Real Amber?

LaurieNby: Laurie Neilsen

Is Your Amber the Real Deal?

Amber is fossilized tree resin which has undergone molecular polymerization over many millions of years. It is highly prized for use in jewelry because of its beautiful color, transparency, and lightness. It is also of great interest to the scientific community, as much of it has been found with ancient insects and plant life encased and preserved within.Real amber with insects

Amber sales skyrocketed after the release of the movie Jurassic Park, which featured scientists resurrecting several dinosaur species by extracting DNA from mosquitoes preserved in amber, to disastrous results. Fortunately for us, scientists have recently discovered that DNA has a 521-year half-life. Dinosaur DNA would simply be too old to clone.

Unfortunately, the popularity of amber has given rise to many imposters and imitations passed off as the real thing. So how do we make sure that the amber we are purchasing is real? We have found a few tests you can do at home (or in the classroom) to verify that what you have is real fossilized amber and not plastic, glass, or copal. Copal is tree resin that has not yet fossilized. (It will, though, if you’re willing to wait a few million years.)

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The Magnetic Accelerator

janice-cup-picture-ipgby Janice VanCleave

I love the magnetic accelerator. In fact, I met friends at a restaurant yesterday and took the accelerator with me. We had a lot of fun predicting what would happen and testing our predictions. No formal steps….just making cool guesses and then discovering whether we were correct.

Yes! The steel ball shot off the end of the track and hit the floor a couple of times, but that just added to the excitement.  It’s a small town and few are surprised that the eccentric science author is experimenting at the restaurant –again!Magnetic Accelerator

A parent came in with her daughter, a second grader. With the mother’s permission I invited the child to sit with us. The girl had sinus problems and didn’t feel well.  She was a bit sluggish and her eyes looked dull, as one would expect. When I asked the child if she wanted to do some science experiments, her dull eyes brightened. She had not been present during the previous testing of the accelerator, but she was immediately interested.

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Tap Your Maple Trees!

IMG_3236 - Copy Top 5 Reasons to Make Your Own Maple Syrup

by: Joe McHale

1. It’s FUN – After a long winter trapped indoors, it’s fun to get outside and tap your maple trees.  Maple sugaring, the process of tapping maple trees, collecting maple sap, and boiling that sap into maple syrup is just plain fun, every step of the way.  Children and adults alike will enjoy drilling a hole into the tree to set the tap, checking buckets daily to see how much sap they collected, boiling outdoors on a late winter day, and best of all, tasting the most amazing flavor of your maple syrup over pancakes.

Tap your maple tree2. It’s EDUCATIONAL – Maple sugaring includes many education aspects, including science, math, history, and nutrition.  The sap flows in late winter when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing, creating a pressure difference within the tree.  Did you know it takes approximately 10 gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup?  That’s a 40 to 1 ration.  Sugar, Black, Red, and Silver Maples can be tapped.  Sap from Sugar Maples will have a higher sugar content (2 – 2.5%), requiring less boiling than sap from other maple trees.  Complete lessons can be developed based on the different aspects of maple sugaring.  Here’s a lesson plan to get you started: Maple Sugaring.

3. Maple Syrup is NUTRITIOUS:  Maple syrup is one of the healthiest sweeteners.  It contains naturally occurring minerals such as potassium and magnesium, and has as more beneficial antioxidants per serving than cabbage or tomato.  ¼ Cup of maple syrup has 216 calories compared to 261 calories for ¼ cup of honey.  Many recipes can substitute maple syrup in place of white or brown sugar (approx. 2/3 cup of maple syrup per 1 cup sugar, and also slightly lowering other liquids that might be added when baking).  See for more nutritional information.

4. Create GREAT MEMORIES: The combination of this engaging activity and the resulting taste sensory experience creates memories that last a lifetime.  Your children will be telling stories to their children and grand-children about when they tapped their trees and made maple syrup.  Maple sugaring is truly a unique experience.

Sap Running - Spile5. It is SIMPLE TO GET STARTED: Maple sugaring is a simple process.  In late winter, when daytime temperatures start to rise above freezing, drill a hole into your maple trees and insert a spile.  Collect the sap and boil it into maple syrup.  OK, there are a few more details than this, but nothing that is complicated.  Use one of our Starter Kits, with all the supplies needed to tap 3 trees and the Maple Sugaring at Home book, which walks you through every step of the process.mpl115_2

Maple sugaring is fun, educational, results in nutritious maple syrup, creates great memories, and really is simple to get started.  If you have any questions along the way, feel free to contact Educational Innovations at

Joe McHale started tapping maple trees as a way to teach his children about nature and the origin of food.  His growing company, Tap My Trees, is focused on supporting maple sugaring hobbyists at home and in schools.

What’s it like to be Colorblind?

MARTY SAGENDORFby: Marty Sagendorf

What is that Color ?

Easy… if you’re not colorblind…

…But if you are…

You will not see the same color that other people do.

We can easily simulate this with:

Some colored paper and special glasses.

Making-Up a Collection of Colors

- Use a piece of 8-1/2 x 11 inch white paper

- Cut out eight 1-1/2 x 1-1/2 inch squares of various colored paper

- Glue the squares (using any appropriate adhesive)



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How to Make Goldenrod Paper

Tami O'Connorby: Tami O’Connor

Gone But Not Forgotten

Goldenrod PaperMany years ago at Educational Innovations we had heard rumors that our wonderful goldenrod paper that served as an easy to find indicator paper was being discontinued for environmental reasons.  If you haven’t seen it before, it is was a golden-yellow paper that turned a deep red when it came in contact with a base like washing soda or Windex®.  The process was reversed if an acid such as vinegar was sprayed on the paper.

Apparently, because the fibers in the paper were saturated with golden colored dye, Goldenrod paper was not able to be recycled.  In the process of turning the paper back into a pulpy mixture, the golden dye would color all the other paper pulp that was also being recycled.  Think of it as the bright red shirt in a washing machine filled with whites…

Knowing that shortly it would be impossible to find, and also knowing that teachers around the world loved this paper, Educational Innovations bought up as much as we could feasibly fit in our warehouse.  Some five years later, we finally ran out, and we have not been able to find a supplier for it.

Since it is still referenced in many science journals, we have decided that teachers might be interested in making their own goldenrod paper to use with their students.

 How to Make Goldenrod Paper –

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