Happy Fall, y’all! While you’re wearing your fuzzy sweaters and drinking your pumpkin spice lattes, check out these virtual tours. Our best selling virtual field trip resources are on sale – 50% off now through Thanksgiving.
How do you use Virtual Field Trips?
enrichment for early finishers
extension of content, i.e. use the Death Valley virtual tour when you’re studying deserts
experience a different ecosystem
observation practice, i.e. use the aquarium virtual tour to make observations about sea birds
boost engagement, i.e. use the Galapagos Islands virtual tour during your natural selection unit
assessments, i.e. use the Hoover Dam tour to measure student understanding of hydroelectric power
modeling, i.e. use the Everglades virtual tour as a model and have students create a virtual tour of a different location
Spiders are fascinating. They’re creepy yet incredibly important in the ecosystem. Engage your middle schoolers in a spider mini unit that allows them to spend a whole week exploring the characteristics and classification of spiders.
Why should I teach a spider mini unit?
In a word, spiders are fun. Students are instantly curious, and the more they learn about spiders, they more curious they’ll become. A mini unit is a great way to cover curricular concepts within an engaging framework.
When should I teach a spider mini unit?
The spider mini unit makes sense at a few points in the middle school curriculum. I’ve used it as a Halloween event. I decorate the room with spiders, I give out plastic spider rings as prizes – it’s a whole party atmosphere. But a mini unit about spiders also makes sense at the point in your curriculum when you’re teaching characteristics of living things or classification of living things.
Spider “Fact or Fiction”- Here are 3 things I didn’t know:
Spider anatomy worksheet
Groups of students or individuals research questions about spiders that intrigue them and report out to the class. Some questions students have researched in the past: How are the eyes of spiders different from the eyes of humans? What home and garden pests do spiders eat? How do spiders deliver venom to their victims?
Picture walk of different spider species. Students walk around the room and use posters to answer questions about different spider species including the tarantula, wolf spiders, orb weaver spiders, and jumping spiders as well as the two spiders found in the United States that are dangerous to humans – the Black Widow spider and the Brown Recluse spider.
STEM activity building a spider web. Students work together as a class to develop what criteria and constraints their spider web should have and then build their web. [I always gave out plastic spider rings or spider lollipops as the prize to the group whose web could hold the most weight.]
Each day includes complete lesson plans and everything you need to implement the lesson.
What other resources can supplement the spider mini unit?
Relative dating is determining if one rock or fossil is older or younger than another rock or fossil. To determine the actual age of a rock or fossil, scientists must use absolute dating which uses radiometric decay. Sometimes, rock layers are disturbed by forces such as pressure, eruptions, and earthquakes. When rock layers are disturbed by these kinds of forces, scientists use the second law of relative age which is the law of cross cutting relationships. The law of cross cutting relationships says that disturbances that happen to a rock layer have to be younger than the rock layer. In other words, a fault that crosses a rock layer happened after the rock layer was already present. The law of cross cutting relationships applies to folds, tilts, faults, and intrusions. These 4 disturbances are all younger than the rock layers they cross – the rock layers were present first and then the disturbance happened.
Absolute age is the actual age that a rock or fossil is. It is determined by comparing the amount of parent and daughter isotopes in a rock or fossil. Because parent isotopes radioactively decay at an exact pace, a precise age can be calculated by examining how much of the parent has decomposed into daughter.
Absolute or Relative Age?
Test your knowledge of the difference between relative and absolute age by dragging each of the statements to the correct column.
Why teach Relative Age?
Relative dating is a perfect opportunity for students to see how scientists combine what they can observe with clues about what they can’t observe to form theories about events in the past. It provides a definitive demonstration of science being a combination of facts and critical thinking rather than someone’s opinion. Perhaps more now than ever, students need to be able to separate fact from fiction and understand that science isn’t just made up.
When should you teach Relative Age?
Teaching relative dating unit supports ESS1-4 which includes the geologic time scale and is grouped with the solar system topics. However, in order to understand relative dating, students need the prerequisite skills of the rock cycle, so teach relative dating after ESS2-1.
Relative dating could successfully be taught either before or after plate tectonics.
Here you can present students with rock layers and ask them to predict how the rock layers got into the positions they were in. Most students have a fundamental knowledge of superposition – younger rocks are on top of older rocks – but will need to puzzle through more complicated rock blocks. Do this as a picture walk or a think-pair-share activity. It’s also great to do a puzzle activity. In our unit, we included a “Who got there first” puzzle in which students must use footprints to determine the order that people arrived. From there, it’s an easy extension to superposition.
Day 2 – Explore
In the exploration phase of relative dating, students get to play with rock layers and try to figure out how they were formed. In our unit, we give students puzzle pieces that can be assembled to create models of rock layers and ask them to demonstrate how the rock layers were formed either in a video or a slideshow.
Day 3 – Explain
At this point, students are ready to learn the vocabulary of relative age. In a standard slideshow and cloze notes activity, students fill out their cloze notes either during a lecture or by a carousel around the room.
Day 4 – Elaborate
Give students another day to play with rock layers, this time using the correct vocabulary. I use task cards and self-checking worksheets for practice and an escape room activity for reinforcement.
Day 5 – Evaluate
Students can demonstrate their understanding of relative age with either a summative or a formative assessment. A standard quiz-like assessment is great, or a problem based activity would be even better.
Relative Age Masterclass
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material that science teachers are expected to have mastered? Most middle school science teachers are pretty well versed in life science, earth science, or physical science, but few are well versed in all three. Covering the standards becomes difficult when you only have a passing understanding of broad concepts. You need to be shown the ropes by a master veteran teacher who has taught the subject before and understands what students need.
In our master class for middle school teachers, we will look at the best practices for teaching relative dating and outline a 5 day unit to cover the topics of superposition and cross cutting relationships. We’ve also included downloads to slideshows, activities, and worksheets for your students to practice what they’ve learned. Proceed through the course at your own pace and apply what you learn to your classroom.
Twenty percent of US high school students reported being bullied on school property over the past year (Source: National Day Today https://nationaltoday.com/national-bullying-prevention-month/). On the long list of things that teachers are responsible for, there are few that are more important than helping to prevent bullying. And, at least in my experience, there are fewer things we are less trained to do. October is National Bullying Prevention Month (shouldn’t that be every month?)
What is bullying
Bullying is repeated, unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, physical attacks, verbal attacks, and exclusion from a group. Bullying can be in person or can take place through technology, i.e. cyberbullying.
What can schools do?
Intervene immediately. Separate the kids involved, make sure everyone is safe. Stay calm, reassure the kids involved but don’t try to sort out the facts immediately, according to StopBullying.gov.
Model respectful behavior and reward students who show respect. Positive reinforcement works.
Plan bullying prevention programs so that students (and teachers) know how to recognize bullying and how to confront bullying.
Why should we teach climate change in middle school science? I’m sure science teachers all over the world don’t need the answer to this question, but here are the top 2 reasons:
Science is real. Climate deniers and conspiracy theorists have a very large megaphone and social media loves them. Students are bombarded with fake news all the time, and humans need to have a working knowledge of science in order to recognize what’s real from what’s imaginary.
The NGSS tells us we have to teach climate change. MS-ESS3-5 is a standard from the NGSS about the earth and human activity. It specifically says that students in the middle grades need to be able to “Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.” Included in this standard are factors such as fossil fuel combustion and natural processes such as solar radiation and volcanic activity. Students need to be able to analyze evidence and data to draw conclusions about the relationship between human activities and the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and methane.
Climate Change Lesson Plans
Using the 5E lesson plan strategy, here are 5 days of lesson plans that a middle school science teacher could follow to address climate change.
Unit Objective/I Can Statement: Student will be able to/I can: use evidence to ask questions about the rise in global temperatures.
Day 1 – Engage and Explore
Warm Up – Energy Sources Problem Based Activity Part 1 – Imagine you’ve just inherited a beautiful unoccupied island. The island is huge with lots of room for hotels, a waterpark, an amusement park, a mall, a golf course – really, whatever you want. Brainstorm a list of things you want to include on your island.
Form groups of 2-4 students either by interest or ability and provide posterboard and markers. [Alternately, have students draw their island on a Google Slide Show.] Give students 30 minutes to draw their island.
Closure/Evaluation: Groups share the features of their island with the whole class.
Day 2/3 – Explore
Warm Up – How can you provide power to your island? What kinds of power do you know about? Have students discuss with their groups and report out. Students likely will be able to name several sources of energy including petroleum, wind energy, solar energy, and hydroelectric power.
Research sources of energy and compare them. Students should divide their groups and assign tasks for each with the goal of learning how each type of energy works. I provide students with a graphic organizer and sources to complete their research. Alternately, each group could research one type of energy and share it with the whole class as a jigsaw.
Closure/Evaluation: Discuss with your group – based on the research into the different types of energy, which type is best suited for your island?
Day 4 – Explain
Warm Up: Class discussion – What are the factors you used to determine which type of energy to use on your island? Keep track of ideas in a running list on the board. If students do not use environmental considerations as one of their factors, lead them to it.
Getting your certificate to teach middle school science requires two things: you have to know your science, and you have to know basic pedagogy. But there’s nothing in teacher preparation that helps new teachers learn how to manage a class. Classroom management is the number one aspect of the job that frustrates teachers the most, and it’s the part of the job that is the hardest to learn. We all know teachers who just “get it.” They can walk into a room and command it. What do these teachers have in common? What about them gives the air of respect? If this is your first year in the classroom or your twenty first, you always have to keep classroom management on the stove. Here are some 10 tips and tricks for better classroom management from the veteran teachers I know about how to manage your class without losing your mind.
Better classroom management tip #1 – Decide what your classroom expectations and procedures will be.
Every teacher has a noise level that they can tolerate. Every teacher has a different set of standards that they want to implement. For me, I like silence during independent work but I’m ok with students signing out to use the rest room without asking my permission. Decide what you’re comfortable with. Some things to think about:
What is your procedure to distribute handouts or return graded assignments? I have a “pick up station” near the classroom door and establish with students on the first day of school that they should pick up anything that’s at that station every day.
Do you want students to sit in assigned seats or choose them on their own? I assign seats until I learn their names, strengths and weaknesses, and then I let them choose with the understanding that I have final say in whether or not they can keep their seats.
How do you want students to let you know they’re using the rest room, going to their lockers, or getting a drink of water? I let one student at a time sign out and sign back in again without asking permission. I also don’t allow signing out during the first and last 5 minutes of class because that’s usually important announcement times.
Think about pencil sharpening, opening windows, etc. They often come to me from elementary schools where they needed to ask permission for these things but I encourage students to take ownership of their own materials. If you need to sharpen your pencil, then sharpen your pencil. You don’t need my permission.
How do students hand in work? I have a bin in the back of the room for each class to hand in papers.
How will lab materials be distributed and collected?
What behavior modifications do you need to make during labs? Everything is looser during labs – kids walk around more and talk more and that can lead to management issues. I have a “no speaking when I’m speaking” rule, as well as a “stay at your own lab station” rule – no walking around unless you’re picking up or returning materials.
Knowing what rules you need in place to function effectively is an important first step before you even meet your students so that you can establish criteria for success from day 1.
Better classroom management tip #2 – Decide how you will handle infractions.
Often, school districts have a policy that establishes the levels of discipline. In my district, the levels are:
For behavior issues that are localized to my classroom – calling out, late to class – I’ve never had to go past a phone call home. Parents don’t want their kids to be unsuccessful, and, if you’ve established that you’re on the same team when you met the parents, they’re primed to support you. For bigger issues – inappropriate physical contact, cheating – I go straight to the administration.
Better classroom management tip #3 – Teach your students the rules.
Students don’t inherently know how to behave in class. Standard practice in most classrooms is to allow students to come up with their own set of rules – but they rarely deviate from some version of “respect yourself and others, and do your best.” After students have decided on what the norms will be in your classroom, you have to model correct procedures over and over. “Thank you for remembering to pick up your materials,” and “Do you need my permission to use the rest room?” serve as reminders without harshness. Many schools have a policy that the classroom rules should be displayed, but I never do that in middle school.
Better classroom management tip #4 -Reinforce positive classroom behavior.
When classroom management is challenging, I have been successful using a lottery program. I bought a large roll of raffle tickets and handed them to students who were either on task or answered a question correctly or in some way demonstrated good classroom behavior. The trick is to make this random. Not every kid gets a ticket every time they’re sitting in their seats. I might walk around the room giving out tickets twice in a class period if behavior had been bad. At the end of the period, students write their names on their tickets and drop them in a container – I have a large beaker for each class. Then, on Fridays, I pull a few tickets out of the beaker and give a prize to whoever’s tickets were chosen. Prizes might depend on your school, but they could be as simple as a lollipop or Jolly Rancher, a homework pass, a “choose your own seat next week” pass, or even some vinyl stickers.
Better classroom management tip #5 – Respect them.
Kids respect teachers that respect them. Form relationships with your students. They’re less likely to act out, and more likely to respond to corrections, when they believe that you respect them and value them as human beings.
Better classroom management tip #6 – Be consistent.
By always maintaining the same predictable rules, students learn what to expect. Let students know what to expect – tell them in advance what they’re going to be doing today. Knowing that there’s an activity in 5 minutes reducing the need to got to the bathroom right now. Classroom management problems arise when students aren’t too sure where the line is and they want to shimmy up next to it a bit too often. Avoid that by making the expectations very clear and enforcing them always.
Better classroom management tip #7 – Add brain breaks.
We started using brain breaks when we were remote in 2020, but the need for them, and the benefit from them, still exist. A 2 minute victory lap around the classroom helps students focus afterward. A quick game of rock, paper, scissors gives them (and you) a break so that you’re ready to come back re-energized. My 30 second dance party last year was a big hit – whenever I needed a break, I played 30 seconds of a dance song and we showed off our best moves. Try Give Me Everything by Pitbull, Shake it Off by Taylor Swift, or Low by Flo Rida.
Better classroom management tip #8 – Redirect and Re-engage.
When my daughter was little, she loved to drag my pocketbook around the house, scratching it and dumping the contents out for the dog to destroy. It drove me nuts. My mother, the genius, mastered the art of redirection. “Here,” she’d say. “I have a new book I want you to read to me,” or “Can you help me find the wooden spoon?” This works even with the older-than-a-toddler crowd. If kids are acting out in your class, they’re bored. They need something else to occupy their minds. Hand them a puzzle. Challenge them to figure something out.
Better classroom management tip #9 – Avoid problems in the first place.
Engaged kids don’t act out. If your lesson has been planned to maximize engagement, curiosity, and participation, then you’ll avoid classroom management problems from the start. This sounds simplistic, but it’s number 9 on our list because it is the hardest thing to master. Be sure you’re including the components of a lesson that build engagement – greet them at the doorto send the message that they’re coming in to a collective experience where their presence is important. Grab their attention from the start, , use phenomena, ask questions. Gamify your classroom. Have a plan for what students should do when they’re done. Differentiate and provide choice.
Better classroom management tip #10 – Be confident.
If you don’t think you can do this, your kids will smell that on you and you’re as good as dead. Fake it till you make it if you have to, but walk in their with your best game face on and show them that this is a great learning environment, you’re excited to be there, and they should be excited also. You’ve got this, Teacher.
You’ve probably seen the 2 player digital racing games on TpT. They’re kind of cool – two different students compete on the same worksheet to answer questions. For each question they get correct, a racecar (or hot air balloon or dump truck or whatever) or moves up the screen representing their progress. What are some ways you can use this technology in your classroom? Here are my favorite ways to play a 2 player digital racing game:
How 2 player digital racing games work
To play the game, the teacher assigns the pre-coded Google Sheet on Google Classroom, making sure to select “Make a copy for each student.”
When you’re ready to play, one student opens the game and shares it with another student. Both students will play on the same game, each with his or her own set of questions. The questions each student is assigned are the same questions but the order is shuffled so that students have to solve each question on their own.
The two players will work on different sides of the screen on their own computer. Player 1 will answer the questions on the left and player 2 will answer questions on the right.
At the top of the page are the directions which tell the players to click the arrow above the task cards at the top to advance to the next question. Then, players type their answers in the boxes under the task cards on their own side of the page.
As each player gets a question correct, their icon moves up the screen. In the case of the rock cycle 2 player racing game, the icon is a dump truck collecting rocks to bring to the quarry. In the case of the density 2 player racing game, the icon is a hot air balloon. Additionally, students get instant feedback because correct answers turn green (or blue in the density game) and incorrect answers turn red.
When one player answers all 16 questions correctly, a banner appears at the top announcing which player has won the game.
This is what it looks like when 2 players are playing the soil vocabulary racing game:
Benefits of 2 player digital racing games
Students are engaged by technology. The newer and more innovative the technology is, the happier they are.
Students get immediate feedback which helps build a growth mindset.
Learning becomes student directed when they don’t need me to grade papers to provide feedback.
Competition can help students strive for success.
How to use a 2 player digital racing game in your middle school science classroom
Practice. The most obvious use for a self checking worksheet is for practice. Students who have learned the vocabulary of the rock cycle can practice recognizing and using those words with a digital worksheet. Students who are learning how to use the density formula can practice using a digital worksheet.
Review. Another great use of 2 player digital racing games is to review material previously learned. Use a game that covers concepts from last year or earlier this year as a way of spiraling back. Use games to review content before an assessment.
Enrichment. Students who finish early can earn the right to play a game with a classmate.
What 2 player racing games are there?
You can try a free 2 player racing game about the solar system here:
More and more TpT sellers are using the racing game template so there are plenty out there. Here’s what we have available in the JustAddH2OSchool store, but we’re adding more every day:
If there’s a subject area that you’d like to use a 2 player racing game, comment below and I’ll create one! I’ll even offer it to you for 1/2 price if you’re the one who suggested the idea!
Every middle school science teacher I know starts every school year with the scientific method. We learn the steps, we analyze how they apply in various situations, and we move on. Even if we will be using CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) in lab reports, we are still teaching the scientific method at the beginning of the year. This helps students view problems from a scientific perspective. Reinforcement throughout the year (and throughout the years) helps students become scientific thinkers.
Teaching the Scientific Method – Then vs. Now
I used to teach the scientific method the same way that I was taught it. The teacher wrote the steps on the board, I copied them, and then I memorized them. They never became a part of how I thought or how I solved problems, and I had gotten the impression that this was just a process that scientists use.
Now, when I’m teaching the scientific method, I use a far more student centered approach. The scientific method is a name given to a problem solving technique that we use all the time, for everything from figuring out which boots to wear with an outfit to deciding how long to cook lasagna. So I approach the unit from an inquiry direction and allow students to investigate a problem that is relevant to them.
As students investigate the problem, I model the vocabulary words to describe what they are doing. “Mary is guessing what might happen if we change the amount of sugar in the recipe. She is forming a hypothesis.” “The taste of the finished cookies will be dependent on the ingredients we use.”
Finally, after lots of practice and metacognition analyzing how we solved the problem, I do teach the vocabulary in a more formal, traditional way. This is the slide show I use when I’m teaching the scientific method.
Teaching the scientific method from an inquiry approach by allowing students to investigate a problem and then metacognitively analyze the steps they took to solve the problem helps them become scientific thinkers.
Some problems students can solve
When you’re teaching the scientific method, what are some problems students can solve? Here’s a short list:
What if we could find a way for students to apply the scientific method to a problem that actually might help them? And what if this scientific method activity were a freebie?
In this resource, students are asked to try to figure out the best way to study. Is it on a full stomach, in a quiet room, or while chewing peppermint gum? Do you remember things better when you study them before you fall asleep at night or when you first wake up in the morning? What’s the best way to learn?
Using the scientific method, students analyze the problem, form a hypothesis, and design a controlled experiment to determine the effect of one variable on how well they, or their friends, memorize a list of random words. This resource includes a 6 page student hand out and a teacher’s guide with suggested answers.
Target has Back To School sales. I have started my pile of things to bring to school – flair pens, some new book ends, and fancy post its. Maybe you’re one of the schools that opened last week, or maybe, like me, you still have a few weeks left. Maybe you’re like me and have a new outfit picked out, or maybe you’re not going to think about that until the last minute. You might be one of those teachers who sets everything up in June – my back-to-school bulletin board is done already, and covered with garbage bags – or maybe you left your classroom like a bat out of hell. Whichever teacher you are, you know back to school is around the corner.