Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gooey, Slippery, Slimy ... Science Janice Vancleave's Experiments Capture Kids' Curiosity

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gooey, Slippery, Slimy ... Science Janice Vancleave's Experiments Capture Kids' Curiosity

Article excerpt

GIVE HER a raw potato and a couple of plastic drinking straws and Janice VanCleave will teach you about the strength of air.

Give her a paper match and a pinch of modeling clay and she'll put the clay and the match on your wrist and show you the beating of your own heart.

Give her some Elmer's glue and a teaspoon of borax powder and she'll introduce you to Mr. Glob.

Slimy, sloppy, gooey Mr. Glob.

Weird Mr. Glob.

VanCleave and Mr. Glob brought their act to St. Louis recently in a kind of Old West traveling magical elixir show at the St. Louis Science Center.

Dressed in a red denim skirt and vest sparkling with sequined cowboy boots, hats and covered wagons, VanCleave used everyday items like metal washers and plastic soda bottles to turn science into something almost magical.

"If we aren't entertaining kids these days, then we're not teaching them," said VanCleave, a former schoolteacher and author of 22 children's books on hands-on math, science and geography projects.

"We're competing with TV, with video games, with the media.

"To be a good teacher, you've got to be an actress."

VanCleave, who lives in the tiny Texas community of Riesel when she's not on the road, is committed to teaching children that science can be fun.

Her books, including the popular "Janice VanCleave's 200 Gooey, Slippery, Slimy, Weird and Fun Experiments," all are designed to grab onto a child's imagination and hang on.

Her most recent books are "Janice VanCleave's Microscopes and Magnifying Lenses" and "Janice VanCleave's Geography for Every Kid." The books are available at local bookstores and are published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Like her other books, VanCleave's newest books make use of everyday household items to teach children everything from why the weather is cooler in the wintertime to how fingerprints are analyzed.

Even as a child, VanCleave said, she was seized with a sense of wonder and scientific curiosity.

She remembers using fingernail polish to paint names on the backs of her turtles and remembers taking things apart to try to understand how they worked.

When she began teaching, she said, she searched for a way to put some "pizzazz" in her chemistry lectures.

"I was looking for something that would grab their imaginations," she said. "Something that would make science appear to be magical."

She said she researched how to take solutions of different colors and mix them to produce a third color.

During Halloween, she said, she mixed up orange and black solutions; at Christmas, she mixed red and green solutions.

Her students, she said, loved it.

She took her physics classes outside to drink Kool-Aid out of a straw two stories long; she made miniature erupting volcanoes.

It was great fun, she said, and her students learned.

Nine years ago, while she was teaching enrichment classes to teachers in Fort Smith, Ark. …

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