Category Archives: Teaching Moments

The 4 Elements of a Memorable Science Demonstration

Since starting at Steve Spangler Science in 2009, there’s one question that gets asked of our team more than any other: how do you create a memorable science demonstration? And the truth is, from our customer service team to our production team to Steve Spangler himself, we’ll all give you a different answer. So which answer is right? All of them!

Nobel Prizes for everyone!
Nobel Prizes for everyone!                             (Source: Wikipedia)

No matter who is supplying the formula for a memorable science demonstration, they’re correct. Every demonstrator uses the same 4 elements to create the perfect demo for their group, family, kids, or audience, though their methods may be different. They happen to correspond very well with the 4 classic elements. Most people start with…


DirtEarth – Research
Earth is the most familiar of the elements. We spend every day traversing its dusty, dry surface, but we have no clue what’s actually going on inside of it. For all we know, the core of the earth is a big, bubbling vat of baking soda and vinegar waiting to erupt with dyed carbon dioxide bubbles.

Science fair basics aside, it’s good to reacquaint yourself with the science behind the demonstration you’re going to perform. Even if you’re confident in your answer as to why you can create a teeter-totter by with two candles, it will be beneficial to get a refresher. Who knows, science could have uncovered a different answer!

891999854cdae45b07e5e4d6e29eedf91a0eb9a8
The world’s most sinister seesaw results from a children’s demonstration.

Researching your demonstration is also a great opportunity to discover ways of taking your experiment further. Find ways to spin off of your initial demonstration. This is your chance to really find ways of driving your lesson home.


drop-83018_640
Water – Practice
More often than not, mysterious happenings come from the water. Flesh eating river fish, mythical monsters, and giant snakes make sure that no human (scientist or otherwise) ever gets too comfortable within a triple-jump of water’s edge.

You shouldn’t be too comfortable in the performance of your demonstration, either. No one (read: actually, literally no one) likes having their demonstration, presentation, slide show, or what-have-you fail to perform. Geysers that don’t explode, launchers that don’t launch, and paper airplanes that don’t do the “plane”-part are all sure-fire ways of winding up red-faced in front of your audience.

IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!
IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!

Now, this is science, so there’s always a chance that things just won’t go your way. THAT is what makes practicing your demo so valuable. Practice gives you the chance at troubleshooting possible issues with your demo. From setup to procedure to clean up, practicing makes sure you’re ready for anything that science throws your way.


air-19227_640Air – Application
Without air, we’re dead. That’s just a fact of life, and YES I intended that horrible pun.

We all require air to run our body. While you never forget how to breathe, we don’t think about it very often, unless we’re really USING our breath. Runner, yoga instructors, midwifes… these people know what it means to really use our breath, because they learned to apply it.

The same goes for so many science demonstrations and lessons. When our minds learn new information, like that hot air has low pressure and rises, we are much more likely to remember it with a direct application. Talk to them about how the downstairs of their house probably feels cooler than the 2nd story or talk to them about weather, wind, and pressure.

Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know... it's science.
Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know… it’s science.

When demos don’t match up with a solid application, you create the dreaded, “When am I ever going to use this?” You need earth and water to be ready for that one!


fractal-22188_640
Fire – Passion

Earth is solid, water is liquid, and air is gaseous. Fire is plasma? Fire is flame? Fire is part of a grouping of things called “intangibles” by sports coaches everywhere; just like passion.

Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.
Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.                           (Source: Flickr)

Passion may not be absolutely required to pull off a memorable science demonstration, but it definitely aids in the effort. People of all ages can tell when someone is passionate about what they’re doing. The more genuinely excited you are about the demonstration you’re doing, the more excited your audience is going to be. Your energy is contagious.

Now just go and do it!

 

541289_10151141696561242_1371670891_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

Connecting the Dots Between Each Lesson

Yes, it’s true;  I use all kinds of science in my writing labs to help my students connect the dots,  from one cool thing to another.  I’ve done this for many years.  And guess what: this WORKS.

Here’s the thing about learning: everything is connected to everything else. As soon as a student understands this one little point, things change.

connect the dotsToday’s lesson instantly connects to yesterday’s lesson, and last week’s lesson, and that lesson in first grade which you didn’t understand – not a single word – but now you do, and it happened all by itself. Or did it. . .It’s like we woke up one morning and suddenly something we didn’t understand before makes sense. We spend our lives connecting the dots, and if we do it right, we’ll have a far cooler end result than the horsie or duckie we ended up with on those preschool sewing cards.  We’ll have constellations of connections.

Everything we learn and know is so ready, so EAGER,  to connect to new things, and to each other. Every student in my labs is smart, and ready to learn new things – perhaps not in conventional ways, but I have NEVER been accused of being conventional  (I consider this a compliment.) and ALL are ready to learn, whether they realize it or not. In my experience, people who learn best in unconventional ways are the creative ones, the thinkers, the ones who DO things, and often the kinds of things that are going to save us all.  I love this kind of student.  All I have to do is keep tossing out potential fascinations.

That’s my job. I throw fascinations in people’s faces. Sometimes I lightly toss them. Sometimes I barrel them into a student’s face as if I were chucking a cannonball at him. Sometimes I see a fascination drifting by and I blow it around the room and make sure every pair of eyes follows it, even for just a few seconds.  I’ve been known to use vocabulary that some might deem, shall we say, unconventional, at times.

The things we learn while laughing, we almost always remember.  Well, I do.

Mundane things are mundane only if we are content to let them be mundane. Old dogs CAN be taught new tricks. There’s no such thing as boredom unless we choose boredom.

I often use Insta-Snow to demonstrate that often the addition of one single simple thing can INSTANTLY transform a little piece of learning into a really big deal.  A few pinches of plain white salt-like powder in the bottom of a bowl, a little water, and HOLY COW, the stuff rises up before our very eyes and overflows the bowl and covers the table with white fluffy coolness. . .

Insta-Snow. . . you know, just like our thoughts when, more often than we realize, one simple additional thing makes a simple thought explode with wonder.

Some connections are made instantly.  Some connections take a little more time.  This is easily illustrated with various polymers.

And, all of these things being polymers, they’ll last pretty much forever.  I’ve got polymer Christmas decorations that are over four years old now, and because they’re sealed up, they’ll never shrink.  Let your polymers dry out again and you can reuse them for years.  YEARS.  Store them in baggies or in Tupperware.  Polymers are so easy.

art, science, wonder These polymers are so versatile – science, art, any other part of the curriculum, sensory projects, crafts. . . there are few areas where polymer products can’t be an enhancement. They’re inexpensive, too – especially when you consider that they last virtually forever.

They’re also beaucoup  fun! (<-cool word – look it up and use it!)

This is what I do all day.  Don’t you wish you were me?  I LOVE my job!

Next up in writing lab:  “I’m dumping this on your head.”

You have been warned.

Little House Science: Greased Paper Windows

Animals and birds are limited  to what kind of house or nest they can build. When we discover an animal’s home, we can almost always tell what sort of animal it belongs to.  Even with birds, no two kinds will build the same sort of nest.  Some nests are tidy and tight and look just like a bird’s nest from a picture book, while other kinds of birds will be content in a nest that looks like a pile of grass or straw with no visible means of support.  Some birds don’t build at all; they just lay their eggs in another bird’s nest and take off!

Little House Science: Greased Paper Windows

 

People, on the other hand, can build any kind of house they can imagine.

As Charles Ingalls reminds Laura in “The Long Winter,” p. 13, “. . . look at that muskrat house.  Muskrats have to build that kind of house.  muskrat houseThey always have and they always will.  It’s plain they can’t build any other kind.  But folks build all kinds of houses.  A man can build any kind of house he can think of.”

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,  p. 11, she describes their latest little house in Minnesota, which was a dugout.  Now, a dugout is really nothing more than a dirt cave with a door and, if you’re lucky, one window.  The Ingalls’ dugout had a door and a window beside the door, so there was some natural light inside.  “But the wall was so thick that the light from the window stayed near the window.”

Little House dugoutThat window was made of greased paper, not glass.  Pioneers didn’t put glass in their windows until they were sure they were going to stay a good long while; glass was expensive.  It was an investment in longevity.  A house with glass windows represented people who were there for the duration.

Most pioneers started out with greased paper windows because they weren’t sure how long they might be in that particular house.log cabin with greased windowsThe window had to be covered so the insects and wild animals couldn’t get in, but it also needed to let the light in.  Whatever the window cover was, it had to be super cheap.  Voila:  greased paper.

Now, you might be wondering how a window covered with paper could be of much use.  How much light could get through paper?

Not much.  But GREASED paper, now, that was an entirely different thing.

When you grease a piece of paper, the grease fills in all the fiber gaps, and any light that hits it doesn’t scatter; it passes right through. Water doesn’t do this; it dissolves the paper, whereas grease or oil just reinforces the paper and lets the light pass though.  Not transparent, exactly, but certainly translucent. It let enough light through to be useful.

Until someone accidently poked a hole in the paper, or a bear punched through, the family inside had enough light to get by until they could afford glass.

 

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.

Tragedy in Colorado – The Science Behind a '100 Year Flood'

The Colorado Front Range is still reeling after a major storm dumped more precipitation on areas in 24 to 48 hours than they receive in an entire year. The result was 20-foot walls of water rushing down the sides of mountains, rivers coming over their banks, roads and bridges washed away and houses flooded. Hundreds of roads and bridges washed away across the Front Range. Some places, like the town of Lyons, became islands completely surrounded by water.

The Science Behind 100-Year Floods
Lefthand Canyon washed away Submitted By: Laura
Courtesy 9News, Denver

The flooding has effected 17 Colorado counties with the most devastating in Boulder and Larimer counties. Parts of Jefferson County around Golden and Evergreen and Arapahoe County in Aurora are also affected.

Continue reading

What Are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them?

A few weeks back, we demystified the Common Core State Standards to clearly explain what they are all about. Common Core does not cover science. The Next Generation Science Standards were designed to set a national standard in science and give teachers and their students direction towards college prep and careers in science.

What are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them? | Steve Spangler Blog

Before the NGSS came into play, the states used the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to guide their state science standards. The standards were high quality and worked well, but are now over 15 years old. In that time, major advancements in science have taken place along with a better understanding of how students learn science.

In 2007, a report from a Carnegie Foundation commission concluded, “the nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the modern workforce depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility that lie at the heart of the American dream.”

Not surprising, they also found the science and mathematics education in the U.S. was far below expectations and set to leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in the future global economy. In 2009, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics out of 34 countries.  In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the college readiness benchmark levels in mathematics and 69% of graduates failed to meet the benchmarks in science.

Science and mathematics education is not just for students preparing for careers in engineering, technology, science or accounting. In our constantly changing, always updating society, the need for higher education in skilled jobs is much higher than unskilled jobs. Many of the fastest growing career fields involve science and math. Information, technology and knowledge turns over about every 17 months in our modern society. Think about how fast a smart phone becomes out of date.

Normally we teach out of context. The biology teacher is teaching here. The mathematics teacher there. The english teacher over here. And when it’s time to synthesize? Guess what? We aren’t there.
- Fred D. Johnson, Past President National Science Teachers Association.

The National Association of State Directors of Career Education grouped all occupations into 16 clusters. Fourteen of the clusters require four years of science while the remaining two require three years. The message – “to keep all options open and maximize their opportunities, all students should follow a rigorous program in both science and mathematics,” according to the NGSS website.

It’s not just careers that depend upon advances in society.  We face global problems from pandemics to global warming and climate change to energy shortages. The solutions lie in science and technological discoveries and advancement. Our survival is dependent on our abilities to train future scientists and problem solvers.

What are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them? | Steve Spangler Blog

From all of these needs and demands for the present and the future, the Next Generation Science Standards were born. The NGSS will provide students a content-rich education across the STEM subjects to prepare them for college and careers. This will ensure all students receive an internationally benchmarked science education. They aren’t a curriculum, but a content plan that all students should learn from kindergarten to high school graduation. States and local districts who adopt them will need to develop their own specific content and curriculum.

Science isn’t just a mere bunch of facts. Science is about the way we think about the world. The way we question the world. The way we communicate about the world. Developing that is a huge piece of the new standards.
- Jonathan Gerlach 2011-2012 Einstein Capitol Hill Fellow, U.S. Department of Energy.

Twenty-six states, a 41-member writing team and educational partners worked to develop the Next Generation Science Standards. The framework was developed by 18 experts in science, engineering, cognitive science, teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment and education policy. The framework was then presented for public feedback and opinion. Then state policy leaders, higher education, K-12 teachers, the science and business community developed science standards grounded in the framework. Those standards were also open for public feedback.

What are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them? | Steve Spangler Blog

The federal government is not involved or funding the Next Generation Science Standards. It is up to each individual state to choose the NGSS and adapt them. They will also individually decide whether to create assessments connected to the NGSS. The 26 states currently involved are Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maine, New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware and Massachusetts.

Why NGSS? from Achieve on Vimeo.

 

Information in this article courtesy Achieve, Inc. on behalf of the twenty-six states and partners that collaborated on the NGSS.