Category Archives: Teacher Spotlight

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.

Teacher Makes It Snow for Kids in Haiti

Kim Hill, a first grade teacher at Hayes Elementary School in Ada, Oklahoma, brought her love of science to the Cap Haitien Children’s Home in Cap Haitien, Haiti, this past February.

The Cap Haitien Children’s home is a Christian orphanage housing over 60 children. Its mission is to provide a loving and engaging atmosphere to help each child grow to become an educated citizen of Haiti.

Kim traveled to Haiti with her arsenal of science experiments. The first science experiment was polymers and Insta-Snow. When Kim began creating a blizzard on an island where snow is unheard of, the children were in disbelief. It was snowing in Haiti!

As the children mixed water with the white polymer powder, snow grew before their eyes. Discoveries abounded and pretty soon the snow was flying through the air and sprinkled in hair. Who knew you could have a snowball fight in Haiti?

Smiles were everywhere.

Her proud daughter, Carly Hill, shared pictures on Twitter and emailed us saying, “Without the help of Steve Spangler Science these children would have never been able to experience playing with snow. As you look at the pictures you can see that by the glow in their faces this was truly a memorable experience for each child at the Cap Haitien Home. Thank you Steve Spangler for your love of science and the gift of snow in Haiti!”

Thank you to Kim and Carly for sharing your love of science with the world’s children at home and abroad. From the photos, it is obvious you engaged and helped each child at Cap Haitien to flourish and grow. You made learning memorable.

For more information on the Cap Haitien Children’s home please visit the websites:




Teachers Making a Difference – Mrs. Z and her Oobleck Pool of Goo

Some teachers teach from the book and others make learning come alive. Judie Zoromski, or Mrs. Z,  (say it fast and she’s called Mizzy), teaches science at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Grade School in Park Ridge, Illinois.

She is one of those teachers who gets it home to the dinner table. Her Friday Finale lessons make the “kids and their families live science.”

Mrs. Z taught for six years then took some time off to raise a daughter. When she went back to the classroom, she taught second grade for two years, fifth grade for two years and then “landed” in junior high science. She teaches 7th grade biology and 8th grade physics and chemistry.

She describes herself by saying, “as a person and a teacher I like to bring things to life and create a lot of excitement.”

When taking the science teaching job, Mrs. Z didn’t sit down and start writing out lesson plans, instead she looked for ways to make an impact on her students’ lives. In her research, she discovered our website, and from that Mrs. Z came up with her Friday Finale.

Every Friday Mrs. Z performs a demonstration and explains the science behind it. Her students and their families live for science and look forward to the end of the week.

“The students do about three experiments a week in science class which go along with what they are learning but on Fridays we go one step beyond,” explains Mrs. Z.

Her first Friday Finale was the fire tornado. It was a huge hit so she went back to the drawing board to find another attention-grabbing experiment.

Mrs. Z has done countless Friday Finales and always presents a special holiday demo right before Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter.

At the end of the year, Mrs. Z does a major science event. For the past two years, she has done the Cornstarch and Water Oobleck pool, like Steve did on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The day starts at 8:00 a.m. when they begin opening 300 pounds of corn starch and start mixing small batches in containers. The containers are then carried out to a kiddy pool. The students take turns all morning mixing the non-Newtonian glop. In the afternoon, the students come back and they all spend time running, walking, sinking, floating, and laughing in the Oobleck pool.

Each student makes a small batch and learns the science behind the solid/liquid solution.

Then the big cleanup begins. Students take turns filling baggies with Oobleck and carry them to the dumpster. The Oobleck cannot go down the drain.

It is so much work, Mrs. Z alternates years for the Oobleck pool with Solar Bags.

No matter which Friday Finale Mrs. Z performs, her students always beg her to do it again and again. Now that’s a teacher making a difference in the educational lives of her students. Anything that gets a student to wonder, discover, and bring it home to the dinner table encourages learning and remembering.

At the end of the year, each student is given a DVD with pictures from the year set to a song parody that Mrs. Z writes and compiles.

Mrs. Z also says she is blessed with a principal who believes in science and spending the money to make a difference in the classroom. She does not ask to be reimbursed for the supplies she purchases from Steve Spangler Science, because she is blessed with a wonderful husband who supports her teaching techniques.

Mrs. Z explains, “I know I could be a good science teacher without all of the SS stuff, so the school should not have to pay that.  I buy the SS stuff because I don’t want to be a good science teacher, I want to be the Science teacher that changes their life!”

Amen to that, and I believe you are the life changing science teacher in your students’ lives.

Teacher Spotlight on Karen Puracan – A Science Teacher Who Gets It Home to the Dinner Table

Karen Puracan is a science teacher at Hale Academy in Ocala, Florida. The school is a small private school with grades PreK-12th. Mrs. Puracan teaches 8th grade integrated science, 6th and 7th grade life science, 8th through 10th grade physical science and high school biology and ecology. To say she teaches a little of everything is an understatement.

Class sizes are small. Her largest class has only 11 and the smallest classes have only three students. This gives Mrs. Puracan the opportunity to really get to know each student and engage them one-on-one – something most teachers today are unable to do. This also allows time to play or “investigate” as Mrs. Puracan calls it with science.

“Since we are a private school, we have the freedom to take our time exploring things in more depth, without worrying about the test,” Mrs. Puracan explains.

Last year, Mrs. Puracan was a physical science “greenhorn” and stuck to the book. She quickly found the book was boring for both herself and her students.

This year, she decided to drop the textbook labs and began using experiments from

“And, much to my delight, during parent conferences this week, I heard that THINGS WE DO IN CLASS ARE MAKING IT TO THE DINNER TABLE!” says Mrs. Puracan. ” Even if  a student struggles on the test, they remember the experiment, and the principle behind it.”

She also has younger students anticipating reaching the upper grades and getting into her classes. They ask her, “when do we get to do the cool stuff?”

The other science teacher, Daren Johnson, a Hale veteran, also teaches math. Mrs. Puracan describes him as “the brave one who likes to make things blow up.”

Mr. Johnson’s class designed a built a working trebuchet which launched pumpkins 30 feet on Halloween. It also launched a basketball 120 feet.

Mrs. Puracan has conducted Density Towers, Bubbling Density Concoctions, Boo Bubbles and Bouncing Bubbles, Solar Bag, Wind Bags, Egg Drop, Cartesian Divers and other inertia stunts. We had the honor of meeting Ms. Puracan at one of Steve’s Boot Camps in Orlando, Florida this past fall.

More recently, Mrs. Puracan did the Musical Staws experiment in her class. The class thought it sounded like an oboe and cut small finger holes in the far end. They can play actual notes and sort of a scale.

During her Density Tower lesson, she challenged her students to figure out what order to put the liquids in. It took them four class periods, but they did it.

We salute Mrs. Puracan and Mr. Johnson. They are amazing teachers making a difference in the educational lives of their students.

Teachers making a difference - Hale School Newsletter Highlights science classes

Robotic Teaching Assistants Make Learning Fun in Washington Classroom

Very few teachers have teaching assistants who don’t ask for lunch breaks. Most won’t work for free either. Ted Gamble, a 3rd grade teacher at Meredith Hill Elementary School in Auburn, Washington, may have the most unique aides in his class.

They don’t ask for lunch breaks because they don’t eat or breathe.

No need to interview and hire these teaching assistants. Mr. Gamble has built his own. Meet the THX family, Silver Rocket and Ion Dauphin. They assist in the classroom by taking attendance, reading stories, giving spelling and math tests, making announcements and reminding students of important events. They also make cool sound effects and play music when prompted.

The robots can get a little bossy at times, but the students don’t mind.

Mr. Gamble designed and built the robots with help from laptops donated by Pixar, The Seattle Times, Washington State and Warehouser.

All of the robots have names and special talents, although Mr. Gamble says they aren’t robots in the true sense. They are constructed from materials and made to look like robots. The faux robots have speakers built into them that are connected to laptops running sound effects, speech and voice recognition software.

Mr. Gamble says, “it is the children, who have such wonderful and creative imaginations, which allow them to ‘see’ my creations as real robots which converse with them.”

This is one teacher who inspires his students, nurtures their imaginations and makes learning fun.

Are you ready to meet the robots? Robot roll call –

THX-T2 was the first robot created by Mr. Gamble over 30 years ago after he saw Star Wars. Built before computers were available, THX-T2 has a potato chip can for a body,  a paint can and funnel for a head, and coffee cans for arms and legs. He originally had a tape recorder inside his chest, which was used to deliver messages during the school day. Mr. Gamble would record the voice for THX-T2 the night before by speaking into a vacuum cleaner hose. During the school day he would use a long electrical cord and switch to deliver the messages via THX-T2.

THX-T2 has been refurbished for the 2000’s complete with multi-media speakers and a laptop donated by the Seattle Times. He is still in charge of the daily announcements.

THX-T3 was built by Mr. Gamble and his wife while they were teaching in Japan for the Department of Defense in the early 1980’s. THX-T3 has dog food dishes for feet, futon clips for hands, a garbage can for a body with a butter dish with lights mounted in his chest. His arms and legs are made from Japanese drainage pipe, and his head is made from a Japanese house vent. Plastic wine bottle caps and lights are used for eyes. A toothbrush holder serves as an antenna.

THX-T3 had a cassette recorder inside that was operated by remote control – a big improvement with new technology.

In 1986 Mr. Gamble returned from Japan and after a few short stints outside of education, returned to the classroom and built THX-T4 and THX-T5 along with refurbishing and updating the earlier robot models so they could also be run with computers.

THX-T4 has special software donated by Apple, which enables it to hold limited conversations and give the time and date when asked.

Mr. Gamble then wanted a tall robot. Ion Dauphin (eye on the fan) was born and built to move. Ion is made from a Frisbee with an eye, a remote controlled fan, a drainage pipe, an IKEA lamp, and small wheels. Ion Dauphin is a tad negative and always shakes his head no when asked a question.

Mr. Gamble’s newest and latest creation is a flying saucer hovercraft. It will double as a study carrel and float around the school. This is something Mr. Gamble has wanted to build since the 3rd grade. He loved reading about UFO’s and was inspired after a UFO incident that took place over the White House in 1953.

Everyone at Steve Spangler Science wants to find a way back to 3rd grade just for a chance to be in Mr. Gamble’s class. We are hoping he will accept a few new students who may be pushing 20, if not 30 and beyond.