Fourth Grade Teacher Does It Right & Makes It Big As She Gets Kids Excited About Learning

A few weeks ago, Steve Spangler received a tweet from an elementary school teacher:

April Von Maxey teaches fourth grade science at Tavares Elementary School in Tavares, Florida. She is a tad biased, because it is also the school she attended as a child. Mrs. Von Maxey teaches alongside many of her grade school teachers.

Last year, the superintendent challenged all elementary schools in the district to become STEM schools. To complete the certification, the school had to hold a science fair that involved a community business.

Mrs. Von Maxey took on the challenge and coordinated this year’s science fair. She reached out to local community business partners to participate as sponsors or bring displays or activities. They had 10 businesses participate and hope to double this next year. Their big wish is to get a Sea Plane at the science fair. Taveres is America’s Sea Plane City after all.

To encourage and motivate kids to participate in the science fair, Mrs. Von Maxey promised the first 25 kids who signed up would be a part of a special secret experiment. To choose the special experiment, she had to think of something that would be big and worthy of all of the hype – Mentos and Diet Coke geysers. What else could make such a splash?

Even though the kids had goggles and trash can raincoats, they were all soaked. There’s nothing like getting completely immersed in science! Mrs. Von Maxey hopes to have 50 kids participate next year. (And we can’t wait to see the pictures.)

The science fair also had 25 volunteers who manned activity/experiment stations that ranged from construction paper and air compressor rockets, to Oobleck, to DIY lip gloss to Screaming Balloons and Balloon Skewers.  This was more than a “come-see-my-assignment science fair.” Around 250 people attended the science fair night.

Not a bad way to wrap up her ninth year of teaching.

Mrs. Von Maxey couldn’t give us a favorite experiment, explaining “that’s like choosing which of your children is your favorite, haha!!” Every activity is her favorite. She has spent the last five years searching for the best activities, demonstration, projects and experiments to include in her classroom curriculum. Ms. Von Maxey also attended Steve’s Boot Camp in Orlando, saying it changed her career.

I try to have something for every lesson. I’m ADHD and a kinesthetic and visual learner, so I understand my students need things that capture their attention and in different modes too.  If I REALLY had to choose, I’d say the bubble solution experiment that I incorporate when we learn matter and solutions. It includes teamwork, incorporates math (they measure the bubble ring left on the desk), involves amazement, and of course…goggles. Gotta sell it, right?  But, what I love most about that experiment is that I ALWAYS hear: ‘I’m SO gonna do that when I get home.’  If they say that, I win.

Mrs. Von Maxey adds that the bubble experiment may be on its way out next week when she finishes building a Blue Man Group drumbone to teach sound. “Yeah, I’m totally geeked out,” she says.

Speaking of geeked out – Mrs. Von Maxey’s lab glasses are bling’ed out with gems.

If all that hands-on science and amazing lessons isn’t enough, Mrs. Von Maxey decorated her classroom with a MythBusters theme, ” I wanted a theme for my classroom that most kids could apply to real life.”

Her students work in Build Teams named after each MythBuster, each unit is called an “episode” and they study the processes they take for different experiments. It’s not always the exact scientific method process, but does that really matter when the kids are inspired?

Through two grant programs, Mrs. Von Maxey’s husband built her a MythBusters lab station. “It’s crazy the things teachers do for our classrooms,” she adds.

The set gets a lot of extra use once a month in a MythBusters after-school club for 30 fourth graders. They complete a cool science experiment, eat pizza and dissect an episode of MythBusters.
When we asked Mrs. Von Maxey to describe herself, she responded, “teaching really is who I am.”

Since she was six years old, Mrs. Von Maxey wanted to be a teacher. She remembers being the only kid who played school with stuffed animals.

The stuffed animals are put away now, replaced by real animals in the classroom. Mrs. Von Maxey says she keeps them in her classroom to teach self-discipline, compassion, and responsibility. The animals (currently four hermit crabs, a Cuban tree frog, rabbit, hamster and three chick hatchlings) to provide yet another hands-on experience with animal instincts, behaviors and the preciousness of life.

Mrs. Von Maxey is without a doubt a teacher who gets it to the dinner table every night. She is an inspiration for all teachers to ignite a passion of learning and discovery in their students. Huge thanks to Mrs. Von Maxey for sharing a picture of her scientists with Steve and the rest of us at Steve Spangler Science.




The Science Behind Tornadoes

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Rescuers are still digging through the rubble and debris after a monster tornado roared through Moore, Oklahoma yesterday. Spectacular video is surfacing of the tornado that leveled neighborhoods, schools and more.

Photo Courtesy NBC News

How Does a Tornado Form?

Tornadoes need two things to form – a thunderstorm and wind shear. Wind shear is created from winds blowing in different directions and increasing with height. The winds are at two different altitudes and blow at two different speeds. For example, a wind at 1,000 feet above the surface blows at 10 mph and one at 5,000 feet blows at 25 mph. This creates an invisible column of horizontal air that is rotating. The rotating air will be drawn into the thunderstorm cloud by the updraft which tilts the air. If the column gets caught in the supercell updraft, the spin is tightened and it speeds up. (A lot like an ice skater’s spin speeds up when arms are pulled close to the body.) The air becomes more horizontal and the cloud becomes a funnel cloud. Rain and hail cause the funnel to touch the ground. When it does, it becomes a tornado.

Watch this video of the funnel and then tornado forming from the beginning. (The video is raw and you may want to skip through the parts where the camera is down.)

What is the Fujita Scale? 

The National Weather Service originally listed the Moore, Oklahoma tornado as a category EF-4, but after a survey of the area, they upgraded it to an EF-5. The strongest type of tornado with wind speeds of more than 200 mph.

The Fujita-Pearson Scale was created by Tetsuya Fujita and Allen Pearson in 1971. In 2007, it was updated and renamed the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The new scale matches wind speeds and damage caused by the tornado. The EF scale is primarily a damage scale, as wind speeds are not rigorously verified. Meteorologists and engineers determine the EF rank after surveying damage on human-built structures and vegetation, and analyzing ground-swirl patterns, radar tracking, eyewitness testimonies, media reports and pictures and video. The strongest tornado is an EF5. Only eight EF5 tornadoes have been documented in the United States since 2000. One being the 2011 twister that wiped out the town of Joplin, Missouri. That tornado killed 158 people and was the deadliest tornado in 58 years.

Estimated Wind Speed (mph)
Estimated Wind Speed (km/h)
EFO 65-85 104-137 Light 38.9%
EF1 86-110 138-177 Moderate 35.6%
EF2 111-135 178-217 Significant 19.4%
EF3 136-165 218-266 Severe 4.9%
EF4 166-200 267-322 Devastating 1.1%
EF5 >200 >322 Catastrophic <0.1%


The Oklahoma tornado was on the ground an incredible 40 minutes, creating a 17-mile long damage path through the town of Moore. The tornado was 1.3 miles wide at its largest point. The sheer energy of the output of the storm equalled the bomb ignited in Hiroshima.

Predicting Tornadoes

Hurricanes are tracked along a long and wide path, allowing residents in the way to get to safety long before the storm hits. Tornadoes are not as easy. Usually people have 10 minutes or less to prepare. According to NOAA, residents in Joplin had about 30 minutes after the first siren to seek shelter.

Sue Ogrocki/Reuters | Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo
The path of destruction, left, taken by tornadoes that hit the Oklahoma City area, May 2, 1999, can be seen from the air over Moore, Okla., and An aerial view of a tornado’s path is seen over Moore, Okla., May 21, 2013.

A Colorado-based project began this week to develop a better warning system for severe storms and tornadoes. The project, the Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX), has the goal of predicting precise warnings six to 24 hours in advance of a storm. Scientists will drop parachute devices from small planes in Tornado Alley – the midwest section of the U.S. these instruments will collect information on temperatures and pressures at different altitudes to help weather computers come up with accurate predictions.

More Information -

Information from Wikipedia, USA Today, Scientific American.

Three Planets Form Rare Sunset Triangle

On Sunday, May 26th, a very special sunset will take place. Three planets – Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will form a triangle in the night sky. They will all be visible to the naked eye or seen together in a binocular field.


This is a fairly rare celestial event. The last time it happened was in May 2011 and the next time the planets will form a geometric shape will be in October 2015.

The three planets are the brightest in the sky. Venus is #1, followed by Jupiter #2 and Mercury #3. Their triangle will be visible even in urban areas with lots of lights.


To find the trio, look about 30 to 60 minutes after sunset at the western horizon. Venus will be the brightest and lowest with Mercury to the right and Jupiter to the upper left corner. The planets are visible now through early June, with May 26th being the optimal time to spot the triangle.

On May 23rd, Jupiter and Venus will be close enough to spot together in binoculars. On May 24th, Mercury will pass by Venus with less than 2 degrees of separation. On May 28th, Venus and Jupiter will pass with 1 degree of distance.

Jupiter’s four largest moons can be seen with strong, steady binoculars or a backyard telescope.

Don’t forget to also look for Saturn. It will have a golden hue and be in the south sky to the east of the moon. The star Spica will also be visible near Saturn and the moon. Spica sparkles blue-white and is the brightest star in the Virgo constellation.

Information courtesy More skywatching tips and events from


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Texas High School Student Gives His History Teacher a Lesson

A video of Duncanville High School student Jeff Bliss has gone viral after a classmate recorded his rant in the classroom last week. Bliss is an 18-year-old sophomore who returned to 10th grade after dropping out. He says he realized the importance of an education for his future. He now takes his education and the learning of others very seriously.

Bliss had questioned why the teacher didn’t give the students more time to prepare for a test. She asked him to leave the classroom and he began sharing his opinions of why students were not reaching their true potential. He claimed the teacher only passed out worksheets and packets instead of creating lively and engaging discussions.

In Bliss’ opinion, the classroom time was a waste and challenged the teacher to get the students excited about learning. He also felt teachers must reach out and touch the hearts of their students to truly engage them.

“Just as much as the students need to give an effort, the teachers need to give an effort too.” said Jeff Bliss.

A local television station reached out the school district for comment. The district said they want both students and teachers to be engaging in the classroom but believe Bliss could have expressed his concern in a better way.

One of Steve Spangler’s mottos is to “get it to the dinner table.” Lessons should be so engaging and exciting that the kids can’t wait to share it at the dinner table. Packets and worksheets should support the lessons but not be the entire lesson. No one has ever gotten inspired over doing a worksheet.

So many teachers are inspiring and engaging but some fall short. Teaching shouldn’t be constantly entertaining, but it should spark and excite the students’ interest in learning. Students must meet the teachers halfway. Education is a collaboration.

Where do you land on this issue? Has the teacher been given a fair chance? Did Bliss unfairly rant about his teacher or did he have a point? He obviously touched a nerve, because his rant went viral.