Food Chains and Food Webs Lesson Plans for Middle School

What do your food chains and food webs lesson plans look like? During my food chain unit last year, I tried to introduce interdependence by asking what would happen to the other organisms in a food web if one animal in the food web decreased suddenly due to disease.  “The other animals would catch the disease,” was a common misunderstanding. Another common answer was that the animals that depended on the missing animal would switch their diet to eat the other things. Students struggled with understanding that populations were balanced in healthy ecosystems and depended on each other in intricate ways. The diversity of energy relationships in food webs is complex and often misunderstood.

Teaching food chains and food webs helps students understand the complex interactions between different organisms in an ecosystem. By learning about how energy and nutrients are transferred from one organism to another, students can better comprehend the delicate balance of nature and the consequences of disruptions to that balance. Moreover, understanding food chains and food webs provides a foundation for learning about important ecological concepts such as population dynamics, energy flow, and the effects of human activities on the environment. Through hands-on activities, students can also develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they explore the interconnectedness of different organisms and their roles within an ecosystem. Hopefully, these food chains and food webs lesson plans will help you in your middle school classroom!


The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are addressed by the topic of food webs in middle school are:

  1. MS-LS2-3: Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
  2. MS-LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
  3. MS-LS2-5: Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

By studying food webs, middle school students can learn about the interconnected relationships between living organisms and their environment. They can develop an understanding of how energy flows through ecosystems and how matter cycles within them. They can also explore the impact of human activities on ecosystems and the importance of maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Food Web Lesson Plans

Day 1: Introduction to Food Webs

  • Introduce the concept of food webs and explain their importance in understanding ecosystems using visual representation. I use a slideshow or an independent workbook depending on the mechanics of the class. (Either way, the workbook becomes a great review tool.)
  • Introduce the concept of food webs and explain their importance in understanding ecosystems.
  • Use pictures or videos to illustrate examples of different organisms in a food web. The more examples you can give, the better. Students need to see various organisms participating in food webs in many niches.
  • Explain the different roles within a food web (producer, consumer, predator, prey) and provide examples for each.

Day 2: Building a Food Web

  • Review the concept of food webs and the different organisms that make them up.students building giant food web
  • Explain the different parts of a food web (producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, etc.) and how they are connected.
  • Use pictures or diagrams to illustrate how the different parts of a food web are connected.
  • There’s always the string lab – you pick a food web and assign each student an organism. Then, use string to connect organisms that either are eaten or eat another organism. This becomes a three dimensional food web. There’s a great example of this in our Shark unit plans.
  • An extension of the string lab is to remove one organism from the ecosystem after you’ve created the web. Imagine an illness killing off one species or a drought killing the plants. Even better, tell a story of an invasive species competing with one of the organisms in the ecosystem. All affected organisms drop their strings and it’s easy to see how the entire food web collapses with that kind of disruption.
  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to create a simple food web for a chosen ecosystem, including at least three different organisms in each of the producer, consumer, and decomposer categories. Encourage students to be creative in their choices and to think about the specific environment they are working with. I like to use either printable task cards or digital task cards.

Day 3: Energy Flow in Food Webs

students studying a food web
students studying a food web
  • Explain how energy flows through a food web, starting with the sun as the source of energy.
  • Show examples of energy pyramids and explain how they illustrate the flow of energy in a food web.
  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to create their own energy pyramid for a chosen food web.

Day 4: Practice

Day 5: Assess

These food web and food chain lesson plans can be modified based on the specific needs of the class and the resources available. Additional activities could include research projects on specific organisms in a food web, role-playing activities to simulate the interactions between different parts of a food web, or field trips to observe real-life food webs in local ecosystems.

Food Chains Picture Reveal Self Checking WorksheetFood Web 2 player digital game



Food Webs color by number

Food chains and food webs digital escape room

food web magic reveal picture for Thanksgiving

Fun Test Prep Ideas that don’t feel like Test Prep

You’ve finished a unit and the test is on the calendar. Some students are hyper-vigilant – overwhelmingly anxious and frantic. Others are totally indifferent – “What test?” they ask casually. Either way, you don’t have the time to create fun and interesting test prep activities – you’ve still got that last set of labs to grade and there’s never enough time in the day anyway. But we know middle schoolers – they neither have the inclination to study nor the skills necessary to study. Incorporating fun test prep games into the classroom can make the process more engaging and interactive for students, and can also help you identify areas where specific students may need reinforcement. Here are some fun test prep ideas for middle school science you can use in your classroom this test prep ideas for middle school science


Fun digital test prep ideas: There are some easy to use websites that allow teachers to create a Q-and-A type game for their students. The benefit of digital activities is that they are usually easier to create and use than non-digital activities. There are also a lot available for purchase to save you even more prep time. Here are my favorites:

  • Quizlet Live, Blooket, Quizziz and Kahoot  are all free with paid upgrades and perennial favorites. Gimkit has a free version that’s ok, but for $5/month you’ll be rolling in tons of activities that kids beg for.
  • Boom cards are digital task cards are super simple to create and free to use, although there is a paid membership that improves the data available to teachers. If you’ve never tried Boom cards, here’s a free deck for you.
  • If you have a little tech skill and you’re willing to invest a little time, you can make your own custom game that students can play as well. I’ve loved using 2 player digital racing games in which two students work on their own device but sharing a document so each can see what the other is doing. Students have to answer a series of questions to advance their player to the top of the maze. If you haven’t tried them, here’s a free one for you! 
  •  Magic Pictures or pixel art – When students get the answers correct, parts of a picture are revealed. Instant feedback helps students build mastery and take ownership of their own learning. If you’ve never tried one, here’s a free one for you!
  • Digital escape rooms – A digital escape room uses content-related puzzles to find clues and solve a mystery. Try a free digital escape room to see how they work.

Fun non-digital test prep ideas: It’s nice to get away from the devices sometimes, and there are lots of non-digital games you can play with your middle school science students to help them review for tests.

  • Team games: When I first started gamifying my classroom, I would draw a football gridiron on the board and move a magnet 10 yards to the left or right whenever a team would get an answer correct. Adapt this idea to play Charades – students can act out vocabulary terms and try to get their team to guess – try this with the stages of mitosis or the rock cycle and you won’t regret it!  Another version of this is Taboo – give one student a vocabulary term to try to get their teammates to guess, but give them “taboo” words as well – words that they can’t say as they’re playing. If the word you want them to try to guess is “inertia”, for example, make the taboo words related to it, like motion, rest, Newton, and first.
  • File Folder Games – Give teams a file folder and some index cards. Have them draw a game board on the folder and questions on the index cards. Super engaging, but also a little time consuming.
  • Scavenger hunts – solve this puzzle (in teams or individually) to find a clue in a different part of the classroom.
  • Escape rooms or Breakouts – My students will literally beg for more escape rooms. They’re a lot of work to create, but the payoff in terms of engagement and motivation is huge.
  • Scoot Lay task cards around the room or hang them on the walls. Students travel from one card to another, recording their answers to each task card on a recording sheet. Sometimes I let students move to the next card at their own pace. Other times, I play music and they move when the music stops. I also might set a timer to let them know when to move.
  • I have Who has – I play this with a timer and record how long it takes each class to complete one round. I write each class’s time on the board and leave it there for every other class to see. They love being the class with the best record. If you’ve never played, here’s a free I have Who has template for you!



Sketch Notes for Middle School Science

What are Sketch Notes?

what are sketch notes

Sketch  Notes are a form of visual note-taking that combines words and images to create a visually engaging and memorable representation of information. They have become increasingly popular in recent years as a tool to help students better understand and retain information. This is especially true in middle school science, where students are introduced to complex concepts that can be difficult to grasp.

This form of note-taking can be used in a variety of contexts, from classroom lectures to personal journaling.

Sketch notes are created using a combination of text, drawings, and other visual elements such as arrows, borders, and shapes. Sketch notes are often colorful and playful, and they are designed to engage the brain and make learning more enjoyable.

How do Sketch Notes work?

Sketch notes work by engaging multiple parts of the brain at the same time. When we use both words and images to represent information, we activate different areas of the brain, which can lead to better understanding and retention of the material. Additionally, the act of creating a sketch note requires active listening and processing of information, which can help students stay focused and engaged during lectures.

To create a sketch note, students start by listening to the lecture or reading the material and identifying the main points. Use a combination of words, images, and symbols to represent each point, using colors and other visual elements to make the information stand out. Don’t worry about making the drawing perfect – the goal is to capture the essence of the information in a way that is meaningful and memorable.

Benefits of Sketch Notes

benefits of sketch notes in middle school science

Sketch notes offer a number of benefits for students, including:

  1. Improved memory retention: By combining words and images, sketch  notes engage different areas of the brain and can lead to better retention of information.
  2. Increased understanding: By incorporating drawings, symbols and colors, students can better understand and remember complex scientific concepts. This is because Sketch notes encourage students to engage with the material in a way that is both visual and tactile.
  3. Increased engagement: Sketch notes are visually engaging and can help students stay focused and engaged during lectures or while reading material. Active learning increases student motivation, interest and retention.
  4. Enhanced creativity: Sketch notes encourage creativity and allow students to express themselves in a visual way. This is especially beneficial to struggling students.
  5. Personalized learning: Sketch notes can be personalized to each student’s learning style and preferences, allowing them to create a representation of the material that is meaningful to them.


Sketch notes can be a powerful tool for middle school science students to improve their understanding, retention and engagement of the material as well as improve study skills. By having a clear and concise visual representation of the material, students learn more actively and take stronger ownership of their own learning.


Click here to download some sample sketch notes templates you can use in your classroom today!

free sketch notes templates

These are some sketch notes templates I have used in my middle school science classroom – offered for 50% off now through the end of April in the JustAddH2OSchool store!

Science as Entertainment

Science is an exciting and ever-evolving field that covers a vast range of topics. It can be challenging to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries and developments, but fortunately, there are many excellent science-based podcasts available that offer informative and entertaining content.  Podcasts have become a popular medium for learning, entertainment, and storytelling. They are an excellent resource for educators looking for new and engaging ways to teach their students. I like to listen to science podcasts during my commute or while I’m scrubbing the shower, but I have also used them in the classroom for research, entertainment, and engagement with  my middle schoolers. Here are some suggestions for science-based podcasts that are both informative and engaging.


Radiolab is a popular science podcast hosted by NPR . It covers a wide range of topics, including biology, physics, and psychology. The show is known for its creative storytelling and innovative sound design, making it an engaging and thought-provoking listen. The hosts explore various scientific phenomena and events, often with the help of experts in the field. Enjoy it for its very wide berth of subject matter.


Ologies is a science podcast that explores a variety of different scientific disciplines, from entomology to vulcanology to linguistics. Hosted by Alie Ward, the show invites experts in the field to discuss their work and share their insights. The show is both informative and entertaining, providing listeners with a comprehensive understanding of various scientific disciplines. Ologies itself is NSFW, but they produce student friendly episodes called Smologies.

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain is a podcast that explores the various complexities of human behavior and psychology. Hosted by Shankar Vedantam, the show covers a wide range of topics, from decision-making to social interaction to the effects of technology on the brain. The show is both informative and entertaining, providing listeners with an understanding of why people do the things they do.

Stuff You Should Know

My long time favorite science podcast is Stuff You Should Know. The show is hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, who cover various science, history, and culture topics in an informative and engaging manner. The show is a great resource for anyone interested in learning about a variety of different subjects in an accessible and entertaining way.


The AstroGuy podcast is a great listen if you’re interested in astronomy or astrophotography. Every month, the host tells listeners what interesting objects are visible in the night sky and highlights a few deep sky objects that are available for the looking. The podcast is great, but the accompanying YouTube videos are even better for your astronomy classes to get them out there and looking!

Using science podcasts in the classroomscience podcasts

Podcasts can be assigned as independent learning activities, allowing students to work at their own pace and on their own schedule. They are an engaging and motivating resource for middle school students and can be used to pique students’ curiosity and to inspire them to learn more. When students are interested in a topic, they are more likely to engage with it and to retain what they’ve learned.

An easy way to use a science podcast in your classroom is to assign it as homework or as an in-class activity. Students can also use them to deepen their understanding of a particular subject or topic. Podcasts are an excellent way to introduce new topics and ideas to students.  Students can listen to the podcast on their own or as a group, and then participate in a discussion to reinforce what they’ve learned.

Podcasts can also be used to improve listening comprehension and critical thinking skills.  Students can be asked to answer questions about an episode, engage in a class discussion about the episode, or summarize what they’ve learned in writing. Podcasts can also help students make connections between different subjects. For example, a science podcast can be used to explore the scientific principles behind a historical event, or an English language arts podcast can be used to analyze the narrative structure of a podcast episode.


Comment below with your favorite podcast, or let me know how you use podcasts in your classroom!


How to teach Limiting Factors and Carrying Capacity in Middle School

Middle schoolers sometimes have a small view of the world. Teaching limiting factors and carrying capacity in middle school helps students see the bigger picture of interactions. Exposing them to the ways that different species interact is a good start to helping them become better citizens and informed users of resources.

What are limiting factors and carrying capacity?

Limiting factors refer to the resources or environmental conditions that restrict the growth or reproduction of a population. Carrying capacity is the maximum number of individuals that a given environment can support over a long period of time. The carrying capacity is determined by the availability of resources, such as food and water, as well as the presence of predators and competitors. When a population exceeds its carrying capacity, it can lead to a decline in population size due to a lack of resources or an increase in mortality.

What should we teach about limiting factors and carrying capacity in middle school?

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for 7th and 8th grades include several performance expectations related to limiting factors and carrying capacity. Some of the key concepts that 7th graders are expected to understand include:limiting factors and carrying capacity

  • The relationship between the availability of resources and the growth of a population
  • How limiting factors such as competition, predation, and disease can affect population size
  • The concept of carrying capacity and how it can change over time
  • How human activities can impact the carrying capacity of an ecosystem

In order to meet these performance expectations, 7th graders will likely engage in activities such as observing and collecting data on populations in different environments, analyzing data to identify patterns and relationships, and using models to explore how different factors can affect population growth. They may also participate in investigations and discussions to explore how human activities can impact the carrying capacity of an ecosystem.

It’s important to note that the NGSS is a framework and not a curriculum, it serves as guidelines for the states to develop their own standards. So the specific standards may vary by state.

Lesson plans to teach limiting factors and carrying capacity

Great lesson plans about limiting factors and carrying capacity address these objectives:

  • Students will be able to identify and describe the different types of limiting factors that can affect population growth.
  • Students will be able to explain how carrying capacity is determined and how it can change over time.
  • Students will be able to analyze data on population growth to identify patterns and relationships.
  • Students will be able to use models to explore how different factors can affect population growth.

What to include in a middle school lesson plan about limiting factors and carrying capacity:

  1. Assess prior knowledge – Begin by discussing what students already know about population growth and limiting factors. Ask them to give examples of factors that can affect population growth.
  2. Introduce the concept of carrying capacity and explain how it is determined by the availability of resources and the presence of predators and competitors. I always use an example of building a stool. If you have 3 legs and a seat, you can build 1 stool. How many stool can you build if you have 50 legs and one seat? We use this example to learn the terms of limiting factor and carrying capacity. Click here to see the slide show that I use when I teach this concept. 
  3. Use data – Provide students with a set of population data for different species and have them graph the population over time. Examples may include a population of rabbits in a fenced-in area without predators, a population of fish in a lake with a changing water level, or a population of bees in a hive with a changing food supply. As a class, analyze the data to identify patterns and relationships. Discuss what limiting factors that may have affected the population growth and how the population of one species may affect the population of other species.
  4. Hands on activity – Give students an opportunity to observe how species interact by playing a population game. Create cards with various events on them that affect populations – drought, famine, competition, etc. – and have students take turns drawing cards and keeping track of how a population of animals is affected. Click here to see the hands on activity I created to demonstrate limiting factors.

In conclusion, understanding the concepts of limiting factors and carrying capacity is essential for students to understand the complexities of population growth and how different factors can impact it. The resources and activities discussed provide a comprehensive and interactive approach to teaching these concepts, making them more accessible and engaging for students. With hands-on activities, data analysis exercises, and real-world scenarios, students are able to understand the relationships between resources, population growth, and carrying capacity.  In turn, your students will become more informed users of resources and better citizens.

Using Tarsia Puzzles in Middle School Science


What are tarsia puzzles

Tarsia puzzles are a versatile and engaging tool for teaching science to middle school students. They provide a hands-on approach to learning and help students understand complex concepts in a fun and interactive way. In this blog post, we will explore the use of tarsia puzzles in 7th grade science classes and the benefits they offer.

Tarsia puzzles are interactive puzzles that consist of a number of jigsaw pieces that fit together to form a larger image or concept map. They are often used in mathematics and science classes to help students understand complex topics. In science classes, I use tarsia puzzles to help students practice vocabulary.

Benefits of Using Tarsia Puzzles in Science Classes

  1. Hands-on learning

One of the major benefits of tarsia puzzles is that they offer a hands-on approach to learning. This is particularly important in science, where students need to understand complex concepts that are often difficult to grasp through reading and lecture alone. With tarsia puzzles, students are able to physically manipulate the pieces and see how they fit together, helping to solidify their understanding of the concepts being taught.

  1. Engagement

Tarsia puzzles are a highly engaging activity that students enjoy participating in. They provide a break from traditional lectures and allow students to work together in small groups, encouraging collaboration and communication skills. The puzzle aspect of tarsia also appeals to students’ sense of competition and can motivate them to learn more about the topic being taught.

  1. Reinforcement of key concepts

Tarsia puzzles are an excellent tool for reinforcing key concepts in science. By using the puzzles, students are able to see the connections between different concepts and understand how they all fit together. This can help them remember important information and apply it to future topics of study.

  1. Differentiated instruction

Tarsia puzzles can be adapted to meet the needs of different students, making them an effective tool for differentiated instruction. For example, more challenging puzzles can be used for advanced students, while simpler puzzles can be used for students who need more support.  This allows teachers to meet the needs of all students in the class, regardless of their ability level.

One way to differentiate tarsia puzzles is to add dead-end questions to make the puzzle more challenging. I add a few vocabulary terms on the the edges of the puzzles but don’t include the answers. You can also purposefully make a mistake in your puzzle – match the wrong term to the definition, perhaps – and tell students they have to find the mistake. Make it even more challenging by making 2 or 3 mistakes.  A third way to differentiate tarsia puzzles is to use a “?” in one location and ask students to identify the missing term. They will have to complete the puzzle in order to figure out what’s missing.

To make puzzles more accessible for students who need more support, give them one, or more, piece already in place.

Tips and tricks to using Tarsia puzzles in middle school science

Fair warning – these puzzles are not easy for students at first! I tried an 11 question and answer hexagon the first time my students saw a tarsia puzzle and it was very challenging. The second time they see a puzzle is a bit easier for them, and they are champs by the third time.

To ease initial frustration the first time you ask your students to try a tarsia puzzle:

  • Use as few words as possible in your puzzle. Short questions and single word answers will make it more approachable.
  • Use content your students are close to mastering, or at least are very familiar with. This is not a good puzzle for the first time your sixth graders have heard of symbiosis.

How to create your own Tarsia puzzles

Tarsiamaker is a free website that allows you to make unlimited tarsia puzzles in 4 different shapes – a small triangle with 9 questions and answers, a small hexagon with 11 questions and answers, a large triangle with 18 questions and answers, and a large hexagon with 30 questions and answers. The benefits of using this website is that you can quickly generate a puzzle during your lunch break and then print and use it your classroom next period. The drawback is that the shape options are limited.

The tarsia puzzles in the JustAddH2OSchool store all include a digital version. To create a digital version of a tarsia puzzle, you need to save each puzzle piece as a separate image and then add them to a Google Slide. Rotate a few to make it more interesting, then share with your students. You can also add a template image as the background to help students locate where to put each piece.


Women in Science Resources for Middle Schoolers

Throughout history, women have made significant contributions to the field of science. Despite facing discrimination and obstacles, these women have broken down barriers and paved the way for future generations of female scientists. March is Women’s History Month and what better time to celebrate the women who have made science history!

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Her X-ray crystallography images were used by James Watson and Francis Crick in their 1953 model of the DNA molecule, which earned them the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, Franklin did not receive credit for her contributions until after her death.

Marie M. Daly

Marie Daly was an American biochemist who became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. She was also known for her research on the effects of cholesterol and the role of the circulatory system in heart attacks.

mae jemisonMae Jemison

Mae Jemison is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. In 1992, she became the first African American woman to travel in space, serving as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who conducted groundbreaking research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and is the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields (physics and chemistry).

alice ballAlice Ball

Alice Ball was an African American chemist who developed the first effective treatment for leprosy, a disease that had previously been considered incurable. She died at a young age, but her research paved the way for future treatments.

Tu Youyou

Tu Youyou is a Chinese scientist and medical researcher who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for her discovery of artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates of malaria worldwide.  She received her education at Peking University Medical School and the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where she specialized in herbal medicine. In the early 1960s, Tu was recruited to work on a secret project to find a cure for malaria, a disease that was prevalent in China at the time. She and her team scoured ancient Chinese medical texts, searching for plants that might contain anti-malarial properties. After years of research, Tu identified artemisinin, a compound derived from the sweet wormwood plant. Artemisinin could rapidly reduce the number of malaria parasites in the blood, providing an effective treatment for the disease. In 2015, Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her contributions to this discovery.

Katherine Johnsonkatherine johnson

Katherine Johnson was an African American mathematician who worked for NASA and was instrumental in the success of the first U.S. manned spaceflights. She was also a key figure in the development of the first computer programs used by NASA.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride was an American astronaut, physicist, and the first American woman to travel to space. Ride made her first trip to space on June 18, 1983, as a crew member on the space shuttle Challenger. She was the first American woman and the third woman overall to travel to space. During the mission, Ride operated the shuttle’s robotic arm and helped to deploy communication satellites.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist and author, best known for her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” which exposed the dangers of pesticides, particularly the insecticide DDT, on the environment, and on human and wildlife health. The book caused a stir in the scientific and political communities and is credited with sparking the modern environmental movement. “Silent Spring” led to a ban on the use of DDT in the United States and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel was a German-born British astronomer who made significant contributions to the field of astronomy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She worked with her brother William. Together, they made many important discoveries, including the discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781. Caroline Herschel also made significant contributions to the field of astronomy on her own. She discovered several comets, including Comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, and was the first woman to be paid for her scientific work, when King George III granted her a salary for her work as an assistant to her brother.

Highlight these incredible women and more with these two resources on sale until the end of March!

women in science picture walk

women in science boom cards cover and thubms (3)

Digital Word Search Puzzles

When I was a child, my grandmother bought me a word search book and I would spend hours finding words and getting lost in the puzzle. As I grew older, I discovered the world of digital word search puzzles and I’ve never looked back.

Benefits of Digital Word Search Puzzles in middle school

But it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized the potential of digital word search puzzles as enrichment activities for early finishers. These puzzles provide students with a fun and engaging way to improve their vocabulary and spelling skills.

Word find puzzles are a fun and engaging way to improve your vocabulary and spelling skills. These puzzles, which can be found online or in mobile apps, present a grid of letters with hidden words scattered throughout. The goal is to find and highlight all of the words in the list as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The convenience of digital word search puzzles is another advantage. Students can access them on their computer or mobile device, and they don’t require any special equipment or materials. This means they can play them anywhere, anytime, whether they are at home, on the bus, or waiting in line.

Another great feature of digital word search puzzles is that they are interactive and provide instant feedback. Students get the satisfaction of finding the words and an instant score or progress report. Some digital word search puzzles also have time limits, adding an extra level of challenge and making them a fun way to improve their speed and focus.

How to use word searches in your classroom

I try to have a few content related digital word search puzzles ready for early finishers. They’re even useful for kids who just need a time out from some more frustrating activity.

Here are some word search puzzles I’ve used in my classroom:

In addition to being fun and interactive, digital word search puzzles can also be a great tool for improving cognitive skills. Searching for words in the grid helps to improve visual and spatial awareness, while finding the words improves spelling and vocabulary.

Overall, digital word search puzzles are a great way to challenge yourself and improve your cognitive skills while having fun. They are accessible, customizable and interactive, making them a great choice for people of all ages. So, next time you’re looking for a fun and engaging way to entertain your early finishers, give digital word search puzzles a try! If you still need convincing, here’s a link to try 2 free digital word search puzzles in your classroom today!

What is March Mammal Madness?

A few years ago, right at the end of the winter blues, I discovered March Mammal Madness. March Mammal Madness (MMM) is a popular educational activity for middle and high school science classes. It is a bracket-style competition that is modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament and is used to teach students about different mammal species and the characteristics that make them unique. I signed up to participate (it’s free) and launched my seventh graders into one of those experiences kids talk about for YEARS!

March Mammal Madness, whose logo is “If you’re learning, you’re winning,”  is designed as a bracket-style competition that is modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament. In this activity, students research 64 different species which compete in a tournament designed by Kr. Katie Hinde of Arizona State University in 2013. The species are divided into four regions (similar to the NCAA basketball tournament) and a bracket is created.

How March Mammal Madness works

The battles in MMM are based on the characteristics of the competing species. Each round, students research information about the characteristics of the competing species and must use this information to decide which species they believe is best suited to advance to the next round. These battles can include:

  • Hunting and feeding habits;
  • Reproductive strategies;
  • Adaptation to different environments;
  • Behavioral characteristics such as social behavior or communication methods;
  • Overall survival strategy.

Throughout the month of March, battles are live-tweeted (#2023MMM) and video recaps are produced 2-3 times per week. Students follow along on their brackets and earn points for each battle they correctly participated. We kept an advancing bracket in the back of our classroom and it became quite the subject of discussion.

March Mammal Madness

Benefits of participating in March Mammal Madness

These battles in MMM are meant to be a fun and engaging way to teach students about different mammal species and the characteristics that make them unique. It also helps students develop critical thinking skills, teamwork, and collaboration among students.

As the tournament progresses, the competition becomes more difficult and the characteristics that students must consider become more complex. 

The MMM activity is not just a fun and engaging way to teach students about different mammal species, but also helps students develop critical thinking skills. By having to consider multiple factors and make decisions based on evidence, students are forced to think critically about the information they are presented with.

Additionally, the activity helps to promote teamwork and collaboration among students. Often, students will work in small groups to research and make decisions about which species to advance. This allows students to share their knowledge and learn from one another, which can be especially helpful for students who may be struggling with the material.

Last year, my kids love MMM so much that they created their own May Mammal Madness. They designed their own brackets, wrote the battles, and even made video recaps of each battle.

A freebie to get your class excited

I kicked off this year’s MMM tournament with a rousing game of animal kingdom trivia. Kids were so excited, and they are ready for the battles to begin!

If you’d like to play trivia with your students, click here to download my game! Just be sure to comment below and let me know what you thought!

How to Participate

Everything you need to know is on the official MMM website which can be found here.  


Overall, March Mammal Madness is a fun and engaging way to teach middle school students about different mammal species and the characteristics that make them unique. I hope you participate this year!

For more information

Katie Hinde (2021) Education and Outreach: March Mammal Madness and the power of narrative in science outreach. eLife 10:e65066.


Valentine’s Day Science Activities for Middle Schoolers

Do your seventh graders cast longing glances at each other, giggle without warning, and whisper in the halls? It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and, while love might not be on full display in the halls of my middle school, there’s a little bit of romance brewing here and there. I like to use whatever my students are interested in to help them make connections between their world and science, but Valentine’s Day is tricky. Here are a few Valentine’s Day science activities for your middle schoolers.

Valentine’s Day science of love and attraction

Valentine’s Day is a great segue into human anatomy, neurotransmitters, and feedback mechanisms. The brain releases certain chemicals, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, when we experience romantic attraction or love. These chemicals are responsible for the feelings of euphoria and pleasure associated with being in love. Additionally, the hormone testosterone plays a role in attraction for both men and women. Understanding the biology of love and attraction can help us better understand our own feelings and experiences of love. Furthermore, the study of pheromones, chemicals that are secreted by animals and can affect the behavior of other animals, can also be related to Valentine’s Day. Pheromones can play a role in attraction and mating behaviors in animals, and some scientists believe that they may also play a role in human attraction.

Valentine’s Day science of Chocolate and flowers

It’s hard to separate Valentine’s Day from boxes of chocolate and bouquets of flowers, and this can also be a great opportunity to explore the science behind these things. I like to use roses as a springboard to talk about genetic engineering, heredity, and Punnett Squares. You could even talk about flower preservation or classification of flowers.

Here’s a jigsaw activity I’ve done for the last few years. Students read a short article about the science of Valentine’s Day and answer Discussion Questions. Then, each person in the group shares what they learned. It includes 5 articles – The science of chocolate, Animal mating rituals, The science of love, How does the hart work, and The science of roses.the science of valentines day

Valentine’s Day science of how hearts work

Another fun lesson for Valentine’s Day is cardiac structure. Do a virtual tour of the chambers of the heart or have students compare mammalian, reptilian and avian hearts.

The Science of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day may not be immediately associated with science, but there are several scientific concepts that can be explored. The science of neurotransmitters, hormones, chocolate and flowers are all great ways to connect this holiday to your students!