Category Archives: Teaching Moments

1000 Appearances and Counting – Steve Spangler on 9news

Steve Spangler is known for creating amazing hands-on science experiences for kids. Whether it involves kits, toys, or incredible experiments, kids leave an experience with Steve feeling like science magicians.

17827712551_de489a9406_o

Over the last decade and change, Steve has also spent one afternoon a week making adults feel like science magicians on Denver’s local NBC affiliate, 9News – KUSA. News anchors, meteorologists… you name it, if they’ve worked in the 9News studio, they’ve experienced the hands-on hi-jinx that follows Steve wherever he goes. That’s what defines Steve Spangler on 9News.

17206950723_b09ec14aa0_o

If you want a small sample of Steve on 9News, check out this video for a look back at the segments that made Steve popular.

May 22, 2015 marks a special milestone for Steve – his 1000th 9News appearance. That’s 1000 times that Steve has brought fun science, incredible young scientists, or crazy experiences to televisions all around Denver and the region.

17639883438_13d96d8b6d_o

Steve’s 1000th appearance was always going to be special, but the presence of his entire family made it even more so. Give it a watch here.

We also put together an album of our favorite #SteveMoments over on our Flickr, so give that a look, as well.

Keep making science fun, Steve.

17206505633_9683e13f02_o

Plagiarism, Compassion, and the Dinner Table

Plagiarism.  Compassion for plagiarism?  It was his third strike for the same offense.  Last Wednesday morning, after class,  I had to play “Plagiaristic Confrontation” again, and it was no fun. It’s never fun. All throughout my career, I’ve listened to teachers brag and purr about ‘bringing a student down,’ and I’ve sat there shaking my head in amazement, wondering what kind of people were in charge of classrooms these days. “Bringing a student down” was never a goal of mine; I am frankly horrified that anyone would do so happily, and that anyone could gloat about it afterwards. I always thought that one of my functions was to help students UP, not bring them down and brag about it to others who sat there applauding.

plagiarism

Maybe I’m just an old softy (although there are those who would argue that point!!) but I just can not even imagine being happy about a student who was in trouble. Even when that trouble was the student’s own choice and fault, I’m still sorry, not gleeful. I might think things like, “Well, too bad, but life is full of choices and choices bring consequences, etc. etc.” but I couldn’t clap my hands and laugh because someone who is supposed to be the adult in charge gets off on bringing someone who is SUPPOSED to need help, down.

I might cry, but I wouldn’t laugh.

compassion, kindness

Wednesday, in the hallway after class, talking to that student, reminding him about all the previous reminders, explaining the consequences of his choice to him, watching him wilt and lean against the wall and then cover his face with his hands and weep, did something to me that day. It made me want to write a post about younger students, and how we as the adults who are in charge need to do everything in our power to help them attain the skills they so desperately need in order to care for themselves and others as they grow up; we need to help our children appreciate culture so they might understand music and art and allow them to enrich and soothe their souls and give them something positive to do with leisure time; we need to help our children learn and understand everything we can possibly expose them to in the short amount of time they are entrusted to us; we need to show them how to figure things out all by themselves, and to appreciate those things that have no explanation at all, and to help them see that these are often the coolest things of all. We need to teach them compassion by demonstrating compassion; even more importantly, we need to teach them about empathy.

Empathy goes further than mere sympathy.  Sympathy feels for someone; empathy feels WITH someone.
Empathy goes further than mere sympathy. Sympathy feels for someone; empathy feels WITH someone.

THIS is the job of the parent-school team. Not drilling for ISTEP, not months of reviewing so a school will look good on paper and get more money, not sitting for seven hours in a classroom  for thirty minutes of enchantment and a list of vocabulary words, not going over the same stuff again and again and again because two kids still can’t do it, not hanging posters that say “Zero Tolerance” all over a school that publicly advertises its refusal to give second chances. . . . .

Here at Spangler Science, we want our students to learn.  We want them to learn science.  We want them to love to learn science.  We want them to love to learn science and apply it to the world.  We want our students to be so excited about science that they overflow with enthusiasm at the dinner table.  Science helps students understand that just because an attempt doesn’t work the first time they try it, that doesn’t mean it won’t work the next time.  And the next.  Persistence.  This applies to all of life, and getting their hands dirty with trying is a wonderful memory booster.

We make science fun!
We make science fun!

Good schools are not all about more money. You can throw money into a pigpen all day, and the pigs won’t care. Good schools are all about education. Education has been defined as “A change in behavior.” I want to qualify that statement by saying that to me, education is a POSITIVE change in behavior. And if we have to do a little tweaking to get the students’ attention, then so be it. And if we have to do a little strong -arming to get some parents to cooperate, well, so be that, too. Let the tweaking and strong-arming begin.

William Glasser

We must help our children learn, that they might become educated, that perhaps the behavior of the entire world might change..

If we do these things, then our children will never have to stand out in the hall with me, faces crumpled in horror, leaning against the wall and weeping because of the consequences of their own actions.

And I won’t have to go home and do the same.

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.

 

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.