Holiday Science: Long-Lasting Christmas Jelly Marbles Polymer

Our polymers are more than just awesome, great fun, beautiful, and educational, you know.  Our polymers are awesome, great fun, beautiful, educational, and long-lasting.

How long-lasting are they, you ask?  I really don’t know yet.  The polymers in this Christmas decoration are seven years old and still going strong.

Seven years old and still beautiful!
Seven years old and still beautiful!

What you see up there is a Christmas candy jar with about a tablespoon of Spangler Science’s Clear Jelly Marbles, about three drops of green food coloring, and a cup of plain tap water.  Don’t put the lid on the jar until the jelly marbles and water reach the top of the jar.  THEN put the lid on.  Once you put the lid on the jar, the marbles won’t grow any more because they need a little air to help them grow.  (Please notice that this jar has a lid that seals!  That’s important.)

It took these Jelly Marbles only a few hours to grow to the size I wanted them.  If I removed the jar’s lid and drained off the water, the polymer Jelly Marbles would shrink back down to the size of rock salt again, but they wouldn’t be “dead;” when I added water again, they would grow again.

Would they still be green?  Nope.  Not if I rinsed off the food coloring.  I could keep them their own clear, invisible-in-the-water selves, or I could drop in some red, or blue, or green again, or create my own colors by combining primary colors.  I could drop in an Easter egg color tablet. I could use a Spangler Science True Color Tablet.

True Color Fizzers

The point is, seven years ago I made a pretty and decorative Christmas decoration using some simple polymers – clear jelly marbles – some food coloring, and some water, and I’m still using that pretty and decorative Christmas decoration this Christmas.

At Spangler Science, you will find many products and ideas that you can use during almost any holiday time – simple ideas, simple projects, ideas you can use by yourself or with your family, even with young children.

 

 

 

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.

College Students & Screaming Balloons

I love to watch actual students doing actual experiments, and my college students and their screaming balloons turned an ordinary writing lab into a writing AND science lab!

Starting at the Stonegate Arts and Education Center in Bedford, Indiana, my Ivy Tech students and I ended our writing lab by discussing how writers sometimes have to describe something in an unusual way.  Mention was made of the South African vuvuzela of soccer World Cup infamy, and so my aspiring writers created this sound with balloons and hex nuts.

Melissa and Alisha with their screaming balloons!
Melissa and Alisha with their screaming balloons!
Kitch and his screaming balloon!
Kitch and his screaming balloon!

Incidentally, the Stonegate Arts & Education Center is an Ingress portal, in case you might be interested in that.  And I hope you are.

Stonegate Arts & Education Center in Bedford, Indiana - Ingress Portal!
Stonegate Arts & Education Center in Bedford, Indiana – Ingress Portal!

That was all on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday night my students at Ivy Tech at Springs Valley Learning Center in French Lick, Indiana had this same lesson.  Different town, different students, same concept.  Similar reactions.  Even the facial expressions were similar!

Pamela, Kendra, Raven, Chelsea, and Andre having fun with their Screaming Balloons in French Lick!
Pamela, Kendra, Raven, Chelsea, and Andre having fun with their Screaming Balloons in French Lick!

It’s not just little kids who love science, you know.  College students and adults love science, too!

Steve Spangler warned me to bring earplugs to class this past week.  I should have taken his advice!

 

 

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.

Spangler Science Club – Making Science Fun Every Month

It’s a big day around the Spangler Labs – we are shipping hundreds of our Spangler Science Club kits to our new members.

Spangler Science Club - The Science Kit of the Month Club for Kids

To those of you who have gifted or joined as a member, we welcome you with open arms to the first kit of the month club that not only delivers more than a dozen experiments to your door each month, but also provides the true science behind each activity.

Spangler Science Club - Packaging the Kit of the Month Club at the Spangler Labs
Spangler Science Club – Packaging the Kit of the Month Club at the Spangler Labs

Our Distribution Center was buzzing with the sounds of tape guns firing, labels sticking and postage stamping this morning. Our entire staff, including Steve himself, joined together to give a big Spangler send off to the boxes.

(Yes, we tend to get a little emotional when our baby goes off to bigger and better things outside of our offices.)

If you are one of the fortunate ones to be eagerly awaiting the arrival of your first kit, welcome it into your home with the same love that it received on the beginning of its journey.

If you are brand new to the Spangler Science Club option, we invite you to join us on a scientific journey every month.

Spangler Science Club - Some of the Staff Behind the Box
Here’s some of our staff behind the box that helped develop, create and package the Spangler Science Club.

INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS

With a subscription to Spangler Science Club, you’ll receive Steve Spangler’s amazing hands-on experiences that integrate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Perfect for children in grades kindergarten through 6th, each month’s box contains everything you’ll need to conduct more than a dozen activities, experiments and science challenges guaranteed to fill the room with ooohs & ahhhs! Just open the box and let the fun begin.

Steve is very excited to ship the first round of the official Spangler Science Club kits to hundreds of members
Steve is very excited to ship the first round of the official Spangler Science Club kits to hundreds of members.

All of the Spangler Science Club monthly experiences are built on the principle of children doing real science with the tools and resources needed to conduct experiments, participate in design challenges and explore real-world STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities.

ORDER BY DECEMBER 15th TO RECEIVE IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

  • Great as a one time gift or a monthly membership.
  • Members receive 10% off every order at SteveSpanglerScience.com while active in the club.
  • Conduct more than a dozen activities, experiments and design challenges
  • Learn the real science behind each amazing experiment
  • Great resource for parents, grandparents, teachers, child care professionals and science enthusiasts
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee – cancel your subscription at any time
A sample of some of the cool science activities and materials you will receive in your Spangler Science Club membership
A sample of some of the cool science activities and materials you will receive in your Spangler Science Club membership

If we’re going to make a difference and meet the challenge of 21st century learning, we need more than cute ideas and cookie-cutter activities to truly inspire the next generation of scientists. Your subscription to the Spangler Science Club is the first step in giving your child the opportunity to engage in science on a whole new level.

 

 

Holiday Science: Gravy

What’s so scientific about your holiday gravy?  Isn’t gravy just, well, food?  Food we put on mashed potatoes and turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas and Sunday and, well, pretty much any time?   How could gravy have anything to do with science?

Yummy! But science?  How in the world. . . .
Yummy! But science? How in the world. . . .

Here’s the thing, drooling holiday turkey & gravy lovers:  gravy-making is all about the science of starch.

Starch?  That white powdery stuff Great-Grandma used to make her handkerchiefs and your Great-Grandpa’s boxers smooth and stiff?

Yep.  Exactly.  Only in the kitchen, we use white powdery stuff made especially for use in food.  Otherwise, it’s the same stuff.

Starch is plant-based, and many people use wheat or corn-based starches to make gravy.  I like to use corn starch*, as flour (wheat-based starch, no joke!) adds its own flavor to gravy whereas corn starch does not.  Both, however, require some fancy whisking to get all the lumps out!  (If you’ve ever had to choke down lumpy gravy, you’ll appreciate the extra effort put into smooth gravy!)

A kitchen whisk makes stirring lumps out of gravy a lot easier and quicker!
A kitchen whisk makes stirring lumps out of gravy a lot easier and quicker!

What is starch, exactly?  Interesting question!  Starch is a complex carbohydrate.  To put it more simply, starch is a fancy chain of sugars – fancy, because while sugar dissolves completely in liquid, starches absorb the liquid, rather than disappearing completely in it.

If you added a heaping tablespoon of sugar – white or brown – to your skillet of hot turkey fat, it would simply disappear, completely absorbed by the liquid.  But if you added a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch or flour to that same skillet, it would start bonding with the fat and the entire contents would start to “gel.”  Add a little salt and some milk to your skillet, keep stirring, and in a few minutes, you’ll have delicious gravy, table-ready to pour right onto your mashed potatoes and turkey slices.  Without the addition of milk, your gravy would be too stiff to ladle out!

If you use flour as your starch, your gravy will be a little “stickier” than gravy made with corn starch.  Many people prefer that, and many people do not.  Your call.  If you have a gluten allergy, use corn starch – flour contains gluten.

Take a quick scientific peek at what you’re adding to your gravy:

Simple starch molecule
Simple starch molecule

You see?  I TOLD you gravy was scientific!

Especially for you cooks, here’s a simple recipe for holiday (and any other day) gravy:

In a large skillet, heat (on low) 1 cup of turkey drippings (or ham drippings, or bacon drippings, or butter), stirring constantly.  Sprinkle one heaping tablespoon of corn starch onto the drippings, still stirring constantly.  When the mixture begins to bubble, SLOWLY add milk (or water if you don’t want your gravy as rich) and still stirring constantly.  Switch out your spoon for a whisk, and begin slowly whisking the mixture.  It will start to firm up very quickly.  When it’s the right degree of firm to your taste, remove from heat and pour into a gravy boat or bowl.  Take it to the table and start eating.  Gravy should be served and eaten immediately, so it’s probably going to be the last thing set on the table before everyone dives in.  If gravy has to sit and wait, the consistency changes.  That’s scientific, too.  Look it up.

Make a big batch; gravy freezes nicely, and there’s something about turkey gravy in the spring. . . .

Don’t think it’s just wheat and corn that contain starch.  Loads of vegetables, legumes, and grains are starchy.  Potatoes,  pumpkin, sweet potatoes,  all kinds of beans, peas, rice, and tons of other foods are starchy.   Don’t try to make gravy with all of them, though.

*Yes, indeed, the same corn starch we use for our non-Newtonian liquids!  In fact, gravy IS a non-Newtonian liquid!

 

 

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.

Not Everyone Hates The Science Fair!

Science Fairs get a lot of bad press these days, and I don’t like it. Honestly? I think the only bad science fair is a science fair that a child is FORCED to enter every year.

You heard me. The science fair should be 100% voluntary, most of the time.   Maybe it would be better if fifth grade, for example, was a mandatory year, and all others were voluntary.

I fully understand that this stance will not make me very popular with a few science teachers, but as I am a science teacher and a parent, I have a right to my own opinion, which is based on personal experience as are all opinions.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a HUGE fan of science fairs. My own children looked forward to it every year, from K-8, and even while a few other kids were kicking and screaming and whining and claiming it wasn’t FAIR, the fact is, it was absolutely fair. The fair was fair.

This picture went viral recently, all over the internet.

Please click the link and read Ms. Messina's article at the Huffington Post about how and why she created this poster!
Please click the link and read Ms. Messina’s article at the Huffington Post about how and why she created this poster!

This poster was created by Susan Messina, who is not at all against science fairs – just the ones that force kids who aren’t interested to participate, too. Her article over at the Huffington Post is very interesting and informative, and will give you the background into why she decided to make the poster.

Ms. Messina suggests that if the science project is required, then it could be a family project which would allow students and parents to work together collaboratively. I disagree, unless the assignment is for a group project. I think any assigned project should be an individual thing.  Families may, and should, provide encouragement and help with supplies, and the occasional suggestion, but mostly, parents and siblings need to stand back and let the student create. However, if the assignment IS for a group project, then the science fair is the perfect chance for the entire family to learn together!  Otherwise, let the student create the project and show his/her family the creation, complete with hypothesis and experiment and results.  It’s good practice for the judges!

Parents who shamelessly do the science project themselves ruin it for all the families who do it RIGHT.

Years ago, my son was the only one in his kindergarten class to submit an entry to the science fair at his school.  He was obsessed with sea creatures at this time, and with pirates.  His project kind of reflects both interests.  Please don’t call CPS on me; he’s a grown man now.

Andy's diorama.  He had just turned 5.
Andy’s diorama. He had just turned 5.

Now, a diorama is NOT a science project, but for a kindergarten student who had had no instruction and who insisted on entering the science fair even though his teacher and the fair judges weren’t sure if a five-year-old qualified, I think it’s pretty good.  When the judges looked closely, I saw their expressions change and they convened for a chat.  Can you figure out why?

He'd read that pirates sometimes disposed of prisoners this way.
He’d read that pirates sometimes disposed of prisoners this way.

He told the judges that he wanted the bottom of the sea to look interesting.

He wanted to illustrate what happened if a pirate went swimming in infested waters.
He wanted to illustrate what happened if a pirate went swimming in infested waters.

His favorite stuffed toy was a big red octopus we got for him at Epcot.  He wanted to include Big Red in his diorama in such a way that people would remember him.

The octopus is my favorite part of Andy's diorama.
The octopus is my favorite part of Andy’s diorama.

And, he loved tubeworms.  He tried to draw a coral reef but he didn’t think pirates would dispose of a prisoner via the cement shoe route near a coral reef.  “Too many onlookers.”  He may have been only five years old, but even then he was looking ahead.

tube worms

Remember now, that a diorama is NOT a science experiment.  Do not encourage your kids to try to enter a diorama or demonstration or poster as a science project.  My little son, when asked, was able to explain the science behind why cement shoes would certainly sink a naughty pirate to the bottom of the sea, and how a foolish pirate who went swimming in shark-infested waters would certainly become the first course for a shark’s supper,  He did admit that his soft huggie octopus would probably never try to strangle a pirate, but that he’d included that scenario for effect.

But for a very young child who is only just beginning to learn about the world outside his own home, whatever strikes and holds his/her interest is something well worth encouraging.  Just be there to ask questions and be sincerely interested when your child gives you a lengthy explanation.  Take him/her to the library and look at picture books.

Do experiments in your home.  My son tied gravel to his Batman action figure’s feet to see how many it would take to sink the Dark Knight to the bottom of a pail of water.  He got out his postcard of tubeworms from Marineland to make sure he was drawing and coloring them correctly.

As he grew older, his science fair entries were actual experiments, and in seven years, he earned six blue ribbons.  His final entry, in 8th grade, was about how air pollution is destroying the world’s statues and buildings.  He took eight huge pieces of sidewalk chalk and carved them into statues, mounted them here and there on a paper-mache mountain, and sprayed them with vinegar several times a day, to represent pollution.  Every night he took a picture.

Our buildings and statues are definitely being worn down by pollution.

He wanted to use hydrochloric acid instead of vinegar, but we said “no.”

We did have some locked in the garage cabinet, though.

Doesn’t everybody?

 

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.