Exploding Soda and Flying Potatoes: How to Ignite the Science Spark in Your Children
Are your kids interested in science?
Want to try cool experiments with your family?
To learn how to have messy scientific fun with your kids, I interview Steve Spangler for this episode of the Parenting Adventures podcast.
More About This Show
The Parenting Adventures podcast is a show from My Kids’ Adventures.
It’s for parents (and grandparents) who are looking for creative things to do with their kids.
The show format is on-demand talk radio (also known as podcasting).
Just search “Steve Spangler” on YouTube and you’ll find more than 1,300 videos that have a total of more than 145 million views. He’s a regular guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and has three sons who test out all of Dad’s experiments.
Steve shares ways to make science fun for kids by performing experiments as a family.
You’ll discover the reasons why science is so important for kids.
Share your feedback, read the show notes and get the links mentioned in this episode below!
Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:
How to Ignite the Science Spark in Your Children
How Steve got into science
Steve grew up around magicians. His dad was a consultant for some of the top magicians in the 1970s and 1980s, so he was surrounded by people who were doing cool science stuff in order to fool and entertain people. He soon discovered that while magicians couldn’t tell the secrets behind the magic, scientists could.
Steve got his love of teaching from his dad, who ran a magic school. Steve was a classroom teacher from 1990 to 2003, and is now going on 25 years as an “informal” science teacher—for years, through network television.
Using his three YouTube channels, he’s able to reach more people than he ever could in a career of teaching in a regular classroom setting.
The Spangler Effect channel was commissioned by YouTube 2½ years ago to feature slightly longer content. There are 67 episodes between 15 and 30 minutes long, which explore science in a fun, non-traditional way.
The Sick Science! channel has more than 200 short videos. These show quick demos, but don’t share how the experiment works. Steve engages kids and adults in the comments by asking, “How do you think this works?”
The third is Spangler Science TV, and that’s where Steve shares his weekly TV spots on NBC and on talk shows like Ellen.
Listen to the show to find out how Sick Science got its name.
Why parents should expose their kids to science
If you want your child to have a guaranteed job in the future, Steve says, anything in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math will be in high demand.
The education world has been permeated with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), creating schools and activities to encourage and educate kids in those fields. The whole idea of STEM, according to Steve, came from a push by the U.S. government to generate more scientists.
For parents to ignite the spark of curiosity about science, Steve believes they need to do more than find videos for their kids—they need to watch them too.
Something magical happens when you sit down together with your son or daughter and show that you’re just as engaged and wondering as they are, he adds. The next thing you know, you’ll be running to get supplies so you can conduct experiments with your kids.
Steve explains the three things kids need for success that parents need to understand, according to Dr. Peter Benson of the Search Institute.
Dr. Peter Benson of the Search Institute talks about spark.
First of all, every kid needs spark. Plus they need to have three champions (such as teachers, community leaders, coaches) who are not their parents to help foster that spark. The champions can help with the third thing, which is opportunity for kids to grow.
Listen to the show to find out what made Steve’s toes curl.
Experimenting with cornstarch and water
An experiment has a beginning, middle and end. You know how it will start and finish, but the exciting part is seeing what will happen in between. The best way to do an experiment with your kids is to get in there and play yourself and then invite them to play, too.
For this experiment, all you need is a box of cornstarch, some water, a mixing bowl and towels.
Parents, put your fingers in the cornstarch and start playing with it. Then pour the entire box into a bowl. Add up to a cup of water, just a little at a time. As you pour the water, knead it. Add more. Knead it.
Before you know it, you’ll have a bowl of the strangest liquid you’ve ever touched. The more you squeeze, the more it turns into a solid. The less you squeeze, the more it flows like a liquid. You just made a bowl of quicksand.
As you do this, your kids will want to get their hands in there and play, too. There’s a natural curiosity, especially since Mom and Dad are sticking their hands in food and are making a mess.
Here’s a quick demo on how to make quicksand.
You’re creating a non-Newtonian fluid. Sir Isaac Newton said the thickness of a liquid will change with temperature. He didn’t say it would change with pressure. This liquid changes with pressure. When you punch a bowl of liquid, normally it would fly all over the kitchen. But this liquid turns into a solid.
If you touch it very gently, your hand sinks down into it. But if you try to pull your hand out of it really quickly, you’re stuck. You will stick there for a second, and then it will release you.
Your kids will never look at a box of cornstarch the same way again.
Warning: When you’re done playing, don’t pour the mixture down the drain. It’ll mess up your pipes. Just put it in a bag and throw it in the garbage.
This is just the beginning. If you really want to turn this tabletop experience into an amazing experiment, fill up a tub with cornstarch and water and have your kids walk on water.
For The Ellen Show, they took a cement mixer and 2,500 boxes of cornstarch and made a huge pool.
On The Ellen DeGeneres Show, they did this experiment on a gigantic scale.
Even on a small scale, you can do this with your kids.
Listen to the show to hear how they cleaned up their massive cornstarch mixture from The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The famous experiment: Mentos and Diet Coke
When you take a roll of Mentos (mint candies) and drop them in a bottle of soda, the most amazing thing happens: a giant geyser comes flying out of the bottle.
Steve explains that dropping Mentos into Diet Coke is similar to taking very fine sand and pouring it into a glass of soda. All of those dissolved carbon dioxide bubbles really want to come out, so if you put something that has pits (like sand or Mentos) in the soda, it explodes. The same thing happens when you shake a bottle or can of soda and then open it.
Note: The reason you use diet soda is there’s no sugar, so there’s no sticky mess outside.
Put Mentos into Diet Coke and watch it explode. Do this experiment outside.
Steve suggests if you really want to have a blast, buy 10 or 15 2-liter bottles of soda and 4 or 5 rolls of Mentos. Then only bring out one bottle at a time. After each experiment, when your kids say, “Let’s do it again,” ask, “What would you do differently next time? What result do you think you’re going to get?”
Steve recommends testing with different numbers of Mentos and also standing the bottles in front of a brick wall. That way, you can see how high your geysers go.
To make the experiment easier, check out Steve’s geyser tube. You can also use a rolled up piece of paper to put the Mentos into the soda.
For Ellen’s 51st birthday, Steve arranged a geyser surprise.
You are the coolest parent on the block when you bring home 15 bottles of soda and a handful of Mentos rolls.
Listen to the show to discover how to turn Mentos and Diet Coke into a school science fair project.
Parenting Adventures Tip
Mystery Road Trip
My Kids’ Adventures’ Jennifer Ballard and Kristin Ammerman share a cool way to make a car ride more exciting: go on a mystery road trip.
To play, load the family into the car and when you come to a corner, let the kids take turns deciding which way to turn. The journey will be random, the destination, a mystery! And you may discover some new places or see new things along the way.
For this activity, the main thing you need is time. Also take a journal and/or a camera. Optional items are: a coin to toss or die to roll, a stopwatch or a timer and snacks to eat or games to play at the end.
Before you get started, plan how much time you will take for this road trip and agree how often you’ll let the kids decide which way to turn. It can be a number of blocks (e.g., every three blocks), a certain number of stop lights or stop signs or a certain amount of time.
If you’re going by time, use a stopwatch or timer and have someone watch the time. At each interval, have a different person decide which way you’ll go.
Then do something fun at the mystery destination. Plan ahead or just take a walk and explore the area.
Listen to the show to learn how to find a good stopping point during your mystery road trip.
Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:
- Connect with Steve Spangler on Steve Spangler Science.
- Check out his books: Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes and Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste.
- Like Steve Spangler Science on Facebook.
- Follow @SpanglerScience on Twitter and Pinterest.
- Watch Steve Spangler’s YouTube channels: Sick Science!, The Spangler Effect and Spangler Science TV.
- Learn how to go on a mystery road trip.
Ways to subscribe to the Parenting Adventures podcast:
What do you think? What are your favorite scientific experiments? Please leave your comments below.
Images from iStockPhoto.
I am a dad of three kids, the founder of My Kids' Adventures and the founder of Social Media Examiner. I also host the Parenting Adventures podcast. Other posts by Michael Stelzner »