Teaching the Scientific Method

Every middle school science teacher I know starts every school year with the scientific method. We learn the steps, we analyze how they apply in various situations, and we move on. Even if we will be using CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) in lab reports, we are still teaching the scientific method at the beginning of the year. This helps students view problems from a scientific perspective. Reinforcement throughout the year (and throughout the years) helps students become scientific thinkers.

Teaching the Scientific Method – Then vs. Now

I used to teach the scientific method the same way that I was taught it. The teacher wrote the steps on the board, I copied them, and then I memorized them. They never became a part of how I thought or how I solved problems, and I had gotten the impression that this was just a process that scientists use.

Now, when I’m teaching the scientific method, I use a far more student centered approach. The scientific method is a name given to a problem solving technique that we use all the time, for everything from figuring out which boots to wear with an outfit to deciding how long to cook lasagna. So I approach the unit from an inquiry direction and allow students to investigate a problem that is relevant to them.

As students investigate the problem, I model the vocabulary words to describe what they are doing. “Mary is guessing what might happen if we change the amount of sugar in the recipe. She is forming a hypothesis.” “The taste of the finished cookies will be dependent on the ingredients we use.”

Finally, after lots of practice and metacognition analyzing how we solved the problem, I do teach the vocabulary in a more formal, traditional way. This is the slide show I use when I’m teaching the scientific method.

Teaching the scientific method from an inquiry approach by allowing students to investigate a problem and then metacognitively analyze the steps they took to solve the problem helps them become scientific thinkers.

Some problems students can solve

When you’re teaching the scientific method, what are some problems students can solve? Here’s a short list:

Here’s a list of science fair projects that can easily be adapted to a lesson on teaching the scientific method.


Free resource for teaching the scientific method

What if we could find a way for students to apply the scientific method to a problem that actually might help them? And what if this scientific method activity were a freebie?

In this resource, students are asked to try to figure out the best way to study. Is it on a full stomach, in a quiet room, or while chewing peppermint gum? Do you remember things better when you study them before you fall asleep at night or when you first wake up in the morning? What’s the best way to learn?

Using the scientific method, students analyze the problem, form a hypothesis, and design a controlled experiment to determine the effect of one variable on how well they, or their friends, memorize a list of random words. This resource includes a 6 page student hand out and a teacher’s guide with suggested answers.

Please click this link to download your free copy of the scientific method freebie!

Free Google Classroom Banner for Back To School!

Target has Back To School sales. I have started my pile of things to bring to school – flair pens, some new book ends, and fancy post its. Maybe you’re one of the schools that opened last week, or maybe, like me, you still have a few weeks left. Maybe you’re like me and have a new outfit picked out, or maybe you’re not going to think about that until the last minute. You might be one of those teachers who sets everything up in June – my back-to-school bulletin board is done already, and covered with garbage bags – or maybe you left your classroom like a bat out of hell. Whichever teacher you are, you know back to school is around the corner.


Here’s a way to make it less painful.

Click here to download 2 Free Google Classroom Banners for Back To School! You can use them on your daily slides or as headers on Google Classroom or Google Forms. However you use them, I hope they make your back-to-school season a little brighter!


If you want to learn how to make your own animated banners, click here!


12 Strategies for Early Finishers

By default, I used to tell early finishers to review their work. Some teachers ask early finishers to help the slower students keep up. Sometimes early finishers get asked to do busy work around the classroom – organize the book shelf or wash the glassware. But now I use enrichment activities for my middle school science students as a reward for early completion. Here are 12 strategies I use for early finishers to support their learning without providing busy work.

Why we need a strategystrategies for early finishers in middle school science

You crafted an excellent assignment. It is an in depth project and has an extensive rubric. You explain it to your class in great detail, emphasizing how important it is that they do their best work. And then they begin. In your head, you’ve imagined that this assignment will take your students 45-60 minutes. You’ve planned to use that time to collect data on work habits, social emotional learning, and work one on one with each of the students who were absent yesterday. You’ve barely taken out your clipboard when Johnny raises his hand and says “What do I do when I’m done.”

You’re stunned. He can’t be finished. Sure, he’s a bright kid and a quick worker, but this assignment was so elaborate and demanding that he must have done a poor job. So you answer in the way that every teacher answers. “You can’t possibly be done yet. Review your work.”

Side note. I’m sorry. “Review your work” is a meaningless answer for middle schoolers. Unless you’ve provided exemplar projects and modeled how to use the exemplars to improve your work, a 12 year old will interpret your directions to mean “sit quietly for another half hour.” That’s not fair to kids.

But let’s assume in this case that Johnny’s work is decent. Maybe he worked on it at home yesterday or maybe he’s just a really fast worker, but however he did it, Johnny has checked all the boxes on this assignment. When you glance at it, you’re guessing it’s B+ work.

Bored students act out. Students who are acting out distract other learners. Distracted learners act out. And now you’ve changed an early finisher problem into a classroom management problem.

Now what do you do? You need strategies for your early finishers so that they can stay engaged.

End Zone

I call the enrichment activities that are available to early finishers my “End Zone” because it’s the zone they go to when they’re at the end of their work. Years ago, the End Zone was a book case in the back of the room with games and activities that students could work on when they were done. Now, the End Zone is a digital space and I update it with each unit I teach.

For example, here is the end zone I created for my natural selection unit.

Some of the links like the “Spring Flower Genetics” and the “Natural Selection Pixel Art” are review activities that will help students prepare for an assessment. [Incidentally, if you click on the links, you can download those two resources for free!] Links like “Crack the DNA code game” and “Play a DNA research game” are websites that have games that reinforce the content of the unit. Links like “Learn about human mutations” are for students who are curious and have questions I haven’t answered in class. “This is Sand” and “Quick Draw” are two quick games that take only a minute or two to play and students enjoy them as time fillers but they aren’t really content related.

Over the course of a unit, students pick and choose their favorite activities. I watch what they choose and try to include more activities that they enjoy, so the End Zone sometimes changes during the unit as favorites are replicated.

There are a few keys to making a great early finisher activity:

  • Use a variety of resources. See below for more ideas.
  • Create a TinyUrl to access the end zone. The link https://tinyurl.com/darwin22 points to the natural selection end zone above. This makes it easier for students to access.
  • Post the link on the board or on Google Classroom at the beginning of the unit so students can access it whenever they need it during the unit.
  • Change it frequently. I update the end zone for each unit with different themes.

12 strategies to include for your early finishers

You can include as many or as few opportunities for enrichment in your middle school science End Zone as you want, but try to include all of these strategies for early finishers:

  • Review activities
  • Easy, quick games that review content.
  • Non-content science – Include one or two of these for each unit, just to mix it up a little:
    • Science Wordle
    • Virtual field trip to some place either related to content or so distant that students likely wouldn’t have visited.
    • Include some kind of citizen science activity that will engage students in real life data collection.
    • If space permits, offer a STEM challenge with some easy to find materials you can keep in a box somewhere.

How do you keep your middle school science students engaged even when they’re early finishers? What kind of strategies for early finishers do you provide in your classroom? Let me know below!

8 Getting to Know You Games that aren’t too cringy

Those first few days of middle school are awkward. New faces, new hormones, new anxieties. Middle schoolers grow up at different rates, and some reach social maturity a little earlier, making that awkwardness even more obvious. Your whole year will run more smoothly if your students break some ice right now. But kids find getting to know you games so cringy – they’re out of their comfort zones and feeling vulnerable and will do anything to avoid them. You know an ice breaker is important to give your new students an opportunity to build relationships and begin to work together, but you also know you have to protect their delicate pre-teen sensibilities.

getting to know you games that aren't cringyHere are 8 Getting to Know You Games that your middle schoolers won’t find too cringy!

Two Truths and a Lie – In this game, everyone comes up with 3 statements about themselves, but only 2 of the statements are true. Each student reads their 3 statements and the other students guess which one is the lie. You can make this even less threatening to your middle schoolers by playing it in small groups of 3-4 students.  The great thing about Two Truths and a Lie is that students can reveal as much or as little about themselves as they want. “I have a dog,” is fine, and so is “I live with my step sister.”

Getting to Know You Bingo – Create a bingo board with 25 boxes. In each box, write a characteristic that is likely to be shared by only 1 or 2 students in your class. Some good statements to write could be “Has 2 siblings,” “Traveled toa  different country this summer” or “Has a pet other than a dog or cat.” Make a copy for each student and give them time to walk around and have each other write their names in a square that applies to them. I have a copy of Getting to Know You Bingo in my TpT store if you want to save some time.

Unique and Shared – I use this as a Bellringer on the school day when I first want students to work in lab groups. Once seated with their groups, I ask them to talk to each other and come up with 1 characteristic that everyone in the group has in common and 1 characteristic that each person in the group has alone. For example, a group might all be 12 years old, but each person has a different birth month.

Heads Up! This is a fun app based game. One person uses their phone to access the app and holds the phone up to their forehead so that the other people in the group can see what the phone says. The other people in the group give clues to the player to try to get him or her to guess what is written on the phone.

Line Up – In various versions of this game, students have to line up in some order, perhaps birthdate or height or alphabetically, without talking. The debrief afterward – “What leadership skills did you see today?” “Who had great communication?” – is the best part. Line Up is one of the 9 activities in my 1st Day of School Ice Breakers resource on TpT if you’re interested in saving yourself some time.

Would You Rather – I play Would You Rather probably once a week as a Bellringer with my students. They love having the opportunity to voice an opinion without vulnerability. I have a pack of 180 Would You Rather questions on TpT that are organized according to theme.

Escape Room – I can’t think of anything that builds teams more quickly than an Escape Room. My kids beg for them, and they work on the first day of school just as well as on the last day. Try a simple digital escape room that encourages students to work in groups and can be completed in under 20 minutes. Three of my favorites are The Disappearing Professor, Who Stole the Owl’s Nest, and The Pet Shop. An alternative might be to design your own escape room (digital or with a locked box for each group of students) using clues around your classroom like the location of the safety equipment.

Rock, Paper, Scissors – Pair up students. Each pair plays 3 quick rounds of rock, paper, scissors. The winner moves on to play against another pair’s winner. Keep going until you have one champion and put that person’s name on your white board for 24 hours under a giant “RPS CHAMPION” title.

What Getting to Know you games do you play with your middle schoolers?


A Week of Sharks in Middle School!

Jaws got us excited about sharks, but the Discovery Channel got us curious. Sharks are terrifying and majestic at the same time making them ideal for engaging middle schoolers. When I see something that middle schoolers find interesting, I pounce on it. Here’s the new unit I designed this year for A Week of Sharks! Students love celebrating shark week in middle school!

Standards Based

In this thematic unit, I address the following Next Generation Science Standards performance expectations:

  • MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s Systems
  • MS-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.
  • MS-LS4-6 Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

Warm Up

To get kids engaged in the unit, I share with them a (fictional) news article about shark sightings in a community resulting in beach closings. Then, we do a quick KWL (Know, Want to Learn, Learned) activity to reveal hidden misunderstandings. Finally, we wrap up the first day with a Fast Facts activity in which students learn about shark adaptations.


Day 2 – Research

On the second day of the week of sharks, students work in small groups to learn more about sharks. They choose from a series of driving questions like “What was the Megalodon?” and “How do shark attacks on people happen?” and prepare infographics to share with their class. This leads to terrific class discussions!

Day 3 – Picture Walk

On the third day of the week of sharks, students participate in a picture walk about several different species of sharks. I included the Great White Shark, the Shortfin Mako, the Hammerhead, the Bronze Whaler, the Tiger shark, the Whale shark, and the Bull shark. At each station, student read about unique adaptations for each shark as well as their sizes and geographic range. Then, students compile what they’ve read into a chart. Using what they learned, students finally create a bar chart comparing sizes and a map comparing ranges.

Day 4 – Food Web

On day 4, each student is assigned an organism in the shark food web. They are provided with information about their organism – what it eats and what eats it. After everyone has read about their organism, they attempt to connect to their food and their predators using yarn. The class creates a three dimensional food web based on the information about each organism. We discuss  how each organism affects the other organisms in the food web.

Day 5 – Wrap Up

To review what we learned, students complete a self checking digital worksheet.

As a final assessment of the week of sharks, students complete  a crossword puzzle.


Throughout the week of sharks, students learn about adaptations and food webs, and practice their mapping and graphing skills as well. If you’re interested in reading more about this unit, click here.

Tips for a Great Science Demo Lesson

I was interviewed in my current district over the summer vacation and they asked me to do a demo lesson. There were no students, just a bunch of administrators with clipboards. Where do you even begin to prepare for such a situation? Here are some tips for a great science demo lesson given the ridiculous hurdles that such a lesson presents!

What is a Demo Lesson? teacher new years resolutions 2022

Often, a school that is interviewing teachers for a position will ask their top 2 or 3 candidates to do a “demo lesson” to evaluate style and see if the teacher will fit the culture and community of the school.

We all know demo lessons are farcical.  For starters, demo lessons are conducted at the end of the year when there are teacher openings. Students aren’t on their *best* behavior and have, in some cases, seen 3 or 4 demo lessons already. They know it’s not real and they don’t care enough to engage. The candidate teacher is a new face and often has been given little information to prep on.

Sometimes the interviewer will tell the candidate the scope of content the students have mastered, but often it’s a shot in the dark. Should I teach cell structure? Do they already know the rock cycle? Do the students have the requisite background information to be successful at what I’m trying to do?

Candidates must also craft a lesson that is complete – one entire piece of knowledge requiring no prerequisites and no follow up – that encompasses all of the skills an observer wants to see and all of the standards that the students are expected to reach.

It’s ridiculous to imagine that observers will be able to deduce much about teacher style in such a forced atmosphere. The pandemic has added another barrier candidates must hurdle – the virtual demo lesson! In this situation, the teacher is doing her lesson on Zoom. The “students” have no materials and no prior knowledge and they’re probably watching Seinfeld at the same time.

Administrators tell me that the demo lesson is more of an attempt to weed out the obviously unsuitable. Candidates might present well in a resume or in an interview but can’t speak in front of an audience or conduct a class. We all know those indescribable characteristics that make teachers *great* and they are not characteristics that are necessarily obvious in an interview. With that in mind, the content of the lesson is likely less important than the personality of the candidate. Either you’re an *educator* or you’re not, in the eyes of the observers.

Tips for a Successful Demo Lesson

If you want the job, your demo lesson must showcase your talents and convince the observers that you fit the culture of the school. Here are some tips for a great demo lesson in science:

  1. Dress appropriately. Even if it’s casual Friday, wear business clothes.
  2. Introduce yourself to your class by name and a quick 10 second summary of who you are. “Hi. My name is Ms. Zee and I’ve been a science teacher for 33 years.”
  3. Introduce the standard you’re addressing with an “I can” statement. “Today, we’ll be talking about Life Science standard 2-1 which says that, by the end of the period, you’ll be able to make a graph showing how factors affect a population size.”
  4. Give a mini-lesson on the topic.
  5. Change the pace by giving opportunities for students to talk to each other such as a Think, Pair, Share.
  6. Provide a brain break.
  7. Make sure students collaborate:
    1. lab experiment
    2. picture walk
    3. a “citizen science” activity
    4. an escape room
    5. a virtual field trip
  8. Reinforce your concept by using self-checking worksheets, color by number review, or Boom Cards for practice. They’re a great way to have students practice what they’ve learned with minimal vulnerability yet still providing feedback to you.
  9. Provide an exit ticket. Be sure to refer to the “I can” statement so students can evaluate how well they’ve achieved the goal of the lesson.

Demo Lesson for LS 2-1

Click the image to download a copy of the LF and CC lesson plan! Limiting factor and carrying capacity lesson plan

On the high school level, this standard says “Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanation of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales.” On the middle school level, it says “Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.” With appropriate modifications, you can use this lesson for anywhere from grades 6-11.

    1. Introduce the standard you’re addressing with an “I can” statement. “Today, we’ll be talking about Life Science standard 2-1 which says that, by the end of the period, you’ll be able to analyze how different factors affect a population size.”
    2. Give a mini-lesson on the topic. To address LS 2-1, I wrote a quick slide show and cloze notes combo that will take about 5-10 minutes to finish.
    3. Provide a brain break. Since you’re doing this demo lesson online, I like the idea of teaching students how to say “Limit” in American sign language, or perhaps having them describe a photo of a large population (maybe a photo like this?) to see what it evokes.
    4. Student collaborative activity. For a LS 2-1 demo lesson, students can complete a hands on activity in which they analyze a population that is affected by limiting factors. I use a game in which 100 frogs are living in a pond. Through randomly rolling the dice or drawing cards from a pile (depending on whether I’m doing the lesson in person or virtually), the frogs are affected by different limiting factors.
    5. Provide informal formative assessment as a closure to wrap up the lesson. I use Boom Cards as exit tickets. They’re a great way to have students practice what they’ve learned with minimal vulnerability yet still providing feedback to you. Be sure to refer back to the “I can” statement so students can evaluate how well they’ve achieved the goal of the lesson.

    Good luck on your demo lesson! I’m sure you’re going to WOW them! Let me know how it goes!


Managing Burnout

This is not my first rodeo. This was my 33rd year in the classroom. And I can assure you that this was the hardest year of my career.

Our last day of school was a last week. I literally sat on the couch for 2 solid days. I took naps and snacked. That’s all I could do for 2 days. Then came 2 days of mild productivity. I did a load of laundry (still unfolded in a laundry basket) and I washed some dishes. I went to the farmers market and bought some groceries. But I needed a nap after all that exertion. I feel like I’ve been through a trauma and need to recover. I have no energy or interest in anything at all.

This is not normal. This is burnout, and teachers all over the world are experiencing it, some for the first time.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout is a temporary condition resulting from having exhausted the personal and professional resources you need to do your job.

Signs of Burnout

Teachers experiencing burnout might have these symptoms:

  • Fatigue.
  • Sleep issues – too much or too little.
  • Periods of forgetfulness, difficulty retrieving words and thoughts.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Appetite issues – too much or too little.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.

What causes Burnout?

  • Demoralizing behaviors:
    • Lack of recognition from administrators causes teachers to feel unappreciated.
    • Teachers feel demoralized when their professional opinions are not considered. Examples: a science classroom that is being rebuilt without input from the science teacher; a homework policy that is handed down from above without input; assemblies that are not meaningful to our students.
    • Salaries that don’t meet the 8% inflation rate this year or the increase in demands on our time.
    • Lack of support in student discipline matters and parent conflicts leave teachers feeling hung out to dry.
  • Increased demands:
    • Administrators who don’t respect teachers’ time and professionalism contribute to burnout far more than most people are aware. The best example we’re all familiar with is meetings that could have been emails. Please don’t make me sit through a meeting for an hour when I could have read the email in 4 minutes.
    • Increased accountability to collect data on learning loss from quarantine and remote schooling.
    • Students who are functionally below grade level due to illness, quarantine, home schooling, or virtual schooling can not meet standards without extensive remediation by teachers who are already overworked.
    • Parents who expect their students to earn As without supporting the child’s education increase the work load of teachers who must work harder to keep these students up to par.
    • Teacher shortages caused by quarantining teachers or teachers leaving the profession have increased the work load for those of us still in the trenches.
    • Decrease in planning time to make up for the learning losses, teacher shortages, and increased data collection.
  • Type “A” behaviors
    • Teachers are typically high achievers who strive to do the best job for their students. When you’re always looking for ways to improve, and don’t get the support or recognition that you deserve but instead get additional work piled on, you reach your breaking point. Overworking is not a virtue.

How can you combat burnout?

The “staff wellness” professional development, lunch time massages, Starbucks gift cards, and candy in our mailboxes are fine, but they absolutely do not prevent or cure burnout. Here are some ideas that you can do to help yourself if you’re feeling burned out:teacher burnout

  1. Take a mental health day. There is absolutely no shame in using your personal time off for your own mental health.
  2. Stop taking work home. If it’s not done during the school day, then it’s not done. If deadlines need to be moved to accommodate increased workload, then deadlines will be moved.
  3. Get some exercise. Go for a walk, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
  4. Cut yourself some slack. There’s no need to make every worksheet or slide show perfect. Done is better than perfect.
  5. Go to bed early. On school days, I’m in bed by 10. In June, it’s closer to 9.
  6. Seek out friends and mentors. Ask for help from trusted colleagues.
  7. Reward yourself. My mother always told me that wearing a new outfit makes the day better. She was right, so I treat myself to something new when I’m feeling down.
  8. Reread your “love me” file. I have a file of cards from students throughout the years. Whenever a student or parent writes me a note thanking me for something, I save it for a rainy day.
  9. Remind yourself why you teach. I became a teacher to touch the future. There are lots of reasons to love being a teacher, and I remind myself of them a lot.

Help each other. Comment below with your favorite ways to prevent and combat burnout!

Genius Hour in Middle School

What is Genius Hour?

Genius Hour is sometimes called Passion Projects and is an opportunity for student directed learning based on inquiry. Students can explore their own unique interests in a loosely structured classroom environment. They choose what they want to study and how they want to study it. They also choose what kind of product they will create as a result of what they’ve studied. Genius Hour gives students a chance to pursue what they’re passionate about within general parameters.

Genius hour can be scheduled into your unit in multiple ways. You can make every Friday’s class period, for example, to be time for students to work on their Genius Hour activities. Some teachers provide Genius Hour opportunities during lunch block or after school. The last 10 minutes of every class period can be allotted for Genius Hour activities.

What are the benefits of Genius Hour?

Students who participate in a Genius Hour program are more intrinsically motivated, more creative, and more passionate about being a lifelong learner. They develop grit or perseverance and practice the scientific method at the same time. Students can collaborate with others who have complementary skill sets, building communication skills. Working through a passion project allows students to practice and develop their critical thinking skills and research skills.

What are the 3 rules of Genius Hour?

  1. Passion Projects must start with a driving question that is bigger than a simple Google Search.
  2. Students must research their question and collect information to help them understand fully.
  3. Finally, students must create either a physical, digital, or service oriented product to demonstrate learning.

Genius Hour Examples for Middle School Science

  • Create a podcast or TED talk.
  • Write and perform a play or a song.
  • Write a blog, pamphlet, or research paper.
  • Create a poster, a cartoon, a game, or a 3D model.
  • Teach someone else a new skill.
  • Build a website.
  • Create an app.
  • Create a video game.
  • Create, market, and sell a product.
  • Conduct a science experiment.

genius hourWhat are the steps for Genius Hour in a middle school science classroom?

Day 1:  Students should brainstorm things they are interested in and then choose something they are really passionate about.

Day 2: Pick a project. Aim for the Goldilocks of ambitious projects – the project should be big enough to be interesting but not so big that students will get discouraged too quickly. A great way to implement this in your middle school classroom would be to have students discuss their ideas with their peers and then present you with their final project in a mini-conference.

Day 3: Pick a driving question. Students should very specifically define what it is they are trying to find out. The more specific the question is, the more successful they will be. If the question can be answered in a simple Google search, they need to go back to the drawing board.

Days 4-5: Do the research. My middle schoolers are fluent Googlers but less successful doing research without direction. Provide a note catcher or other tool to help them organize their research. (Bonus points if your students design their own note catcher!) To help students stay focused, you might consider providing intermediate feedback on the direction of their research after the first day.

Day 6-?: Create something. To demonstrate what they’ve learned, students should create something. Students may want to create a publication, a blog, a video, a play, a gallery walk, a wax museum, or a painting.

Day ?: Presentation Day. Invite parents and community members. Picture this like the old fashioned science fair.

Final Day: Reflect. Students should be given an opportunity to bring the process full circle and reflect on what went well and what they would do differently. What did they learn?


Where are the teachers going?

I just signed my contract for next year. But a bunch of teachers did not.

What’s happening?

Some staff turnover is normal, of course. Education Week says that a “normal” number of teachers leaving the profession is about 8% per year.
This year is different. This year, the number is at least double and even triple in some locations. I’m worried that school will start in September without a full staff. I’m worried about class sizes, running out of lab supplies, and lab safety in overcrowded classrooms.

Why are they leaving?

Asked this question recently, I sort of snarkily replied, “If you don’t know, then you’re not paying attention.”
Burnout is ridiculously high in education in the best of circumstances, but 3 years of building the plane while we were flying it has resulted in emotional exhaustion mandates, and a whole host of random knee jerk reactions to a global problem. There’s just a lot more being asked of teachers now, but there isn’t commensurate compensation.
Low pay is a contributor. The cost of living in the United States in 2022 increased by 5.9% and is expected to increase by 8.9% in 2023. Did you salary go up that much? Mine went up 1.3% this year.
Lack of respect by parents, administrators, and students contributes as well. Is it worse this year? That probably depends on your school district, but it surely doesn’t help.

Where are they going?

In February of this year, Forbes  Magazine published “Why Teachers are Leaving and Where They’re Going.” Apparently, there is a demand for teacher skills in companies that produce educational products and companies that train educators. Teachers have transferable skills such as the ability to chunk information and deliver content, efficiency, creativity, and organization. Teachers are masters at graphic design, management. Indeed.com published a list of 35 businesses that are interested in hiring teachers because of these transferable skills.

Why am I staying?

Again, my answer is the same. If you don’t know, then you’re not paying attention. I’m staying because of the kids. I love helping to engage students to think critically. I love it when they accidentally call me “Mom” (yes, even in middle school). I love knowing my impact.

If you’re going to stay on this crazy carnival ride with me,  here’s a little freebie for you. Just a little something to use when you go back to school at the end of the summer!

The Science of Summer Sports

“But when will we have to know this?” Every middle school teacher has heard this lament. It’s hard to make Newton’s Laws or simple machines exciting, and it’s hard for a 7th or 8th grade student to engage with heavy dry material. But when you can make the science engaging or relevant, kids will dig in. Children are naturally curious, and if you can tap into that curiosity, you can help them learn anything. The newest product line in the JustAddH2O store is a series of products connecting the summer games to science, and the kids are loving it! The science of summer sports engages middle schoolers and helps them make connections to physical science.

If you’re running a summer enrichment course this summer, these activities will engage and excite your students. Each activity stands alone so  they can be used in any order.

science of cyclingThe Science of Cycling

The first product in the science of summer sports product line analyzes how science affects cycling.

How do helmets work? First we’ll tackle the problem of bicycle helmets. Learn how helmets work and then use what you learned to protect an egg in everyone’s favorite lab – the egg drop!

Helmets protect your head from injury in two ways. The plastic outer shell helps your head slide rather than stop suddenly, preventing or lessening the severity of an injury. The foam padding inside cushions the impact by spreading it out over a longer period of time and a larger surface, reducing the force on any one part of the head.

Use what you learn about helmets to design and build a container to protect an egg from breaking. Kids love this activity – I’ve had students come back years later and remind me of how their egg didn’t break (or did break) and what fun they had doing the lab.

What are wheels and axles? A wheel and axle is a simple machine that helps make work easier. In a bicycle, the pedal acts like a wheel and transfers the movement of your food to the smaller axle, which transfers the movement to the bicycle chain. The bicycle chain acts like a pulley and transfers the movement to another axle, this one in the center of the bicycle wheel. This axle transfers the movement to the larger wheel which makes the bike move.

Students make their own go-kart wheel and axles out of fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, I tell students to bring in a piece of fruit or a vegetable without telling them what it will be used for, and then I pair up students so that they have to make their go-kart from the two items they brought in. This is another high engagement activity that graduates remind me of years later.  “Remember that time we had to make a cart out of a piece of celery and a green pepper?!”

The Science of Basketballthe science of basketball

The summer games wouldn’t be complete without basketball. There are 3 hands on activities that even sports-challenged middle schoolers can complete to learn about the science of basketball.

How does the surface affect the bounce? Students can practice collecting data while trying to determine how the type of surface affects how high a basketball bounces. Using controls (inflation of the ball, height from which the ball is dropped) and variables (different surfaces), students use the scientific method. A simple data table comparing the height of a bounce on linoleum, wood, grass, carpet, asphalt, or whatever surfaces are available to you will allow students to make comparisons. Create a bar graph and add another NGSS skill to your toolbelt.

How does inflation affect the bounce? A similar experiment uses differently inflated basketballs to measure how each one bounces. Have students try different amounts of inflation ranging from 4 psi up to 8 or 9 psi to determine the inflation that produces the best bounce. Students will use controls (surface and height from which the basketball is dropped) and variables (inflation) and collect data which they can graph in a bar graph.

How do senses affect accuracy? A fun activity students enjoy is to compare how many baskets a student can get in 10 shots when they’ve covered one eye, plugged their ears, or worn gloves.

science of runningThe Science of Running

Start off studying about the science of running by learning how the human body is built to run. The muscles and tendons of the legs combine with the arches in the foot to make our bodies perfect runners. The ability to sweat helps us control our body temperatures.

Measuring Lung Capacity – Students can make bubbles using a straw dipped in bubble solution on your lab tables and measure the diameters of the bubbles. Using the formula of a sphere, you can calculate the volume of the bubble and therefore the volume of your lungs. It’s interesting to compare the lung capacity of tall students versus shorter students or the lung capacities of athletes versus non-athletes.

Chicken Leg dissection. In what’s sure to be the most remembered activity of the school year, have students dissect a chicken leg. Start off explaining the difference between smooth, skeletal, and cardiac muscle. Then, provide students with a labeled drawing of the muscles of the human leg and have them attempt to locate those muscles in a chicken leg. Surprisingly, the muscles are very similar (Hey, great opportunity to talk about homologous structures!). Then, remove the muscles and identify the bones in the chicken leg to compare them to the bones of the human leg.

The Science of Swimmingthe science of swimming

My favorite summer games sport is swimming, probably due to Michael Phelps dominating during my formative years 🙂 Here are two activities you can do with your middle schoolers to learn about the science of swimming.

Newton’s Third Law – Swimming is a result of pushing the water in one direction while the water pushes you in the other direction. Newton’s Third Law is one that is easy for students to understand, and an old fashioned game of marbles helps them get it. I build marble tracks by taping meter sticks to the lab tables. Set up a marble on the track and then flick another marble toward it. What happens? How does that change when you set up 2 target marbles and flick one shooter marble? How about setting up 2 target marbles and 2 shooter marbles? This is a great activity not only to learn about Newton’s Laws, but also to lead into momentum.

Hydrodynamics – Why do competitive swimmers wear bathing caps? You’ll need a kiddie pool to answer that questions. Use string to attach a spring scale to various objects – start with a frisbee, an orange, and a wooden block. Then, measure the force required to pull the object across the water. If you pull nearly horizontally, the force you’re measuring is the force of the water rather than the force of gravity. As you’re measuring the force, the concept of hydrodynamics comes in to play. Students will see that different shapes move more easily in water.


All Science of Summer resources are offered at 30% off now through August 20th!

The Science of Basketball 

The Science of Running

The Science of Swimming

The Science of Cycling