Hands-on Science at Home: Needless or Necessary?

Some of us grew up with fantastic science teachers. Mrs. Russell, Mr. Steward, and Mr. Landis are names that you won’t necessarily recognize, but they’re the three science teachers I’ve had in my entire lifetime. I will never forget them, because they were and are awesome science teachers. (Forget the fact that I graduated with less than 20 kids in my class and that the last of those teachers is my best friend’s dad, or that my sister married my best friend’s little brother… Hooray small towns!) But some kids will never have that, that’s why you need to get hands-on science at home.


Classroom Thumwar with DJ
I assume that not everyone had the beneficial science teacher experience that I did, but it blows my mind. How can that even be possible? Then I discovered that the “science teacher” is an endangered species.

Especially when it comes to elementary-aged chitlens, there aren’t teachers dedicated to educating 6- to 12-year-olds on the FREAKING AMAZING WORLD OF SCIENCE! If you were to remove science education from my elementary education, I can personally guarantee that I would not have graduated. Math never made sense unless there was a scientific application. Science is the answer to “when will I ever use this?”

Tomorrow. You'll use this tomorrow... what's the squiggly line mean, again?
Tomorrow. You’ll use this tomorrow… what’s the squiggly line mean, again?                            (Source)

I’m definitely NOT saying that the current teachers being tasked with educating the youth on science are incompetent. They’re already stretched beyond their means, for Bill Nye’s sake. I’m saying that science deserves its own special time, teacher, and even room in the school. I want to scream, because it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

When I worked in customer service here at Steve Spangler Science, I cannot count on all of my fingers and toes how many times I heard that there’s no budget for science, or that it is being cut, or that teachers had to squeeze it into after-school programs. DEAR SCHOOL BOARDS: Science is the reason that there is a school in the first place, that your children aren’t dropping dead from small pox, and is the basis of all advancement for our planet.

Math = important. Language = important. History = important. Science = meh.

Yeah. That looks super boring and unimportant.
Yeah. That looks super boring and unimportant.

That just doesn’t add up. And again, I’m not arguing importance of anything except science, here. Without language, how could results be replicated? Without math, how would we understand measurements necessary to science? And history… well, there’s the whole saying about it repeating itself. Then there’s science, down at the bottom of the budget list below the coffee expenses.

But, as we’ve seen in recent history, schools take for-eh-ver to change their ways, and the government takes even longer. So how do you inject science into your children’s education? YOU have to do it. You don’t need to home school your kids, but I’ve got all kinds of props for parent/teacher hybrids that I like to call Parajucators. But, take some time out after dinner, before bed, or when the kids get home from school to do some hands-on science.

I'm partial, but may I kindly suggest... YouTube.com/SickScience
I’m partial, but may I  suggest… YouTube.com/SickScience

Don’t have a lot of dough for science supplies? You don’t need it! There are plenty of simple experiments, projects, and activities that can be done right at home and there are plenty of resources to go off of… *cough* SteveSpanglerScience.com *cough*

I’m not going to toot my own horn. Instead, I’m going to conduct the entire band. Have you seen our Sick Science videos? They’re less than 10 minutes long, every time, and walk you through the steps of simple hands-on science projects to do at home. Worried about cost? You probably have well over 90% of what you need right at home!

I’ve spent over 4 years writing the step-by-step instructions for our write-ups, but when I finally started doing the activities with my 6- and 8-year-olds at home, I realized just how easy it is to get them excited about ciencia (that’s science in Spanish). Now, even if there just isn’t time for the actual hands-on experience, they mix in science how-to videos with all of their usual video games and talking cats. Your kids can do it, too, I bet. But I don’t gamble.


 

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

Expert idiot.

Dismembered Polymer Body Parts, Days 2 & 3

You saw how tiny the dry polymer body parts were in my first post about dismembered body parts.  Polymers absorb the liquid quickly, some more quickly than others, but all absorb pretty fast.  Our dismembered polymer body parts, packed away since last October and dry as bones (body parts. bones.  I crack myself up sometimes!) wasted no time in starting to soak up the water and grow.  Think about how they looked on Day One.  Now look at Day Two!

One day's good soaking can really make a difference!
One day’s good soaking can really make a difference!

I had a little trouble getting a good picture on Day Three as the cat seemed to consider herself one of the Halloween decorations and refused to move out of the way. She also believes that those dismembered body parts are going to eventually end up in her supper bowl; I can tell by the way she wraps her body around the jar and WATCHES them. My apologies for the quality of Day Three’s picture, but the cat rules the house and she was there on the table for the duration.

She wasn't moving and it's not wise to interfere.
She wasn’t moving and it’s not wise to interfere.

This is Millicent, and she wasn’t letting any pumpkins, skulls, tombstones, dismembered body parts, or strobe lights get in the way of a good nap.    You can sort of see the body parts and the alligator in the jar behind her.  Sigh.

Polymer science is one of my favorites – can you tell?

Our Insta-Snow is a polymer, and it reacts instantly when water is added to it.  Our water jelly crystals are also polymers, and while they react more slowly than Insta-Snow, it still doesn’t take very long for them to turn into beautiful “gems.”  Our Water Gel, which is one of my very favorite polymers, also reacts quickly, and in a different way than our usual showstoppin’ polymers.  The potential for practical jokes is definitely there.

The cat finally moved, but now it's dark outside and the light bulb is dim.
The cat finally moved, but now it’s dark outside and the light bulb is dim.

In just a few days, those dismembered body parts and the alligator that wants them for lunch will completely fill the jar.  I love having life-size body parts in my living room in front of the picture window for all the world to see.

Sometimes, on Halloween, little kids will cluster at my window, gazing in horror and amazement at the body parts floating amidst the strobe lights and sound effects of my home.

Sometimes I make cookies shaped like noses, fingers, big toes, and brains.  I expect a call from Gordon Ramsay any day now.

What?

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.

Dismembered Mad Scientist Body Parts, Pt. 1

It’s October, so of course I had to get out my Spangler Science Growing  Body Parts and start my annual October growth-fest of the macabre!  Is that an alligator in there with the dismembered body parts?  Well, naturally.  If you were an alligator, wouldn’t you go where the body parts were?  It’s like an alligator buffet of good things to eat!  (The alligator doesn’t come with the body parts; the one I use is the Mommy Gator from our Growing Alligator Family.  They’re hydrogel polymers, just like the body parts.)

These body parts are made of polymers,  specifically hydrogels, which are superabsorbent and, in fact, are being used to help save the enviroment.  (Steve explains this clearly on the Spangler Science website!)  

I want you to understand exactly how much these mad scientist body parts will grow over the course of the next few weeks, so here they all are in their tiny dry been-without-water-since-last-Halloween state.

Each polymer body part is about two inches long.
Each polymer body part is about two inches long.

The alligator is a little bigger, but that’s only because in real life, the alligator would be a little bigger. Duh.  (Her tail is curly because she spent the past year with a nose on top of her.)

Now we dust off the jar.  After all, it’s been in the laundry room since LAST October.  I’ve put the dismembered body parts by the jar so you can see the comparison/contrast.  I also like to measure things; it helps me put them in proper perspective.

You can see how tall the jar is, and how the polymer body parts compare to it.
You can see how tall the jar is, and how the polymer body parts compare to it.

As you can see, I’ve now put the body parts (and their hungry predator) inside the jar, and you can see again how tiny the parts are, and how they ALMOST cover the bottom of the jar.

See how tiny the body parts are? The Spangler Science logo will help you track their growth the first few days.
See how tiny the body parts are? The Spangler Science logo will help you track their growth the first few days.

And now, the final step: I’ve filled the jar most of the way up with tap water and screwed on the lid. Notice how the polymer pieces are all floating on the water’s surface? Notice how small each piece is, right now? Hold those thoughts. . . .

Most of the jar is just water and the polymers are floating.  Watch that space.
Most of the jar is just water and the polymers are floating. Watch that space.

In a few days, I’ll post more pictures, showing the progress of the tragically dismembered body parts and the hungry alligator stalking them, just waiting for them to grow into a more substantial meal.

It’s kind of like the witch who put Hansel in a pen and tried to fatten him up so she could have him for supper. SHE was outsmarted by Gretel, so her plan did not work.

This one will, though. Stay tuned for updates!

Why Early Childhood Science Education is Important

Steve Spangler recently participated in #TeacherFriends Twitter chat and met some amazing teachers. Here are the questions and his longer-formatted answers about science education today.

Steve Spangler on #TeacherFriends Twitter Chat

1. Why is early childhood science education important?

For young learners, science is just an extension of their everyday world. We don’t have to teach young children how to wonder, discover, and explore through play because they do it naturally.

The myth is that we have to convince children that science is fun. Are you kidding? Science has always been fun for children… if it’s presented in the right way.

Continue reading

Science Craft – Halloween Bead Patterns

This cute activity is perfect for a Halloween party or crafting afternoon. We used Color Changing UV Beads in these Pony Bead Critters that can hang from backpacks, zippers, lockers, classroom ceilings, party favor bags or wherever. They will even change color in the sunlight.

UV Bead Halloween Critters from Steve Spangler Science

Here’s step-by-step instructions on how to make a skull using UV Beads. We’ve also included links to other sites that offer a ton of different Halloween bead patterns. You can use any pattern and just substitute the UV Beads for pony beads.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, partly because I love its history and partly because I love how it has a life apart from that original history!

There are simple Halloween bead patterns for holiday crafts are all over Pinterest.  That being said, here’s how I like to make a Halloween skull.  Not just any ordinary Halloween skull, mind you; let’s make a skull that has two faces.  To do this, you will need some Steve Spangler Science UV Beads.

UV Beads from Steve Spangler Science

Make a pile of 32 beads of one pale color. Make a pile of 7 darker beads.  White and black are great, but be creative! Just be sure you’ve got a big pile of beads that will be pale even when exposed to UV rays, and a smaller pile of beads that will get darker in the sunlight.  UV beads are all white until exposed to the sun’s rays, so be sure you are keeping your colors apart!

Cut a piece of heavy string about 2 feet long.  Thread both ends through a long, strong needle.  Fold the string in half and tape it to a table or cutting board so it won’t move when you tug on it.  And you will be doing some serious tugging!

Some people like to tie a clasp of some kind at the top so your skull is easy to hang.  I prefer leaving some slack thread at the top for hanging.  Your call.

UV bead skull, taped string
Tape your string. You’re going to be pulling on it!

Row one: Take five pale beads and thread them on one of the needles. Pull it all the way through. Then thread these same beads on the other needle, coming through the other side. Pull it all the way through. There’s your first row, or, as I like to call it, the scalp of the skull.  The second row is also of all pale beads.  Count out seven beads, thread them on your needles and pull tight.  Until you pull, the beads will seem very loose.  Pull and they won’t be.

UV bead skull, threading the beads
One needle goes through all the beads from the left, and the other needle goes through all the beads from the right.

The third row will need six pale beads and two darker beads. Thread your needles in this order: two light, one dark, two light, one dark, two light.

Thread the fourth row in this order: three pale, one dark, three pale. Don’t forget to pull the thread tight after each row.

The fifth row is made up of five pale beads. Thread them on your needles and pull tight.

UV bead skull
It’s easy to string the beads with a long, strong needle.

For the sixth row, you will use four dark beads. Thread then on your two needles and pull the threads tight.

The last row – your skull’s chin – needs three pale beads.

Remember when threading the beads that one needle goes through the left and the other needle goes through the right. Don’t worry if your beads seem very loose and wobbly. Once you’re finished threading and give the strings that final pull, your skull will be taut.

Tie a firm knot under the skull’s chin.

Finished UV skull, white
Pull the threads taut one last time, and tie a secure knot under Skully’s chin.

Now comes the fun part: take Skully outside and let the sun’s UV rays hit him.

Skully in color, UV beads
My name is Skully, and I am beautiful!

 

Pattern Resources:
- Spider Pattern
- Candy Corn
- Jack-o-Lantern
- Skull