Using an April Fool's Prank to Teach the Difference Between Possible and Impossible

This past Monday, we shared our annual April Fools Day science prank video. Many of our customers and fans look forward to our prank each year. This year, we shared step by step instructions on how to build your own lightsaber from the Star Wars movies. The materials list included an empty can, Dilithium Crystal (actually a Ring Pop) and duct tape. We were selling the crystal and an Energy Modulation Circuit (regularly priced $7,597.13 on sale for $11.38).

Here’s the video and instructions. There is also a sneak peek at some genuine Jedi training at the end.

We thought it was pretty obvious that this was a hoax and not really an actual experiment that people would go and try. We should have known better. Here’s an email from a mom that we received this week -

I have a six year old who found your light saber project through our school library.  Of course I wanted to encourage his interest in science so we immediately took the list from your video to the store to buy all of the materials…only to find that the power cell is must be something we have to “special order”.  The fact that you had a fake order form for it on the site only led to the false hope that we could actually buy the darn thing there.

$20 of worthless materials later, my kindergartener is going to be crushed to find out this was all a hoax when I tell him we can’t order the power unit.  I’m not sure what the goal was for this “project”, but I’d say this one certainly didn’t accomplish anything.  We’re very disappointed, and will share that feedback with our elementary school.

We appreciate that this mom took the time to send us this email and explain her frustration. This is not being posted to make fun or poke at her in any way. Most of us have fallen for a practical joke or scam at some point in our lives. We are sharing it as a lesson for all children.

The best part of the experience for all of us at Steve Spangler Science (and probably every teacher in the world) is that this child was naturally inquisitive and excited about science. Many teachers use these prank videos to teach kids to think critically and learn a lesson in probability. Just because something is posted on the internet or shared as an experiment, scientists should not take it as fact. Before performing any experiment, take a step back and look at it.

  • Are the materials easy to acquire?
  • Do they make logical sense in the experiment?
  • Could the video be using trick photography or fancy editing?
  • Is the outcome possible?
The lack of science education and literacy is apparent in our society every day. This mom and her child are just one example. If they had stopped and analyzed the experiment, they would have realized that a lollipop and a soda can had a very probability of becoming an actual lightsaber.

We hope this parent is proud that she has a son who is naturally curious and has a love of science. We hope she isn’t discouraged that she fell for a prank, but instead uses it as a teaching moment for her child as they attempt another experiment.

This is also not the first time we’ve had members of our YouTube audience get frustrated with our April Fools Day pranks. A few years ago, an experiment involving a paper airplane flying between two opposing fans created a stir.

We had so many people who went out and purchased fans and tried and tried to get the experiment to work, that a few days later we posted this reveal video -

Steve Spangler Science isn’t the only one who has taken a hit in the name of science illiteracy. Two Florida DJs were indefinitely suspended this April Fools when they joked that dihydrogen monoxide was in the water supply. If we as a nation were better educated in the sciences, everyone would have immediately known that dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water. The DJs caused a lot of people to panic when they made the announcement that water was in the water.

For a few more fun and harmless science internet hoaxes for April Fools Day, check out The Spangler Effect

3 thoughts on “Using an April Fool's Prank to Teach the Difference Between Possible and Impossible”

  1. My daughter’s teacher directed her class to this website to give them some fun projects to try at home. My 10 year-old fell in love with this one immediately, and I promised her we would try it. Although we certainly knew this wasn’t a real lightsaber, and we knew the final lightsaber was amped up with special effects, we somehow thought our version might give a similarly glowing effect.

    If your expectation is that viewers of your videos have achieved a certain level of science literacy that would prevent such misunderstandings, then what is the point of the videos at all? I’m not a dummy (at least I didn’t think so), but I’m also not a scientist. How am I to distinguish between real and prank videos? We had been directed to this website as a means to promote further science education for my child, but I think I will look elsewhere.

    Extremely disappointed in this project and your response to the other upset parent.

    1. Amy and Andrew – Thank you for sharing your comments and concerns about our April Fools Day prank. The goal of this experiment was to encourage people to stop and think about the possibility of this light saber actually working. We added a few fake materials with links to purchase them at outrageous prices. It was not our intention to look arrogant, make anyone feel stupid or dumb, or go on a wild goose chase for materials, but instead shed a light on the lack of science instruction in classrooms. We didn’t expect parents, teachers and kids to be scientists to understand the functionality, but instead question everything they read and look for their own answers.

      Many intelligent people fell for the trick, including teachers.

      The post was dated April 1st, but it is true, not all may notice the date.

      Our customer and readers feedback is very important to us. I will share your concerns with our team so we do not alienate the people we care about the most – parents, teachers and especially kids.

      Thank you.

  2. Steve, pretty naive and also arrogant on your part. Doing aprils fools pranks on a website is pretty ridiculous given that when people actually look at it is unlikely to still be aprils fools day. Thats the nature of internet you will have to come to terms with. Your DJ story is far easier to understand. At least they were broadcasting on April 1 st. Secondly your response to the mother was caked in arrogance in my opinion. What percentage of people know what a energy modulator is? When my 8 year old found your website last week and busily began preparing the list, the modulator circuit was the last thing on the list. He has gone from shop to shop searching for it. Having found its a hoax while mildly amusing to me it certainly wont be to him or the friends he was inviting round to help construct it. I think we will look to other websites for science ideas where we can be more certain about the intentions of the site. Enjoy your chuckle. Andrew.

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