Creating Unforgettable Learning Experiences

By April Oaks

Growing up, I did not like science.  It was by far my least favorite subject.  I didn’t understand it and it certainly wasn’t fun.  With exception to an amazing physics teacher in high school, I never had any other teachers who helped me see any value in science.  I did have great teachers… just not in science.


Now I’m the mother of a science nut!  I have a son that is crazy about science.  He is smart and curious and has a strong desire to learn all he can about science. As his mom, I feel an obligation to teach him all I can, and help encourage the good things he is interested in.  A few years ago this was a problem, because I still didn’t like science.  However, I knew I had to get over that to help encourage my son’s desire to learn.   So, I did what I needed to… I faked it.  I pretended to love science.  I also researched simple science concepts, and found lots of science experiments to do with my kids.   Thank goodness our kids start out small so I didn’t have to know a lot in the beginning.

Soon enough, I didn’t have to fake a love for science; I really did love it!  I began to love it because I found out it could be interesting and fun.  Steve Spangler has been my main resource for everything science because he has such a fun way to present all concepts.  His videos are especially helpful and entertaining to watch.

If you are a teacher or parent who wants to create unforgettable learning experiences, copy Steve’s enthusiasm and have fun with your kids.  Don’t lecture!  It’s easiest to learn when you are having fun.  Make things explode, create a mess, and learn about the things around you.  Science is awesome!

Here are some of my favorite ideas from Steve Spangler.   Don’t just watch the videos, read how things work.  Steve’s explanations are easy to understand and so fascinating!  If you don’t see an explanation for how something works, click on tabs surrounding a video or product until you do.  You are going to feel so smart when you see how simple science concepts help you understand complex principles.

  1. Egg Drop  – Newton’s Law of Inertia is Awesome!  I still can’t believe this worked so easily!
  2. Boo Bubbles - You have to try this!  However, if the Boo Bubble container isn’t in your budget, you could try this experiment to build your own.
  3. Vanishing Jelly Marbles - This is one of my son’s favorites.
  4. Marshmallow Masher  – Just fun… and cheap!
  5. Windbags  – Seriously, incredible.  Such an easy way to understand a complex principle.  Read how it works here.
  6. UV Beads - Quickly see how sunscreen works.
  7. Centripetal Force Board - Crazy Fun!  We love this board.  You could do similar experiments with a bucket of water, or grocery bags filled with food.
  8. Film Canisters - Nothing makes my son happier than making things explode.
  9. Balloon Skewer - For Halloween we gave out tricks instead of treats.  We put a few balloons, a skewer and instructions on how to do this experiment in a plastic bag for each kid who came to the door.
  10. Walking on Eggs - Unbelievable!  Who would guess an egg could be so strong!

I am a mom to two great kids.  My son Luke is a science lover.  He is so passionate about science, that he has gotten the rest of the family excited about it, including his artsy little sister, Megan.  In our house, we are constantly looking for new ways to learn and experiment.  We talk about science every day, and once a week have Luke’s friends over for his “Monkey Mind Science Club”.  Steve Spangler has been our main resource when we want to learn something new.  In the day, when I’m not talking science with my kids, I’m busy selling real estate in Salt Lake City.  Occasionally I have time for my hobbies too, which include skiing, hiking, photography, graphic design and blogging.



The Science Behind Cooking a Turkey

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

The turkeys are all defrosting (or at least should be) and come bright and early Thursday morning, millions will be cooking in ovens across the United States. The turkey is the star of our Thanksgiving holiday, so we asked the following questions to find out the science behind it. What is the best way to cook a turkey and why? What happens in the oven while the turkey is cooking?

Anatomy of a Thanksgiving Turkey

Most of a turkey consists of water (about 60% or three parts water to one part fat and one part protein). The water is in the cells of the turkey from the skin to the bones to the muscle and the fat. The meat of a turkey is muscle fibers, connective tissues and fats. The muscle fibers consist mostly of two proteins – myosin and actin. As the muscle tissues are cooked, the proteins start to denature, causing the proteins to coil up and contract the muscle.

When the contracting muscle fibers reach 180° F they begin to break up. The bonds within the molecules begin to break down, causing proteins to unravel and the muscle meat becomes more tender. Of course the longer the turkey is cooked, the more the proteins are denatured and the meat gets tougher.

Connective tissues are not digestible and are too tough to bite through before they are cooked. After the cooking process, the collagen tripe helices are destroyed and the collagen becomes soft gelatin.

As you cook the turkey, muscle fibers contract until they begin to break up at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Bonds within the molecules begin to break down, causing proteins to unravel, and the dense muscle meat to become more tender. Collagen in the bird (one of three protein fibers that attaches muscles to the bone) breaks down into softer gelatin molecules as it unwinds.

If a turkey is cooked too long, the muscle proteins coagulate within the meat and cause dryness.


In all of our research, we learned that moisture is the most important piece behind cooking the perfect turkey. It’s also the most challenging. A dry turkey can ruin the meal but an undercooked, bleeding turkey can do the same. So how do you cook a moist and delicious turkey?

Liquid evaporates during cooking through a process called moisture migration. Poultry produces inject their birds with broth and other ingredients before selling them to keep as much moisture as possible in the meat.

The broth contains salt, which helps the bird’s ability to hold in liquids. Some turkeys are also injected with sodium phosphate. This shifts the pH of the bird and pushes protein filaments away from each other to leave more space for liquids.

Fresh turkeys will also be more moist. Freezing ruptures cells and allows liquids to escape. To counter act the freezing process, you can inject your defrosted turkey with broth and flavorings or soak it in a salt-water bath (brining) for a couple of days in the fridge. This will restore some of the moisture and add flavor to the bird. Just don’t overdo it. Too much salt can seriously adversely affect the moisture and texture. Salt will also draw out moisture and is used in curing – think bacon and prosciutto. A sprinkle of salt will cause small droplets to form on the meat’s surface.

I have always brined my turkeys the night before Thanksgiving. It does give the turkey extra flavor and moisture. But the brining process can be messy and difficult. I use a plastic cooking bag and fill it with salt, water, seasonings and orange and lemon slices. Then place the turkey inside the bag and the bag inside the roasting pan to hold it all together.

Roasting Pans

Dark roasting pans absorb more heat and will cook a turkey faster. Aluminum foil will deflect heat and slow cooking. A large pan that touches the oven walls blocks the heat waves. Turn the pan while cooking to compensate for issues that may cause variations in cooking temperatures.

Using a lid will raise the temperature inside the roasting pan and will cook the turkey too fast. The lid will also hold in too much moisture and prevent the skin from crisping. The surface of the turkey must reach 300° F to 400° F (149° C to 205° C) to crisp, which is a much higher temperature reached inside the turkey.


Basting is supposed to help the meat stay moist during cooking. This is a myth. When you shower, water flows over your skin. It doesn’t pass through it and into your body. The skin of a turkey is just as water-repellent.

Basting does work to spread the fat to speed up cooking because fat is a conductor of heat. The water in the juices slows down the cooking the same way your skin cools down when water evaporates off of it. Baste legs and wings with the hot liquid right from the pan, but let the juices cool down before you use them to baste the breast. This will help maintain some moisture, add flavor and keep your turkey cooking correctly.

Scientists have discovered that one of the most beneficial effects of basting comes from opening the oven door and releasing some of the heat. The temps can drop 100 to 150 degrees and it may take the oven 10 to 15 minutes to recover, giving the meat time to rest.

White vs Dark Meat

The preference over white and dark meat is as deeply rooted as decaf or regular and wine or beer.  The two types of meat are as different as well, light and dark and could come from two different animals. Each type also cooks better at different temperatures and times.

White meat is found in the breast muscles of a turkey. It is fine, lean and oversized after centuries of breeding. Turkeys don’t fly, so the breast muscle isn’t used much and doesn’t contain much connective tissue. Turkeys can fly, but usually only use it to escape predators. The muscles produce a lot of power and fatigue quickly. The breast should be cooked at a high temperature to bring out flavor and for a short time to keep it from drying out.

Dark meat found in the legs and wings has a lot of connective tissue and fat. Turkeys spend a lot of time walking on the ground. The leg muscles are made of red muscle fibers that are adapted for regular and continuous use. The protein uses oxygen to relax/contract so this tissue is rich in capillaries, which give it a deep color and rich flavor. Dark meat contains a lot of myoglobin and is rich in mitochondria, which produce energy for the muscle tissue.  For example, a marathon runner would be expected to have a higher percentage of red fibers in his leg muscles compared with the muscles of a sprinter.

The dark meat should be cooked at a lower temperature for a much longer time to allow the connective tissue to break down.

There are a few methods to slow down the breast cooking and even out your turkey.

1. The best is to take apart the turkey and cook the dark and white meats separately.

2. Place aluminum foil over the breast during cooking to slow down the process and allow the dark meat to cook longer. Just remember to take the foil off the breast near the end of the cooking cycle.

3. Insert stuffing in-between the skin and the breast meat to insulate and slow down the cooking. Take the hot stuffing out as soon as the turkey comes out of the oven. The stuffing will continue to cook the meat and overcook the breast.

4. Place an ice pack on the breast for about 30 minutes before cooking. The breast will start out cooking with a temperature difference and should cook slower than the dark meat. Add about 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking time.

When is a Turkey Cooked Fully? 

The recommended temperature for cooking a turkey is 325° F (163° C). A turkey is fully cooked when the meat is 180° F (82° C) and the stuffing 165° F (74° C). Use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone.

Why Should a Turkey Rest Before Being Served? 

The temperature will rise inside a turkey after it is removed from the oven. Letting the turkey sit for 10 to 20 minutes and rest (cooking is hard work!) will allow the juices to settle and make the meat easier to carve. This gives you time to warm the rest of the meal so it all hits the table hot and at the same time.

Where Does Flavor Come From? 

Aroma is the largest part of flavor. It is dominated by small volatile molecules that come from cooking the proteins. The cooked turkey flavor or aroma begins at 140°C. If the temperature exceeds Meaty aromas are mostly generated through a series of reactions between proteins and sugars known as Maillard reactions.


References: Phys.Org, Washington Post, Discovery News,, 

The Work of Scientists: Reasons to Read and Write

By Becky Spence – This Reading Mama

Real scientists read the newest research to keep up with the latest trends. Real scientists write their hypotheses, observations, and ultimately their findings in research journals and articles. Real life scientists have real life, authentic reasons to read and write. And as teachers, we can also create authentic reasons for our students to read and write about science!

Just recently, my son (1st grade) and I spent a couple of weeks learning about rocks and minerals. We also spent a significant amount of time reading and writing.

Reading about Rocks & Minerals

We read several rocks and minerals books, not to mention online websites  to learn more about them. I personally love experiment books, like Miguel’s Treasures and picture books like Let’s Go Rock Collecting.  {These were definitely two of his favorites.} Reading nonfiction text spawns curiosity, which leads to more reading in an effort to satisfy the questions. It’s a very cool process. And a scientific one at that!

During our study, we also went to our local science center and perused the rocks and minerals display. He was highly interested in reading the labels beside the minerals and asked LOADS of questions; which lead to more reading when we returned home.

Writing about Rocks & Minerals

We took a little field trip into our own yard and collected all kinds of rocks, digging some out of the ground. We made observations as we collected them such as: This one is smooth. This one is really bumpy. or This rock has shiny parts. He wrote down his initial observations on a Rock Observation Recording Sheet  (free download, several pages included in download).

After scrubbing the rocks with an old toothbrush and drying them off, we got out the magnifying glass and he examined each rock, making more observations. He recorded his observations on the Rock Observation Recording Sheet. We compared our new observations to the initial observations and he wrote about his findings again on the Rock Observation Recording Sheet.

One of the last things we did during our unit study was a rocks and mineral hunt, searching for ways that rocks and minerals were used outside and inside our home. After finding many examples, like this penny, he recorded his findings on this (Rock and Mineral Hunt Recording Sheet) (free download).

The way that reading and writing seamlessly integrate themselves into the learning process is one of my favorite things about literacy. When integrated in this manner, students are typically more willing to read and write because they can clearly see the purpose it serves in satisfying their curiosity to learn. And that, my friend, is the real work of scientists.

* * *

Becky Spence is a homeschooling mama to four little blessings (ages 7, 4, 2, & 8 months). She is passionate about teaching, specifically literacy. She is the author of This Reading Mama, where she shares reading and writing activities as well as free literacy curricula and printables. You can also join This Reading Mama via Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Borax Crystal Snowflake Ornaments – Kids Winter Blog Hop

What’s more fun than running outside in the snow, building snow forts, snowmen and the best sledding ramps down the driveway and into the street?How about trying to catch snowflakes on your tongue or gloved finger? The only downside is the snowflakes melt as fast as they fall. Especially when you bring them inside. Using a little kitchen chemistry science, you can make these classic snowflake ornaments and bring a little winter inside. The best part? This is a simple and easy activity. You don’t need a lot of science knowledge, materials or time.



  • Pipe cleaners (white, if possible)
  • String
  • Wide-mouthed jar
  • Borax (check your local grocer’s laundry section)
  • A pencil
  • Boiling water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Adult supervision


      1. Using a pair of scissors, cut a pipe cleaner into three equal sections.
      2. Twist the three pipe cleaner sections together at their centers to form a six-sided snowflake. Don’t stress if the sides aren’t perfectly even, little imperfections make it beautiful.

      1. Make sure that the shape can fit through the mouth of the wide-mouthed jar without having to squeeze through. If it can’t, trim the sides down.
      2. Cut a 4″ length of string to one side of the snowflake. Tie the other end of the string to a pencil. You want the length of your string to be enough that the snowflake hangs into the jar but doesn’t touch the bottom. Once you have your length set, remove the apparatus from the jar.
      3. Bring a pot of water to a boil and pour into the jar. Add 3 tablespoons of borax per each cup of water a stir. It’s alright if some borax settles to the bottom of the jar.
      4. If you want a colored snowflake, stir in some food coloring.
      5. Hang the pipe cleaner snowflake into the jar with the pencil resting on top of the jar. Make sure that you’ve added enough water to completely submerge the snowflake.
      6. Put the jar somewhere where it is safe from being disturbed. Seriously! You don’t even want it to be bumped! Let it stay there overnight.
      7. The next day, check out the gorgeous crystals! Untie the string from the pencil and you’ve got yourself a great holiday decoration.

What is the Science Behind?

So, you put a bunch of pipe cleaners that had been twisted into a snowflake shape into a solution of borax and water. How in the world did it turn into this beautiful crystal snowflake?
When you mixed the borax in with the water, you created a suspension. A suspension is a mixture that contains solid particles large enough to settle out. By mixing the borax into hot water, instead of room temperature or cold water, the borax stays suspended longer within the water.
As the borax begins to settle out, or sediment, it begins to crystallize.
You’ll see this crystallization on both the bottom of the jar and, you got it, on your snowflake. The borax continues to sediment on top of the snowflake and on top of other borax crystals until you pull it out of the water the next morning.
We are proud to be co-hosting a Winter Holiday Hop with Projects for Preschoolers. Visit their site to enter the Holiday Sweepstakes and win some fun prizes to kick off the holiday season.
Visit all of our participants sites to find fabulous Winter Holiday Inspiration:

Share your holiday inspirations, activities and how you plan to teach your children about the spirit of giving this holiday season.
// ]]>

Table Tricks to Keep Them Busy Before and After the Turkey is Gone

The holidays are fast approaching (how on EARTH did Thanksgiving sneak up like that?) Here is a collection of our favorite science magic tricks to entertain while the turkey is cooking and long after the wish bone is broken.

Tablecloth Trick
The table is beautiful. Everything is in it’s place. Aunt Anne’s china sits awaiting a feast. It’s time to rip the tablecloth out from under the dishes and wow the crowd. The Tablecloth Trick works because of inertia. Newton first described inertia as the tendency for an object at rest to remain at rest until a force acts upon the object. Inertia for an object in motion is the tendency for that object to remain in motion, unless a force acts upon the object. In terms of the Tablecloth Trick, inertia is important because, according to the law, the objects (the stuff on the table) will not move unless an outside force moves them. This is known as Newton’s First Law of Motion.

If you do it just right, everyone will be amazed. Next time your mom asks you to clear the table, do it with flair!

Toothpick Star

Don’t take your eyes off of these “seemingly normal” toothpicks, they might just have some magic in them! Five bent toothpicks will change positions to make a five-pointed star using nothing but a little water. You’ll have all the people around the dinner table holding their breath as the toothpicks glide into place without being touched. You’re a dinner table magician!

Density Tower
With this trick, you’ll put a new spin on our famous Density Column demonstration. First, we’ll teach you how to make layers of liquid sit on top of each other. This density demonstration looks cool, but what if you could make different objects float in the middle of those cool looking liquids? You’ll impress yourself and your friends with what you can do with your Density Tower.


Balancing Forks
Gather up a few pieces of silverware and some other odds and ends as you prepare to amaze your dinner guests with this gravity-defying trick. It’s a guaranteed hit at your favorite restaurant. You’ll either get a free dessert or you’ll get kicked out. That’s the price you pay for stardom.

Liquid Layers
Who would have thought that playing with your food as a kid would lead to a cool science experiment as an adult? Better yet, it will keep the kids occupied for hours. The challenge starts with four different cups of colored water and a clear straw. When you mix red and blue liquid together, you get purple… right? Not so fast. How about a layer of blue liquid sitting on top of the red? Add two more colors and you have four layered liquids in one straw. The secret is density… and a steady hand.

The Egg Drop
The Egg Drop is a classic science demonstration that illustrates Newton’s Laws of Motion, namely inertia. The challenge sounds so simple… just get the egg into the glass of water, but there are a few obstacles. The egg is perched high above the water on a cardboard tube, and a pie plate sits between the tube and the water. Still think it’s easy? Sir Isaac Newton does.


Move a Match with Your Mind
The ability to move an object with your mind is called telekinesis. Magicians and psychics claim to have this amazing ability… and you will too once you’ve learned the science secret behind the Sympathetic Match trick. If you like to annoy all of your dinner guests by running your finger along the rim of a wine glass to make it sing, you’ll soon have your friends convinced that you can move objects with your mind!


Musical Straws
So, you’re waiting for your dinner to arrive and you’re bored out of your mind. There’s nothing to read… the conversation is slim to none… and you’ve already counted all of the sugar packets. Hmmm? There’s a straw… and straws are interesting. Is there anything you can do with a straw to “be amazing?” Keep reading – in a matter of minutes you’ll have the entire restaurant upset by your science antics.

Seven Layer Density Column – Science Burrito
Anyone can stack blocks, boxes, or books, but only those with a steady hand and a little understanding of chemistry can stack liquids. What if you could stack seven different liquids in seven different layers? Think of it as a science burrito!


Singing Glasses
What dinner party is complete without a song from the Wine Glass Symphony? You’ll need a few wine glasses, some water, and a tune in mind to demonstrate the sounds of science. Amaze everyone and display incredibly bad manners all at once.

Color Changing Milk
It’s an explosion of color! Some very unusual things happen when you mix a little milk, food coloring, and a drop of liquid soap. Use this experiment to amaze your friends and uncover the scientific secrets of soap.


Coffee Cup Pendulum 
There’s a strong possibility that Steve Spangler’s swinging table tricks might come to a crashing halt. It’s a test of Steve’s scientific skill and Mark’s quick reflexes. Grab a coffee cup and a spoon and prepare to amaze your dinner guests.