Ms. Cobb Incorporates Life Lessons Into 7th Grade Math with Slime Day

JoAnna Cobb is a 7th grade math teacher at Bedford Middle School. This is her 10th year of teaching. Ms. Cobb says she “adores mathematics and the way math is involved in every aspect of daily living.”


My mission as a teacher is to instill a love of math and a love of learning in students.  Educational goals following naturally from those interests.  I like to do activities that bring all kinds of disciplines into the math classroom because it incorporates the interests and strengths of students, and it allows the students to see the math all around them.

That is the reason Ms. Cobb uses the slime activity.  The students convert slime recipes using ratios and proportions, make the slime, then observe its properties.  It’s a lot of fun!  It even ends up being an art lesson by the end as they all combine their different colors into tie-dye-looking slime globs.

Ms. Cobb also integrates different activities that involve other disciplines like running (PE/health), geocaching (geography/history), poetry (LA/music), and TONS of art stuff.  She adds, “Heck, it’s hard NOT to incorporate other disciplines!”

This is one teacher who not only gets it home to the dinner table but inspires her students to learn, relate and discover math in all areas of life.


Claims Made on Facebook Can Damage a Teacher's Reputation and Ultimately Hurt Students

We received an alarming call Wednesday morning. A parent in the Tyler, Texas area read a Facebook post from a friend with a shocking claim that his daughter ate some fluffy Insta-Snow and, at the hospital, her blood alcohol level was 2.0.

Click to download Insta-Snow MSDS

The first thought that goes through your mind is about the child’s safety and well-being. We are told by school officials that the child is doing fine, irrespective of the actual cause of the alcohol poisoning. Based on the chemical composition of Insta-Snow, there is no alcohol in this product nor does it break down to produce alcohol as a byproduct in a person’s stomach. In other words, it’s not possible that the cause of the child’s extremely elevated blood alcohol content was from eating a handful of a non-toxic, superabsorbent material commonly found in the lining of a baby diaper. Of course, not all fake snow is made out of the same material. If a doctor contacted Poison Control and requested information about “fake snow,” it’s possible that the results could vary greatly. Some fake snow comes from an aerosol can and is used to decorate windows, for example. Other forms of fake snow are made from ground up pieces of Styrofoam, potato flakes, soap shavings or even the superabsorbent material found in a baby diaper.

It’s important to note that Insta-Snow is not a food and is not meant to be eaten, just like crayons are not meant to be consumed. It is safe to touch, squeeze through your fingers and experiment with as instructed by the activity guide. As with all science related products, adult supervision is required.

For the people who aren’t familiar, Insta-Snow® powder is a substance that absorbs 300-500 times its weight in water. When a small scoop of this powder is added to water, the mixture erupts into a material that looks and feels like snow. The product is commonly used by teachers in classrooms to explore the properties of matter, demonstrate the conservation of mass and to explore the superabsorbent material found in baby diapers.

Insta-Snow® is a non-hazardous material that is a safe for children to use and experiment with adult supervision. Due to the widespread use of this product, Insta-Snow® powder is required annually to pass testing standards, especially when it comes to the use of it in the toy category.

Within hours of that post going up on this person’s Facebook wall, our office was hit hard with calls from people requesting the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)  product information and testing results on Insta-Snow® powder, and demanding answers. Without question, all of the product safety information was e-mailed to everyone within minutes of the request. The MSDS clearly shows that the product is not considered hazardous. It’s easy to understand why the medical professionals and authorities who contacted our office and received the official product testing documentation immediately came to the same conclusion.

If you have never read a Material Data Safety Sheet, the verbiage can be alarming with regard to first aid measures and or personal protection procedures. For example, the MSDS for ordinary table salt warns consumers to “wear chemical splash googles, chemical-resistant gloves and a chemical-resistant apron” whenever making contact with sodium chloride… or table salt. Statements that warn consumers to “restrict unprotected personnel from the area” or to “start artificial respiration if breathing has stopped” can scare anyone, especially a concerned parent, until you realize that the chemical in question is table salt. Does anyone really wear goggles, gloves and an apron when salting their French fries? Probably not. The lesson here is that an MSDS may advise the most extreme measures for one’s personal protection, but common sense may suggest a different action.

As teachers of science, we have our work cut out for us when it comes to teaching our students, parents and surrounding community members how to think more critically and use basic science facts and problem-solving skills to arrive at well-informed conclusions.

Leopard Reintroduction on a Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, Africa

 By Jody Tilbury, Mud Hut Mama

We are lucky enough to live in a wildlife reserve in Malawi that over the last ten years has been restored, rehabilitated and restocked. More than 2,500 animals have been translocated here and there is a lot of excitement that surrounds animal reintroductions.

The latest relocation was two leopards that were moved from South Africa to Malawi in November 2012. They take the total leopard population in the reserve up to six. The first two arrived in October 2011 and the second two in December 2011. Before that there had been no evidence of leopards in this reserve since the 1990s (however they are still found in other areas of Malawi). The reserve has a great leopard habitat and leopards used to occur here in good numbers but poaching and habitat encroachment drove them away. Now that the reserve is protected by the Malawian Department of National Parks and Wildlife, with support from a conservation project, it is a safe place for these predators and we are thrilled to see them return to the area.

All of the leopards that have been relocated were donated by the South African government and came from a predator rehabilitation center in South Africa. They were removed from their respective homes because they were considered “problem animals,” and since the rehabilitation center does not have the space to keep them indefinitely it searches out viable new homes for them. One of the leopards was living on a game farm and developed a taste for ostriches which the owner didn’t like very much and so had to be removed. Another was living near a tourism lodge and started killing impala on the lawn right outside the lodge so was considered a potential danger if tourists happened to be in its way. All of the leopards have their own story of why they were removed and we are thrilled that we get to share our home with them.

A lot of work goes into moving a leopard across international borders. Once the two most recent arrivals were identified for a move to Malawi the rehabilitation center quarantined them for one month. During this time they were de-wormed, immunized and treated for any illnesses they might have. It is especially important to ensure that leopards that could transmit any feline diseases are not moved to another country.

When it is time to move the leopards, they are first immobilized with drugs administered through a dart gun. While immobilized they are put in crates and sedated for their six hour flight. The sedation helps reduce the stress that the move puts on them and keeps them from injuring themselves. If they were not sedated they would try to get out of their crates and could easily hurt themselves in the process. When they arrived at the reserve they were immediately taken from the airstrip to the leopard boma. This is a purpose-built enclosure to hold them for two to four weeks before they are released into the 70,000 Hectare reserve. The boma is one twelve by twelve meter structure that is divided into two holding areas. It has walls and a roof made out of diamond mesh wire and an electric hot wire that runs around the interior walls. The entire structure is surrounded by another electric fence to keep other wildlife out. The wall separating the two holding areas is also made of diamond mesh wire fencing that is covered with reed mats so that the two leopards can’t see each other, they can however hear and smell each other. They need to be separated in the boma because the fact that they are in an enclosure and in a new place puts them under stress and that stress could cause them to attack each other.

There is a dual gate system for each side of the boma. Initially this is used to get the leopards into the boma. The crate holding the leopard is put in between the two gates and opened when the inner gate is opened and the outer gate is closed so that the leopard can leave the crate and move into its side of the boma without endangering the project staff who stay safely outside the boma. Leopards can be very dangerous animals, especially when they feel threatened or trapped. While the leopards are in the boma they obviously cannot hunt for themselves so the dual gate system is also used to feed them. Fresh meat is placed in the area between the two gates and after the outer gate is closed and secured the inner gate is opened so that the leopard can retrieve its meal. The leopards are fed every three to four days. Each side of the boma also has a resting bay, a watering hole and a climbing tree.


Before the leopards are released they are fitted with tracking collars that contain both a GPS and a radio transmitter. Sometimes they need some encouragement to leave the boma that they have become accustomed to so they are not fed for a couple of days before they are released and a fresh kill is hung in a tree near the boma on the day of their release. The gates are opened and either hunger or freedom or both entice the leopards out.

Leopards blend extremely well into their surroundings and are very difficult to see once they are released into the reserve. The collars send regular GPS waypoints so the park management staff have a good idea of how the leopards are doing without seeing them. It is a good sign to see that the leopards are active and moving and that every few days they stay in the same place for a little while – this usually means they have made a kill and are feeding. If the GPS aspect of the collar malfunctions or if there is no movement for longer than is normal, the radio transmitter in the collar allows project staff to track the leopard on foot. They are also regularly monitored on foot, especially just after release, to make sure there are no problems with the collars and to see the remains of their kills so project staff know what they are eating.

My daughters and I love to go see the leopards when they are in the boma. We look through peepholes cut into the screening surrounding one side of the boma so that we don’t disturb or upset them. We have yet to see any of the released leopards but one morning we did find leopard tracks at the waterhole right in front of our house. Before the relocation we spent a lot of time making leopard crafts and learning about these beautiful felines. Even though they are difficult to see we are so happy to know that they, along with the lions that were also reintroduced in 2012, are here. There is no evidence that cheetah ever occurred in this part of Malawi so all the big cats that historically lived in this area have now been returned to the reserve. We hope their populations will grow to what they once were.




Jody Tilbury is a stay-at-home mom, raising two girls in a wildlife reserve in Malawi. Pre-motherhood she worked with international and environmental education. Jody is homeschooling her daughters and enjoys sharing her love of other cultures, nature and conservation with them. She writes about their adventures at Mud Hut Mama.




The Science Behind Snowflakes

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

We’ve gone from sub-zero temperatures to almost 60 degrees this week in Denver. Even though the spring-like temps have brought us out of the icebox, we are spending some time on the science behind snowflakes. Snowflakes are one of the most beautiful and mystifying parts of winter, but how do they form? We all know snowflakes are frozen water, but what is the science behind the birth of a snowflake?

No two snowflakes look alike or form in exactly the same way.

Here’s the complex explanation from the scientists at NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) …

These ice crystals that make up snowflakes are symmetrical (or patterned) because they reflect the internal order of the crystal’s water molecules as they arrange themselves in predetermined spaces (known as “crystallization”) to form a six-sided snowflake.

Snowflakes are made from ice – nature’s simplest hydrogen bonded crystal. They form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a dust or dirt particle in a cloud. The water vapor sticks to the particle and the droplet turns into ice.

As the particle falls to the ground, a prism forms with six faces and a top and a bottom. Next, a cavity forms in each face, because ice grows fastest around the edges. The fastest ice growth is on the corners, where six branches start to form. The six branches make a hexagon. As the temperature cools, ice growth rapidly continues at the tips. Then more side branches form.

The branches form a hexagon.
(Image from Bytesize Science video)

As the crystal continues to fall, it is hit with warmer blasts of air from underneath and colder blasts of air from above. This causes more branches around the hexagon to form. The crystal begins to warm and all of the tips become narrow and long. The warmer air then slows the crystal growth.

The branches begin to grow additional branches and the snowflake takes shape.
(Image from Bytesize Science video)

The temperature and humidity of the air determine the shape of the ice crystal.Long needle-like crystals are seen at 23 degrees F and flat, plate-like crystals at 5 degrees F.

These ice crystals that make up snowflakes are symmetrical (or patterned) because they reflect the internal order of the crystal’s water molecules as they arrange themselves in predetermined spaces (known as “crystallization”) to form a six-sided snowflake.

Here’s a step by step illustrated process from Bytesize Science -

Why are snowflakes all unique?

All snowflakes take a different path from the sky to the ground. Along this path they encounter different conditions. Snowflakes change their design and take different directions. The branches may start to grow in one way and then seconds later, changes in the atmosphere may cause the arms to grow differently. The branches are all exposed to the same atmospheric conditions, so they are identical.


Thank you to NOAA and Bytesize Science for their help in the explanation.



TODAY is the Day for Iron in Breakfast – SICK Science Video Goes Viral

We first shared our Iron for Breakfast experiment around 19 years ago, but this week our video got monster amounts of attention. All the attention started with the Today Show. Soon after, Cheezburger featured the experiment as their Experiment of the Day. Finally, we got great articles from The Toronto Star and Gizmodo before being featured on Yahoo!

This video is just one of 126 videos created by Steve Spangler in a collection called SICK Science™. Using this generation’s vernacular, “sick” is just another way of saying really cool… far out… awesome. If you’re sick, that’s a great thing. There’s really nothing out there on the Internet like the SICK Science videos to pique someone’s curiosity about science. There’s no talking head… no long-winded explanation… no huge build up. These videos are put to music (a catchy little song that acts like a dog whistle to science enthusiasts everywhere), and the video beautifully captures the “wow” moment in each activity. Since their introduction back in 2010, these videos attract hundreds of legitimate comments from people of all ages who want to share how they think the science works. Watch all of the SICK Science videos at

Did you know your body contains enough iron to make two small nails? This experiment demonstrates how to extract the iron found in some cereals like Total Cereal. Put the cereal in a sealed bag with water and let it sit until it turns to a soupy mixture. Hold a super strong magnet, like a neodymium, in your hand and flip the bag of soupy cereal on top of it. Slosh the cereal around for 20 seconds, then carefully look under the magnet. There should be tiny black specks on the inside of the bag. That’s the iron. The makers of Total cereal actually include metal, like that in nails, in the iron-fortified flakes.

For the complete, step-by-step instructions and more about how your body uses and needs iron, visit the Iron for Breakfast experiment page. This experiment also makes an easy, yet perfect science fair project.


Thanks to everyone who’s seen and shared the video -

If you have shared the video on your blog, please leave us a comment below and we will add a link.