Ladies and gentlemen… please welcome our magicians for this evening… the amazing Bruce and Kitty Spangler.
As a very young child, I can remember sitting backstage and hearing these words as the orchestra began to play and my parents took center stage. I’ve often talked about my love for the art of magic, but few people know that I grew up in a family of professional magicians. When you live in a family of magicians, seeing your Mom float or get sawed in half is really nothing out of the ordinary. I remember taking my Dad to show-and-tell when I was in kindergarten. What did he do? My Dad pulled a torch out of his bag of tricks and ate fire for my entire class. Let’s just say that when your Dad eats fire for show-and-tell, it’s kind of a show stopper.
I recently introduced 9News reporter Kim Christiansen and photo journalist Eric Kehe to my parents, Bruce and Kitty Spangler, for a behind the scenes look at a special art that is being passed down through three generations.
It was easy to spot Doc Gizmo as you wandered through the exhibit hall at the Colorado Science Convention. He was the only person dressed in a tie-dyed lab coat with multi-colored socks and a smile that beamed from ear to ear. Even before watching his program, there was no question that this guy had found his calling.
Doc Gizmo, whose real name is Phil Arnold, has been traveling around the Midwest for several years doing his science assembly program for a wide variety of audiences. Phil told the audience that his wife teaches chemistry and physics in Bucklin, Kansas, and he was recruited to build a few science demonstrations for her to use in the classroom. One thing led to the next and Doc Gizmo is traveling the Midwest with his science show speaking to anyone and everyone who wants to learn why science is fun.
During the hour long program for an audience of science teachers at the Colorado Science Convention, Doc Gizmo skillfully weaved a handful of classic science demos into a presentation that showcased the accomplishments of his wife and his core theme that science is fun. At the age of 75, Doc Gizmo’s character is that of a wacky science guy who isn’t afraid to dip his hand in some liquid nitrogen or even light his hand on fire while holding bubbles filled with methane gas. He offered a book of his science demonstrations and sold a few cases of his Newton’s Beads demonstration kit (Phil told everyone that you could buy it at Educational Innovations for $19.95 or pick one up for $6 after the show). Needless to say, Doc Gizmo was surrounded by a large group of people with six bucks in their hands.
The best take away for me was his twist on the classic Egg in the Bottle demonstration. Instead of light paper on first and jamming it into the bottle, Doc gently places a small candle into the top of the hardboiled egg and covers the candle with the inverted milk bottle. After a few seconds, the flame goes out and the egg is pushed up into the bottle. It’s a beautiful twist.
Phil was kind to include several demonstrations from my 1999 Reg Friesen Lecture at ChemEd as he closed his presentation. The Growing & Shrinking Head was a big hit and his presentation of the Afghan Bands was a great way to wrap up the show.
Hats off to the planning committee at the Colorado Science Convention for sharing Phil Arnold and his Doc Gizmo science show.
It was quite a week for our Spangler Science team when we invaded Texas with 24 staff members and Spangler Ambassadors. Half the team headed to Fort Worth for CAST (the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching) and half the team went to Dallas for NAEYC ( the National Association for the Education of Young Children). While our NAEYC team was launching Mentos geysers on the Boy in a Box, the CAST team also found a unique way to use the Geyser Tube… launching our favorite scientist, Beaker , 30-feet in the air in the Geyser Chamber. It was quite a sight at the Spangler Science booth when Beaker when shooting through the air on a stream of Diet Coke.
When the team wasn’t launching stuffed Muppets, they were busy talking with excited science teachers and even presenting workshops at the conference. Spangler Speaker Julie Gintzler presented her Chicka, Chicka – KABOOM workshop. The eager participants were more than a little excited when Julie pulled out the amazing Square Bubble and the “magical” Spot Dot Thumb… now there’s way to get kids excited about learning! Spangler Ambassador Mary Pat Weingardt also presented a workshop where she had the opportunity to get in-depth with the participants and discuss their concerns and frustrations with combining science and curriculum.
Once a year, Education students at Northwestern University, in Minnesota, get the opportunity to make a huge mess and learn a lot about making teaching exciting along the way. Spangler Science Ambassador, Lisa Schoneman normally teaches Kindergarten at Halverson Elementary in Albert Lea, Minnesota… but once a year she packs up her science tricks and heads to Northwestern to give pre-service teachers a chance to learn how to be amazing.
“The teachers get really excited about learning and usually bring what they learn from the workshop into the classroom and share the ideas with their cooperative teachers, where they are completing their field hours,” says Schoneman about her workshops.
This year, the university students learned about everything from color mixing to that infamous Mentos and Diet Coke Geyser. And, yes, they made a huge mess… but had a lot of fun… in the process.
Any teacher who can inspire a group of students to get up at 4:30 AM in order to be on live television is an amazing person. But it didn’t take long to see why his students like him so much… “He’s just a cool teacher who makes coming to class fun,” says one of his students as she launches a rubber bug across the room. Mad About Science is a television news series that we created at 9News KUSA-TV in Denver almost ten years ago as a way to recognize science teachers in Colorado who are getting their students excited about learning science. Tom Andrews hits the mark as an amazing science teacher at Goddard Middle School in Littleton, Colorado.
When you visit Mr. Andrews’ classroom, you can see that he practices what he preaches. “Science needs to be hands-on and engaging for the students to take an interest… and it doesn’t hurt if you’re a little funny too,” Tom told me as he put on a lab coat tattered with burn marks, giant stains and remnants of yesterday’s classroom adventure (okay, it was a big chunk of owl poop). The big take away for me was the respect his students had for him during all of their interactions. Yes, he’s a cool teacher, but Tom Andrews also expects a great deal out of his students. You can choose to teach the concepts of force and motion using a standard textbook or you can use that content to teach the kids how to shoot rubber bugs across the room. Tom chooses the road less traveled because he understand the importance of creating experiences.
During today’s Mad About Science segment on 9NEWS – KUSA TV in Denver, Mr. Andrews soaked one of his student’s lunch money in a flammable solution and then lit it on fire. The student yelled out, “Hey, that’s my lunch money!” When the flame vanished, the five dollar bill was perfectly safe. When Mr. Andrews said that it was “magic” his students corrected him by yelling out, “It’s science!”
“It’s really important to use each of the activities to help teach kids how to think like a scientist. It’s so important for students to use the scientific method,” according to Mr. Andrews who designs experiments using simple, household materials like old shirts, scrap paper, plastic spoons and a few rubber bugs.
Each of the experiments featured during the television segment are easy for the students (and viewers) to recreate at home. In the You’re All Fingers Experiment, two students wore one of Mr. Andrews’s favorite shirts – one tried to button up the shirt with the use of all their fingers (control) and the other student attempted to button the shirt without the use of their thumbs (variable).
Twirling Helicopter Blades were next up. Students dropped paper helicopters, one is the control and the others were changed in some way. Drop times were recorded and the students made simple changes to their design to alter the twirling performance of the helicopter.
Mr. Andrews wrapped up with his Bug Launch Experiment. The students stood behind specially designed spoon catapults, perfect for launching fake bugs. One rubber beetle served as the control and the other bugs played the role as the variable in the experiment. The measurement team recorded the distance each bug flew while the crowd cheered on the flying bugs… and I offered extra credit if the kids could hit our photographer.
Congratulations to Tom Andrews and his students for teaching us how to make science fun.