Symbiosis Resources for Middle Schoolers

Organisms in ecosystems interact in many different ways and understanding these relationships is the focus of Next Generation Science Standards MS-LS2-1 (Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem) and MS-LS2-2 (Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems). These are some symbiosis resources for middle schoolers.


Interactions among organisms

Any ecosystem unit is made more interesting by adding the nuances in the ways different species interact. Of course, the most obvious interaction among species is predation and we cover that in our food webs unit. But there are other interactions that are interesting and important in the ecosystem.

One type of interaction is competition. Species compete with each other for resources because there isn’t an infinite amount of food, water, shelter, and oxygen to go around. Organisms also compete with other members of their own species for resources but also for mates.

Middle school students find symbiosis fascinating so this is an easy unit for engagement. Symbiosis is a relationship in which unrelated species interact usually in a long term or life long situation. There are different types of symbiosis depending on if each species is benefited or harmed.

Mutualism is a type of symbiosis in which both species benefit. One example is the relationship between crocodiles and plovers. Plovers are birds which crocodiles allow to climb into their mouths and pick the food out of their mouths. The plovers get a free meal and the crocodiles get free dentistry – win, win!

Commensalism is a type of symbiosis in which one species benefits and the other is unaffected. A classic example is the relationship between sharks and remoras. Remoras are fish that swim behind sharks and eat any leftover food that shark discards. The shark doesn’t care, and the remora gets a free meal without having to do the hunting.

Parasitism is a type of symbiosis in which one species harms another one. The parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism and harms it. Tapeworms live inside the intestines of many mammals and steal nutrition from the animal they are living inside, harming the animal. Fleas and ticks are examples of insects that live in the fur of other animals and bite them, causing discomfort and possibly spreading injury.

Amensalism is a type of symbiosis in which one species is harmed and the other is unaffected. A good example is when animals walk on grass and crush it or kill it. The animal is indifferent to the grass but the grass dies.

What you need when you’re teaching interactions in ecosystems is lots of examples and lots of ways to identify the type of interaction.

Middle School Symbiosis Resources:

I’ve just posted my symbiosis resources for middle schoolers and I’m offering it for 50% off through April 25th! Here’s what’s included:


  1. Interactive notes. I’ve been teaching in a hybrid classroom since October so I always have at least some students online at home. Engaging them is nearly impossible, and getting remote students to keep up with notes and classwork is always a challenge. I use interactive notes because remote students can follow along without the stress of copying notes and watching a slide show. Drag and drop features make it easy for in person and remote students to ensure that they have the correct information without struggling to manage multiple screens. For more about why I use interactive notes, check out my blog post from a few months ago ūüôā

  2. Task cards and digital Boom cards.
    Both are fantastic ways to practice vocabulary and skills. Task cards can be used for independent practice, stations, Do Nows, and closure activities. They’re also handy for games, Q&A, and pre-assessment review. I print out my task cards at the beginning of the unit and keep going back to them over and over again, even spiraling back to a few later on in the year.

3. Pixel Reveal Worksheet. I love pixel reveal worksheets and I’m a little annoyed with myself for not using them sooner! They work on Google Sheets. On the left side of the spreadsheet are questions about interactions between organisms and on the right side of the spreadsheet is a large white box. As each question is answered correctly, pixels of the white square change colors. When all questions are answered correctly, an image is revealed. In this case, it’s an image of a clownfish in an anemone as another example of mutualism

4. Escape Room. I love escape rooms and so do my students. A digital escape room uses the same principle as a regular escape room Рfind clues and solve puzzles to break out of a room Рbut a digital escape room is completely digital and has the added benefit of being easily used in remote and hybrid classrooms. A digital escape room requires no work on the part of the teacher Рjust share a link and students will get to work. For more info, check out this blog post on creating a digital escape room.

5. Self-grading assessment. My time is limited so I depend on self grading assessments as much as possible. I wrote a 25 question multiple choice quiz and uploaded it to Google Forms which will grade the assessment for me and produce a nice spreadsheet for me to copy into my gradebook.



If you’re interested in the symbiosis bundle of all 6 resources for middle schoolers, you have until 4/24/21 to snag it for 50% off!

Earth Day Activities for Middle Schoolers

Earth Day has been celebrated for 51 years and I always make a point of including it in my middle school curriculum. Here are some Earth Day activities for your middle schoolers:earth day activities for middle schoolers

  1. Plant a tree. If your school property has room, buy a few seedlings from a local nursery and have students plant them. (Better yet, have the seedlings donated.) If space is a problem, plant annual flowers around the entrance to the school. Send kids home with seedlings or small potted plants. Nice segue into Mothers Day and Arbor Day as well!
  2. Learn about climate change. There’s no doubt that climate change is one of the biggest challenges to science this year. Have students research evidence of climate change so they can be armed against naysayers. Have groups of students research the impacts climate change has on your local ecosystem.
  3. Just for fun, include Earth Day images in your daily slides, Google forms and Google Classroom.
  4. Do a project. If you have some flexibility in your timing, allow students a few days to get to know about endangered animals. I do an endangered animals problem based activity that kids love. Begin by having each student choose an endangered species and then researching the habitat, food, and other needs of their species. Then, students research why their species is endangered. Finally, students draw an ideal habitat to preserve their species. As extensions, students can create flyers to promote their habitat as an exhibit in a zoo and can calculate how long it will take for their species to be delisted from the Endangered Species List.
  5. Play a game. For a single day Earth Day activity when timing is a challenge, I often give my middle schoolers a day to learn about Earth Day in a digital escape activity. They find clues and solve puzzles, all while learning about Earth Day.

What do you do to celebrate Earth Day with your middle schoolers?

10 ways to celebrate National Park Week in your middle school classroom

It’s National Park Week! Celebrate the United States National Parks every day, but especially from April 17-25 during National Park Week. Here are 10 great ways you can celebrate National Park Week in your middle school classroom:celebrate national park week in your middle school classroom

  1. If your school is near a National Park, volunteer. There are opportunities for middle school children (with written consent from their parents, of course), to help make the National Parks a better place for everyone! Students younger than 13 can become Junior Rangers and take a more personal ownership of their local National Park.
  2. Visit a park, either in person or virtually. If you don’t live near a National Park, there are many ways your middle school students can explore what the parks have to offer virtually. Show a video, read a book, or take a virtual tour. Even if you live near a National Park, take a virtual tour of one very far away that your students likely wouldn’t know about – some of my favorites are¬† Glacier Bay National Park,¬† Death Valley, and the Everglades.
  3. Have each student or group of students create a slideshow about one National Park and share with their class. Let them include famous attractions, things to see, and how to get there.
  4. Share your National Park experiences on social media. Use the hashtags #NationalParkWeek and #FindYourPark. Let your students explore  what other people have shared about their favorite parks.
  5. Learn about health and how National Parks help keep everyone healthier, mentally and physically.  Have students create an infographic on why we need parks.
  6. Have your students write a poem, draw a picture or poster about National Parks.
  7. Locate the National Parks on a map. Have students map out a road trip to see as many of them as possible.
  8. Hold a fundraiser for The National Park Foundation. Sell cookies, themed masks, or homework passes – whatever you can!
  9. Celebrate Earth Day by learning about the integral part National Parks play in environmental protection. Research the history of the National Parks to learn about their creation.
  10. Celebrate our Country’s heritage by exploring how many cultures have joined together to become one nation.

How will you celebrate National Park week in your middle school classroom?



Image credit: Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash.  Photo by Christian Lucas on Unsplash

The Ice Cream Lab

Today was the day for everyone’s favorite lab of the year – the ice cream lab!

What is the Ice Cream Lab?

The ice cream lab is a fantastic, fun, super-engaging way to teach freezing point depression and phase change. Give students a large ziploc bag, a small ziploc bag, a bunch of ice, some salt, a cup of milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, and a dropper of vanilla and let them mace ice cream.

Fill the small bag with the milk, sugar, and vanilla and zip it up really well. Put the baggie into the large ziploc bag and cover with ice and salt. Let partners take turns flipping the bag upside down for about 15 minutes. I always use that 15 minutes to talk about freezing point depression and relate it to the salt we use on our icy roads in the winter. Review vocabulary like phase change, freezing point, melting point, etcetera.

And, after 15 minutes, the contents of your small baggie will have turned into a pretty good vanilla ice cream – enough for a scoop each for the 2 partners.

The Ice Cream Lab









Gamify your ice cream lab a little by turning your vocabulary review into a Q&A with rewards like chocolate syrup, maraschino cherries, and sprinkles.

Ways to modify the Ice Cream Lab

I can talk about freezing point depression until the cows come home (a little dairy humor there, did you see?), but nothing helps students understand it than to kick up your lab with some controls and variables.

Have one group try making ice cream without salt in the ice. Have another group add more salt. A third group can add more sugar to the milk. A fourth group can add less sugar to the milk.

Fair warning, though. Variations on the recipe won’t result in a delicious product so have some extra on hand for the kids who tested the variables!

What does the Ice Cream Lab fit into your curriculum?

There are a few places where the ice cream lab fits into your curriculum:

  1. Before you teach states of matter or phase change, the Ice Cream Lab is a great way to introduce phenomenon. Why does the milk change? How does the milk change? What does the salt do? What does the sugar do?
  2. After states of matter and phase change, the Ice Cream lab is a good activity to do while you’re doing your pre-assessment review.

I’ve just uploaded my version of the Ice Cream Lab to my TpT store if you want to check it out!



Photo credits:

Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash

Amazing Animal of the Week – Cicadas 2021

2021 may be the year of the cicadas. A huge population of cicadas have been living underground since 2004 and are scheduled to emerge within the next few weeks! Cicadas 2021!

What are cicadas?

Cicadas are a group of 3000 different known insect species around the world. The oldest cicada fossils are nearly 300 million years old. 2021 cicadas

Cicadas have prominent eyes and  short antennae. Their front wings are transparent and  membranous. Most cicada species are active during the daytime, especially at dawn and dusk.

The largest species is the Malaysian emperor cicada with an 8 inch wingspan but most species are between 1 and 2 inches long. Most cicadas live in tropical regions and nearly all cicada species spend their whole lives in one geographic area. They do not sting, bite, or carry disease.

Cicadas are commonly eaten by birds and sometimes by squirrels, bats, wasps, and other animals which often feast at the time of emergence. Nymphs living underground may be eaten by burrowing mammals such as moles.

Cicadas are among the loudest of all insects

Cicadas are known for their loud song which they produce by vibrating drum-like structures¬†File:Brood X Cicada 2004.jpgcalled timbals which resemble corrugated cardboard on the abdomen of male cicadas. The vibrations of the timbals resonate within the hollow abdomen of the male cicada and amplifies the sound. A male cicada can modulate the sound by positioning their abdomen. The sound that a cicada makes can be very loud, possibly even as loud as a lawn mower or motorcycle, and can be heard up to ¬Ĺ mile away. Male cicadas can temporarily disable their hearing to prevent damage when they are calling. Most cicada species call from trees. Different species may occupy the same tree and call from different heights.

Cicada life cycles

A cicada has three stages in its life cycle Рeggs, nymphs, and adults. 

The egg part of a cicada’s life cycle lasts 6-10 weeks. After mating, female cicadas cut slits in the bark of twigs and deposit hundreds of eggs into the twig. The adult cicadas die soon after mating. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground and burrow into the ground immediately. 

Nymph cicadas can not jump but have forelimbs adapted to live underground. They have strong front legs to help with digging. They excavate chambers near roots which provide sap for the nymphs to eat. They can live underground for a long period of time which varies from species to species. 

When it is time to emerge, the nymphs dig an exit tunnel to the surface and climb out. Then, they molt into adults, leaving their abandoned exoskeletons on the bark of the trees they were living under. After molting, the adults rest for a day or two then spend the next 3-4 weeks mating.  In some species of cicada, the males stay in one place and call to attract females, often in chorus with other males. In other cicada species, the males move from place to place, usually with quieter calls while searching for females. 

Cicada broods

Different species of cicadas spend different amounts of time underground as nymphs. A brood is a population of cicadas that emerges in a geographical area at the same time and can be predicted based upon their species.

Annual cicadas spend 1-9 years underground as a nymph. A portion of the population emerges each year.
Periodical cicadas are the best known North American species of cicada.  It has a 13 or 17 year life cycle. Their emergence is normally very well predicted and quite dramatic. Scientists believe that the long period in which cicadas remain underground helps the species avoid loss to predation since predators will not be able to depend upon them for food. Because so many periodical cicadas emerge at once, predators become sated quickly and later emerging cicadas are safe from predation. 2021 is the year for a cicada population called Brood X to emerge in 15 states of the eastern United States. The cicadas that will be emerging this year were born in 2004. Emergence is normally early to mid-May. An app called Cicada Safari allows observers to record when cicadas are spotted throughout the Country.

Emergence is triggered when the soil temperatures 8 inches underground reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Patterns of emergence dates vary with climate and are considered a marker of climate change since records of cicada emergence date back hundreds of years.




Previous Amazing Animals of the Week:

Image credits:

Photo 1 – Photo by Shannon Potter on Unsplash

Photo 2 РThis media file is either in the public domain or published under a free license, and contains no inbound file links.

Stoichiometry Basics for Middle School

In middle school, a fundamental understanding of the basics of stoichiometry can help lay the foundation for chemistry in later years. When I teach stoichiometry basics in my middle school classroom, I start with very basic chemical formulas and incremental increase the complexity as students achieve and demonstrate mastery at each level. I use task cards for reinforcement.

How many atoms are there?

Given a chemical formula, students need to be able to identify how many atoms there are of each type. For example, in H2O, there are 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. I use drag and drop Google Slides task cards that break the process down into several tiers. First, I teach basic subscripts.

stoichiometry basics for middle school

The key here is to practice this skill until it is mastered before you introduce coefficients, which is the next step.stoichiometry basics for middle school

Again, the key is to practice this skill to mastery before complicating things.  For some students, this may be the most advanced stoichiometry they can master at this time. For others, you can add parentheses.

stoichiometry basics for middle school

Practice until mastery and then advance your students to parentheses with coefficients.

stoichiometry basics for middle school

In all, advancing through these stages of basic stoichiometry may take your middle schoolers several days, but they they are ready for balancing equations.

Balancing Equations

Just like in basic stoichiometry, student mastery of balancing equations comes with guided practice in incremental steps. Start with a few simple synthesis or decomposition reactions with only 2 elements.

balancing equations for middle school

For some students, this may be quite challenging in middle school, depending of course on their pre-algebra skills. If your students are asking for more complicated problems, try a single replacement reaction.

balancing equations in middle school

Again, they key is mastery at each incremental step before advancing to a more complicated type of problem.

balancing equations in middle school

This is why large task card sets are so important when you’re teaching basic stoichiometry in middle school. Lots of practice leads to increased understanding and retention.

I offer several basic stoichiometry task card sets in various formats in my TpT store if you want more guidance:

stoichiometry interactive google slideshow task cards

basic stoichiometry task cards

balancing equations task cards

how many atoms are there

stoichiometry boom cards


Women in Science – Rachel Carson

March is Women in History Month, and Rachel Carson was certainly an impactful woman in history as well as in science. Her book Silent Spring brought awareness of environmental issues to the masses and laid the groundwork for the modern environmental movement.

women in science - rachel carson

Silent Spring was written in 1962. It warned people of the dangers of chemical pesticides, particularly DDT in agriculture, and encouraged people to question the direction of modern science. Carson accused DDT and other chemical pesticides of having lasting and detrimental effects on the bird populations and therefore the entire food web. Her book sparked controversy and the chemical industry regarded her as an alarmist, but Carson testified before Congress in 1963 about policies she felt should be implemented to protect human health and the environment. She died the next year of breast cancer.

Prior to writing Silent Spring, Carson was a marine scientist who worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a writer and editor. She wrote several book about the ecosystem of the ocean including the geology of island formation, how temperature changes affect sea life, and how erosion impacts the ecosystem of the ocean.

Rachel Carson is an important woman in science because of the lasting impact of her determination to persevere in spreading the word about the dangers of pesticides. From Silent Spring sprang an entire green movement. The first Earth Day in 1970 was celebrated as a monument to the green movement and launched a traditional holiday celebrated 51 years later.


Earlier posts on Women in Science:

Rosalind Franklin

Can you help new teachers?

Do you remember your first year in the classroom?

Were you bogged down with grading, overwhelmed by prepping labs, struggling to reach those two difficult kids, confused by all the paperwork? Can you help new teachers?

can you help new teachers?

I’d love to feature your best advice for new teachers in an upcoming blog.

What was difficult for you? How did you find ways to cope? You can be as anonymous or as public as you want.

Click here to share your advice!

Thanks for your help!

~ Jay

Equinox Myths

The reason for the seasons

Do you teach seasons? It’s not normally part of my curriculum, but I always spend a day un-teaching equinox myths. There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there. Here are the things my students claim are true, until I straighten them out.

Equinox Myths:

  • You can balance an egg on the equinox.Well, technically, yes, you can. But not because of any weird gravity thing or whatever is going around these days. You can balance an egg¬†every day. Don’t believe me? Try it today, and then try it again in a few weeks. Let me know what you learn.
  • You can balance a broom on the equinox. Again, yes you can. And, again, you can do this every day if you’re patient enough to try.
  • There is no shadow at noon on the equinox. I don’t know where this one came from, and it is so demonstrably false (unless you happen to be exactly on the equator at the exact moment that the sun is directly overhead) that it surprises me when it comes up every year.
  • The equinox is the whole day. It’s actually just a split second – the exact moment when the Sun passes over the equator.
  • The equinox is the day when the amount of dark equals the amount of light.¬†This one is possibly true, depending on how you define “dark” and “light” relative to sunrise and sunset. It’s also dependent on your distance from the equator.


What equinox myths do you have to un-teach?

Amazing Animal of the Week – Gila Monsters

This week’s amazing animal of the week is the Gila Monster. Gila Monsters are black and orange lizards which grow up to almost 2 feet in length and are one of the heaviest reptiles found in the Grand Canyon, weighing in at over 5 pounds. Their skin is covered in round, bead like scales and they can live for up to 30 years.

File:AZ Gila Monster 02.jpg

There are over 5000 lizards in the world with up to 100 species producing venom including the monitor lizards, Mexican Bearded Lizards, iguanas, and Gila Monsters.

Unlike snakes, Gila Monsters do not inject their venom into their prey but rather the venom just flows into the bite. Humans are rarely bitten because Gila Monsters tend to be quite shy, but, if bitten, venom can cause paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes convulsions. No known human deaths have occurred because of a Gila Monster bite but their bites can be painful. Watch this video for more info on Gila Monster bites.

Gila Monsters are carnivores and hunt for rodents, other lizards, bird eggs, and invertebrates. They are slow and stealthy when they hunt. Their venom is mostly used for defense rather than hunting. They detect smells with a forked tongue.

Gila Monsters only live in the desert. They burrow during the hot part of the day. In the winter, they live in the burrows of desert tortoises and live off the fat they have stored in their tails.

Gila Monsters are endangered in the United States and Mexico. It is illegal to harass them, trap or capture them, hunt, shoot, wound, or kill them, or collect them.

Previous Amazing Animals of the Week:

Image: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.