How to watch the October 14 Annular Eclipse

An annular eclipse is a type of solar eclipse that occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth but does not entirely cover the Sun’s disk. This phenomenon is due to the Moon being at a point in its orbit where it appears slightly smaller than the Sun when viewed from Earth. Consequently, during the eclipse, a ring of sunlight remains visible around the Moon, giving it an annular or “ring of fire” appearance. The October 14th eclipse will be visible as an annular eclipse in the United States on a path between Oregon and Texas. It will appear as a partial throughout the rest of the continental United States. path of october 14 annular eclipse

While the October 14 eclipse  doesn’t occur on a school day (unlike the total solar eclipse of April 2025!), and even though it is only a partial eclipse in my part of the Country, I still plan to prepare my students to observe this phenomenon.

One activity students can do to prepare for the eclipse is to learn how eclipses work. A simple flashlight demo with a golf ball and a tennis ball is perfect to model lunar, solar and annular eclipses.

It is very important to strongly warn students against observing a solar or annular eclipse directly! Students can observe the eclipse using ISO approved solar glasses or by creating a pinhole projector which is what we will be doing in my class this week. A pinhole projector allows students to indirectly observe the Sun changing shape by standing with your back to the Sun and projecting an image of the Sun onto a piece of paper.

use a pinhole projector to observe the October 14 annular eclipse

I am offering this activity on my TpT store for $4.50, but readers of this blog can get it for $2.50 by clicking here!

9 ways Teachers Can Spot AI-Generated Homework

Are your students taking a sneak peek into the world of Artificial Intelligence to ace their homework? We know how tech-savvy our kids can be! While technology can be beneficial for learning, it’s essential to maintain academic integrity and ensure that students are genuinely engaging with their coursework. Balancing technology’s advantages with responsible use is a crucial aspect of modern education. As educators, it’s a thrilling challenge to keep up with their ever-evolving ways. And now, another job got added to our overflowing plates – detecting AI use in homework. Here are 9 ways teachers can detect AI use in homework and identify if our clever students are getting a little AI assistance with their assignments. 

Learn about AI

Familiarize yourself with AI-generated content: As a teacher, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of AI technology, including natural language processing and AI-generated text. This will help you recognize patterns and inconsistencies in students’ work.

Detecting AI use in homework

Promote open communication

Talk to your students. Create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable discussing challenges they face in their assignments. Encourage them to seek help and support rather than resorting to AI-based shortcuts. We’ve said it here a million times – education is more about building relationships than conferring information. Prevention of AI use in homework is easier than detecting it later.

Explain Consequences

Make sure students understand the importance of academic integrity and the potential consequences of using AI or other unethical means to complete their homework. Does your school have an academic integrity policy? Use it.

Know your students

Get to know what your students’ writing looks like without artificial intelligence by having them write for you in school (presumably, you can monitor their AI use while they are in your classroom!). Look for abrupt shifts in writing style: AI-generated content may have sudden changes in tone, language, or writing style, especially if the student has copied and pasted different sections from different sources. As a rule, AI generators write consistent sentences – all equally complex and of similar length. Students tend not to write like that.

Understand AI’s shortcomings

Analyze grammar and syntax errors in your students’ writing.  AI-generated content might be more prone to grammar mistakes or unnatural sentence structures. Look for odd phrasings or language that doesn’t align with the student’s usual writing abilities. For example, a student may write “The teacher gave their students lots of homework” but an AI generator might make a syntactical error such as “The teacher gave they students lot’s of homework.” Students are generally more likely to use the correct possessive pronoun “their” and are less prone to inserting inappropriate apostrophes in such contexts. Additionally, AI generators make factual errors. Famously, a New York lawyer filed a motion using AI which incorrectly cited cases.

Detecting AI use in homework

Check for advanced vocabulary

If the student typically uses simple language but suddenly incorporates complex terms or phrases, it could be a sign of AI assistance. A student might write “The weather was very hot yesterday” but AI might generate the sentence “The meteorological conditions were torrid yesterday.” If you know your student’s natural vocabulary and writing style, you’ll recognize the AI generated sentence easily.

Speed and Quantity

If a student submits a large volume of exceptionally well-written work in a short period, it may raise suspicions of AI assistance. In my seventh grade class, a 4-5 sentence paragraph might take a student 15-20 minutes to write well. If your student produced an 8 sentence paragraph in 5 minutes, be suspicious!

Detecting AI use in homework

Ask follow-up questions

If you suspect AI usage, engage the student in a discussion about their work. Ask them to explain specific concepts or elaborate on their thought process. This can help determine if they genuinely understand the content.

Utilize AI detection tools

There are various online tools available to detect plagiarism. If you’re suspicious, copy and paste some of your students’ work into these detection tools for analysis. Here are some AI detection tools that are useful:

I don’t know that I would depend on these tools completely. In a random test I conducted, I had mixed results. I compared a paragraph I copied from ChatGPT and a paragraph I wrote myself and these detectors were unable to positively identify which paragraph was which.

Detecting AI use in homework

Let’s not get too comfy with AI doing all the heavy lifting, especially when it comes to homework. Yeah, it’s tempting to take the easy road, but cheating ain’t cool, folks! AI undeniably offers valuable assistance, streamlining research, providing insights, and enhancing learning experiences. However, as educators, we must emphasize that the true purpose of education extends beyond mere shortcuts and easy solutions. While AI is a powerful tool, it should never become a means to cheat or compromise academic integrity. As cool as AI is, let’s remember that real learning happens when we put in the effort, think critically, and come up with our own stuff. As we embrace the wonders of technology, let us continue fostering a culture of curiosity, critical thinking, and responsible use.



Creating a Positive Classroom Culture in Science

creating a positive classroom culture in science

We hear about creating a positive classroom culture in science, but what does that actually look like? Imagine stepping into a middle school science classroom, hoping to ignite a love for science in your students. However, instead of an atmosphere buzzing with curiosity and engagement, you’re met with disinterested faces, minimal participation, and a lack of enthusiasm. It’s a scene that many middle school teachers are familiar with – the challenge of establishing a positive classroom culture. When a classroom lacks a supportive and inclusive environment, students may hesitate to ask questions, feel disconnected from the subject matter, and miss out on the collaborative learning experience. But fear not! In this blog post, we will explore the impact of a negative classroom culture in the context of science education and uncover effective strategies to foster an environment where curiosity, passion, and scientific exploration thrive among middle school students.

The Importance of a Positive Classroom Culture

creating a positive classroom culture in scienceAn encouraging and supportive classroom culture is crucial in middle school science education, especially considering the impact of the pandemic on educational environments.

Firstly, positive classroom culture fosters a sense of belonging and emotional well-being among students, promoting their overall engagement and investment in the subject. When students feel safe and supported, they are more likely to take risks, ask questions, and actively participate in scientific discussions.

A positive classroom culture enhances collaboration and teamwork, which are essential skills for scientific inquiry. Through cooperative learning experiences, students can develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills that are vital for scientific exploration.  A positive classroom culture helps to create an environment where students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, sharing ideas, and engaging in open dialogue. Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, which brought disruptions and challenges to traditional classroom settings, a nurturing culture can help rebuild and strengthen students’ connection with science, providing them with the encouragement and motivation needed to thrive academically and personally.

Science classrooms with a positive classroom culture are evident because behavior problems are minimal. No, classroom climate is not a panacea for all that ails you, but an atmosphere of respect and encouragement minimizes disruption most of the time.

Building Strong Teacher-Student Relationships

Strong teacher-student relationships are of paramount importance in education as they have a profound impact on students’ academic, social, and emotional development. Building a positive and supportive connection with students creates a sense of trust, respect, and belonging within the classroom and helps to create a positive classroom culture in science. When students feel valued and understood by their teachers, they are more motivated to actively engage in the learning process. Strong teacher-student relationships also foster open communication, allowing students to feel comfortable seeking help, asking questions, and sharing their thoughts and concerns.

Building strong teacher-student relationships requires intentional effort and nurturing. Here are some effective strategies to foster those connections:

  1. Get to know your students: Take the time to learn about their interests, hobbies, and backgrounds. Engage in conversations and show genuine interest in their lives outside of the classroom. In the beginning of the year, create a checklist and set yourself a goal of having a personal conversation with every student at least once a week. (I have 110 students – maybe bimonthly is more realistic?)
  2. Show care and empathy: Demonstrate empathy and understanding towards your students. Acknowledge their feelings, provide emotional support when needed, and create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. I make it a priority to greet my students at the door every day as they walk into the classroom. I say hello to each student by name and often start a short conversation – “Great haircut!” or “How was your weekend?” If my students are playing a football game on Thursday afternoon, I might pop by and cheer them on for a few minutes – they will remember that for the rest of the year.
  3. Establish clear expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations for behavior, participation, and academic performance. Some teachers make this more of a class activity – as a group, establish norms for behavior that they should be able to expect in this classroom. Others are more structured – here are the procedures for entering the room, handing in homework, sharpening a pencil, etc.  Consistency in enforcing these expectations helps students understand boundaries and fosters a sense of trust.
  4. Active listening: Practice active listening by giving students your full attention when they speak. Show respect for their ideas, opinions, and questions. Encourage open dialogue and create opportunities for students to share their thoughts. Not only does this demonstrate that you respect them, it also models the type of behavior you expect from them. Creating a positive classroom culture in science is very often an extension of creating a place where students feel valued.
  5. Celebrate achievements: Recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of your students, both big and small. Praise their efforts and successes publicly to boost their confidence and sense of achievement. Of course, this applies to students who score well on an assessment or hand in a particularly great project, but it also applies to students who might have hit a homerun in yesterday’s baseball game or did a dance routine in the pep rally.
  6. Be accessible: Make yourself available to students for extra help, guidance, or even informal conversations. Let them know they can approach you with any concerns or questions they may have.

Encouraging Student Voice and Choice

Encouraging student voice and choice in the classroom is an effective way to create a positive classroom culture in science as well as foster student engagement, ownership, and empowerment. Here are some strategies to promote student voice and choice:

  1. Student-led discussions: Allow students to lead discussions on topics of interest or relevance to the curriculum. Encourage them to ask questions, express their opinions, and engage in respectful debates. Facilitate open discussions, listen actively, and provide constructive feedback. Encourage students to provide feedback to one another, promoting a supportive learning community.
  2. Choice in assignments: Offer students a range of options for assignments or projects, allowing them to choose topics, formats, or methods that align with their interests and strengths. This promotes autonomy and increases motivation. There’s nothing like a choice board to help students focus on their skills.
  3. Collaborative decision-making: Involve students in decision-making processes that affect the classroom. Seek their input on classroom rules, learning activities, or even assessment methods.  While this might not always be practical, try incorporating student input as much as you can to help empower them and help them develop their decision making skills. Support and facilitate student-led initiatives, such as clubs, projects, or community involvement. Encourage students to take leadership roles and make decisions about the direction and implementation of their initiatives.

Read also:

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

Foldables in Middle School Science

What are foldables?

Foldables are a popular tool for interactive learning in middle school science classrooms. A foldable is a three-dimensional graphic organizer that allows students to organize information in a fun and engaging way. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of foldables in middle school science and how they can improve student learning. By using different types of foldables, teachers can engage students in interactive learning that is both fun and effective. Whether you’re summarizing information, comparing and contrasting ideas, or organizing small pieces of information, there’s a foldable that can help you do it.

There are many different types of foldables that can be used to organize information in a fun and engaging way. In this blog post, we will explore the different types of foldables and how they can be used in the classroom.

Tri-Fold Foldable

The tri-fold foldable or brochure is one of the most common types of foldables. It consists of a single piece of paper that is folded in thirds, with each section used to organize information. This type of foldable is great for summarizing information or providing an overview of a topic.

trifold foldable

Tab Foldable

A tab foldable consists of a single sheet of paper that is folded. One side of the fold is cut into tabs to create flaps – 3 or 4 is common, but certainly you could use many more. Terms  are written on one side of each flap and the definitions of each are written underneath. This type of foldable works well as a study guide for vocabulary and is also great for gluing in to an interactive notebook.

tab foldable

Layered Book Foldable

A layered book or flipbook foldable is a more complex type of foldable that consists of multiple layers of paper that are stacked, folded and glued together. This type of foldable is great for organizing information that has multiple levels or categories. A good place to start is two sheets of paper (4 pages folded).

4 page foldable flipbook

Foldables in Middle School Science

Foldables provide students with a hands-on approach to organizing information, enabling them to interact with subject matter actively. As students fold, cut, and manipulate paper, they become active participants in their learning journey, reinforcing retention and promoting deeper comprehension. Foldables are great for middle school science for many reasons.

  1. Encourages active learning

Foldables encourage active learning, which means that students are actively engaged in the learning process instead of passively listening to a lecture. By creating their own foldables, students are more likely to remember the information because they are interacting with it in a hands-on way. Additionally, students can take ownership of their learning by creating a foldable that reflects their own understanding of the material.

  1. Promotes visual learning

Foldables are a great way to promote visual learning. Many students are visual learners, which means they learn best through visual aids such as diagrams, pictures, and charts. Foldables allow students to organize information in a visual way that is easy to understand and remember. By including images and graphics, students can create a visual representation of the material that can help them better understand the concepts.

  1. Enhances note-taking skills

Foldables can help students develop better note-taking skills. By organizing information into different categories, students can easily identify the most important information and create a clear and concise representation of the material. This can be especially beneficial for students who struggle with traditional note-taking methods or have difficulty organizing their thoughts.

  1. Provides a study aid

Foldables can also serve as a study aid for students. By creating a foldable, students have a concise and organized representation of the material that can be used for review. Foldables can be used to summarize important concepts, provide examples, and show relationships between different ideas. By using their own foldables for review, students can be confident in their understanding of the material.

Here are some foldables I use in my middle school science class:

Sun, Earth and Moon Interactive Notebook Templates for Middle School Natural Selection Interactive Notebook Templates for Middle School

rock cycle interactive notebook








In conclusion, foldables are a great tool for middle school science students. They encourage active learning, promote visual learning, enhance note-taking skills, and provide a study aid. Consider trying out foldables as a way to enhance your students’ learning experience.

Harnessing the Power of ChatGPT in middle school science

Last winter, we started to hear about this new technology that would write paragraphs, answer questions, and have conversations with you like a friendly chat. At first, I dismissed it – “It’s just a fancier Google,” I thought. But then I began to check it out. I asked ChatGPT to help me rewrite a tricky email to a parent and was pleasantly surprised. I asked it to write some multiple choice questions for an assessment and was able to use the questions they generated with only minimal adjustments. I asked it to generate a paragraph about friction on two different reading levels, and saved myself a ton of time. All of a sudden, ChatGPT became the personal assistant I’ve wanted all along! Here are some of the things I’ve learned about ChatGPT over the past few months.

Signing in to ChatGPT

Here’s how to get in on the fun:

  1. Go to
  2. If you’ve never opened an account, click “Sign Up.”
  3. You will be prompted to enter an email address or sign in with your existing Google, Microsoft or Apple account.
  4. Enter your name and birthday and click “Continue.”
  5. Enter your phone number and ChatGPT will send you a verification code.
  6. And you’re in!

What ChatGPT can do

chatgpt for middle school science teachersLesson Planning – Use ChatGPT to generate ideas and suggestions for lesson plans. You can specify format and ask for certain types of activities such as hands on learning, demonstrations, discussion questions, or formative assessments. Try these prompts:

  • “Generate engaging activities for teaching the scientific method to middle school students.”
  • “Provide hands-on experiments and demonstrations to teach the concept of chemical reactions in high school chemistry.”
  • “Suggest inquiry-based investigations to explore the principles of motion and forces for elementary school students.”
  • “Develop a lesson plan on the water cycle that incorporates interactive visuals and student participation.”
  • “Create a project-based learning activity to teach environmental conservation and sustainability to high school students.”
  • “Design a lesson plan that introduces the basics of genetics and heredity through interactive simulations or models.”
  • “Generate ideas for teaching the principles of electricity and circuits using everyday objects for middle school students.”
  • “Provide examples of STEM challenges to teach engineering and design thinking to elementary school students.”
  • “Develop a lesson plan on the solar system that incorporates virtual exploration and multimedia resources for middle school students.”

Content creation: ChatGPT can help teachers generate content such as worksheets, quizzes, or writing prompts, providing additional resources to support classroom instruction. Try these prompts:

  • “Generate a worksheet on the periodic table, including questions on element properties and atomic structure.”
  • “Create a quiz on the human body systems, covering topics such as organs, functions, and interactions between systems.”
  • “Develop a writing prompt on climate change, encouraging students to discuss its causes, impacts, and potential solutions.”
  • “Design a worksheet on the water cycle, with diagrams and questions to assess understanding of its different stages.”
  • “Generate a quiz on genetics and inheritance, covering topics like Punnett squares, traits, and genetic disorders.”
  • “Develop a worksheet on the rock cycle, including labeling diagrams and short answer questions to assess comprehension.”
  • “Design a quiz on forces and motion, covering concepts such as Newton’s laws, acceleration, and types of forces.”

Student support: Teachers can leverage ChatGPT to provide additional explanations or examples for students who need extra help or clarification on specific topics. Try these prompts:

  • “Provide a clear explanation of Newton’s first law of motion and give an everyday example to help students understand it better.”
  • “Explain the concept of photosynthesis step by step, including the role of chlorophyll and the overall process of converting light energy into chemical energy.”
  • “Elaborate on the difference between an element and a compound, and provide examples of each to illustrate the distinction.”
  • “Help students understand the concept of fractions by providing practical examples and explaining how to perform operations like addition or subtraction with fractions.”
  • One of my favorites: “Rewrite in a 4th grade reading level” and then paste the paragraph as it is written for on-level students.

Differentiated instruction: ChatGPT can assist teachers in tailoring instruction to meet the diverse learning needs of students. It can provide alternative explanations or examples based on individual student queries or prompt responses. Try these prompts:

  • “Provide alternative explanations for the water cycle that vary in complexity to cater to different learning levels and abilities.”
  • “Suggest hands-on experiments of varying difficulty levels to explore the properties of light and how it interacts with objects.”
  • “Generate additional practice problems at different levels of difficulty to reinforce understanding of the periodic table and element properties.”
  • “Create modified versions of worksheets or activities with scaffolded support for students who may need extra guidance or accommodations.”
  • “Develop extension questions or projects that challenge advanced learners to explore advanced topics related to energy or ecosystems.”
  • “Generate alternative assessments that allow students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept through different modalities, such as visual presentations, multimedia projects, or oral explanations.””

Language support: ChatGPT can be beneficial for English as a Second Language (ESL) students, providing language translation assistance, vocabulary explanations, or language practice activities. Try these prompts:

  • “Suggest vocabulary-building activities and games to help ESL students learn and practice science terminology related to [specific science topic].”
  • “Generate sentence frames or sentence starters to assist ESL students in expressing their thoughts and ideas during class discussions or written assignments.”
  • “Offer bilingual resources or translated materials to support ESL students in accessing scientific information in their native language.”
  • “Suggest interactive online resources, educational videos, or simulations that provide visual and auditory support to aid ESL students in grasping scientific concepts.”
  • “Create graphic organizers or concept maps that visually represent the relationships between key scientific ideas and vocabulary, supporting ESL students in organizing their thoughts and making connections.”

Professional development: ChatGPT can serve as a resource for teachers’ professional development, offering insights, recommendations, or strategies for effective teaching practices.

  • “Explore current research and best practices in inquiry-based science instruction, with suggestions on how I can incorporate them into my teaching.”
  • “Investigate innovative strategies and technologies for engaging students in hands-on science experiments and investigations.”
  • “What are some new approaches or best practices for formative and summative assessment that align with NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards).”
  • “Investigate strategies for integrating literacy skills into science instruction, such as reading informational texts, writing scientific explanations, and conducting science research.”
  • “Examine ways to incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and interdisciplinary approaches into your science curriculum.”
  • “Explore strategies for incorporating real-world connections and authentic experiences into science lessons to enhance student engagement and relevance.”

Writing assistance: Teachers can seek help from ChatGPT to review and provide suggestions for improving their written materials, such as lesson plans, reports, or presentations.

  • “Write an email to a parent whose 8th grade son has failed a test on friction. Offer assistance and support for future assessments.”
  • “Write goals and objectives for an IEP that include the student’s learning style and preferences.”

What ChatGPT can’t do

While ChatGPT can provide valuable assistance, it is best when it complements rather than replaces the expertise and guidance of teachers. It is essential for teachers to critically evaluate and adapt the information generated by ChatGPT to suit the specific needs of their students and teaching context.

ChatGPT has some limitations.

  • Lack of contextual understanding: ChatGPT generates responses based on patterns and previous data without fully understanding the context. As a result, it may sometimes provide irrelevant or nonsensical answers.
  • Inability to reason or think critically: ChatGPT lacks true reasoning abilities and cannot think critically like a human. It can provide information based on patterns in the training data but may not possess deep understanding or logical thinking skills.
  • ChatGPT makes mistakes. Everything must be proofread for accuracy. For example, when I used ChatGPT to create multiple choice questions on calculating kinetic energy, the answers provided were incorrect.
  • Limited ability to verify information: ChatGPT does not have direct access to real-time information or the ability to fact-check. While it can provide general knowledge, it may not always provide accurate or up-to-date information, particularly on rapidly evolving topics.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence: ChatGPT does not possess emotions or empathy. It cannot fully understand or respond appropriately to emotional or sensitive situations, which may be important in educational settings that require emotional support and empathy.

As more and more gets piled on to the plates of educators, ChatGPT can be a tremendous asset for busy educators that are careful to consider the limitations of the program.

Oppenheimer – A Movie Review


Barbie is this summer’s big blockbuster, but, for the science teacher in me, Oppenheimer was a movie experience not to be missed!

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan and based on American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin in 2005, the Oppenheimer movie is a masterpiece.  Covering multiple timelines in J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life, the movie not only delves into the development of the atomic bomb during World War II but also exposes the McCarthyism of the time.

Cillian Murphy is, in short, amazing as Oppenheimer. He manages to convey Oppenheimer’s conflicting attitudes  toward the atomic bomb while at the same time being heartbreakingly silent. Emily Blunt, as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, is brilliant and delivers some of the most astute observations of the security hearings that led to Oppenheimer’s downfall. Matt Damon portrays General Leslie Groves, the US Army Corps of Engineers officer who was the director of the Manhattan Project. Robert Downey Jr is Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission.

Writer and director Christopher Nolan is impeccable in his dedication to historical accuracy. Much of the script directly quotes American Prometheus and explores the ethical and existential quandaries of the Manhattan Project  delicately and at the same time solidly.

Was Oppenheimer a hero or a villain? Thirty years ago I would have said that history will tell. The movie portrays him as a well intentioned but conflicted man. In his defense, the Manhattan Project would have continued and the atomic bomb would have been developed, with or without him, so laying blame on his shoulders is shortsighted, in my opinion. If nothing else, the atomic bomb reminds us of the lengths people will go to when they are truly scared.



Classroom Management for Beginners

21 year old me

I remember the first time I stood in front of a class. I was so young, and so woefully unprepared. I didn’t know what to do, and the 24 twelve year olds could see right through me. I felt like the odd kid in middle school – I felt that I didn’t measure up, that I wasn’t good enough, and I was terrified that they were going to make fun of me. I wanted them to like me. I wanted my supervisor to think I was doing a good job.  Classroom management is easily the hardest part for beginners. But that wasn’t an option. There were so many layers of insecurity that I wanted to run and hide. So I dug in.

I made so many mistakes my first year. I had to learn every single thing by trial and error, it seemed. Baptism by fire. One step forward and two steps back. Nothing was easy – I didn’t know how to talk to my coworkers. I didn’t know how to talk to parents. I didn’t know how to build relationships with my students. I had thought, foolishly, that knowing my content was all I needed to be a teacher. Instead, my head was barely above water in the deep end with no sign of rescue. I made a few less mistakes the next year. One or two less the year after. And now, in my 35th year, I’m still making mistakes but, hopefully, even fewer.

The hardest part of being a teacher

The hardest lesson for me to learn was classroom management – that intimate tight rope walk between building relationships and getting work done. I tried yelling. That doesn’t work. I tried being their friend. That’s not right either. I tried threats, cajoling, bribery. I was good cop and bad cap alternately. For me, classroom management remains elusive. I may have perfected my “teacher voice” and the cold stare, but I still feel like I’m climbing uphill every day to get their attention and keep them on task. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned.

Why classroom management is important, not only for beginners

Classroom management is an essential aspect of effective teaching for beginners and all teachers as it helps to establish a safe and orderly learning environment. A well-managed classroom not only enhances student engagement and academic achievement but also promotes positive behavior and social interaction. Without proper management, classrooms can become chaotic and unproductive, making it challenging for both students and teachers to achieve their educational goals.

My top 8 tips for managing middle schoolersidealistic optimistic first year teacher

  1. Set clear expectations: Clearly communicate expectations for behavior, academic performance, and classroom procedures to your students from the very beginning of the school year.  I don’t do a “class rules” activity on the first day of school, but I do let it be known that I expect students to respect me, each other, and themselves. I let students dance near the line. But when they cross the line, they know it. Classroom management is hard for beginners, but it gets easier when you establish expectations and provide consistency.
  2. Don’t yell. Seriously. Not only does it make you look unhinged, but it also contributes to the general chaos in the classroom. Lowering your voice will catch their attention more easily and is far more intimidating.
  3.  Develop positive relationships with your students. Easier said than done. But be sure to build in time for casual conversation. Go to their football games. Ask them about their weekend. Get to know your students as individuals and make an effort to connect with each of them personally. This helps to create a positive and respectful classroom culture. Classroom management for beginners often looks like a new teacher wanting to be friends – that’s not what I’m saying here. You’ll be more successful if you aim for friendly, but not friends.
  4.  Establish routines: Create predictable routines for daily tasks, such as transitioning between activities, passing out materials, and beginning and ending class. Confusion creates chaos so you want to avoid it at all costs. Tell them what you want. Write on the board: “1. Finish the Bellringer. 2. Pick up lab materials from the front desk. 3. Read the first paragraph of the lab introduction and highlight the sentence that tells you the purpose of the lab.” When a student is off task, catch his or her eye and point to the board.
  5. Use positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement such as praise, recognition, and rewards to reinforce desired behaviors and encourage student success.
  6. Discipline fairly and consistently. Let the punishment fit the crime. If you’re late for class, you don’t get to choose your seat. If you fool around during lab, you can’t participate. If you have a side conversation while I’m instructing, you finish the classwork for homework.
  7. Address disruptive behavior quickly: Address disruptive behavior quickly and consistently to prevent it from escalating and disrupting the learning environment.
  8. Foster a sense of community: Encourage a sense of community and teamwork among students to create a positive and supportive learning environment. We all want to do this activity so we have to listen to instructions. No one wants homework so we have to finish the classwork.

The secret sauce

There have been 2 times in my career when I was ready to give up. Nothing I did would make the kids pay attention or even pretend to pay attention. I felt like a zookeeper playing a nonstop game of whack-a-mole trying to manage a spectrum of behaviors I couldn’t get my hands on. Both times, I hauled out this little gem and both times it worked like a charm.
Buy a roll of carnival tickets – the kind you might get for a 50/50 or a sleeve’s length of tickets for the rides. Then, casually, break them off one at a time and hand them to kids you catch doing the right thing. Don’t ‘say anything, just hand them a ticket. Do it all period. Janie’s working quietly – hand her a ticket. Pete raised his hand instead of calling out – give him a ticket. Give out as many as you can – 5 or 6 dozen. Kids will quickly figure out which behaviors get them tickets and which don’t, even if you don’t say a word. Then, at the end of the period, ask everyone to put their names on the backs of whatever tickets they had earned and drop them in a bucket as they leave the room.  Once a week, pull 3 (or 2 or 6 or whatever) tickets out of the bucket and give those students a prize – lollipops, stickers, homework passes, a pack of gum – whatever your kids want.
For the price of 3 lollipops, you’ve solved your behavior problems, simply by making your students aware of what behaviors are considered acceptable and which are not acceptable. By the second week, hand out fewer tickets – maybe 10-15 per class period.
I can’t guarantee this will work for you, but I’ve never seen it not work 🙂  Drop a comment below and let me know if you’ve tried this secret sauce for classroom management!

Further Reading

Experienced teachers want to share their best advice with first year teachers. Read more here!

Back to School Sale!

Use code BTS23 in the JustAddH2OSchool store for 40% off your entire purchase now through the end of September!

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Back to School!

Back to school sales started weeks ago. Whether you’re filled with anticipation or excitement, there’s no denying that it’s time to adjust our thoughts from hammocks to lesson planning, and from beach parties to classroom preparation. It feels bittersweet to me. I love love love my job, but I also love love love my summers 🙂  I hope these last few precious minutes of relaxation are filled with moments of solace, where you can gather your thoughts, recharge your spirits, and savor the calm before the storm. These precious minutes serve as a reminder of the dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment that teachers bring to the classroom, ready to embark on a new chapter of inspiration, growth, and endless possibilities.

back to school

Sit back and relax for just a few more minutes. You deserve it.

Back to School Word Find

Back to School Crossword Puzzle

Back to School – Spot the Differences


Need a jump start on lesson planning for that first few weeks. Here are some ideas:

lab safety for middle schoolLab Safety Activities


18 slide Google SlideShow, Digital escape room activity, and a 20 question self-grading digital quiz


First Day of School – Social Media Hashtag Activity




First Day of School – What matters to me




9 fun “minute to win it” activities.

Back to School Sale!

Use code BTS23 in the JustAddH2OSchool store for 40% off your entire purchase now through the end of September!

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Classroom Layouts for Middle School Science

Welcome to your new science classroom! It’s exciting to think of all the possibilities of ways you can arrange furniture to maximize learning. It can also be overwhelming. Here are some things to consider when planning the classroom layouts for your middle school science classroom.

The Impact of Classroom Layouts on Middle School Science Learning

The classroom design plays a crucial role in shaping the learning experience for middle school science students, profoundly impacting their academic performance, engagement, and overall development. An effective classroom layout goes beyond just arranging desks and chairs; it is a thoughtful combination of aesthetics, functionality, and pedagogy. A well-designed science classroom creates an environment that fosters curiosity, exploration, and collaboration among students. It optimizes the use of available space, ensuring that scientific experiments, group discussions, and individual research activities can seamlessly take place.

science classroom layout and design

Many science classrooms have limited options for furniture arrangement. Often, lab tables and sinks are fixed in place and any desks must be arranged around them.  In whatever ways you can be flexible, try to arrange furniture in a way that  allows for diverse teaching methods, accommodating various learning styles and needs.

An effective layout can promote different types of learning activities. In my classroom, I rearrange desks frequently. During times of assessment or frontal instruction, I arrange the desks facing forward. During times of labs, I move desks to form groups of 3 or 4. When I want group work, I can rearrange furniture to form groups of 5 or 6. For whole class discussion, I often push the desks aside and arrange the chairs in a circle. By considering the planned activities, you can arrange your classroom in a way that best supports what you’re planning on doing.

Key Considerations for Middle School Science Classroom Layouts

Factors you need to consider when designing your classroom space will vary with the furniture your district has provided you. Some things to keep in mind:

Available space:  

  • The size and shape of the available space will influence the teacher’s decision on the arrangement of desks, tables, and other learning areas to maximize student engagement and interaction. You may have to work around fixed furniture or oddly shaped rooms.
  • Storage is key! A limited space might lead the teacher to consider innovative storage solutions and flexible furniture options to optimize the classroom layout, allowing for seamless transitions between different learning activities.
  • With a larger space, the teacher could have the freedom to create distinct learning zones, facilitating small group work, hands-on experiments, and whole-class discussions, all contributing to a dynamic and enriched learning experience for the students.

science classroom layout and design

Class size:

  • Larger classes require more desks and more supplies. You might need to arrange desks in clusters to provide enough space for everyone.
  • Smaller classes allow more free space to provide for movement and group work. You can consider creating learning zones or collaborative areas. In larger classes, your layout needs to be carefully planned to maximize the usable space.
  •  In smaller classes, the teacher can easily move around the room, providing individualized attention to students. Thus, the layout can be designed to promote more face-to-face interactions. In contrast, in larger classes, the teacher may need to consider the visibility and audibility of instruction from various points in the room.
  • Larger class sizes might require more group work and cooperative learning strategies to engage all students effectively. The classroom layout should encourage collaboration and teamwork, which could mean arranging desks to facilitate small group discussions and activities.
  • In a larger class, the teacher might need to consider a variety of learning preferences and individual needs when designing the layout. Creating flexible seating arrangements and providing multiple learning stations can help address diverse learning styles.

science classroom layout and design

Ergonomics and Flexibility in the Science Classroom:

  • It’s possible that you have some input into furniture and lighting choices. If so, be sure that student chairs have proper back support, desk heights allow for natural arm position when writing or using lab equipment, and that work areas have adequate lighting.
  • Consider incorporating flexible seating options, such as standing desks or stability balls, to allow students to vary their seating positions.

science classroom layout and design

Creating Zones for Different Science Activities:

  • If space allows, consider a separate area of the classroom for laboratory space. In that area, arrange workstations, sinks and safety equipment as well as storage for lab supplies.
  • An important zone in your classroom will be the discussion and presentation area. This is where students will come together for group discussions and presentations as well as traditional frontal lessons. Ideally, desks should face the whiteboard or projector.
  • Allow for a demonstration area for teacher-led demonstrations.

science classroom layout and design

Safety and Accessibility in the Science Classroom:

  • Ensure that there is the appropriate safety equipment in the area of your classroom where your students will be doing experiments. Minimally, you should have access to a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, eyewash station, sinks, and, if possible, a safety shower.
  • Modifying a science classroom to allow for accessibility is essential to ensure that all students can fully participate in the learning process. Ensure that the classroom has wheelchair-friendly pathways and doorways to allow students with mobility challenges to move around easily. Remove any physical barriers that may hinder wheelchair access.

science classroom layout and design

Ultimately, a thoughtfully planned classroom design not only supports effective teaching but also inspires middle school science students to develop a lifelong passion for discovery and learning.

Safety In Middle School Science

Does your middle school science classroom have the safety equipment you need? Like an extra $100 in my wallet or the extra outfit I pack when I go on vacation, I’d rather have safety equipment and not need it than need it and not have it. It’s your responsibility, as the teacher in the classroom, to ensure that your students are safe. But what safety equipment is necessary for middle school science classrooms?

When it comes to middle school science labs, ensuring a safe learning environment is an absolute priority. The key to a successful and risk-free science class lies in having the right safety equipment in place. The arsenal of safety equipment plays a crucial role in safeguarding both students and teachers. In this blog post, we’ll explore the essential safety equipment that every middle school science lab should have, along with tips on how to promote a culture of safety and responsibility among budding scientists.

Protective Gear for Students

In the middle school science classroom, students should be equipped with essential protective gear to ensure their safety during hands-on experiments and activities. The primary types of protective gear include lab coats, safety goggles, and gloves.

Lab coats provide a protective barrier to shield students’ clothing from spills and splashes of chemicals or other hazardous substances. Lab aprons are a good alternative – they’re less expensive and can be purchased one size fits all.

student lab apron Safety Equipment for Middle School Science Classrooms


Safety goggles are a must-have, as they protect the eyes from potential chemical splashes, flying debris, and other risks. Any lab activity with chemicals or flame require that students wear goggles. Additionally, each student must have his or her own pair of goggles, or they need to be sanitized between uses with disinfectant wipes or a UVC sterilizing cabinet.

Additionally, wearing gloves offers an extra layer of protection for students’ hands when handling chemicals or working with potentially harmful materials. I always provide disposable gloves when working with especially messy labs.

By wearing these types of protective gear, middle school science students can engage in scientific exploration confidently and safely, fostering a positive and secure learning environment.

Emergency Equipment and Measures

  • Eyewash – A student eyewash is a specialized fixture designed to quickly and effectively rinse and flush any harmful substances that may come into contact with a student’s eyes during science experiments or activities. By having a dedicated eyewash station within easy reach, students can promptly respond to eye irritants or chemical splashes, preventing further injury and discomfort. Every year, new students ask me if I’ve ever used the eyewash or safety shower, and I tell them the story of CJ who was a student many many years ago. He came running into my classroom one early morning with his hands over his eyes. A girl had sprayed perfume in his face. While I doubt that the eyewash saved his vision, it certainly reduced his pain. Luckily, I’ve never had to use it again.

eyewash Safety Equipment for Middle School Science Classrooms

  • Safety shower – Some classrooms are equipped with safety showers, and others have a shower nozzle attached to the eyewash. Safety showers are emergency equipment that provides a continuous flow of water to rinse off hazardous substances or chemicals from a person’s body in case of accidental spills or splashes. They are particularly important in settings where there is a risk of exposure to corrosive or harmful substances that may cause severe skin irritation. My only experience using a chemical shower was on myself in college – a lab partner spilled sulfuric acid on the lab table. It dripped on to my leg and had burned through my jeans before I felt the stinging. I spent a few minutes with my leg under the safety shower, but I still (30 years later?) have a scar.

Handling Chemicals Safely: Storage and Spill Kits

First things first, take a look at all those chemical bottles and get rid of any that are outdated or not needed anymore. Then, pick a cool, dry spot with good airflow to be your chemical storage zone – make sure it’s away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Don’t forget to label each container properly, so everyone knows what’s inside and how to handle it safely. Keep incompatible chemicals far away from each other to avoid any crazy reactions. Get some sturdy cabinets or shelves that can handle spills just in case something goes wrong. Oh, and don’t forget to follow the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) guidelines for each chemical – they’ve got some important info! Lastly, check on your storage area and containers regularly to keep everything in tip-top shape.

A spill kit for chemistry labs is a collection of materials and equipment designed to help contain and clean up chemical spills safely and efficiently. The specific contents of a spill kit may vary based on the types of chemicals used in the lab and the potential hazards involved. However, a typical spill kit for chemistry labs may include absorbent materials, chemical neutralizers, personal protective equipment such as gloves, a scoop and brush, and a sealable bag or container.


Fire Safety and Extinguishing Equipment

Your classroom is probably equipped with a fire extinguisher and/or a fire blanket.

In the event of a fire, the most important thing is to evacuate. If the exit is blocked by fire, aim the nozzle of the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire and squeeze the handle, sweeping from side to side. If you are able to do so safely, use the fire extinguisher to put out a small fire.

A fire blanket can also be used to smother small fires, especially those involving clothing.

The locations of the fire safety equipment should be clearly marked and students should be aware of them. Because my students are middle schoolers and, for most of them, this is the first time they’ve ever been allowed to light a flame, we practice evacuation and review fire safety extensively.

Promoting Safety Culture: Educating Students 

Many teachers start their years with discussions of classroom procedures, but lab safety procedures are a separate conversation entirely.  Every single lab we do always starts with a discussion of potential safety concerns and students violating safety protocols are removed immediately.

Teaching safety in middle school science is of utmost importance as it instills critical habits and awareness in young minds, fostering a culture of responsibility and precaution. Middle school students are at an exploratory age, eager to engage in hands-on learning and scientific discovery. However, the science classroom can involve potentially hazardous materials and experiments. By educating students on safety protocols, they learn how to handle equipment and chemicals with caution, minimizing the risk of accidents or injuries. Moreover, safety instruction cultivates a sense of accountability, encouraging students to be active participants in maintaining a safe learning environment. It equips them with essential life skills, teaching them to assess risks, problem-solve, and respond effectively in case of emergencies.

Some Lab Safety Lesson Activities I use In Middle School Science  :

lab safety for middle school