Wonder, discovery, engagement -- and we don't blow anything up! Spend an hour with the incomparable Steve Spangler as we discuss ways to build connections between science, STEM, and literacy across the curriculum. You'll leave with a renewed sense of joy and possibility -- and an eagerness to play! It's definitely a #bestdayever kind of podcast.
With more than 1,600 television appearances and multiple Emmy awards to his credit, Steve is also a regular guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show where she dubbed him America’s Science Teacher. Steve’s catalog of videos on social media have more than 1 billion views (yes, that's BILLION with a B)! Steve's show, DIY Sci, is currently in its sixth season. But Steve feels most at home when he’s on stage sharing insights and creating those amazing experiences audiences remember for a lifetime.
On a personal note, I am honored to call Steve my mentor and friend, and I am very excited to share this conversation about the importance of engagement and connection. He and his fabulous team, Carly Reed and Bryan Higgins, worked with me to produce the Beyond Ever After online video course and Steve invited me to speak at his signature event, Science in the Rockies.
[00:51] How do we build connections in a way that places science front and center -- and is meaningful for students and teachers?
[03:14] "If It Gets to the Dinner Table, You Win."
[06:44] How do we build connections, engagement, and experiences?
[12:18] Great experiences are always framed with significance.
[14:05] How can we help educators get excited about science and find ways to build connections across the curriculum so that it has that moment of engagement and wow and power?
[18:00] Building Engagement Through Social Media
[21:42] Making Teaching Fun Again
[25:49] People, Process, Product, and PRESENTATION (The 4th P)
[32:40] What are the biggest surprises so far in your adventure in learning?
[42:16] What currently brings you joy?
[47:01] What encouragement or hope can you offer to educators?
Follow me on Instagram or Facebook as I explore the amazing science and mysterious beauty of Antarctica in December.
Stay tuned for the final two podcast episodes of Season 1, featuring Jenna Barricklo and Chris Kesler. We will take a short break and resume in January 2023.
Visit the full show notes for an opportunity to win one of Steve's books.
Read the full show notes, visit the website, and check out my on-demand virtual course. Continue the adventure at LinkedIn or Instagram.
*Disclosure: I am a Bookshop.org. affiliate.
[00:01] Dr. Diane: Wonder, curiosity, connection. Where will your adventures take you? I'm Dr. Diane and thank you for joining me on today's episode of Adventures in Learning. Alright, so welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast. Our guest today is the spectacular Steve Spangler. You know him from TikTok. You know him from instagram. You know him from the Ellen Show and DIY Sci. If you are a classroom teacher, you've used his work. And if you haven't, you're in for a treat. Steve, welcome to the show.
[00:37] Steve Spangler: Well, thank you so much. Is Steve Spangler actually going to be on today?
[00:41] Dr. Diane: You know, crazy. I think he is.
[00:45] Steve Spangler: My wife knows that guy. Hey, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
[00:51] Dr. Diane: Well, I'm so glad you're here. It's been a delight to get to work with you over the last, I guess it's going on a couple of years now, being able to learn from you and work together. And I wanted to talk about something that I've heard you speak about a lot recently, which is the idea of connections. And how do we start building those connections in a way that's meaningful for teachers and students in the classroom to make science front and center.
[01:20] Steve Spangler: I think we've always talked about connections from the standpoint of we want to connect with kids, we want to build real world connections. It's that buzzword that you see. I mean, take a look at any email that comes to your inbox and they're pitching something. They're always going to be talking about building connections. But it's fairly deep for me. I got to be that. Remember in your high school years when there was a graduation speaker? Guess who got to be the speaker at graduation? This guy. And my wife reminds me because she happened to be sitting there in the audience — we’ve been together that long — as kids sitting there. And I'm talking about the value of building connections, that there's a unique experience. Today we're all together. We're never going to be together again. When we get up from these chairs, we will never, ever, ever be together again like this. We'll come together maybe again in 10-20 years, but it's those connections that we've made now that are going to pay off in the future. And so we need to leverage those connections. And you always have to take the time to connect with people. I thought it was good. I had a little magic trick that went along with it. So I've always thought, well, you got to build connections. But now at the ripe old age of 55, I sit here and I look at everything that's good that's happened in my life is a result of a connection, right? And the only way to connect is to engage. And when you choose to engage, as I often say, you get a front row seat to the greatest experiences life has to offer. And that's the only way I know to connect. There's not many people that make connections by just sitting in mom's basement? Well they do, but that's called gaming. That's a different kind of connection. Right? So you're right. It's such a deep concept about how to connect. We could talk for hours on that. But I'll let you kind of guide me in the direction that you want to go because there's so many different levels of building connections with kids.
[03:14] Dr. Diane: Well, let's start with the idea of something I've heard you say about if it makes it to the dinner table, then you win So when you've got that kind of Ah-ha, experience where the kid is going home and talking about it, that would be the first level of connection. You found that moment that you get the kid engaged and they're talking about it. How do you go about framing that kind of connection?
[03:40] Steve Spangler: Well, first of all, to give context to that phrase, if it gets to the dinner table, you win. That's when I got called, long story short, I got called to the principal's office. I had done this Halloween science show. There were explosions, possibly, maybe a fire, whatever. A dad who comes in to just mention something to the principal about I guess my daughter had a great time yesterday. I got called in and we discussed the exploding pumpkin and walking on glass and the screaming gummy bear that caught on fire and whatever else, right? As my principal, I didn't get fired of course. Well, thank goodness. And as my principal walked me out, she said what did we learn today. And I said, well I won't do the exploding pumpkin. She goes, no, I didn't say that. Well I should probably put something down if I'm going to do elephant’s toothpaste. No. She says, what did we learn today. If you think deeply, but you're only a second year teacher, if it gets to the dinner table, you win. If a child leaves the classroom and is so excited about what you did in that classroom that he or she will share that at home freely at the table without having to be asked what did you do in school today, then you know that you've created an experience. It's the very first time I really understood the difference between activities and experiences. And the best way it was put to me was activities are transactional. I do an activity, you give me your attention. I do a better activity, you might give me a little bit more attention. You might even take out a piece of notebook paper and write something down if the activity is but experiences, well, experiences are transformational. Experiences have the ability to change the way you see, feel, think and react. So experiences are extremely powerful. As a teacher, it's the one thing that we have in our arsenal that I think is more powerful than anything else that we can do. Because when we create experiences, kids connect and engage at the highest level. They become part of their own learning. In order for it to be an experience, it has to be a two way street. I can't just go around creating experiences if you don't engage. So that's what's so magical about that. And so, I don't know, someday somebody will study this. Harvard will study like that, will go, so what is this engagement formula? If you connect and engage, get an experience, or do you have to engage first and then the kids choose to connect, and that defines an experience. I don't know which comes first. All I know is that those three things, if you think of them as a Venn diagram, connections, engagement and experiences. That very center little spot there, Diane. You've heard me say from stage 100 times, that's called best day ever. That's what happens when you have the convergence of those three powerful ideas into one. And a kid is nice enough to look you in the eyes and go, hey, best day ever.
[06:37] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. And that's a goal for teachers and educators everywhere, is to find that magic formula that creates that best day ever.
[06:44] Steve Spangler: Well, let me take your idea to that next level for just a second. It does have everything to do with you. You don't build connections and engagement and experiences without a person being involved. It's not a robot thing, right? Watch this video. It is all about a human being. You still can't take that away from us, right? So I always like to think of it as we've all had those teachers that you liked so much because you say, oh, I just connected with her. What does that mean? It means that something resonated, something the vibration worked, right? Something caused to resonate. And every person doesn't resonate with the same frequency. If you use this example, you know that singing glasses where you take wine glasses and you put you could put wine in them, that makes it even a better demonstration, but especially if it's like an after hours teachers program. But I digress water in the glasses. Put your finger in the glasses, go around the rim and they make sound. Not every glass vibrates or resonates at the same frequency. Some take more work, some take a little bit less pressure. Some have to empty out some of the water. It is difficult to do, but once you get it, it works. And guess what? The moment it works, the resonating glasses start to not work because the water starts to evaporate. A couple drips here and there. So anybody who plays the glasses, I am ready with it. Because I saw somebody in Munich recently claimed glasses on the street. It really, really good. They're constantly fiddling with it. And I was reminded what a great example for teachers. You never are at a point where it's just lather, rinse, repeat. You're never at a point where you're just like, well, I guess I can laminate that lesson plan. You're constantly tweaking it and to the moment you decide, I don't want to do this anymore, you're constantly tweaking it. And I just think of that as a teacher working with kids in a classroom.
[08:47] Dr. Diane: That makes a lot of sense because connection is personal. Connection is part of that human endeavor that we have. And no class of humans is the same. And they're not the same day to day. They change from hour to hour. Even the little people we have in our classes
[09:02] Steve Spangler: I would like to say kids can have five best day ever moments in the same lunch period. And a lot of times you don't know why. You know, a kid comes up to you and goes, you know what best day ever? And you're looking at them like, Best day ever? What was best day ever? And they're like, Duh, glue. Jerry the Gerbil and some glitter. And you're like, oh, what did you do to this Jerry the Gerbil? You made Jerry pretty, didn't you? That's best day ever. But best day ever are the moments you remember at your 20 year reunion, at a 30 year class reunion. Some of us might have attended a 30 year class reunion along the way. Not you, of course. I'm enamored with just the conversation, and some people hate that more than anything, but I just love to see what people remember and what they talk about. And then all that time, just listening to those conversations, I've never heard anybody say, that worksheet. We did in fourth grade was so awesome. It was mind changing. We had true false matching, multiple choice. It changed my mind. I've never heard anybody say that.
[10:14] Dr. Diane: I can't believe you never had a best ever worksheet.
[10:19] Steve Spangler: But they will go, hey, I wonder if Hodous is still alive. Do you remember when he was in the lab and it caught on fire and then somebody's like, oh, I remember, and then everyone's I remember. Those are experiences. And we didn't call them that back then, but it was more about him than it was the stoichiometry lesson that we were supposed to be learning in chemistry that day, or balancing equations or whatever it might be. We just remember his love of chemistry and his love of science. And if I'm supposed to fall in love with science, and that's what my job as a teacher is, to have kids fall in love with the idea of wonder and discovering exploration. They’ve got to see it first in me. I don't know how to teach it. Otherwise. If I hate it, then of course they're going to not be all that excited about it as well. So I think it's about that. And we live vicariously through people who are so passionate about what they do. And I love it. It's not reduced to just science. My oldest son is an English major, or was an English major. He's graduated. Now he's teaching science in middle school in the Denver Public Schools. But he's a literature major and in high school, I remember him. He never came home and talked about something great he did in chemistry class. That was my hope. But I'll never forget the time that we're sitting at the dinner table and he's like, so and so took us outside today. He climbed in a tree. He got up in a tree over by the tennis courts, dad. And he read a poem for us by Woodsworth. He read from the tree or whatever else. I love that he was enamored with the fact that the teacher could have gone and just stood inside, could have stood in front of the kids and read the poem and then said, but he didn't. He framed it, as Dr. Nido Qubein would say, from High Point University. He framed it with significance, right?
[12:18] Dr. Diane: Absolutely.
[12:19] Steve Spangler: Great experiences are always framed with significance.
[12:23] Dr. Diane: I love the notion of framed experiences. We're going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we're going to look deeper into that idea and how it builds on connections for teachers in the classroom. Thank you for being on the podcast, Steve Spangler. Let's take a quick break.
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[14:05] Dr. Diane: I know there's a lot of pressure on educators right now to focus on reading and math. We're coming out of the pandemic, and they're looking at gaps in education and they're saying we need to focus on reading and math. And I think it's happening to the detriment of science and social studies and some of those other subjects. How can we help educators get excited about science and find ways to build connections across the curriculum so that it has that moment of engagement and wow and power?
[14:25] Steve Spangler: Yeah. Well, really astute that you bring it up, because you're absolutely right for anybody who's in the world of professional development, if we don't acknowledge the fact that the world is not the same as it was three years ago, four years ago, 10-20 years ago. So professional development is a different beast. Number one, it's needed more than ever before. It's amazing, the number of calls and just conversations I've had with people. Carly, who's in my office, she's been with me now for 19 years, she'll be on the phone with somebody, and she'll get off the phone, she'll go, they’ve got money to spend, but they don't know what to spend it on. They're tasked with doing something good, and they're looking for stuff. And our rule has always been you invest in people, not product. If you invest in people first, that's process, right? So people, process, product, right? So people and process, and then you find stuff that can support you. So if you need a great computer, an iPad, a beaker, whatever it is that you need, then that's the product stuff. But you don't start with the investment there. So I think, to answer your question, we have to acknowledge first that teachers going through a tough time, it's not been great, and I don't think we as a society have been good to teachers as well. I think we found out how difficult it was after the pandemic or during the pandemic, and then some of us, as in general, people just wrote it off like, well, they've got training. They know how to do it. It's their job. It's their job. So we have to acknowledge, first of all, and honor the fact that they stayed through this. Those who did, they stayed through this, and they continue on a daily basis to try to connect with kids, by any account, two years behind right now. So that's difficult. So I think long gone are the days of somebody going, well, let me check my watch. It's time for math now, kids, and we have 47 minutes. You can but that's the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher, right? Right in the hands of a great teacher. I heard a principal who brought some teachers to Science in the Rockies, the course that we do in the summertime, our institute in the summertime. And this principal said at the end, he was sitting at a table of six or seven other teachers, I think, and he said, you know, my metric for my teachers is that I should be able to walk into their class in a couple of years and have no idea what they're teaching other than they're teaching something amazing. I don't know what the subject is. Could it be math? Could be social studies, could be reading. I don't know. It's so integrated. Integrated. It's ingrained in the way that they think about crafting a lesson, that it all comes together as one. And so I think we first have to go, how can we help a classroom teacher today who's going, I don't have enough time. And when the problem is time, we have to look at integration. We have to look at how do we weave a science lesson into a reading lesson into a writing prompt.
You were so nice to talk about a lot of the things that we were doing before in the video series and all that kind of stuff. But we really cut our teeth on engagement in this YouTube generation with YouTube. Our very first video, which was Mentos and Diet Coke, when we released that for the very first time, YouTube was three months old. And as they say, it kind of spawned this whole generation of me. Two demonstrations. Everybody in the world wanted to do a demonstration, put it on there and get that reaction. So one of the engagement techniques that we learned there was that those videos blew up our Sick Science series. Sick Science was the video series that we put out. If the listeners are go to YouTube, not now of course, but YouTube Sick Science because the kids say that term sick, like cool. Far out, That’s sick. And so I kind of thought Sick Science was kind of a cool little name. That is the very first according to YouTube anyway. That when we became a YouTube partner down the road. They said that was the first example of hands and hands. That was the first example of the camera focused on the thing, not the person. And we did it by accident, but it worked out very well. At the end of the video, the video didn't explain how the water would rise in the container and the candle would go out or whatever. It just simply would say share in the comments below how you think this works? We generated thousands and thousands of comments per video. Why? Because we invited engagement. So are you telling me that I could do a demonstration in class and ask kids to write about it and they would? I think they would. Wait, don't I have writing standards that I have to meet? Don't I have nonfiction reading standards? Don't I have to have kids learn how to sequence, how to use vocabulary correctly, how to infer, how to observe, how to support an argument? We have to do all these things.
[19:26] Dr. Diane: Exactly.
[19:27] Steve Spangler: Why not pick science and pick a great science experiment? And to that end, we put out 1800 videos on YouTube. And the last time I checked, they're free. So there's 1800 free videos. I didn't say they're all good, I just said they're free. That somebody could pick from to either show or to use as their own inspiration to go, hey, I can go get some food coloring and some milk and some soap. I could do that. Now, I could incorporate the science into reading, into possibly a math integration. But it takes a teacher who's willing to wander, discover, explore and ask questions. He or she has to be as brave as their kids.
[20:09] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. And I think that when you talk about these videos, I know I love them because they involve materials you can use right in your home and right in the classroom. And I think that that's powerful for the teacher. They don't have to go out and buy a whole kit of stuff to do it with. And I know one of the things that I've loved doing with them is being able to connect them to picture books. And then you're able to build in another level of reading and connection, and there's a whole social, emotional learning aspect…
[20:39] Steve Spangler: Let’s just stop, because you're just going to gloss over that and you're going to ask another question, Steve Spangler, let's stop right there. I have watched you completely mesmerize a room filled with teachers as you are doing your fairy tale STEM presentation, when you share with them the strategy for building a connection. A lot of people have done connections, yours truly included. But there have been key people along the way, for me, you being one of them, who have said, but if we were to do it with a little bit more meaning, if we were to connect at a higher level, have kids, engage in a higher level and actually enter into a conversation about not just the fairy tale, but the things that go into that. You take it to the next level. Dr Diane you just have to know that that's truly a superpower. And that when I watch teachers engage with you and get fired up, it's an exciting thing because you see possibility happen for teachers. Truly a transformational moment for teachers.
[21:42] Dr. Diane: And that's what I'm hoping that we're able to help more and more teachers find, is that moment of empowerment where they realize their superpower is to be able to build these connections. And it makes teaching fun again, because I think that's something that has been lost in the classroom, too, is that sense of fun. There's been so much angst and worry piled up that it's hard to have fun.
[22:03] Steve Spangler: Anytime I hear a teacher say, we just don't have time for fun anymore, my heart goes out to go is there any way that I could help? Because I can't imagine going to a job that, not every day is fun, but for goodness sakes, you’ve got to go to a job that makes you want to jump out of bed. Not every day, but for the most part. A great guy by the name of Mark Scharenbroich said to me years ago, you always leave the campsite better than how you found it. He's a wonderful education speaker, used to speak to students and now speaks to teachers and adults all over the world. And Mark is brilliant from the standpoint that he realizes that the time on this earth is limited and that our job is to make enough impact so that others around us go, I didn't think about that, that makes sense. And maybe things are a little bit better for the next person who's definitely going to come along and do something better. Probably build a better camp, probably have better tents. Use the metaphor anyway you want. We just have to leave it a little bit better than how we found it. And I think that's the end goal.
I'm at a point now, after being in education for 31 years, that the people that I started with are starting to retire. And I always thought about teachers who retired as being really old, and now I know we really are. I know. But it's so fun for those that connected to see the next chapter and you know what it is. And it's like I almost don't even want to tell teachers what it is. But it is that moment in time where a kid who's now 35, 40 years old comes back and goes, hey, remember me, Dr. Diane? I don't, but you're going to tell me. You're going to tell me, or you get one of those wonderful emails out of the clear blue or Facebook notes that says, hey, I'm doing what I'm doing today because of you. Didn't know if you knew that or not. And you sit back and go, man, those are my blackout years. I forgot about those years completely. That made a difference, and it does. So every day that we show up makes a huge difference, and teachers need to know that what they're doing is so impactful. They hear it, but they need to hear it again and again, especially from people who are very genuine in what they're sharing with teachers.
[24:27] Dr. Diane: I recently found my third grade teacher, Mrs. Eva Ledbetter, and she's on Facebook, and she was one of those transformational teachers for me. You were talking about connection earlier, and she was the woman who I would have learned all of my times table six times over for her. It was just she asked you to do it, you did it. And one of those amazing teachers where she built in drama. We did lots of science experiments, but there was drama too. We performed, she made our study about dental health fun. She turned it into a play, and then she brought people in to film the play and aired it on closed circuit TV. I'm telling you how old I am now.
[25:07] Steve Spangler: Wow.
[25:08] Dr. Diane: But she did all of this on a military base in the 1970s and had no idea how impactful she was.
[25:17] Steve Spangler: I'm so glad that you found her because you were are able to say thank you. And what did she say? Did she get off my lawn, get off my lawn?
[25:25] Dr. Diane: She actually did remember. At least if she didn't remember, she did a really good job, and she might have looked me up on Facebook immediately after, but it was a lovely comment. She's like, you know, I hear from my students much more frequently than I thought I would, and it really makes me realize that teaching was a valuable thing to have done.
[25:49] Steve Spangler: Yeah. Well, you just stumbled into that fourth P that you have to get to a certain level to understand it, because sometimes you get shut down. And I got shut down early as a result of it. But you just mentioned it, and that's presentation, right? We talked about people and purpose, and we talked about products, but you talked about presentation. Presentation is what creates the experience. So what you just said, the key to creating that experience was somebody who added some sense of theater. Presentation isn't always theater, but think of a very effective speaker, somebody who possibly could have been at school opening up the school year, somebody that maybe you saw outside of a school environment. It could have been a church kind of thing, or it could have been just in the public. But highly effective speakers always have amazing stories, and so much so, and you know, because you get sucked into it, and then all of a sudden you come back out of it and you go, Wait, you sucked me in. I felt like I was in that moment. And so presentation is so important, and teachers many times don't get that presentation piece until they've practiced years and years and years, and that's perfectly fine. I never would have expected a teacher fresh out of college to just be fired up. But over the years, when you get comfortable enough with your content, the presentation starts to come in. You, as the person, start to come out, right? And that's what we fall in love with. We fall in love with that person, that character, that thing that is there that helps us connect. So you've come full circle back to the power of connecting it all to that presentation as well. And it can be a dirty word.
I was speaking at NSCA conferences years and years and years ago, pretty young. Somebody said, when your mom comes to pick you up after your little lecture, be sure to tell her that you did a good job. And I thought, nice thing to say. That's called a little knife in. And then just a twist, just for the pain. And I remember talking about the power of presentation, and you could see some people go, we don't have time for that. We have curriculum. And you got to get through this, this, and this and this. I don't know how you change someone's life or make it to the dinner table when you're just focused on the elements of the curriculum without building those connections that make it meaningful and make it sticky so the kid will lean in. Diane, you and I have talked about kids leaning in, mentally and metaphorically and physically leaning in. You see a kid go, what? And they actually lean in, it’s super powerful. It's just the next level of engagement going, all right, you take me to that next level. I'm in. Take me to the next part. Take you to the next. It's like watching a brand new television series. We all sit there like, I think this is not going to be good. And then you go, you want to watch another one, honey? Okay, let's watch one more, one more. Maybe after three. Now of a sudden, we're season three of The Crown, and I'm going, what am I watching this for?
[28:55] Dr. Diane: Next thing you know, you're in the middle of Abbott Elementary, season two.
[28:59] Steve Spangler: Done. Or you find yourself, in my case, on a bus in London with my wife going, this is just like we saw in The Crown, here’s this thing, you’re going, wow, that TV show cost me thousands of dollars. But pretty great experience.
[29:15] Dr. Diane: Exactly.
[29:15] Steve Spangler: Great experience.
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[30:22] Dr. Diane: I’ve watched teachers lean in, both on video and in person at Science in the Rockies and some of your other workshops. And one of my favorite things to do is to sit back and watch them get engaged. And they all kind of start out a little bit shellshocked when they walk in in the morning, and then you get them doing the hands on stuff, and by the end of the day, they're like, elbowing each other out of the way to grab the supplies. They're flinging ping pong balls across the room. It gets highly competitive, but it's wonderful because you see them building those connections and finding that playful self, and I think that that's a huge part.
[31:05] Steve Spangler: They've got to become the kid.
[31:06] Dr. Diane: You've got to think like the kids, which you do.
[31:09] Steve Spangler: And I think in the world of professional development, it's a world that both you and I are deeply entrenched, we have to, part of the secret sauce is to allow them to become the kid again without them knowing it. Because if you say to them, at the very beginning, I'm going to have you be a kid, they're like, I don't want to do this. You don't say any of that at all. And they just find themselves falling into it. Then it's okay for you afterwards to be able to go, did you see you guys, there are 3000 ping pong balls in this room and you are flailing them at each other. You are using a curveball to smack somebody right in their head with a ping pong ball. And I watched you and I watched you and you know this is exactly what your kids are going to do. And at that moment in time they see themselves going, ohhhh. And they can see themselves presenting that kind of lesson to their kids. And it's not mimicking, it's just experiencing something that they might not have experienced it being presented that way before. It's just a new way to be able for them to connect with their kids.
[32:13] Dr. Diane: Exactly. Now I usually ask people to describe their adventures in learning. You've got 31 years of education under your belt. Rather than asking you to go through your whole bio to get to where you are today. I have a different question for you.
[32:29] Steve Spangler: I want to know if you were a tree. No, I don't know. What are you going to ask? What are you going to ask?
[32:35] Dr. Diane: That's a good one though. We may come back to if you were a tree.
[32:38] Steve Spangler: No, Oprah already used it.
[32:40] Dr. Diane: So what have been the biggest surprises in your journey along the way? You've gone from the classroom to delivering professional development across the country. You were at Harvard University recently. You got toilet paper stuck on the ceiling at Harvard University. What have been your big surprises?
[32:59] Steve Spangler: I don't know. That's a really good question. I think all of us have things that happen to us. It's top of mind. So I'm thinking about the connections that I've made over the years, people like you that I get a chance to meet. What's the likelihood of finding you? You and I connect through a COVID thing on Zoom. And one thing I guess I'm surprised that I decided to be a part of a profession, I chose to be part of a profession that people would do for free. And some of them right now are screaming at their radio or whatever they're listening to. I am doing it for free. I get it. But they have such a desire to do what they're doing. They love it. They could see themselves not doing anything else. So I'm surrounded by just such quality people. I'm surprised by learning how teachers focus on kids first and everything else. They make their decisions kids first. And we know that because go to any teacher and look in the garage and it's probably filled with the crap that the counselor, the marriage counselor said get it out of here. She said get it out of here. And you do along the way and you know what that looks like. The average teacher in the United States, K-8 anyway, those are statistics, spends $1400 unreimbursed per year. Look at everybody shaking their heads, going, yes, and what are you going to do about that, Steve Spangler? I don't know. We make so much money, sometimes we get a second job. And that's called Teachers Pay Teachers. I don't know what you're going to do.
[34:43] Dr. Diane: Right, right.
[34:44] Steve Spangler: So again, I am just, these adventures in learning, I’m surprised every day that you still cannot replace a human being. As much as we've gone through this technological revolution, we’ve gone from a point where in my lifetime, I watched a thing called a computer come into existence. That was pretty cool. And my grandparents’ lifetime, they went from horse and buggy all the way to a computer. So I have no idea what I'm going to see down the road. But all those advancements, and it's still a teacher, the human being who builds the connection. It’s the person who shows up every single day, who's there to build meaning for those kids and to give them purpose and for them to be able to understand what that looks like and hopefully to have them find a spark. I guess there are two quick little things. A guy by the name of Peter Benson. Dr. Peter Benson was at the Search Institute in Minnesota. And Peter Benson has passed. But one of the things that he said was, every kid needs three things. Number one, you need a spark. Number one, you need a spark. Number two, you need somebody to champion your cause. And number three, you need to support that. And so how do you do those things? Number one, you’ve got to find a spark. What makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning? Is it the love of theater? Let's say, for example, maybe I love to be on stage. I love theater. Now you have to be surrounded by people who can champion the cause. And Peter Benson points out that you never have the parents champion the cause because they will always course correct, they'll say, in the nicest way possible, I'm not sure that you really want to do theater, but man, law school would be awesome. And so we, by accident sometimes, too, you’ve got to have kids surrounded by mentors and teachers and people in the community and friends, but not parents, because the parents come in for step three. And that's called to support the cause. So you’ve got to champion the cause. And once they go, no, I really do like playing guitar, or I really love ballet, or I really love science, whatever it is, that's when the parents come in and go, we've been saving pretty hard. Let's see where we can send you to next. Which college is going to help you support that? So I never would have known that before until I started thinking about thinking, thinking about those adventures in learning, how kids want to be able to do that. The second part is that last piece between training and education, we're in the world of professional development, and I was recently reminded that you train a dog to do a trick. It's a repetitive task. It's a process, and if the dog sits, you reward with a treat. And I hate to make it seem like that in education, but we don't want to train people. We don't want to train kids. I don't want to train teachers how to do something. Because you focus on the how you really want to educate, right? Because once you educate, you use those things that we talk about, about communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Training has a start and a stop. I'm going to start the training, and then once I'm done learning, I'm done, right? The ending point, education, there's a beginning point, and there's never an ending point, right? You just keep on learning, right?
[38:05] Dr. Diane: You take it and you go and you keep building connections.
[38:08] Steve Spangler: And that's what I think. I love to think about when we do our summer institutes there are those teachers who are going to raise their hand and say, I've been doing this for 37 years. When are you going to retire? Oh, I retired four years ago. I'm just still doing it. I’m still volunteering. I'm an informal science educator or whatever it is. People who just, they have become lifelong learners, and it's just inspiration, I think, for all of us. Absolutely. You will never ask that question again because you got too long of an answer.
[38:39] Dr. Diane: No, it was a great answer. So, question for you. You've done The Ellen Show, you've done DIY Sci, you're working with Chris Kesler, and there's a whole group of special Steve Spangler products coming out. What's your next chapter look like?
[38:56] Steve Spangler: Well, to bring you up to date, if listeners didn't know, because sometimes it can be confusing. So I always like to take the opportunity to let you know. So my wife and I started Steve Spangler Science. Once again, the joke goes, teachers make so much money, sometimes we get a second job. So it was in my second year of teaching that had to have been 92, 93, that we started a company called Steve Spangler Science, pretty original name. And we were putting stuff in a Ziploc bag, and I was offering it in the back of our professional development. One thing led to another. Some toys were invented. That product line grew to about 350 products. Steve Spangler Science grew into two other businesses as well, a wholesale business called Amazing Toys that's currently in Target, as well as Steve Spangler Science. And so in 2018, we sold Steve Spangler Science and that brand, that name, and the products that went along with that to a company called Intelligence Learning Corporation. They own much bigger companies that you might know of, like Discount School Supply, Really Good Stuff, EPI, Frog Street, those great companies. So that was a difficult thing because you're selling a child, so to speak. Steve Spangler Science is there, but it's not me. And so it is difficult sometimes when teachers call and say, hey, I bought your product. I wasn't sure about this. I haven't even seen that product. So I had the 350 before that. I always tell people who ask, stevespanglerscience.com, that's stuff that we sold already, stevespangler.com, that's what we're currently working on, so anything stevespangler.com is me. So all of our professional development workshops, we recently opened up an opportunity to go to Iceland after the success of a partnership with Holland America called Science at Sea. So where we'll be embarking upon our 9th year of Science at Sea, where we take teachers and tour the Inside Passage of Alaska. It seems that I experience it first and then I look at my wife and go, you know, we could do this for teachers. And she's like, seriously? Are we good? And she goes, yes. 50 teachers show up on a bus and we're in Reykjavik. You're going to go to Iceland with us now. So it's that kind of thing that I am just so thankful and grateful that I've been given those kinds of opportunities to do that. So we'll continue to speak. The speaking business is busier than ever. There's, I think, a real need for somebody who has been doing this for a while that has a few gray hairs. They are right there. I see them right along the way.
[41:30] Dr. Diane: You can barely see them.
[41:31] Steve Spangler: There you go.
[41:33] Steve Spangler: There’s a need for someone who’s been doing it for a while to be able to look at the teacher who's been doing it only for a little while to be able to say, hey, guess what? You're on the right track. It doesn't feel like it sometimes, but you're on the right track. And to kind of give them a little glimpse of what's down the road. But they're not going to show them everything because we just don't know what they're going to see completely. So lots of books still and the television show DIY Sci, it's six seasons, that's pretty fun. And more videos and more building connections and just trying to support teachers in the best way that we can see what happens next. You just, you don't know. You keep on creating and you don't know exactly what's going to stick.
[42:16] Dr. Diane: Exactly. So what currently brings you joy?
[42:20] Steve Spangler: Going to bed early. I never thought that I'd like, isn’t that funny? You lay in bed, you go, I just kind of want to sleep. I have three boys, and Jack, I mentioned our oldest, is a first year teacher. That brings me great joy because I get to see him at our dinner table because we're fortunate enough to have him at home still. Being able to share his trials and tribulations as a first year teacher brings me joy, brings me sadness to some extent because it's hard for him right now. And so he's going through some tough things and some rewarding things. And we have twins who are juniors in college at St. John's University of Minnesota, but one of them is in Chile, and the other one is in Rome, because it seems like that's the experiences that schools offer kids today. And so it brings me great joy to live vicariously through them and to see where they are and the excitement of their learning and letting them now lead the journey. We've made it possible to be able to go over and spend time with them so that they can lead the journey and take us around.
[43:23] Dr. Diane: That's exciting.
[43:24] Steve Spangler: They did that for the first 22 years of their life. And so now it's pretty fun for us to be able to be the learner and they get to be the teacher. And of course, this adventure with Renee. My wife Renee, who has retired, she basically ran Steve Spangler Science. It was her company. She was the president and CEO, a lot of people don't know that, but this guy was always the guy out front. I was always the guy doing the videos. I was always the guy on the road. But she was the brains behind that whole organization. So it brings me great joy to see her doing what she's wanting to do. She's on the board of the Littleton Public Schools Foundation and doing great for that and being involved in trying to raise money for the school district. So those kinds of things. I'm extremely grateful that Carly and Higgins have been with me now for, Carly 19 years and Higgins going on eleven years. So I love to just kind of see their creativity and get to see them flourish. And I get to see people like you who are somewhat new in the world of professional development overall, and you're just blossoming. I love watching a great speaker in front of an audience connect. And when you connect and you engage as well as you do, that just brings me great joy. When you get past the point of jealousy, because a lot of people see that kind of thing, I think it's jealousy, sometimes they're like, Well, I do that, and I did that. And as Mark Scharenbroich would say, when you share instead of compare, it's a really important distinction that's there. And fortunately, I think I've grown out of the comparison because I think we all do it, but it's fun to be able to just share in people's success now.
[45:04] Dr. Diane: Well, one of the lessons you've taught me is the idea of lifting up other people, that voices need to be heard, and it's so important to open doors for others. And I appreciate you modeling that.
[45:17] Steve Spangler: Oh, you're nice to say that. You're very, very nice. And I look forward to paying our insurance premium every year because television requires that. My wife is like, if you could stop blowing stuff up, the insurance premium would go down. But it's really hard to get insurance when there's a body of work that follows you around out there. And as they write the policy, they look and they go, no, I don't think so. The one company that we found to write the policy, for me anyway, is the same company that handles a couple of magicians you know of by the name of Penn and Teller and then some good friends called the Passing Zone. These are the jugglers that juggle chainsaws and jump over people with fire. So all of that that goes along with it. So we're in this little group of high risk. I guess I'm just doing science experiments. You know how that works.
[46:05] Dr. Diane: Well, and honestly, it doesn't surprise me that that's where your insurance is. I mean, think about it. You grew up in a family of magicians. Was there ever any real chance you weren't going to someday wind up in a high risk insurance area?
[46:22] Steve Spangler: I know, yeah, that's probably true. Probably true. Should have just stuck with card tricks, right? It would be a lot easier, card tricks.
[46:37] SPONSOR AD: Thank you for joining me on today's Adventure in Learning. I'm your host, Dr. Diane. And just a quick reminder that if you would like to receive our newsletter, be sure to visit www.drdianeadventures.com and sign up. You'll also find the complete show notes for every episode at that website. And now let's conclude our interview and today's Adventure in Learning.
[47:01] Dr. Diane: This seems to be a time when we need lots of hope in our lives. So if you could offer educators encouragement or hope based on what you've learned over the last 30 plus years, what would be the one or two couple of things that you would want to leave them with?
[47:18] Steve Spangler: Well, I would want to look into their eyes and make sure that they know that what they're doing is making a tremendous difference, that what they're doing is connecting and engaging at the highest level. In a time where many of us thought we were replaced by this phone, this thing, Google, whatever it might be, the thing that has every answer to everything in the world, that there is still a need for a human being to build those connections. And that teacher is that connection. And in many instances, we're with kids more than their parents are with them. We know that growing up. And so to make sure they understand that it is hard, if it were easy, everybody would do it. Not everybody is cut out to be a teacher. And so if you were chosen, if the universe chose you to be in this profession, you were chosen for a reason. And you're making a tremendous impact for kids, even when it's difficult, even at that moment when you're going, I think I'm not going to do this anymore. I think we all have to turn to that voice of reason. Could be a teacher from a long time ago, could be a colleague, could be just somebody who has maybe a different opinion than we do, who can support us, who can remind us that what we're doing makes sense, has significant impact and influence in the world around us. And I think that you really don't know that. And I guess what I share with teachers all the time is that you don't know that until your kids come back and you’ve got to be in the profession long enough for the kids to come back. And I always say it's when it's in that next chapter. The next chapter is after you decide to stop doing this and you're onto something else, that's when they come back. And I think that's when we see significance and unfortunately, sometimes a little too late. And so don't allow that. Third, if you're a 20 year teacher, don't allow the next ten years to be a coasting kind of environment. Make sure that you surround yourself with people who will challenge you, will change your way of thinking maybe a little bit. We'll reinvigorate you, recharge your battery, find things that make you excited about the why. Go back and see the Simon Sinek lecture, the Ted Talk with Simon Sinek about the why, rediscover your why, and everything else will fall in line. If you understand your why, the how, the what, the when, everything else is there. It just all makes sense if we rediscover our why. And for a teacher, it happened really early on for us to be able to say we want to do this, and sometimes we have to go find that once again, rediscover why and reimagine something that's just amazing.
[49:45] Dr. Diane: Well, thank you, Steve, for being on the Adventures in Learning podcast today. I will put contact information in the show notes for anybody who wants to reach out. And as a special bonus for those who have been listening, I have a copy of Steve's book that I will be giving away, and you will have to be following the show notes to find out how to enter.
[50:04] Steve Spangler: Wow. I want to enter for that. Look at you. And I love all the, I'm watching on video. I see the books behind you. That was a much younger Steve Spangler back then. I see the book cover right there. This is why we don't put our picture on book cover. Why would we do that? You're so kind. Thanks for everything that you're doing. I greatly appreciate it. Huge thanks for all those people who are listening, because if they're listening, they're engaged, they care.
[50:31] Dr. Diane: You've been listening to the Adventures in Learning podcast with your host, Dr. Diane. If you like what you're hearing, please subscribe, download and let us know what you think. And please tell a friend if you want the full show notes and the pictures, please go to www.drdianeadventures.com. We look forward to you joining us on our next adventure.