Tag Archives: Hands on Science

President Obama… Please Let Me Help You Make Science Cool

President Barack Obama held a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters on Wednesday… and his comment about making science cool caught my attention.

“I’m frustrated by stories about how we can’t find enough engineers and computer programmers. That means our education system is not working. That’s why we are emphasizing math and science,” Obama said, noting efforts to “make science cool” for minorities and women. [Source: Wired.com]

Here’s my open letter to President Obama…

Spangler Science Teacher TrainingMr. President, the comment you made at yesterday’s town hall meeting about “making science cool” kept me awake last night because I realized that I actually have something to offer you in the way of a solution to achieve your goal. I was reminded of Don Herbert (the original Mr. Wizard) who made science come alive for millions of kids during the 1950s and 60s. That was exactly what our country needed during the time that followed Sputnik – inspirational people like Don Herbert who made science fun for kids.

Today, we’re faced with a different set of problems that require creative solutions targeted not at the student but the teacher. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true… we don’t have to try to convince students that science is cool or fun. The secret is to focus our time and efforts on training teachers how to make science more exciting and meaningful for their students. It all starts with teaching teachers how to create more opportunities for young learners to wonder, explore, experiment, ask questions and develop their critical thinking skills. A teacher’s enthusiasm for any subject is contagious, and we need to create hands-on learning opportunities for teachers to make science more exciting and meaningful in their classrooms.

As you know, this is a huge effort that needs as much fire power as we can create. That’s why I turned to Ellen DeGeneres to help me show her viewers fun and entertaining ways to make science cool. Take a look…

Mr. President, I would love to share what we’ve learned over the past 15 years of training nearly 30,000 teachers in ways to turn ordinary lessons into unforgettable learning experiences. I know that you’re serious about making science cool and I think that we can help. Honestly, I’ll share anything and everything we’ve learned about training an army of highly motivated teachers who are truly inspiring their students to look at STEM careers – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Since you’re the President, I’ll assume that you can find a way to contact me, right? I really think that our team has something great to offer… please just tell us how.


Steve Spangler

Here’s a quick look at what happens when some of the best science teachers in the country share their most creative strategies and practices for making science cool. The experience is called Science in the Rockies.

Houston area teachers gather to find new ways to integrate more science into their daily routine.

Thousands of students and teachers gather at a world record-setting event with the Colorado Rockies with the goal shinning the spotlight on careers in science.

A quick look at Science in the Rockies 2010 – Real Science… Real Fun!

Spangler Uses Cool Science Demos at NAEYC Conference to Share His Passion for Teaching Science

Contributed by Guest Blogger, Nancy Leemer

I remember coming to the NAEYC Conference years ago and watching Steve Spangler present his hands-on science activities to a room of 50 or so early childhood educators, but those days are long gone. That intimate workshop experience in the past has given way to a ballroom packed with a few thousand teachers who are wondering what he’s going to do this time.

“I saw Steve last week on the Ellen Show and didn’t even know he was going to be at this conference,” said Shawna Dematre, a second year teacher from an early learning center outside of Nashville. “When I saw his name on the program, I wanted to come to the session to see how I can do more science experiments for my kids.”

When Steve hit the stage, the audience had already been treated to twenty minutes of simple science experiments and other video clips from Spangler’s website. Within five minutes from the start of the program, pieces of potatoes were already flying through the audience and he was setting up his main themes:

  • The difference between good teachers and great teachers is that the great ones know how to create unforgettable learning experiences.
  • Just because kids have “stuff” in their hands doesn’t mean that they’re doing science.
  • Throwing in a few science terms here or there doesn’t mean that you’re teaching science!
  • Children need the opportunity to wonder, discover and explore in an environment that challenges their inquisitive nature.
  • If it gets to the dinner table, you win!

If you’ve ever heard Steve speak at a conference, you know that he’s not a PowerPoint presenter. Instead, he uses lots of demos and props and stories to illustrate each of the points. I found myself getting so caught up in watching the science experiments that I had to quickly scribble notes as he transitioned to his next point. But my favorite idea was so simple, and it makes sense: If it gets to the dinner table, you win. He’s speaking to his earlier observation that there’s a difference between doing an activity and creating an experience. When teachers create experiences, kids will remember them and even share them (on their own!) at the dinner table. The whole thing comes full circle when the parents stop by and ask questions about something that happened in class like… Did you really float a bowling ball? or Why does my daughter want 10 boxes of cornstarch?

“I’m so honored that this many teachers would attend this session,” said Steve after an impromptu book signing session at the edge of the stage. “I’m never quite sure what to share because so many of these teachers have seen me speak in the past. I want to give them something new to try with their kids while at the same time addressing some of the bigger ideas of creating experiences that the children will never forget.”

Spangler shared stories about a kindergarten experience he had trying to push straws through potatoes. While it seems impossible, it’s actually quite easy if you know the secret: Put your thumb over the end of the straw to trap the air and to give the straw rigidity and strength. This simple experiment morphed into a larger scale potato “pusher” that launched a chunk of spud a few hundred feet to the back of the room. Again, it’s a story about creating experiences, which is something that Spangler does well, even with his audiences. Within just a few minutes of demonstrating his giant air bag activity, everyone in the audience (yes, everyone!) was doing the activity themselves. The room literally erupted into a giant science experiment.

As Spangler points out, “If you’re going to be a creator of experiences, you need to feel the excitement of being the recipient of an experience as well.”

During the remainder of the session, we were treated to the sounds of science as Steve showed us how to use an ordinary turkey baster or a saw from the hardware store to teach children about vibrations and sounds. While it wasn’t part of his original line-up of demos for the session, Steve shared the same science experiment he did on the Ellen DeGeneres Show just last week when he used a heavy gas to make her voice sound very low. The special gas called sulfur hexafluoride was donated by the props people at the Ellen Show to share at NAEYC.

One of the great take-away ideas for me was Steve’s suggestion of partnering with a chemistry club at the local high school or college. He reminded us that these people are eager to find an audience for their students to share cool science demonstrations that might otherwise be too expensive or complicated for an early childhood teacher to do themselves. Ultimately, it’s the children who benefit from experiencing the excitement of being a part of the demonstration. Exposing our young children to many different types of science is a method that I think really works. As an example of what a local chemistry club or traveling science group might do, Steve shared this quick experiment called “Monster Foam.”


The event wrapped up with signature Steve Spangler experiment – his trash can smoke ring generator. Everyone learned how to take advantage of post-Halloween sales to find a simple smoke machine, cut the hole in the trash can, stretch the shower curtain (from the Holiday Inn – ha!), and blow out amazing smoke rings. His skill at knocking Styrofoam cups off the heads of audience members to the booming sounds of the William Tell Overture was the perfect, high-energy ending to an experience I’ll never forget.

Dallas Hands-on Science Boot Camp – Teachers Want to Create Science Experiences

Our workshop team always enjoys a trip to Dallas… especially when the workshop is at the Gaylord Texan. By now you’d think that the hotel would understand that velvet table cloths and brightly colored liquids probably are not a good mix. Nearly 250 teachers attended the Dallas Hands-on Science Boot Camp ranging from early childhood through high school (but the vast majority of teachers fell into the pre-K through 5th grade range). Before the workshop starts, I make it a point to talk to as many participants as possible and ask them what they expect to take away from the workshop. The Dallas teachers shared a common response… “I want to find ways to get my kids excited about science and engaged in their own learning.”

Shanna Morris from Little Elm, Texas attended the workshop because she wanted to find a way to make teaching science more fun for herself. “After 22 years in the classroom, I want to find a way to re-ignite my own spark for teaching science. If I’m having fun and learning, I believe that it will rub off on the kids. Besides, three teachers from my school came to your workshop last year and I want to find out why the kids are always laughing in their classroom!”

Can a One-Day Science Workshop Really Make a Difference?

The audience of teachers (PreK-Middle School) was especially lively during our Hands-on Science Boot Camp in Tampa. The turn-out was great with over 180 teachers packed into the ballroom at the Westin Hotel and each teacher had his or her own reasons for attending. One third grade teacher told me that her school had cut her science time down to less than an hour per week. She was told to “integrate science into her curriculum” if she wanted more time for the “secondary” subject. Other educators (and a handful of home schooler and science museum program coordinators) attended in hopes of taking away some new hands-on science activities in an effort to spice up their existing curriculum.

It was also great to see Rhonda Newton and her cadre of teachers at the Tampa Boot Camp. Rhonda connected all of the science activities from the workshop to the Florida State Science Standards and shared it with the group. Huge thanks from everyone!

Download the Spangler Science Connection to the Florida Science Standards

As we wrap up the workshop at the end of the day, I often wish that I could pull the same group of teachers back together three to six months later to see if the learning objectives and teaching strategies really had an impact. We’ve all attended workshops or presentations where we laughed a lot and had a great time, but what was the take action message behind all of the fun… and did it change the way I teach? In other words, can a science education speaker do more than provide a motivational message during a day-long workshop?

Desh Bagley answered my questions when she was interviewed by CnewsPubs.com a few weeks after attending the Tampa Hands-on Science Boot Camp. Bagley is an informal science educator is owns and operates TechPlayZone, a science and technology center for young people. Desh understands the need for finding creative ways to get kids excited about learning science. Here’s what she had to say… Continue reading Can a One-Day Science Workshop Really Make a Difference?