They are inspiring their students by creating memorable, teachable moments. Our hats are off to these amazing educators.



Fourth Grade Teacher Does It Right & Makes It Big As She Gets Kids Excited About Learning

A few weeks ago, Steve Spangler received a tweet from an elementary school teacher:

April Von Maxey teaches fourth grade science at Tavares Elementary School in Tavares, Florida. She is a tad biased, because it is also the school she attended as a child. Mrs. Von Maxey teaches alongside many of her grade school teachers.

Last year, the superintendent challenged all elementary schools in the district to become STEM schools. To complete the certification, the school had to hold a science fair that involved a community business.

Mrs. Von Maxey took on the challenge and coordinated this year’s science fair. She reached out to local community business partners to participate as sponsors or bring displays or activities. They had 10 businesses participate and hope to double this next year. Their big wish is to get a Sea Plane at the science fair. Taveres is America’s Sea Plane City after all.

To encourage and motivate kids to participate in the science fair, Mrs. Von Maxey promised the first 25 kids who signed up would be a part of a special secret experiment. To choose the special experiment, she had to think of something that would be big and worthy of all of the hype – Mentos and Diet Coke geysers. What else could make such a splash?

Even though the kids had goggles and trash can raincoats, they were all soaked. There’s nothing like getting completely immersed in science! Mrs. Von Maxey hopes to have 50 kids participate next year. (And we can’t wait to see the pictures.)

The science fair also had 25 volunteers who manned activity/experiment stations that ranged from construction paper and air compressor rockets, to Oobleck, to DIY lip gloss to Screaming Balloons and Balloon Skewers.  This was more than a “come-see-my-assignment science fair.” Around 250 people attended the science fair night.

Not a bad way to wrap up her ninth year of teaching.

Mrs. Von Maxey couldn’t give us a favorite experiment, explaining “that’s like choosing which of your children is your favorite, haha!!” Every activity is her favorite. She has spent the last five years searching for the best activities, demonstration, projects and experiments to include in her classroom curriculum. Ms. Von Maxey also attended Steve’s Boot Camp in Orlando, saying it changed her career.

I try to have something for every lesson. I’m ADHD and a kinesthetic and visual learner, so I understand my students need things that capture their attention and in different modes too.  If I REALLY had to choose, I’d say the bubble solution experiment that I incorporate when we learn matter and solutions. It includes teamwork, incorporates math (they measure the bubble ring left on the desk), involves amazement, and of course…goggles. Gotta sell it, right?  But, what I love most about that experiment is that I ALWAYS hear: ‘I’m SO gonna do that when I get home.’  If they say that, I win.

Mrs. Von Maxey adds that the bubble experiment may be on its way out next week when she finishes building a Blue Man Group drumbone to teach sound. “Yeah, I’m totally geeked out,” she says.

Speaking of geeked out – Mrs. Von Maxey’s lab glasses are bling’ed out with gems.

If all that hands-on science and amazing lessons isn’t enough, Mrs. Von Maxey decorated her classroom with a MythBusters theme, “ I wanted a theme for my classroom that most kids could apply to real life.”

Her students work in Build Teams named after each MythBuster, each unit is called an “episode” and they study the processes they take for different experiments. It’s not always the exact scientific method process, but does that really matter when the kids are inspired?

Through two grant programs, Mrs. Von Maxey’s husband built her a MythBusters lab station. “It’s crazy the things teachers do for our classrooms,” she adds.

The set gets a lot of extra use once a month in a MythBusters after-school club for 30 fourth graders. They complete a cool science experiment, eat pizza and dissect an episode of MythBusters.
When we asked Mrs. Von Maxey to describe herself, she responded, “teaching really is who I am.”

Since she was six years old, Mrs. Von Maxey wanted to be a teacher. She remembers being the only kid who played school with stuffed animals.

The stuffed animals are put away now, replaced by real animals in the classroom. Mrs. Von Maxey says she keeps them in her classroom to teach self-discipline, compassion, and responsibility. The animals (currently four hermit crabs, a Cuban tree frog, rabbit, hamster and three chick hatchlings) to provide yet another hands-on experience with animal instincts, behaviors and the preciousness of life.

Mrs. Von Maxey is without a doubt a teacher who gets it to the dinner table every night. She is an inspiration for all teachers to ignite a passion of learning and discovery in their students. Huge thanks to Mrs. Von Maxey for sharing a picture of her scientists with Steve and the rest of us at Steve Spangler Science.




Pin Your Favorite Teacher Gifts to Give or Receive and Win a $100 Steve Spangler Gift Certificate

Contest Is Closed – Congratulations to our winners #4 & #13 comments – Sarah and Chelsey!






Parents – does your teacher have their fill of mugs, candles and smelly lotion? What are you giving your favorite teachers this year?

Teachers – what gifts do you appreciate the most? Gift cards, items for next year’s classroom, books, or hand-written notes and gifts?

We love and appreciate all teachers at Steve Spangler Science and want to help share ideas and favorites to help parents give their teachers the best this May. Our Teacher Appreciation Pinterest board has a ton of gift ideas for all kinds of budgets, teachers and craft levels.

What are your favorite gifts to give to your amazing teacher?

And teachers – what are your most memorable and favorite gifts to receive? Here is your chance to share with parents what teachers really appreciate and what gets re-gifted or forgotten. My daughter’s second grade teacher shared a clock that a student gave her a few years back. She still displays it proudly in her classroom.

Here’s how to Pin It to Win a $100 Gift Certificate to

1. Visit Steve Spangler Science’s Pinterest page and Follow All.

2. Create a board on your Pinterest page and title it “Teacher Gifts.” For parents – in the description share why you appreciate your child’s teachers. For teachers – in the description, share why you enjoy teaching.

3. Pin at least 5 items from that you want to give to a teacher or want to receive as a teacher. You can start in our Teacher Gifts category, but don’t stop there, surf around and see what you can find. Don’t stop with 5 – pin away as long as you’d like. Please add other pins and ideas for teachers gifts that you have given, received, or found around the Internet. You are also welcome to repin from our Teacher Gifts board.

4. Include a Pin from this blog post on your Teacher Gifts board.

5. Leave a link to your board in the comments below. Two lucky winners will be chosen at random to win one of two $100 gift certificates to use on

6. Complete your Teacher Gifts Pinterest board by midnight MST, Thursday May 23rd.

7. Steve Spangler Science will repin our favorite ideas found on your boards to share with our audience.

So what are you waiting for? Go get creative and get pinning!


Ms. Cobb Incorporates Life Lessons Into 7th Grade Math with Slime Day

JoAnna Cobb is a 7th grade math teacher at Bedford Middle School. This is her 10th year of teaching. Ms. Cobb says she “adores mathematics and the way math is involved in every aspect of daily living.”


My mission as a teacher is to instill a love of math and a love of learning in students.  Educational goals following naturally from those interests.  I like to do activities that bring all kinds of disciplines into the math classroom because it incorporates the interests and strengths of students, and it allows the students to see the math all around them.

That is the reason Ms. Cobb uses the slime activity.  The students convert slime recipes using ratios and proportions, make the slime, then observe its properties.  It’s a lot of fun!  It even ends up being an art lesson by the end as they all combine their different colors into tie-dye-looking slime globs.

Ms. Cobb also integrates different activities that involve other disciplines like running (PE/health), geocaching (geography/history), poetry (LA/music), and TONS of art stuff.  She adds, “Heck, it’s hard NOT to incorporate other disciplines!”

This is one teacher who not only gets it home to the dinner table but inspires her students to learn, relate and discover math in all areas of life.


YouTube Star Teacher Karen Mensing Opens Up a World of Learning with Her Students

Second Grade Teacher Karen Mensing is a gifted specialist in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. She is a teacher who knows how to get her students to bring what they’ve learned to the dinner table each night by providing her students with hands-on learning opportunities and real world experiences through technology.

 Mensing was named Arizona’s Gifted Teacher of the Year for 2011 by the AZ Association for Gifted & Talented and was recently honored as 2012 Teacher of the Year by the AZ Technology in Education Association. She’s been a member of SENG’s Honor Roll since 2006.

In 2011, she was invited to the Google Teacher Academy where she became a Google Certified Teacher and one of the first 15 “YouTube Star Teachers,” by attending the inaugural YouTube Teacher Studio.

Later that year, Mensing was invited to attend the Google Geo Teachers Institute, & shortly thereafter became a Google Apps For Education Certified Trainer.

We had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Mensing at a recent Hands-on Science Boot Camp in Phoenix and were impressed with her passion for teaching kids and igniting a passion for learning within each of them.

Mensing spent eight years in the radio broadcast industry before becoming a teacher. She is always excited to find new ways to bring broadcasting and communications it into her room.

Her classroom theme last year was movie stars. The class spent the year learning how to make movies and appear in movies. The kids learned all about Twitter and even participated in Twitter chats. One was called #NameThatToy where people tweeted descriptions of toys while students across the United States and Canada tried to guess what they were describing.

The class also took a field trip to the Apple store where they made short movies and learned about technology. Now that’s some hands-on learning we can get behind.

Mensing says her students don’t fall asleep while watching a movie when it engages them and brings conversation into the room. She also uses interactive tools with the movies to get her students physically involved in the activities.

“It s not just a babysitting tool. And it’s not just watching movies. It’s truly engaging my students and bringing them real world experiences,” says Mensing.

Her students not only learn about an educational tool or new technology, they also make videos to explain what they’ve just learned. Her 1st and 2nd grade students defined Webquests, shared their opinions and explained what type of final projects they explored for one classroom video.

Mensing believes we shouldn’t shield kids from being on camera in our digital and video-intense world. Instead, we should teach them the correct way to make a movie using storyboarding and editing. They also need to understand copyrights. Today’s children have the tools at their disposal with camera phones and Flip cameras in most homes. We must teach children how to use the technologies that are out there, how to be responsible with it and what is appropriate and inappropriate versus pulling it away all together. Without an education on these tools, children will easily fall into traps and get into trouble when navigating the Internet and its tools.

We at Steve Spangler Science completely agree with that theory. Children and their parents shouldn’t fear technology, such as YouTube. They should embrace it and learn it. The technology exists and the kids are using it, with or without their parents’ permission and knowledge. They need to be educated about safety, courtesy and the power of the Internet before they stumble upon something they don’t fully understand.

Mensing says she believes YouTube is an underused tool with endless possibilities. And she is bringing it in her classroom and school.

“In my own classroom, I’m really hoping to do a lot with virtual tours and virtual field trips this year. And I really want to use YouTube with that. Giving (students) a glimpse of something they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see. Showing them museums, cities, oceans, continents, anything that isn’t possible within the walls of a classroom or even on a traditional field trip,” explains Mensing.

Here’s one way Mensing uses technology in her classroom. Her class watched a movie, wrote their own story, submitted it to a website, and created a video using iMovie. We need more Ms. Mensing’s in our schools!

Check out Ms. Mensing’s channel on YouTube for more educational videos as well as all of her classroom videos. While you are there, visit YouTube EDU – a resource dedicated to education in a global video classroom. Watch quick lessons from teachers, course lectures from universities and inspiring videos. Channels are nominated and approved to appear on YouTube EDU. You will not find ads or inappropriate content for students. For more on YouTube EDU, check out our blog post from last year.

Are you a teacher who embraces new technology like YouTube and uses it in your classroom? Leave us a comment below and share how you use it and how to educate your students.