'Science guy' experiments in Steamboat

Students learn that discoveries don't always have to occur in the classroom

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— Although they might be essential for life, air molecules rarely ever get standing ovations.

But that was exactly what the students at Strawberry Park Elementary School were giving air molecules Friday afternoon.

Jumping up and down with excitement, the students cheered as bursts of air molecules flew out of a trash can and knocked Styrofoam cups off teachers' heads. And the biggest round of applause came when the final cup fell from principal John DeVincentis' head.

Colorado's Science Guy, Steve Spangler, came to Steamboat's two elementary schools in hopes of sharing the excitement of science, and that is exactly what happened when the students at Strawberry Park filed out of the gymnasium energized about electricity, super absorbent polymers and air molecules.

"I thought it was really cool," Sam Andrew of Judy Ross' fifth-grade class said.

Demonstrations such as showing how air molecules move by using Styrofoam cups, dry ice and a trash can with a hole in the bottom and a shower curtain tightly sealed on top amazed the crowd of kindergartners through fifth-graders.

But Spangler said his real goal in the assembly was showing teachers how to excite students about science.

"The No. 1 fear of (elementary) teachers is science education," Spangler said. "I do the conference for teachers, so they can go back and do (the experiments) in the classrooms."

Spangler, who has made more than 200 network television appearances in the past 10 years and is KUSA Channel 9's Science Guy, came to Steamboat with the intent of training teachers in Soda Creek and Strawberry Park.

With money gathered from grants and fund-raisers, the two schools combined to bring Spangler to Steamboat for a hands-on training workshop Thursday and for Friday's one-hour assemblies.

Declared the "Day of Science Discovery," teachers in both schools spent all day Friday doing science experiments they learned the day before from Spangler and his team of science educators from the National Hands-On Science Institute.

Using science supplies from Spangler, the teachers did experiments with wind tubes, beads that changed colors in ultraviolet light and mixing oil and water.

While Spangler has been working with Steamboat teachers since 1993, he had not made an appearance in the local schools for more than three years.

And for those such as second-grade teacher Sally Houk, his return was a welcomed boost for a subject that has been pushed aside in recent years as teachers focused on prepping students for the Colorado Student Assessment Program.

"Science is everything about (the students') world. Everything kids are curious about is science. It helps answer questions and encourages curiosity. It's very important," Houk said. "Unfortunately, state testing had so much importance on reading and writing and more on math that science has not received as much attention."

The importance of science is paramount in Spangler's message.

While not all students will find themselves drawn to chemistry and physics, the way students learn to think through science experiments is what Spangler hopes stays with the child.

Asking questions, performing experiments at home and making discoveries are lessons that Spangler wants to pass on through science.

"(Spangler) said if you can answer the question already, then it is not a good question and you should ask a different one," said Jonathan Mellor, another student in Ross' fifth-grade class.

Quoting the statistic that 90 percent of the jobs today's kindergartners will hold have not even been created yet, Spangler said the scientific thinking process of asking questions and exploring is even more crucial in today's changing world.

But for Spangler, the success of his programs is not measured in the classrooms but at the dinner table. Getting students to go home and talk about their science experiments to their parents is Spangler's main objective.

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