“Back to Normal”

We’re not quite back to normal even though we’re trying our hardest to pretend that we are. School year 20-21 was bizarre around the world. Virtual school, hybrid, asynchronous, synchronous, cohorts – whatever your school did, it was weird. We had a lot of pivoting to do to adjust to the “new normal” last year – Zoom, digital assignments, virtual labs, and so on. But this year isn’t back to normal. There are new challenges that require pivoting in SY 2021-22 – while not quite post pandemic, everything from bathroom breaks to managing quarantined students is yet another airplane we need to build while we’re flying it.

Back to Normal

Paying attention

During SY 20-21, students had frequent opportunities to “zone out.” They could go off camera for a few minutes during zoom meetings or take a bathroom break whenever they wanted. This year, the expectation for paying attention went from zero to full attention all the time. Even on the middle level, students have forgotten how to focus for longer than a few minutes. How do you manage this? I’ve always had an open bathroom policy – if you need to use the bathroom, use the bathroom. Some teachers have stopped allowing students to sign out whenever they want as an attempt to help them focus better. I have gone the other way, encouraging students to take a walk when they need an attention break. Like everything, I guess we won’t know which of us is helping students until more time has passed.

 

Relationships

Back to Normal

Some kids came back to normal school rocking and rolling and ready to reintroduce themselves to society. Others struggled a little with the new need to be social. Yesterday, I saw a student googling “How to start a conversation.” Some students have been able to work in groups but others have been a little afraid to interact in real time. How do we support these students? Teaching these skills is far more important to our students than teaching them mitosis, but most of us are unprepared to be guidance counselors or therapists.

 

Homework

When school was virtual or hybrid, monitoring of student work was reduced. Admins encouraged us to provide grace and give students a break when it came to homework – allowing late submissions to support students who were struggling with all that the pandemic brought with it. And now, we’re left with the results of that decision – a “regular” school year with “regular” expectations about homework but with students who either don’t know how to complete homework on time or who have fallen out of the habit of doing homework. Not to say that being compassionate is wrong, but the change in expectations has left me with whiplash. I can only imagine how stunned our middle schoolers feel. How do you manage this? I can see students are struggling but I’m reticent to reduce expectations.

Quarantined Students

I got a notification today that 4 students are quarantined. Last week, there were 3 other students quarantined. There’s a bit of a revolving door. The administrative expectation is that students who are quarantining will keep up with school work so teachers have had to post or email assignments to students. This is a challenging hurdle for science teachers. For starters, how do remote students keep up with the class when their peers have been conducting experiments, collecting data, and analyzing results? There are virtual labs to be sure, and they are a great option if there is a virtual lab that covers the same content and skills that you’re covering in class, but what do you do if there isn’t one available? I’ve been videotaping labs and sharing the videos with at home students. If you have a better solution, I’d love to hear it! I also have a pretty large collection of videos “flipping” each chapter in my curriculum. These have been handy to send home to students who are quarantining so that they have access to some instruction while out.

 

What challenges have you and your students had while attempting to return to normal? 

Flipped Learning in Middle School Science

Flipped learning in middle school science is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction is completed by the student independently and interactive learning, practice and reinforcement occurs as a group in the classroom. This “flip” reinvents the traditional passive lecture in class followed by independent practice at home, changing the priority from passive to active learning.

78% of teachers surveyed in 2014 report having tried flipping their classroom for at least one lesson and 96% of those who tried it said that it was a success. Here are some tips to help you incorporate more flipped learning in your middle school science classroom.

What is Flipped Learning?

Traditional classrooms have teachers instructing students on content in the classroom and then assign students practice for homework. In this method of instruction, the classroom time focuses on the passive receipt of knowledge but the active practicing of the knowledge or skill takes place at home.

Flipped learning is a method of instruction that assigns students the activity of viewing a lecture or copying notes at home and then practicing with the teacher in the classroom. In a flipped classroom, the active learning takes place in school and the passive learning takes place at home. Students are exposed to new material on their own and have the opportunity to ask question, review concepts, and practice skills with their teacher the next day.

Flipped Learning and COVID

For the past 18 months, we’ve had students virtual, hybrid, in person, synchronous, asynchronous, and all combinations of the above. Flipping the classroom enables virtual or absent students to keep up with new material.

What are some examples of Flipped Learning?

What kinds of assignments and activities can students do at home in a flipped learning situation?

  • Video or Screencast yourself presenting your lecture, providing students with a copy of cloze notes  or interactive notes to record what they learned. If you work with a team, you can take turns recording the video. Try one video this year. Add another one next year. Keep going. Over the past several years, I’ve collected a library of videos – one for each “lecture” – that I can assign to students in a flipped learning situation. Keep your videos short – maybe 10-15 minutes – to allow students an opportunity to repeat and review as needed.
  • Use pre-made videos to teach a concept rather than record yourself if you’re more comfortable that way. Khan Academy is a good place to start.
  • Students can complete an assessment.flipped classroom in middle school science
  • Complete an independent PearDeck, NearPod, or review activity.
  • BrainPOP.
  • Research.
  • Listen to podcasts.

What kinds of assignments and activities can students do in school in a flipped learning situation?

How does Flipped Learning work?

In a flipped learning classroom, the teacher switches from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side,” offering opportunities for practice and support for individual students. In the middle school science classroom, the teacher acts more as a lab assistant than a director, offering materials and guided explorations leading to experimentation.

Flipped Learning advantages and disadvantages

What do we love about it?

In middle school science, flipping the classroom offers enormous benefits. More class time can be spent conducting experiments, collecting data, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions.

One advantage of flipped learning is that students learn more effectively by using class time for small group activities and individual help. Giving student autonomy and greater control over their learning increases engagement, comprehension, and retention. Students can work at their own pace to learn new content and review videos as many times as they need to understand.

Flipping the classroom increases the quality of in class group projects, discussions and debates. Students take more ownership of their knowledge.

What do we not love about it?

A notable disadvantage of flipping the classroom is that it relies very heavily on technology. Schools that don’t have one-to-one devices will find it more challenging to implement and will have to depend on families to provide technology for their students.

Some students struggle with personal responsibility and have a difficult time transitioning to owning their own learning. They complete the independent assignments with little thought or clarity and are unable to participate in the class activities the next day. A cycle of failure is hard to break.

Conclusion

I believe that flipping the classroom results in less “sit and listen” and more “do and learn” in the classroom which makes learning more engaging, enjoyable, and productive for students. It’s also a lot more fun for teachers!

5E Science Lesson Plans

What is the 5E model lesson plan?

5E Science lesson plans use the 5E model and can help support student learning and growth through inquiry based instruction. Traditional science instruction employed a “sage on the stage” mentality where the instructor, who knew all of the answers, imparted his or her wisdom upon the students via lecture. The inquiry model of science instruction uses the teacher more as a “guide on the side.” The 5E lesson model allows students to make discoveries and to process new skills. 5E lessons not only help students learn but also improve student metacognition and understanding of their own learning process.

In a 5E lesson plan, the role of the teacher is to support students as they prior knowledge to build new knowledge. Students who learn using an inquiry approach score better on standardized tests than students who were taught by direct instruction.

What are the 5 E’s in Science lesson planning?5E science lesson planning

5E science lesson plans all incorporate the 5 essential elements in order:

  1. Engage – Engaging students in the topic by piquing their curiosity is an essential first step in 5e science lesson planning. The NGSS draws upon phenomena to cause students to be curious and ask questions. Engaging students can be a simple bellringer or Do Now but more often it invites students to open their minds and get ready to explore possibilities.  Students can be engaged with the activity in any way that draws upon their natural curiosity. A simple picture walk of locations displaying types of pollution can cause students to ask questions like why is there so much pollution, why has nothing been done, or what can be done to prevent it. KWL charts are a great way for students to begin identifying what they (K) Know about a subject and (W) Want to know about a subject – it’s extremely useful with things they might have some background knowledge of preconceptions such as genetically modified food or vaccines. Short videos are great ways to give students enough information to be curious enough to want to explore further. Students may express misconceptions but the teacher does not correct them yet.
  2. Explore – Allow students to form hypotheses, test variables, and draw conclusions about the new topic.  Once students are engaged in the lesson, the teacher’s job is then to allow them to explore the concept. Exploration can take many forms – games and experiments are the most common and easily accessible ways for students to explore content in a 5E science lesson. Students can use this exploration time to find the answers to the questions they developed in the engagement portion of the lesson by testing variables and drawing conclusions. The explore portion of the lesson should be student driven – the teacher’s job is to provide the opportunity but not to provide the answers.
  3. Explain – Teacher moves from guide to instructor by providing vocabulary terms, answering outstanding questions, and explaining new concepts. More traditional teachers will recognize this as a modified lecture. The teacher uses the explain portion of the 5E science lesson plan to answer questions students still have and to provide explanations for phenomena that they observed. Relevant vocabulary is defined and concepts are explained. The teacher can also conduct some formative assessments by engaging students in some traditional Q&A or some higher order questioning techniques such as asking students to make hypotheses, analyze data, or make connections with other learning.
  4. Elaborate – Students are given an opportunity to extend their learning by forming generalizations about what they learned and extending it to other situations. In the elaborate portion of the 5E science lesson plan, students participate in an extension or different activity that further explores the concept. This portion of the lesson also provides an opportunity for remediation and differentiation if necessary. Students may make new hypotheses and draw new conclusions to make generalizations about the new learning and apply it to previous learning.
  5. Evaluate – Students demonstrate that they have mastered the content in either a formal traditional assessment or in an alternative assessment. The evaluate portion of the 5E science lesson plan is a more formal summative assessments to measure what students have learned. It may be a traditional quiz or test but it can also be a project, a model, or an essay or reflection. Ideally, the student is evaluating his or her own learning.

A unit using the 5E model may take several days or longer to complete. Even thought the steps are presented in a chronological order, the process may be more like a cha-cha-cha than like a straightforward linear progression – a few steps forward, a few steps back. Let students explore and then engage them again. Explain and then engage them again, allowing them to explore. Maybe elaborate a little and then explore and explain.

How do you make a 5E Science lesson plan?

Engage – choose one or more of these activities to engage your students.

  • Video
  • Game
  • Display of objects
  • Model
  • short story
  • KWL
  • picture walk
  • phenomenon
  • Bellringers/Do Nows
  • Questions

Explore

  • Test variables
  • Form hypotheses
  • Conduct controlled experiments
  • Play games
  • Create or examine models

Explain

  • Define vocabulary
  • Explain concepts
  • Correct misconceptions
  • Ask leading questions
  • Provide models

Elaborate

  • Make connections
  • Make generalizations and apply them to new situations
  • Make a craft
  • Watch a video
  • Play a game
  • Conduct an experiment

Evaluate

  • Write
  • Have a conversation
  • Demonstrate
  • Assess
  • Analyze a new scenario
  • Critical reflections
  • Problem based learning project

5e science lesson plans

 

 

 

Download this free 5E lesson plan template by clicking here.

Interactive Virtual Field Trips

What is an Interactive Virtual Field Trip

There are times when talking about something just isn’t good enough. Great examples are glaciers, deserts and canyons. Even if my school allowed field trips post pandemic (mine hasn’t) there are still plenty of places I want my students to “visit” that aren’t possible. During remote schooling, I started using interactive virtual field trips to show my students ecosystems and geology in other parts of the world. An interactive virtual field trip allows students to learn about a remote location without leaving their desks. Incorporating videos and interesting articles to read along with some guided questions allows students to experience places they would ordinarily not be able to go.

How do you do an interactive virtual field trip?

The format for your interactive virtual field trip can be any format that your students can access. I typically use hyperdocs with links to videos and articles embedded along with guided questions. I’ve seen other teachers use Google Slides or even Google Forms (warning: Google Forms does not allow embedded links so students will need to copy and paste links which might be a challenge for some students).

Examples of Interactive Virtual Field Trips

One of my favorite interactive virtual field trips is this trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History  Among its truly fantastic exhibits, this museum’s presentation of the evolution of life on earth is engaging and easy to follow.

Students enjoy visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island via an interactive virtual tour. The National Park Service interactive tour is lengthy and presents a terrific historical background for the island as well as how Hurricane Sandy impacted it.

The Seattle Aquarium offers a 30 minute video tour. While there are no guided questions to accompany this tour, the video does a really good job exploring interactions among organisms at the aquarium.

The National Aquarium‘s virtual tour is a fun way to see still images of their huge collection. They also offer live webcams of coral reef ecosystems and jellyfish.

Monterey Bay Aquarium offers 10 live web cams of jellyfish, sharks, and penguins, among others.

The Georgia Aquarium has 8 live webcams including sea otters, beluga whales, and jellyfish.

The San Diego Zoo offers 11 live web cams of various animals including baboons, koalas, and giraffes.

Space Science

Learn the night sky with Star Atlas which shows you the stars and the planets in real time and also in the future so you can plan what you want to look for tonight. Take a virtual tour of Mars on the Curiosity rover. The International Space Station recently published a virtual tour here.

Earth Science

Check in with an assortment of live volcano cams and compare action from one day to the next. Take a virtual tour of Meteor Crater!

Take a virtual tour of the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam.

Look for aurora on Fairbanks AK’s Aurora cam.

Take a virtual tour through the Grand Canyon, Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, or a rainforest. Tour Easter Island, the Bermuda Triangle, the Himalayas, or the Hoover Dam.

Ocean Science

The Virtual Archaeology Museum offers fantastic virtual tours of 5 different shipwrecks.

Live webcams:

YouTube offers a panda-cam from the Atlanta Zoo, a Shark-cam produced by Explore.org, and a penguin-cam and giraffe cam by the Kansas City Zoo. Southwest Florida hosts an eagle cam which, as of today, has a nesting pair of eagles. Explore.org also hosts a polar bear cam based in the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Kolind, Denmark. The African Safari cam overlooks the main beach of the watering hole at Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya’s Laikipia County. We saw giraffes, a herd of elephants, hippos, and a crocodile.

National Parks

  • Death Valley National Park – Interesting exploration into the geology and biology of Death Valley National Park. This interactive virtual tour includes guided questions leading students to discover the adaptations of plants and animals in the Death Valley as well as some of the geologic features including the Racetrack Playa, the Eureka Sand Dunes, and Ubehebe Crater.
  • Everglades National Park – This 13 page Google hyperdoc includes multiple links to videos and virtual tours as well as guided questions that explore the Everglades including the characteristics that make the Everglades unique. The virtual tour examines how crocodiles and alligators are different and how lily pads work. The Everglades National Park virtual tour also helps students understand invasive species such as the Burmese python that impact the Everglades.
  • Glacier Bay National Park – In this interactive virtual tour, students learn about the animals of Glacier Bay and their adaptations. Learn how glacier form, retreat, and calve. Explore the native people of Alaska and learn about the earthquakes of Alaska.
  • Redwood National and State Park – Students follow links to make their own observations on web cams and videos and read about living things in the park including the great redwoods, the Roosevelt elk, banana slugs, black bears, and the California Condor and its conservation efforts. This interactive virtual tour also explores the redwoods prescribed fire program and how rangers help to prevent wildfires.
  •  

What’s your favorite way to use an interactive virtual tour?

Sub plans for middle school science

It’s inevitable. One day this year, or probably more, I’ll get sick. There’s nothing harder than waking up at 6:00 in the morning, realizing you’ve got a cold, and having to call in sub plans. That’s why most of us just go in to work sick – it’s easier to go to work than it is to craft meaningful lessons that will occupy and entertain your students for a whole class period. When you’re done reading this blog post, you’ll have a dozen great ideas to use for easy peasy sub plans that will save you a ton of time and effort, and keep your students learning science even when you’re not there!

What are sub plans?

A sub plan ideally is a single day assignment that students can complete independently. Because you never know when you’re going to be sick, it’s convenient if the sub plan is not curricular but instead is a stand alone activity that is not dependent on students having any prior knowledge that you might not have taught them yet.

What should a sub plan include?

When I write sub plans, I include rosters and any special medical considerations a sub might need to know. I also include seating charts and behavior referral forms just in case the sub encounters behaviors s/he can’t manage. But the best classroom management plan is to prevent any problems by assigning a high engagement activity that is easy enough for students to complete without assistance but challenging enough to be interesting.

How do you write sub plans for middle school science?

I’ve found that a great sub plan is an enrichment activity that incorporates informational text into scientific literacy. Not only does it address NGSS skills, it also addresses Common Core skills. The trick to great sub plans is to make them relevant but not necessarily curricular so that they can fit anywhere in the year when you may need them. Building scientific literacy and using informational text to analyze information is always a skill that’s high on my priority list. Give students a scientific passage to read like scientists and engage with the text. Have them analyze and evaluate data and form opinions. Ideally, let them defend their opinions using data to support their answers.  sub plans for middle school science

Ideas for sub plans for middle school science:

To create a relevant sub plan or mini-unit, select appropriate reading passages, preferably from both sides of the spectrum on opinion pieces, and add in some background information and data.   Then, generate some relevant analysis questions.

Bonus!

Additionally, preparing these plans in advance can give you handy enrichment activities for early finishers.

Daily Bellringers for Middle School Science

What are Daily Bellringers?

Daily Bellringers or Do Nows are quick 2-5 minute assignments that students begin as soon as the bell rings every day.

Why use Bellringers?

Some schools require daily bellringers for all classes, but, even if your school doesn’t require one, they’re still a great idea.  Here are some reasons I love them:

  • Daily bellringers get your students settled, focused, and working immediately which helps your classroom management.
  • Daily bellringers give you a few minutes to take attendance and check in with students returning from absences, etc.
  • Bellringers are great for fast and effective formative assessments.

daily bellringers for middle school science

What are great daily bellringers for middle school science?

For middle school science, daily bellringers can take any form. Some general categories are:

  • Content related review
  • Content related preparation
    • picture walk – based on these photos around the room (or on the projector), ask students to form hypotheses about a concept
    • Assemble materials for a lab
    • Read background information for a lab
    • Highlight new vocabulary words in a handout
    • Examine phenomena in the form of photos, demonstrations, videos, or models related to new lesson.
  • Random
    • Today in Science – Write a response to a prompt based on a historically significant event in science on today’s date.
  • Team Building and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
    • Rock, Paper, Scissors championship
    • Find a partner and share what you did this weekend, or what costume you’re going to wear for Halloween, or what your favorite tv show is, etc.
    • Arrange yourself in height order (or birthday order, etc.) without talking.
    • 4 corners – go to this corner of the room if you prefer McDonalds, this corner if you prefer Wendy’s, this corner if you prefer Subway, and this corner if you prefer Burger King. Try it with Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, and iced tea. Or The Office, Walking Dead, Parks and Rec, and Stranger Things. The possibilities are virtually endless.
    • Two truths and a lie
  • STEAM based
    • What’s in the mystery tube?
    • Work with your table to build a card tower in 5 minutes.
    • Write directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
    • Logic puzzles.
    • Write a meme to go with this photograph.

How do you start your class period to get students ready to rock ‘n roll?

Meet the Teacher Night

Maybe it feels like butterflies or stage fright, but Meet the Teacher Night can be intimidating even for the most veteran of all teachers. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get through the night with flying colors!

What are parents looking for when they come to your Meet The Teacher night?

Administrators think parents want curriculum information. And that’s not untrue, but it’s also not the complete picture.

But what parents really want is this. They want to know that you like their child. That their child will be safe with you. That you want to help their child. That you are engaging and compassionate and passionate about education.

 

What should be included in Meet the Teacher?

meet the teacher night

  • Slide Show – Slide shows are great ways to remember what you need to say when you might be wrestling some nerves. Include:Your name and info like education, experience, etc.
    • Contact info – How do you prefer to be contacted? What are your email address and phone number?
    • Curriculum – What will we be studying this year?
    • Grades – How will your students be assessed? How can parents see their student’s grades? When should they expect to get grades back?
  • Handout – Back to school night is overwhelming for parents also. Especially in the middle school ages, parents have to meet 4 or 5 or even more new teachers and they’re going to be on sensory overload. They’ll forget things like how to contact you or what school supplies their child needs. Help them out by providing a handout with all that info on it.
  • Sign in – Parent sign in is critical. You’ll forget which parent you met and which asked you to contact them. Have a sign in sheet and then write notes on it as soon as parents leave.

Tech Upgrade

  • QR codes – Instead of handouts, give parents an index card with a QR code leading to your About Me internet page where you give them the lowdown on how to contact you, what school supplies they need, and what the curriculum is.meet the teacher night
  • Have a Chromebook ready for digital signing in, OR include a link on your About Me page for parents to sign in using their phones.

Stations for Meet the Teacher Night

Show the parents what being in your class is going to be like. Have them rotate around your classroom, completing various activities at each stations. Here are stations I use:

  • School supply list – What materials will Suzie need to be successful in your class? Have copies of a printed list or have a QR code to bring them to your supply list website. I like to have sample binders, pencil cases, etc available for parents to see what I’m looking for.
  • Write a note to your child. This is really an elementary activity, but middle school parents (and kids) find it fun too! Have parents write a quick note to their child (“I’m proud of you” is a standard) and leave it in an envelope on the child’s desk for them to see the next day.
  • Curriculum. At this station, parents can pick up a handout on the curriculum and participate in a quick lab such as:
  • Photos – Add a selfie station for parents to snap a selfie in a particularly photogenic area of your classroom. Include props like Erlenmeyer flasks or goggles. Let them send it to their child – kids and parents will love this!
  • Meet the teacher. After parents have completed all of the other stations, I greet them with a handshake and a smile and ask if they have any questions. If they have more than a simple question, I point them to a “Sign up for a conference or phone call” QR code where they can input their name and what kind of information they need from you. This helps move the evening along and keeps you from getting bogged down with Johnny’s parents who want to tell you all about their son’s hobbies.

Good luck. They’re going to love you.

Lab Safety Resources for Middle School

Teaching lab safety is an essential job skill for middle school science teachers. Students have to be told what to do, and, more importantly, what not to do. I usually teach lab safety in one large lesson at the beginning of the year and require students to pass a quiz in order to  participate in the first lab. Here are the lab safety resources that I use in my middle school science classroom.

SlideShow

When I teach safety in middle school science, I want a slide show that specifies the rules while I talk about them. I usually tell stories about each rule. They like the story about the time a student broke a graduated cylinder and didn’t tell me about it and the custodian needed stitches when he accidentally “found” their hidden broken glassware. Another favorite story is about the time a student spilled acid on the lab table and didn’t report it. Within a few minutes, it had dripped off the table onto the leg of their lab partner where the acid ate through their pants (I know, I didn’t think that would really happen either) and left a burn mark on their leg for a few weeks. A third favorite is the time students were fooling around in the hall before school and one boy got perfume sprayed in his eyes, resulting in the one and only time I’ve had to use the eye wash. lab safety rules for middle school

Practice

Just hearing my stories and watching my slide show isn’t enough for students to master the lab safety rules. Every year, I try to do something different for a practice session. Last year, when pixel art was all the rage, I did a pixel art worksheet. This year, I’m going to do a digital escape room that uses a Google form as its base. Directions to create your own digital escape room using Google Sites can be found here.

 

Assess

Before my students can participate in a lab, they must demonstrate mastery. Since every student is highly motivated to participate in the lab (it helps when the first lab is a fun one like the Ice Cream Lab), I usually get pretty high compliance. To make it easier on myself, I give the students a self-grading quiz on Google forms and allow them to retake it as many times as necessary to get 100. Steps to creating your own self-grading quiz can be found here.

 

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How about you? How are you going to teach safety this year?

First Day of School Activities for Middle School Science

What do you do on the first day of middle school science?

What are you going to do on the first day of school? Whatever you decide, make sure it’s memorable! Let the other teachers do the rules and the syllabi and what supplies students need. In your class on the first day of school this year, your new students will be engaged, trying new things, getting to know each other (and you), and learning some science. Here are some great first day of school activities for middle school science to get them out of their seats and into the learning zone!

Getting to Know You

Start the day with a getting to know you activity. Can’t be boring and can’t take all period – 5-10 minutes, max. I try to do a different activity each day for the first week or two. Try these:

  • Getting to know you bingo – set a timer and see who can get the most signatures in 5 minutes.
  • Group or team ice breakers – build a house of cards on your lab table or balance a bean on your straw while walking across the room.
  • Would you rather – I played this with a PearDeck last year, but this year I’m going to do it as stations. One question at a station, students travel in groups of 3 and discuss for 1 minute.
  • Two truths and a lie – in small groups for 3-4 minutes, this can be fun. In larger groups, it’s all a boring blur.
  • Jenga questions – write would-you-rather or general getting-to-know-you questions on jenga blocks and have students pull a block from the stack and answer the questions.
  • Line up – give students a criteria like birth date or height and have them line up without talking to each other.

Four Cornersfirst day of school activities for middle school science

One of the few permanent things in my classroom are the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the corners. Give a getting-to-know-you kind of question like: “Go to Corner 1 if you have no pets, corner 2 if you have a dog or cat, corner 3 if you have multiple pets, and corner 4 if you have an unusual pet.” Then, let them talk about it for a minute or two. All year long, I use the corners as my Do Now or as a way to poll the class. Later in the year: “Go to corner 1 if you think GMOs are perfectly safe, Corner 2 if you think they are sometimes safe, corner 3 if you think that we should only use them if we have to, and corner 4 if you think they should be banned.”

Today in Science

One good way to get students engaged and working right from the bell is a bellringer. A new product I’ve just launched is my Today in Science series. For each day of the month, I have a slide with an image about something interesting that happened in science on that day. Then, I have 2 writing prompts that you can choose to assign for students to write about. This gives you 3-4 minutes to take attendance and get set up (and breathe!) Here’s great news – right now, I’m selling this resource as a Growing Bundle for $12 (20% off the list price of $15). As I add more months to the bundle, the price will go up $4. By this time next year, you’ll have 365 days of science trivia!

Classroom Scavenger Hunt

I usually give students a map and ask them to label the locations of the safety equipment and other places they need to know about – where to hand in homework, where to borrow a pencil, etc.

This year, I’m thinking about hanging QR codes around the room pointing students to info like how to join the class Google Classroom, class rules, or bookmarking my email address.

Escape Room

If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know I’m deeply into gamifying my classroom and I’ll play a game for just about any activity.  On the first day of school, however, no one really knows what to do and it’s hard to get them to work together. My favorite way to engage kids in a game is with an escape room. 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:

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.

The Scientific Method

first day of school activities for middle school science

This requires a bit of preparation but kids talk about it for years. I always prepare my seating charts in advance and post them on the projector and let students find their own seats. Then, I tell them that they’re not seating alphabetically by last name and challenge them to guess-and-check how I’ve chosen to arrange their seats. Some years, I use birth date. Other years, I’ve used their house numbers or arranged them alphabetically by their mother’s first name or street name. There have been classes that have taken three or four days to solve the puzzle and then they beg me to rearrange them a different way so they can figure it out again. Just a word of caution – if you’re doing this with multiple classes, make sure you use a different secret arrangement with each class because they will talk about this one.

Tower building

Challenge your students with 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, 12 inches of masking tape, and a marshmallow at each table. Tell them that they have to build the highest tower they can, with the marshmallow on top, in 8 minutes. I usually reward the winning table with ice cold water bottles or a lollipop.

Introduce my friend

Have students pair up, chat for 3 minutes, then introduce their new friend to the class by stating their name and something interesting about them. Alternately, have each pair of students create a crazy handshake and them demo it for the class.

R, P, S

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.

Click here to let me know what first day of school activities you have planned for your middle school science class!