The plate tectonics unit of my middle school science curriculum is fun – lots of hands on activities and really engaging projects. But students still find memorizing the different boundaries and faults.
Have you tried Boom cards? They’re digital flash cards that self correct so students can repeat until mastery. My students love them and I bet yours will too. They’re not difficult to make and I have a set for just about every chapter I teach. If you subscribe to the BoomLearning.com platform ($35/year), you can use all kinds of data to track your students’ progress, but you can use the Boom cards even without a subscription.
Students learn the states of matter in primary school science, so middle schoolers already know the basics. When middle school teachers are teaching the states of matter, our students have a good foundation from primary school but we need to expand on previous knowledge. Middle school science standards include phase changes and exploration of the states of matter including endothermic and exothermic reactions and the law of conservation of matter.
How do you teach change of state of matter?
The slide show that I use for teaching the states of matter in middle school is an interactive Google Slide Show. I use interactive notes because students find it easier to drag and drop correct answers rather than copying down long explanations. It allows them to pay closer attention without missing information and has been a great benefit for my students during remote teaching days during the pandemic.
Hands on activities for teaching the states of matter:
A good Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) activity is to provide students an opportunity to determine if air is matter. Using what they know about the states of matter, students can conduct controlled experiments to determine if air has mass and volume. My CER for the states of matter has 5 hands on stations for students to travel through.
Everyone’s favorite hands on activity for the states of matter is the phase change lab in which students can make ice cream. Students spend a few minutes mixing their simple ingredients in a ziploc baggie, probably listening to me talk about freezing point depression. This one always makes it on to the end-of-year survey as my students’ favorite activity.
Resources for reviewing the states of matter in middle school:
Review phase changes with digital flash cards. Boom cards are commonly used in elementary school but less so in middle school. I still love them because they are self-directed and self-checking, and because kids still love them. My states of matter Boom card deck contains 26 cards and includes basic phases and phase changes.
Digital escape rooms became my favorite review activity during the COVID pandemic, just like physical escape rooms were my favorite pre-COVID. Digital escape rooms allow students to find clues and solve puzzles but in a completely digital way. The escape room I use when I’m teaching states of matter is a scenario in which students must find clues and solve puzzles about what appears to be a crime scene in their science lab.
First up at the beginning of every school year are 2 important topics: safety and the scientific method. Teaching the scientific method can be an opportunity for you to observe your new students and identify strengths and weaknesses in group work, communication skills, analysis skills, and the ability to think outside the box.
How do you teach the scientific method?
When I teach the scientific method, I usually have students try to think metacognitively about how they solve problems. Present your students with a question. “How do you know what clothes to put on in the morning?” There are no “right” answers, but there are definitely wrong answers like bathing suits in winter or heavy jackets in the summer. Students will realize that they base their clothing decisions on information they already have – what kind of weather it is and what events they have planned for the day. This is not unlike how scientists form hypotheses by taking information that they have and using it to make a possible solution to a problem.
Then, make the problem more interesting and something that needs to be tested. Your phone is dead but it was plugged in. What’s wrong. All sorts of hypotheses are possible – electricity went out, charger isn’t plugged in correctly, etc. Each of these is a testable hypothesis that can be solved by guess and check. Another problem students can use guess and check for is a puzzle activity in which each group of students is given a baggie containing pieces to a 16 piece puzzle. As they remove each piece, students need to guess (“form a hypothesis”) of what the whole puzzle is a picture of. Using this activity, students will see that more information gives scientists a more accurate idea of the situation.
What is the scientific method?
By now, students are ready to identify the steps they use to solve problems and probably will be able to guess the steps of the scientific method. Of course, I always have a slide show on hand to help students develop common vocabulary that we can use to communicate with each other. When I’m teaching the scientific method, I also like to have a worksheet or two for students to practice scientific method vocabulary.
Practice and apply
Give students a problem to solve using the scientific method. One easy problem is to find out what factors affect how well they memorize something such as a short list of random words. They can test different variables such as loud music or time of day and collect data to form a conclusion. The write up for this activity includes a 6 page student handout and a corresponding teacher’s guide. I’m offering it for free to any readers of this blog so please feel free to get your copy here!
Other problems students can solve using 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. 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.
You’re about the start your first year as a science teacher. The first year or two is exciting but also intimidating. It feels like there’s so much to learn and you probably can’t wait to get in there and get your hands dirty. We asked veteran middle school science teachers what they wish they’d known and what advice they have for the new science teachers. Here’s what they had to say about how to prioritize and stay sane while you’re making that magic happen!
You don’t have to have a Pinterest-ready classroom, says veteran teacher Michelle B. of Wyoming. Make it interesting, neat and colorful, but don’t compare yourself to Instagram feeds. Sue from Florida says she likes to include her new students’ names in her bulletin boards – maybe write their names on leaves on a tree or stars on a space themed bulletin board.
Clutter distracts the mind. Put it away. Many science classrooms have a prep room where you can temporarily store labs that you haven’t cleaned up yet or papers you have to grade or file.
Nearly every veteran teacher we spoke with agreed that organization is key. When it comes to lab supplies, you can store supplies you use all year – beakers, meter sticks, scissors – in one place and curriculum specific supplies – mineral samples, DNA models, pH test strips – together with other supplies for the same lab or unit. I have one cabinet for each unit I teach and one for general supplies. Kelly, a science teacher entering her 12th year, says you might want to spend a day or two emptying every cabinet and creating your own system if you’re moving in to a classroom someone else has cluttered.
How you arrange the desks and/or lab tables in your classroom may be dependent on fixtures like sinks or built in lab tables. It also may be dependent on pandemic and social distancing standards. Your supervisor might even have input to provide. Mrs. T from Illinois says she prefers having students sit in pairs for group work and Jill from Texas prefers round tables of 4. There is no right or wrong way – I rearrange desks often in my classroom because I get bored easily and I guess students might also.
Back in the day, teachers kept giant binders of the original copies of all of their worksheets, labs, and handouts for each unit. These binders were essential so you didn’t have to recreate everything every year. Of course, those binders are now Google folders and organization became a little easier. Ken is a 6th year teacher and he suggests that you create a folder in your Google Drive for each unit. Then, create sub-folders within each unit. He suggests to name these subfolders by content – Lab 1, for example, or Assessments. Within each sub-folder, name the individual documents not only with a name that you’ll recognize but also with the number that indicates where it fits into the unit. 01-Do Now is the Do Now for the first day of the unit. 12-Erosion lab is the lab that is the 12th activity or document you’ll use in that unit.
Until you get to know your students and curriculum, make sure you over plan. Middle school science teacher Mrs. P from New York says she plans at least one additional activity for every class period until she feels she understands how long her students need to get through each activity. In terms of classroom management, it’s much easier to manage students who have too much to do rather than students who have too little to do.
Plan a unit at a time loosely and then plan each week more rigidly.
The custodians and the secretaries run the school, says Bobbi from Oklahoma.
If there are other teachers that teach the same course as you, they are critically important. They’ll be able (and hopefully willing) to help you plan what you’re going to cover.
You will find your people. Find the people you trust and the people you admire. They may not be on your team or even in your department, but you’ll find people you can talk to or vent to or ask advice from.
Ask for help when you need it and practice self-care. Nearly every veteran teacher we talked with said to take it one day at a time.
“Fake it until you make it” is another common thread. Don’t lie to your students, but tell yourself you’re confident and capable. One teacher reported that she was only 1 chapter ahead of her students in learning the content that she was teaching for the first time.
You don’t have to grade everything. Many veteran teachers said to manage your own time by planning assignments. If you have a lot of grading to do, give a multiple choice assessment instead of an open ended one or only grade some of the work you assign rather than all.
When you feel like you’re starting to burnout, and you will, don’t push yourself to keep working. Take a day off, put your feet up, take care of yourself. Ask for help when you need it.
Everyone is new at something sometimes. Learn by trial and error, but don’t beat yourself up for the errors.
Remember why you became a teacher. Enjoy the relationships you’re building with your students. Laugh with them. Linda from Delaware wants you to know that they’ll forget what you taught (it’s humbling, but true) but they won’t forget how you made them feel.
Set boundaries. Many veteran teachers recommend that you not bring work home at all. Others recommend that you leave school on time every day. Find what works for you, but don’t feel like you have to spend every minute working.
When you leave your classroom every day, set it up so that you’re ready to start the next day. It’s easier to sleep at night when you don’t have that running list of things to do.
Wash your hands. Every teacher gets a ton of colds, especially in the first few years, says Fidelma of Vermont.
It’s easier to manage behavior before it starts, says Tina from Indiana.
You’re not their friend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, says Ms. H who is a 17 year veteran teacher.
Hanna from Pennsylvania says to call or email home with praise as early in the year as you can. This helps build cache for a time when you might need to call with a less stellar report. Keep the lines of communication open was a common suggestion from many veteran teachers.
Souad from Massachusetts suggests using tools like student-made murals, online resources, guest speakers and the involvement of parents in the classroom to motivate students.
Kids do love to see you at their sporting events. If you can spare some time, go cheer on the lacrosse team and show your face for a few minutes to help build rapport, suggests Ms. E from New York.
As a rule, middle school science standards include earth, physical science, environmental science, and life science. Your school district probably has a plan for which grades cover which of the standards.
If your school district has not provided you with a curriculum guide telling you what you need to cover, ask for one. Minimally, you should be told which standards you are expected to cover in a year says 18 year veteran teacher Joanne.
Souad from Massachusetts says that a good focus for middle school teachers is problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity to enable students to understand the world’s challenges.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Someone, somewhere has taught this already.
Once you know the standards, scour sites like Pinterest, OER commons, TeachersPayTeachers, or even your favorite content specific Facebook group. Collect ideas, weed out the bad ones, try the ones that interest you, keep a few on the backburner to try if you need to reteach. It’s far better to teach the same thing 5 times then to teach 5 things once each.
The best advice I ever got as a parent also works for teachers. The days are long but the years are short. Enjoy them.
Be sure parents know that you like their child and want their child to do well says Ms. R from New York. That’s the most important thing to them and therefore the most important thing to you if you want them to be a partner with you in their child’s education.
Early, positive communication is extremely important to set the tone for the year.
Document, document, document. Keep a notebook or spreadsheet of all of your phone calls and emails to parents. Refer to previous communication before you contact them again.
Because I work a 10 month job, I am often asked “What do teachers do all summer?” Truthfully, it just flies by. I usually take a week staycation to just recover – sleep late, clean my house, read a book. My husband and I will probably go on a vacation (well, not last year and probably not this year either). And the other 6 weeks? Here are some ideas to help make your days count this summer:
This is my number one priority this year, and every year.
I don’t have enough time in my day. Between planning, lab set up, lab clean up, and grading, my “free time” is basically zero. If there’s any way I can save a little time, I’ll do it. We had to switch to digital assessments in March 2020 because of the pandemic, and making them self-grading was one way for me to mitigate all of the additional work I had to do to manage the hybrid/remote/face-to-face rollercoaster we’ve all been on. Here’s how I create self-grading quizzes in the hopes that you, too, can save yourself some time!
Creating an assessment
The easiest way to create a self grading quiz is to use Google Forms. Create a new Google form and name it. I use names like “2021 DNA Assessment” to help my Google Drive stay moderately organized.
The first section of your test is for identification purposes. Type in a question asking your student’s name. For sorting purposes, I ask first name and last name in two separate questions – this also helps manage the kids who think they’re the only “Joe” in the school. You could also add “What period do you have science?” only if it’s easier to enter grades into your grading software if grades are sorted by period.
When you click on a question, notice the toolbar that appears on the right side of the question. Use this toolbar to add a question or a section.
I create a new section for the assessment questions. Depending on your assessment, you might want to create more than one question section – maybe a section on definitions and another section on calculations, perhaps. I’ve used multiple sections when I had 3 or 4 questions about a single photograph or image.
In the upper right corner of your screen, notice the settings wheel. There are several options you need to check to make this a self-grading quiz.
Under the “General” tab, check the box to collect email addresses so that you can verify identity of the students as they take the test (prevents students from taking the test for someone else). Check the box to limit students to one response to prevent them from opening the quiz again after they’ve submitted it.
In the Presentation tab, I always choose to shuffle the question order. I think that gives me a slight edge against the possibility of cheating. Note: When you shuffle question order, the questions within each section will be shuffled within the section only. Questions will not be mixed between sections. This way, the “Name” question will always be first.
You also have the option to customize your confirmation message. I like the default “Your response has been recorded,” but you can switch it up if you want. “Shazam! You’re done!” is a favorite of my students.
The Quizzes tab is the tab you need to make this quiz self-grading. Toggle the “Make this a quiz” button to the right. This will open up your ability to provide an answer key and allow Google to check your students’ responses. You have two options for when to allow students to see their grades. If you’re using this assessment as a summative grade, you probably want to click “Later, after manual review” to prevent cheating. If you want to use this as a formative assessment (i.e. “Keep trying until you get 100.”), then click to release grades “Immediately after each submission.” Clicking “Immediately” sends the students an email with the missed questions and correct answers as soon as they hit “Submit” on their quiz. Clicking “Later” allows you to release the grades after everyone has taken the quiz.
To add questions:
When you first open the quiz, you may not be in edit mode. If you can not edit questions, click the pencil in the lower right corner of the screen. If there is no pencil, you are in edit mode.
Click the “+” sign on the tool bar on the right side of your screen.
Type your question and answer choices.
At the bottom of the question, click “Answer Key.”
Click the correct answer. A green checkmark will appear next to it to confirm that you have selected an answer.
Assign points to the question in the top right. The default is zero.
Shuffling Answer choices
Click the 3 dots at the bottom right of each question if you want to shuffle the answer choices.
Change the appearance of your quiz
In the upper right corner of the form are some options you can change.
The palette button allows you to change the header image if you want.
The eyeball image allows you to see what the quiz will look like for your students.
To share the quiz with your students:
Click the Send button in the upper right corner of the form.
To email students the form, type their email addresses in the form. Adjust the subject and message if you prefer and click “Send.”
To share the quiz as a link on Google Classroom or another platform, click the link button and copy the link (you have the option to shorten it if you want). Paste the link on Google Classroom or onto whichever platform you use.
The quiz can be embedded onto a web page or a Google Site by clicking the embed tab and copying and pasting the code.
To see your students’ scores:
At the top of the quiz, click “Responses.”
You can see individual scores, get feedback on a particular question, or see a summary of scores. You can also click the Google Sheets icon in the upper right to create a spreadsheet of all of the responses to your quiz.
The days are getting longer and warmer, and the students are getting more distracted. Ah! It must be close to summer break! Are you still trying to hold their attention? Here are some summer-themed activities for middle school science.
Summer themed science activities
Embrace the summer but don’t let go of the science!
Hands on Activities: Solar power S’Mores maker – Great STEM activity, easily completed with distance learning, and easily adaptable. Try hotdogs!
Treats for all: Study phase changes with everyone’s favorite ice cream lab!
Hurricane tracking – summer weather is super fun for students. Have them learn how thunderstorms form or track historic hurricanes like this Hurricane Laura.
Thermodynamics: Insulation lab – Keep the ice cube, or ice cream, from melting in the sun. When I do this, I have students mass their ice cube before and after solar exposure and calculate percent loss. I also have them “purchase” insulating materials from a “budget” – maybe they’re allowed to “spend” $1.00 and I charge 50 cents per 12″ square of aluminum foil or handful of cotton balls.
Curricular movies: GATACA, Osmosis Jones, Ice Age, Wrinkle in Time, October Sky. Make a viewing guide if you want, or let students create their own viewing guide. I like to play “What’s wrong with this science?” when we’re watching movies like San Andreas, Dante’s Peak. or The Day after Tomorrow. Let students watch the movie and then find out how much of the “science” in the movie is real and how much is dramatized.
Documentaries: An episode of Mythbusters or How Its Made is fun and low commitment. Have students write interview questions for the people in the episode or write a Tweet to summarize.
Summer themed worksheets. Even if you’re still teaching mitosis or waves, you can spice it up with activities that are summer themed. Use summer themed pictures for your pixel art.
One way to save yourself a ton of time in the classroom is to use self-grading assessments. Google Forms makes it easy for you. Here is a free genetics assessment for you to try in your middle school classroom!
This assessment contains 50 multiple choice questions including: