The Beauty of Clouds

Ever since I was little, clouds have fascinated me.   A simple little visible mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere,  I realize, but mesmerizing, nonetheless.  Storm clouds have especially intrigued me over the years, and with weather season right around the corner there is no better time to talk about clouds, then now!

My Instagram-ed photo ofLenticular Clouds at sunset just outside the Spangler Office.
My Instagram-ed photo ofLenticular Clouds at sunset just outside the Spangler Office.

As a child I would lay in the grass and imagine the fluffy white clouds as the gates to heaven… beyond which, the wonder of the universe was endless.   And sometimes… they just looked like an animal or an ice cream cone. Nature’s scribble pad for me to browse through for hours on end.

Nature's Paint Set
Nature’s Majesty – some stratocumulus clouds at sunset over my apartment. Kind of makes you want to break out your True Color Tablets, doesn’t it?

In school, we learned that clouds form when moist, warm rising air cools and expands in the atmosphere.  When that water vapor condenses, it forms tiny little water droplets.  After the cloud droplets form, they either collide with each other and grow by joining together.  If those droplets grow too large, they will fall to the ground as rain or snow.

Which is cool and all, but it’s the beauty of the cloud,  the visual stimulation of the formation itself, is what always makes me stop in my tracks to snap a shot.

Cumulonimbus Cloud with a rainbow
Nimbostratus Cloud with a rainbow – caught on my way home from work one day.  Time to break out your prisms, right?

As I grew older, I began snapping pictures of clouds, particularly clouds during storms,  and have gained quite a collection of some amazing cloud formations.  So I have decided to share them with you throughout this post.  Some clouds are in formations that I had never seen until I moved to Colorado.

I’m no expert by any means, but I’ve done my research over the years.  When I snapped a picture of an interesting cloud, and wanted to know more, I did what every other human being would do..I asked the internet! hus have decided to share some of the facts that I’ve found!

Super Cool, dark and ominous Nimbostratus Clouds.
Super cool, dark, and ominous storm clouds I caught on my way home one day.  The darker the better for me and my camera!

 

Did you know that the smaller those cloud droplets are, the brighter they appear?  This is because the tiny droplets scatter more sunlight.  Large droplets allow more sunlight to pass through, which is typically why it’s lighter during the biggest downpour in a thunderstorm, rather than the darkness we experience during  the cloudy portion of the storm. (Which is my favorite part!)

Wall clouds during sunset.
Wall clouds at twilight can be super pretty, even though they may pose a weather threat.  These however, feel less threatening as I take them through my window!

Wall Clouds are large formations caused when moist, humid air near the ground gets drawn up into the storm cloud, and condenses to form this monster. (Even though it may appear that the cloud is being compressed from above.)  These amazing clouds are always rain-free because of the air moving upward into the cloud.

Wall Cloud Rotation
Wall Cloud Rotation

Wall Clouds often have a very noticeable rotation, which is what makes our other not so welcoming friend, the tornado!

 

Mammatus Cloud Formation
Small Mammatocumulus Formation

Mammatus (a.k.a Mammatocumulus)   I found is a meteorologic term used for cloud pockets or pouches that hang underneath the base of a cloud.   These clouds do not produce severe weather, but tend to be associated with strong storms and tornados. But don’t fret, they do not signal that a tornado is forming like our wall cloud friends sometimes do.   What really happening is that those pouches are created when the high concentration of saturated air is heavier than the surrounding air, so it sinks back down toward the earth. 

Mammatocumulus formations out my window.
Mammatocumulus formations just outside my living room window.

 Hole Punch Clouds  are another formation that has always made me ask, “How did that happen?”  These formations are found in altocumulus cloud layers, but the reasoning behind the formation tends to cause speculation.  What is believed to be creating these formations are airplanes.

These altocumulus layers  where the Hole Punch Clouds reside, contain super-cooled water.  When something comes in contact with the clouds, like an airplane, the cold water droplets rush over the warm propeller blades or wings of the plane.  As this happens, those tiny frigid water droplets begin to expand and contract.   They will contract back into the cloud themselves, leaving a hole in the layer.

If the droplets can’t find a particle to cling to you get drifting ice crystal particles that will sometimes fall, and make a streaky cone shape under the hole, which is also called a Fall-streak Cloud.

Super Pretty formations, most likely due to an airplane.
Super Pretty Hole Punch Cloud formations, most likely due to an airplane.

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I knew about clouds!  So, thanks for allowing me to share some of my photos with you today!!

Anyone know what kind of cloud this is?
Anyone know what kind of cloud this is?

Intrigued by weather yourself and want some great weather related products?  Look no further than with us here at Steve Spangler Science!  We have fun things like Insta-Snow Powder, Tornado Tubes and Cloud in a Bottle that can really boost your weather lesson.

Need more ideas or just love clouds like I do? Leave a comment below!

STEM and Humanities are The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter, a film by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is an illustration of why we need to build an education system that goes well beyond the teaching and memorizing of facts and the ability to regurgitate those facts on a standardized test.

The Heart of the Matter from americanacad on Vimeo.

We need to give the students of today a well-balanced education that includes all factors, including STEM and Humanities to create well rounded members of the work force and society tomorrow.

“Philosophy, religion, history, literature, music, culture – the humanities are those subject areas that allow us to probe what it means to be human” – Earl Lewis, Historian and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The short film includes many of America’s brilliant minds who are part of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences sharing their inspirational quotes and thoughts to illustrate our need to combine STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) along with Humanities and Social Sciences to fully paint a picture of history, development and progress in our society.

“If we look at what’s beautiful and ask the question, is our lives only about the mundane? Was it also about the beauty?” – Earl Lewis, Historian and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In other words, teaching the power of technology and advancements along with human emotion and the WOW of it all.

“If we leave behind the humanities and see it as unimportant, I think we will lose our ability to dream.” – Billie Tsien, Architect.

To be truly valuable members and innovators in our society, STEM students must graduate with  an appreciation of the humanities and humanities and social science students must graduate with an understanding of STEM.

“No humanity is no soul” – George Lucas

Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Commission

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting the Dots Between Each Lesson

Yes, it’s true;  I use all kinds of science in my writing labs to help my students connect the dots,  from one cool thing to another.  I’ve done this for many years.  And guess what: this WORKS.

Here’s the thing about learning: everything is connected to everything else. As soon as a student understands this one little point, things change.

connect the dotsToday’s lesson instantly connects to yesterday’s lesson, and last week’s lesson, and that lesson in first grade which you didn’t understand – not a single word – but now you do, and it happened all by itself. Or did it. . .It’s like we woke up one morning and suddenly something we didn’t understand before makes sense. We spend our lives connecting the dots, and if we do it right, we’ll have a far cooler end result than the horsie or duckie we ended up with on those preschool sewing cards.  We’ll have constellations of connections.

Everything we learn and know is so ready, so EAGER,  to connect to new things, and to each other. Every student in my labs is smart, and ready to learn new things – perhaps not in conventional ways, but I have NEVER been accused of being conventional  (I consider this a compliment.) and ALL are ready to learn, whether they realize it or not. In my experience, people who learn best in unconventional ways are the creative ones, the thinkers, the ones who DO things, and often the kinds of things that are going to save us all.  I love this kind of student.  All I have to do is keep tossing out potential fascinations.

That’s my job. I throw fascinations in people’s faces. Sometimes I lightly toss them. Sometimes I barrel them into a student’s face as if I were chucking a cannonball at him. Sometimes I see a fascination drifting by and I blow it around the room and make sure every pair of eyes follows it, even for just a few seconds.  I’ve been known to use vocabulary that some might deem, shall we say, unconventional, at times.

The things we learn while laughing, we almost always remember.  Well, I do.

Mundane things are mundane only if we are content to let them be mundane. Old dogs CAN be taught new tricks. There’s no such thing as boredom unless we choose boredom.

I often use Insta-Snow to demonstrate that often the addition of one single simple thing can INSTANTLY transform a little piece of learning into a really big deal.  A few pinches of plain white salt-like powder in the bottom of a bowl, a little water, and HOLY COW, the stuff rises up before our very eyes and overflows the bowl and covers the table with white fluffy coolness. . .

Insta-Snow. . . you know, just like our thoughts when, more often than we realize, one simple additional thing makes a simple thought explode with wonder.

Some connections are made instantly.  Some connections take a little more time.  This is easily illustrated with various polymers.

And, all of these things being polymers, they’ll last pretty much forever.  I’ve got polymer Christmas decorations that are over four years old now, and because they’re sealed up, they’ll never shrink.  Let your polymers dry out again and you can reuse them for years.  YEARS.  Store them in baggies or in Tupperware.  Polymers are so easy.

art, science, wonder These polymers are so versatile – science, art, any other part of the curriculum, sensory projects, crafts. . . there are few areas where polymer products can’t be an enhancement. They’re inexpensive, too – especially when you consider that they last virtually forever.

They’re also beaucoup  fun! (<-cool word – look it up and use it!)

This is what I do all day.  Don’t you wish you were me?  I LOVE my job!

Next up in writing lab:  “I’m dumping this on your head.”

You have been warned.

 

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.

Lab Ladies: Welcoming Women in Science

Let’s get something straight: I possess a Y-chromosome and am a male.

This single distinguishing factor, splitting our species in two since “a long time ago” was the present, means different things to different people. To the “funny” side of the internet, this means I’m frustratingly clueless. Car insurance agencies view me as more hazardous behind the wheel (until I’m 26). Science views me as a better potential scientist.

And more likely to do this.
And more likely to do this.                              (Source: Wikipedia)

Wait… is that true? It definitely is true for the horse mask, but what about science?

In the last few weeks, news sites have found an inundation of headlines populated with words like “science,” “women,” and “first.” It’s a breath of fresh, feminine air that will hopefully pave the way for even more breakthroughs being credited to women scientists, women-led teams, and more women in science, period.

Take an August 12th, 2014 example of Maryam Mirzakhani winning math’s top prize, a Fields Medal, becoming the award’s first female winner. This is awesome for two reasons: it’s an enormous accomplishment for a woman who has dedicated her life to a field, and for many people (like me), it will have been the first time we’ve heard about the Fields Medal. So now we all know being a mathematician isn’t a thankless job, and we know that girls can math, too.

But, haven’t girls always been able to add, subtract, divide, FOIL, etc. just as well as boys? Of course they have! It isn’t news that girls are just as intelligent as boys, so why is it a big deal when women do things in male dominated fields? There you have it. They are still male dominated fields. There just isn’t enough women in science, yet!

From the first time you choose classes in high school until you become “Doctor,” you’re more likely to find yourself in a Water Buffalo Lodge than a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Yay, terrible references!)

They're working on a cure for bad imagery in my blog posts.
They’re working on a cure for bad imagery in my blog posts. (Source: Wikipedia)

From the outside, it’s easy to explain away the lack of ladies in the lab. Perhaps girls are just less interested in science, right? That’s a perfectly reasonable possibility. It doesn’t fit with gender roles, either, if we want to go completely antiquated. What else could it be?

Christie Aschwanden recently wrote a shocking piece for The New York Times revealing just how much of a “boys’ club” science really is, and it’s not a good thing. Harassment is a very real problem within the scientific ranks, especially towards the top of the ladder. So, here at the base of the ladder, the bottom rungs, what are we supposed to do?

As a parent of two little boys, it’s admittedly difficult to teach lessons in gender equality. The notions of inequality are so engrained into culture that they inherit the “man, powerful” mentality just from walking around, turning on Netflix, or going to school. The best that we can do is teach them that every one, regardless of any trait, deserves the same respect.

Not my proudest parenting moment.
Not my proudest parenting moment. (Source: Flickr)

Kudos to LEGO for creating female scientists. It’s awesome what Maryam Mirzakhani was able to accomplish. And did you hear about this 6th grader? Girls, ladies, and women BELONG in science just like anyone and everyone else. Our task, as current scientists, is to lay the groundwork for an accepting atmosphere.  Then it won’t be ”1st Woman Wins Field Medal,” it will be “Miryam Mirzakhani Wins Field Medal.”

541289_10151141696561242_1371670891_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

Back to School with Steve Spangler Science

Do I smell freshly sharpened pencils?  Is that the clicking sound of a brand new protractor?  Are you surrounded by notebooks, fun new pens and markers that you’re dying to use?

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Back to School with Steve Spangler Science!

Yes!  It’s back to school time!

Not ready for back to school?   Wondering who do you turn to for help to start your new school year off right?   Back to School with Steve Spangler Science is always a great place to start! We’ve never let you down in the past, have we?

Now that you know where to go, you’re probably wondering what should you buy first? Well, the First Days of School Kit, of course!  It’s packed with a little bit of everything to get the kids excited about science.  Jelly Marbles, Water Gel, Windbags, UV beads and more – what else could you need?

First Days of School
First Days of School

Oh yeah, stuff for the rest of the year!

Here’s the good news!  You know that Steve Spangler Science  has all the reliable products that you and your students have come to know and love in the years past.  I mean, who can go a whole school year without  Insta-Snow, Windbags, Jelly Crystals, Slime and Worms?  BUT..did you know that most of the experiments you love come in Classroom Kits, too?  The classroom kits provide enough product for 24-30 kids. Plus, you will also find a teacher guide and even a student guide (in most classroom kits) to help ease the pain of lesson planning.

I see that glimmer in your eye… now, you’re getting excited about the new school year! Which is great, because we have so many more new and  exciting products  coming for 2014-2015.

If you been on the website at all this summer, you probably noticed things like new digital experiment guides, but did you notice that there has been a new Sick Science kit  released each week?

sick_sci_collection_02
New Sick Science Kits – Only from Steve Spangler Science!

No? Here are the 6 new Sick Science Kits you may have missed, but were newly released this summer:

Plus,  5 more new Sick Science Kits are still on the way!

Not sure how to incorporate more Science into your curriculum for the year? Your friends at Steve Spangler Science can help with that, too!

With younger students, you might want to try connecting Science to Children’s Literature.  Here are some great stories that keep the kids interested and inspire thought, paired up with fun science experiments: Axle Annie with Insta-Snow, Put Me in the Zoo with Spot Dot, Diary of a Worm with Insta-Worms and Zack’s Alligator (you get not just one, but two growing alligators with this activity set).

Zack's Alligator Kit
Zack’s Alligator Kit

Need more ideas on Science and Literature connections but like to learn in the privacy of your own home?  You say you also need more continuing education credits, but prefer a hands-on workshop? Then you’ll probably want to take Julie Gintzler’s Story Time Slime Online and Steve Spangler’s Virtual Science Workshop!

Story time Slime
Story Time Slime Online

Steve’s putting the “S” back in STEM! The Virtual Science Workshop will teach you how to use inquiry-based experiments and eye-catching demonstrations to promote independent exploration, increase student engagement and open the opportunity for STEM careers.

So go ahead, click that bookmarked SteveSpanglerScience.com webpage and start ordering up some Back to School fun!  If you need help finding experiments or activities to fill your lesson plans, don’t hesitate to call our friendly Customer Service Representatives at 1-800-223-9080, or leave a comment below!

Joy Gintzler's Bio
Joy Gintzler’s Bio

Bio: Joy Gintzler is a jack of all trades.  Currently a Customer Service Guru and Blogger for Steve Spangler Science.    She mixes cereal without remorse and loves engaging with customers, especially when helping plan events.