Demonstrations : Using the Steve Spangler Science Website as a Tool for Learning and Sharing

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Steve Spangler’s Website

««« Written by Leila Knetsch…….

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Why Do Demonstrations?

I love doing demonstrations. I believe that they add so much to the science learning experience for a variety of reasons. First, I think that there is an element of surprise that is wonderful and hard to get in most circumstances. Second, a skilled demonstrator (such as Irwin Talesnick) can get students hooked but also push them to engage in critical thinking and predicting rather than just entertaining the students. Third, I find that (especially for applied level learners), demonstrations actually help change their attitudes to science. This positive attitude gives them the patience with the learning that is sometimes repetitive or requires them to work hard. I have signed up to receive free weekly science demonstration videos from Steve Spangler Science, which are a constant inspiration (and provide great entertainment!).

Being There is Better than YouTube

In the age of the Internet, it is hard to compete with YouTube. I always ask students if they have seen a demonstration before so that they do not ruin it for the others. At the end of the day, though, nothing beats the smells, the sights, and the delighted/surprised/downright joyful reactions of the students. They are also so surprised that I allow them to record the videos. It is instant science outreach and your student is the ambassador.

Try Something Different!

spangler genie in the bottle

Click to see the demo

One of the things that I like about the Steve Spangler Science website is that it has a mix of demonstration videos with full write-ups (including safety tips) as well as two-minute videos of an unknown person doing a simple demonstration, and you are left with the question of why you thought the result happened. So intriguing! My two children (now 8 and 11) come running when they hear the familiar music of the Spangler videos.I also like that Steve Spangler has more than one way to do a demonstration. A common demonstration is the production of oxygen gas when hydrogen peroxide is decomposed. A more intriguing twist is when there is a story told and the demonstration is called Genie in a Bottle. The peroxide is placed in a wine bottle ahead of time and a tissue with the catalyst is tied with string and partially lowered into the bottle. When you open the cap, the catalyst falls into the peroxide and starts reacting. At this point, you can tell your story and “call” the genie out of the bottle!

spangler fire extinguisher

Click to see the demo

Another demonstration that is interesting is bubbling carbon dioxide into limewater; it turns cloudy as a precipitate is formed. Another way to show this demonstration is by reacting vinegar and baking soda. The resultant carbon dioxide produced is then poured into another beaker, demonstrating that the gas is heavier than air. A lit candle is then lowered into the 1L beaker and the candle is extinguished. This is called CO2 Extinguisher.

Yet another demonstration that can be done a different way is the Elephant’s Toothpaste. When hydrogen peroxide is catalyzed by bakers yeast, the resulting oxygen is captured in dish soap. Yeast is a safer alternative to manganese dioxide – a commonly used catalyst for this reaction. This can be made more impactful in the demonstration entitled Puking Pumpkin. It’s the same demonstration done inside a pumpkin. Hilarious!

Teacher Training

Mentoring teachers is a joy of mine but it is very time consuming. Some demonstrations really require one-on-one personal training (such as the alkali metals demonstration). Other demonstrations, such as Colour-Changing Milk of Magnesia (which is about the action of an antacid on acids in your stomach) can be done safely by watching the video and printing out the instructions and additional information. I only remember one demonstration from high school (electrolysis of water — wow!), so I think that I just learned my passion for demonstrations from other teachers. More experienced teachers (regardless of whether you have a position of responsibility or not) need to step up and give more of this kind of instruction to the newer teachers. Teachers that have three, four, and five years of experience have been saying to me that they do not really know any demonstrations. I have also heard teachers say that they are scared to do certain demonstrations because of safety concerns. Let this be a call to the rest of us to finish the training of these newer teachers!

To summarize, the Steve Spangler Science website can be used to support your classroom by increasing positive attitudes towards science, help you to learn new demonstrations or put extra twists in your repertoire. Some demonstrations might be too dangerous or you do not have/cannot get all of the materials and, therefore, the video clip can be used to boost student interest. Lastly, an easy way to increase the training opportunities of less experienced teachers is by directing them to this website, perhaps equipped with a short list of starting points (such as the ones listed here) since newer teachers are often pressed for time. This can be an addition to the personal attention of a fellow teacher or curriculum leader.

Please keep in mind that all demonstrations undertaken in class, must adhere to safety regulations and procedures of your Board and school. Refer to STAO’s Be Safe! or Safe ON Science documents and other safety materials provided to you by your school and by STAO.

Leila Knetsch is the ACL of Science at Albert Campbell CI. She is currently interested in incorporating literacy and technology into science. Leila may be reached at