Engaging Middle School Students in 2022

engaging middle school students in 2021

Students were out of the classroom for a long time. So have teachers. I’m finding that my students need a little more guidance and support this year compared to previous years. Tik Tok challenges, nonstop texting and taking selfies, super late video chats with their friends, constant connection to technology, and administrators who are all about helping students and their SEL have all created a perfect storm of disengaged students. Engaging middle school students in 2021 is not for the feint of heart. Here are the things that I’ve found work for me:

Engaging Middle School Students in 2022

  • Build relationships with students. Students work harder for students that they like and that they think like them. It’s obviously good teaching to build relationships, but I promise you that it will pay off by making your job easier.
  • Maintain a predictable classroom routine such as a Do Now or Bellringer, a mini lesson, independent or group investigation, and then closure. Predictability makes it easier for students to participate in the lesson.
  • Differentiate and Provide choice. This has been widely unsettling for everyone and kids in particular have little that they can control. Let them have some control.  Perhaps offer to let them choose groups to work with, or choose which 

    engaging middle school students in 2021

    assignment to complete.
  • Use varying modalities while you instruct. Keep your routine consistent, but provide lots of visuals and graphics as well as music andengaging middle school students in 2021 opportunities for students to draw or act. Let students create a video for small children explaining the layers of the earth. Have them create  edible models of the earth’s layers or a newsletter for their parents. Ask them to write a song about the planets or a poster about Newton’s laws. Use the technology available to you like Answer Pad, Badaboom, Edpuzzle, Edulastic, IXL, PearDeck. But, don’t depend on digital everything. Let them cut out pictures or draw the rock cycle on paper also. The trick is in the variety of resources you use. 
  • Use hands on learning as often as possible. Every year, students tell me the best part of being in my class was doing experiments. You might be in a situation where you have a lab period every week, or maybe you’re in a rotating drop or maybe you don’t have a lab period at all. You can still, and should still do hands on activities. How much is enough? I aim for once a week, but my kids could do a lab every day and still want more.engaging middle school students in 2021
  • Allow students to work in groups, even remotely. We’re all worried about social-emotional learning. Give your students the opportunity to build connections with people.
  • Use brain breaks. 2 minutes of jumping jacks is far more effective than a 2 minute lecture on the benefits of paying attention.
  • Use phenomena to help students engage with the topic, not just with your class.
  • Provide feedback quickly. Let them know what they need to do to improve next time. Don’t let assignments be the last time they think about the subject. When a student submits work, they should obviously receive a grade, but, more importantly, they should receive guidance on how to improve next time. Imagine receiving a mediocre report on your observation. “Fine,” you think and forget it. But if it included specific strategies to improve next time, you’d be more inclined to include those strategies in your lessons to improve your score. engaging middle school students in 2021
  • Gamify. Easy to use gaming platforms include Kahoot, Blooket, Quizlet, GimkitBoom cards, escape rooms. Everyone is more engaged during a game, and games are definitely not fluff. Kids learn when they’re playing. (Even adults learn when they’re playing.) Let them play.
  • Be kind to yourself. And to them. We are all in challenging circumstances and Maslow’s hierarchy reminds us that mastering Punnett Squares isn’t as important as your health and safety.

Help each other out. Comment below with your favorite engagement strategies and together we’ll get through this year!

2 Things Teachers should do in 2022

One of the primary characteristics of a fantastic educator is self-reflection. Challenging yourself to do a better job next time is the hallmark of successful teaching, and, when you think about it, really any profession. Here are two things middle school science teachers should do in 2022 to have a better year:

Build relationships

Why you should build relationships

teacher new years resolutions 2022

The name of the game in education, 2022 and every year before this, is building relationships. Students learn from teachers they like and respect. Building relationships eliminates behavior problems and promotes academic engagement also. It also makes kids happy, and why would you be a teacher if you don’t like kids? The illusion that there needs to be a separation between students and teachers (i.e. “Don’t smile until Christmas”) is a complete fallacy. A happy byproduct is that you’ll have a better time teaching if you genuinely know and like your students.

How do you build relationships with middle schoolers?

You don’t have to play Minecraft or wear sweats to school. Not all teachers are extroverts, so here’s my quick 5 point list of relationship building activities:

  • Talk to your kids – what did you do this weekend, what’s your dog’s name, what are you looking forward to next year?
  • Tell them about yourself, show them pictures from your vacation and tell them the funny thing that happened at Dunkin that morning.
  • Greet them at the door.
  • Spend a few minutes each day, maybe during your warmup or closure, playing something like Would you rather or 2 truths and a lie.
  • Go to their events. I try to make it to at least one game or match for every team every year – one basketball game, one field hockey game, one fencing meet, one concert. Kids (and parents, and administrators) notice and remember.

Take it easy on yourselfteacher new years resolutions 2022

When I wrote “Things Teachers should do in 2022,” I certainly didn’t mean that there should be more things on your plate. We’re already stretched just about as thinly as possible with more and more responsibilities (SGOs, PDPs, CAPs, PLCs, PBLs, etc) and less and less time (“Cover this class because 8 teachers are quarantined today” and “Do bathroom duty so no one steals the sink and posts it on TikTok”). Look, I get it. 2020 and 2021 weren’t great for a lot of us and things still don’t feel quite settled yet. There’s some fear about what 2022 will bring. Teachers in 2022 will be happier, and have happier students, if everyone prioritizes a little self care.

The second thing I think all teachers should do in 2022 is to make their lives a little easier. Whether that means hiring help around your house so you don’t have to clean, or ordering dinner so you don’t have to cook, find places where you can give yourself a little grace. In the classroom, we still have responsibilities, but there are easy ways to cut corners without cutting education.

Here’s my quick 5 ways to make teacher life easier:

What can you do?

At my job, I can’t drink coffee when I want to. I can’t always use the bathroom when I want to. There are only a few things in a teacher’s life that is controllable. If you’re willing to listen to an old teacher’s advice, here it is. Control what you can. Make it easier for you and better for your kids at the same time. 

I hope your 2022 is wonderful and that you remember all the reasons you became a teacher! I hope you hear your students say “You’re going to love this class!” when a new student comes in. I hope the relationships you build help make this year the best yet!

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits

Photo by Max Fischer from Pexels

FREE! Digital self-checking worksheet

Learning the phases of the moon is tricky. Students get confused between waxing and waning, gibbous and crescent. This digital self-checking worksheet will help your middle school science students practice naming and identifying the phases of the moon. As each phase is correctly identified, part of an image is revealed. Once all phases are correct, they’ll see the entire picture.

We’re offering this digital self checking worksheet for free to new subscribers to our mailing list. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, click here!

Love self-checking worksheets? They are a little complicated but not too hard to make, and we’ve written a blog post giving step by step directions. Click here to learn how to make your own!

We have a few self-checking worksheets in our store. Check them out!

Life Science

Earth Science

Chemistry

Physical Science

 

 

Exit Slips for Improved Learning

Teachers often summarize during their lessons, but students are rarely given an opportunity to do so. This can lead to a disconnect between what the teacher thinks the students learned and what they actually internalized. That’s why many middle school teachers use exit slips for improved learning.

What are exit tickets?

Exit tickets are a great formative assessment used by teachers to measure their students’ understanding of a daily lesson. In addition to giving feedback to teachers, exit tickets also help students reflect on what they have learned and enable them to express what and how they are thinking about the new information.

How to use exit tickets?

At the end of the lesson, present your students with an exit ticket that asks them to explain something that they’ve learned. It can be content specific – what is the square of 7 – or it can be more general – write a question you don’t still have from today’s lesson, for example. Exit tickets can be shared orally – on the way out the door, tell me your favorite character in the novel so far – or on paper or digitally – write the equation for photosynthesis.

What do you do with the feedback from exit slips?

After collecting exit slips from your students, you can use their responses as a formative assessment and count it as a grade. In this way, exit slips can be one of many items to monitor progress and document how and what your students are learning.

Exit slips can also be used to plan for a follow up lesson – what worked or didn’t work? What do you need to reteach or explain differently? Which students might need to work in smaller groups to review? In this way, exit slips can be used to lead to differentiation for future lessons.

 

EXIT SLIPS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Science Lesson Plans

Every year, there are one or two days before Winter break when I have to provide lesson plans but I’m not ready to start a new unit. These three winter break lesson plans are not linked to the curriculum but they do address the scientific literacy standards of the NGSS so they’re great to fill in for a day or two when you need something. They’re also engaging for students and low prep for me – two things I need this year more than ever!

Here are 4 winter break lesson plans you can use:

Lesson Plan #1 – Winter Science Jigsaw activityscience of Thanksgiving

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objective: Students will be able to read informational text and ask questions about the text and communicate the problems described in the text with their teammates.

Activities:

  1. Divide students into groups.
  2. Provide each group with informational text about the science of winter including topics such as: How are reindeer adapted to live in cold climates? How do evergreen trees work? How does snow form? How does hibernation work? Why is it so dark in winter?
  3. In groups, students read and discuss the text. Provide each group of students with guided questions to help them analyze the text if necessary.
  4. Jigsaw the groups so that each student has the opportunity to share what he or she learned with a new group of students who read a different text.

Evaluation: Have students complete a 3-2-1 exit slip in which they provide 3 things that they learned in class, 2 things they found interesting, and 1 fact they will share with their families.

Lesson Plan #2 – Winter Science Escape Room science of Thanksgiving

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objective: Students will be able to read informational text and ask questions about the text and communicate the problems described in the text with their teammates.

Activities:

  1. Divide students into groups.
  2. Create clues that lead to puzzles that help students understand  the science of winter. For more information on creating a digital escape room, please read this blog from last year.

Evaluation: Have students complete a 3-2-1 exit slip in which they provide 3 things that they learned in class, 2 things they found interesting, and 1 fact they will share with their families.

 

Lesson Plan #3 –  How Do  Seasons  Form?

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Developing and Using Models
  3. Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Objective: Students will be able to model the solstices and equinoxes and compare data about the amount of daylight over 3 latitudes and 12 months to draw conclusions about the solstices and equinoxes.

Activities:

winter break lesson plans

 

  1.  Using interactive slides, students drag and drop correct answers to demonstrate their understanding of solstices and equinoxes.
  2. Students use data of the amount of daylight in 3 locations to compare latitude to daylight hours throughout the year. Use Google Sheets to graph your data.

Evaluation: Have students think, pair and share their understanding of how the tilt of the axis produces seasons.

 

Lesson Plan #4 –  Winter Science Lab Stations

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Developing and Using Models
  2. Planning and carrying out investigations
  3. Analyzing and interpreting data

Objective: Students will be work in groups to complete 7 lab stations exploring the science of winter.

Activities:

winter science lab stations

  1.  In one 90 minute class (or two 45 minute classes), students travel through 7 lab stations:
    1. Borax ornaments
    2. Rock candy
    3. Freezing point depression
    4. Ornament Chromatography
    5. Maple syrup snow candy
    6. Cookie cutter slime
    7. Snowball catapult

 

 

What do you do on those last few days before winter break?

Natural Disaster Resources for Middle Schoolers

There are very few natural disaster resources available for middle school teachers. Activities about earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires are often too babyish for middle school students and rarely address the standards that middle school teachers need to reach.

The Next Generation Science Standards for middle school includes MS-ESS3-2 which asks students to be aware of the natural hazards in a region and to understand the geologic forces that occur with those natural hazards. Some middle school science curricula have a unit devoted specifically to natural disasters, but I teach natural disasters in a more coordinated way. My students learn about earthquakes when we study plate tectonics. They learn about wildfires when we study climate change. And they learn about hurricanes in our weather unit. The natural disaster resources I use include workbooks, hands on activities, and models.

Earthquakes

Teaching earthquakes in middle school varies by geographic region. Areas where earthquakes are common will treat the topic differently than areas where earthquakes are rare.

Two natural disaster resources that I use to teach earthquakes:

Where are earthquakes and volcanoes? This mapping activity has students using latitude and longitude to identify the locations of some major earthquakes and volcanoes. This activity is great for map skills review and it fits nicely into an introduction into the location of the plate boundaries.

natural disaster resources

Earthquake Workbook. This resource is a 23 page workbook that will work digitally or printed. It includes information about earthquake detection and prediction as well as the types of seismic waves. Digital and printable workbooks have been a lifesaver this year since I often have students quarantined and need to provide activities and resources for them to complete at home.

Wildfires

Students are highly curious about wildfires. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, your students are all too aware of the dangers of a wildfire, but, even if your students have never seen a wildfire in person it’s likely that they’ve seen the news coverage every year.

natural disaster resourcesThe resource that I use to teach about wildfires is a workbook. It has digital and print versions, again to make it easier for quarantined students and for schools still in pandemic flux. Students can complete the workbook independently over several days. In the workbook, students will learn about the main causes of wildfires and how they are impacted by climate change. Students will also learn about ways to battle wildfires and how controlled fires work to prevent wildfires. This resource works well alone but it also coordinates well with current events or climate change.

Hurricanes

There are many resources about hurricanes available on TpT and other sources, but few are suitable for middle schoolers. Coloring pages and word finds don’t help my middle schoolers understand the causes and effects of hurricanes, so I needed something with a little more content in it. The hurricane workbook that I use is 19 pages and includes information on how air pressure, wind, and global winds are related to hurricanes as well as the development of a hurricane and how they are named. Students can work independently on this activity either in school or at home because it is offered as a printable and digital resource. natural disaster resources

I also use a hurricane tracking activity in which students use the latitude and longitude of Hurricane Laura to map its movement across the Gulf of Mexico. This activity is completely digital and ask students to decide if a hurricane warning or hurricane watch is appropriate for each location throughout the storm’s development.

natural disaster resources

 

Do you teach natural resources alone or in conjunction with other content? What natural resources would you like to see a middle school appropriate workbook for? Let me know!

Thanksgiving activities for Middle School Science

You know that last day or two before Thanksgiving? Kids are wired, some kids are already on vacation, and you have to entertain them for 2 days. This year in particular, I’m not planning to cover content on those days.  The Thanksgiving activities for my middle school science classes are activities that practice skills without moving forward on the curriculum. Here are 3 lesson plans you can use:

Lesson Plan #1 – Thanksgiving Science Jigsaw activityscience of Thanksgiving

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objective: Students will be able to read informational text and ask questions about the text and communicate the problems described in the text with their teammates.

Activities:

  1. Divide students into groups.
  2. Provide each group with informational text about the science of Thanksgiving including topics such as: Why is some turkey meat white and some dark?  Why do leaves change color in the fall? Does turkey make you sleepy? Are sweet potatoes and yams the same thing? Why are cranberries so good for you?
  3. In groups, students read and discuss the text. Provide each group of students with guided questions to help them analyze the text if necessary.
  4. Jigsaw the groups so that each student has the opportunity to share what he or she learned with a new group of students who read a different text.

Evaluation: Have students complete an exit slip in which they provide a 2-3 sentence description of what new and interesting information they will share with their families during Thanksgiving dinner.

Lesson Plan #2 – Thanksgiving Science Escape Room science of Thanksgiving

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objective: Students will be able to read informational text and ask questions about the text and communicate the problems described in the text with their teammates.

Activities:

  1. Divide students into groups.
  2. Create clues that lead to puzzles that help students understand  the science of Thanksgiving. For more information on creating a digital escape room, please read this blog from last year.

Evaluation: Have students complete an exit slip in which they provide a 2-3 sentence description of what new and interesting information they will share with their families during Thanksgiving dinner.

 

Lesson Plan #3 – Thanksgiving Science Lab Stations science of Thanksgiving

Standards: This activity addresses the following NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Developing and Using Models
  3. Planning and Carrying out Investigations
  4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Objective: Students will be able to conduct controlled experiments and use models to collect data and draw conclusions about the science of Thanksgiving.

Activities:

  1. Students rotate through hands on stations to learn about the science of Thanksgiving. Stations include:

    1. Add vinegar to bones to remove calcium.

    2. How do cranberries float?

    3. How do you make butter?

    4. How does inertia work?

    5. How can you make music with glasses and water?

    6. Cranberry juice as a pH indicator.

    7. How do biscuits rise? (Generating carbon dioxide)

Evaluation: Have students complete an exit slip in which they provide a 2-3 sentence description of what new and interesting information they will share with their families during Thanksgiving dinner.

Lunar Eclipse Viewer’s Guide

There will be a lunar eclipse visible throughout most of the United States on the morning of November 19, 2021. To download your free viewer’s guide for the November 19th lunar eclipse, click here.Lunar Eclipse Viewer's Guide

 

What is a Lunar Eclipse?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the shadow of the Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. A lunar eclipse can only occur during a Full Moon.

The shadow cast upon the Moon during a lunar eclipse is large because the Earth is large compared to the Moon. The umbra is the part of the Moon that is in the deepest shadow because it is completely blocked from the Sun. The penumbra is the part of the Moon that is partially blocked from the Sun.

lunar eclipse viewers guide

lunar eclipse viewers guideLunar eclipses aren’t quite as dramatic as solar eclipses, but they do last for a longer time because the umbra is so much bigger in a lunar eclipse. In a lunar eclipse, the light that reaches the Moon has been filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere which makes the Moon change color. During a lunar eclipse, the color of the Moon can range from a very dark brownish red to a bright copper color.  Several factors impact how the moon will look including the amount of ash, smoke and dust in the Earth’s atmosphere. 

It’s interesting to watch the shadow, as it’s one of the ways that ancient astronomers were able to realize that the Earth is round.  

 

To download your free viewer’s guide for the November 19th lunar eclipse, click here.

Top 5 reasons why I Greet my Students at the Door

greet students at the door

In middle school, there are 3-5 minutes between periods. That’s enough time for a quick trip to the bathroom or copy room. Enough time to post attendance or check email. But it’s also prime time to set the stage for the next period. Here’s why I greet my students at the door.

  • Greeting students at the door builds a positive school culture and classroom community which benefits all stakeholders.
  • Greeting students at the door builds relationships with students. Isn’t that why I became a teacher to start with?
  • Greeting your students at the door correlates to a 27% increase in on task behavior during the class (1) and therefore increases learning.
  • Greeting students at the door decreases problem behaviors by 9% and promotes academic engagement. (2)
  • It makes students happy and it makes me happy.

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. Allday, R Allan, and Kerri Pakurar. “Effects of teacher greetings on student on-task behavior.” Journal of applied behavior analysis vol. 40,2 (2007): 317-20. doi:10.1901/jaba.2007.86-06
  2. Cook CR, Fiat A, Larson M, et al. Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2018;20(3):149-159. doi:10.1177/1098300717753831
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