Teaching Measurement in Middle School Science

Teaching measurement in middle school science includes learning the metric system, basic and advanced conversions, and scientific notation. Here are some pro tips to teach, practice, and use those skills all year long.


How do you teach measurements?

Forty years ago, we told students that everyone was going to be switching to the metric system soon so they’d better learn it. With a few exceptions (2 liter soda bottles), the United States never really adopted the metric system, marking us as one of only 3 countries in the world (the others being Myanmar and Liberia). Scientists have to use the metric system because science depends on communication between scientists around the world. How does that impact middle school science teachers?  Every year, we teach the standard units of meters, liters and grams and every year we insist students use those units in science, and every year they forget and need to be re-taught the year after. Here are some tips to make the metric system more accessible for your students:

  • Use it yourself. Give metric units for everything rather than standard units.  Display metric units widely – not just their names, but label your bulletin board with its length and width in meters, display a one liter flask or a 400 mL coffee cup with labels. Bring in a 3 kilogram bag of potatoes. The problem with student retention of the metric system is that students never learn to think in metric and can’t picture what a  gram is (a nickel has a mass of 5g) or how long it would take them to walk a kilometer (10 minutes).
  • Practice. Certainly, do the typical metric system labs of using meters, liter, and grams, but do much, much more than that. Practice with task cards in those odd 5 minutes at the end of the period or while waiting for everyone to catch up. Review, review, review. If you want them to remember it next year, practice it every single day this year – or at least once a week!


teaching measurement in middle school scienceConversions between units is one of the most “mathy” things we do, but it’s an essential skill in science. Students need to be able to convert in single step and multi-step problems. Very often students approach conversions as something to memorize rather than something to understand. My conversions slide show helps students to understand how and why unit conversion factors work and how to decide which conversion factors to use to get to their goal. I added some practice worksheets of varying levels of difficulty to help students, and teachers, determine how much practice they needed.


Teaching measurement in middle school science is one of those skills that a huge investment early in the year pays off dividends over many years. Unfortunately, not making that investment brings a big price in having to reteach the same thing year after year to the same students. This is definitely one of those skills that is best taught five times in five different ways rather than once.

Back to school Bulletin Board for middle school science

My school, at least as of now, will be wearing masks at the beginning of the new school year. I’m going to take advantage of my students’ familiarity with masks and incorporate them in my back to school bulletin board for middle school science.

I’ve chosen a few famous scientific figures – Albert Einstein, Rosalind Franklin, Gregor Mendel, Neil Armstrong, Rachel Carson, Dmitri Mendeleyev, and 26 more – enough that I can rotate them through over the course of the year. I printed large pictures of each of them and then covered their faces with a disposable mask. Underneath their pictures, I printed their names and covered their name with a flap that students can lift when they are ready to guess. Under that, I stapled clues such as “Identified the 3 laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation” (Isaac Newton) and “Founding Father, inventor, publisher, scientist, diplomat. Organized the first public library” (Ben Franklin).

Check out my bulletin board here!

What are you doing for your back to school bulletin boards?

Science and Language Arts – Cross Curricular Opportunities

LAL and Science❤️Perfect Together

I love my Language arts coworkers, but it’s not often that there are crossovers between our curriculums.  I’m always on the look out for some cross curricular opportunities for science and language arts teachers and have come up with a short list of books that are middle school appropriate and actually convey some science.

Harry Potter

While certainly not a story about science, there are a surprising amount of science connections in the Harry Potter series. Truth serum, Hermione’s time traveling adventures, levitation and the three headed dog are just some of the scientific curiosities the book is filled with. Many of the names of people are based on astronomical objects. Sirius Black, Harry’s uncle who can change into a black dog, is named for Sirius, the dog star. Bellatrix LeStrange is named for a star in the constellation Orion. Draco Malfoy is named for the constellation Draco.  Muggles, purebloods, squibs, and Muggle borns are an interesting take on genetics. Remus Lupin turns into a wolf (Canis lupis).

Maximum Ride

The Maximum Ride series by James Patterson is about a young woman named Maximum Ride and her family who are all human-bird hybrids, born with wings after being used as experimental subjects in a lab. The first book in the series, The Angel Experiment, introduces the characters as children and explains how they were created. Lots of interesting science fiction into animal hybrids and I’ve students enjoy it with my DNA unit. There are 9 books in the series.

The House of Scorpion

Another book that leans in to the genetic hybrid issue is The House of the Scorpion. Main character Matteo was created in a petri dish and developed in the womb of a cow. As a clone of the person whose DNA was used to create him, Matteo faces interesting challenges your students will be fascinated by.

Rats of NIMH

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a clever novel about a population of rats and mice. After being captured by scientists and studied for research, the rats developed increased intelligence and have learned how to read, write, and operate complicated machines. They also became smart enough to escape from their captors. This novel was based on research into mice and rat populations at the National Institute of Mental Health in the mid 1900s.


Uglies is the first dystopian novel of a series of 4. In Uglies, everyone is born ugly but then has extreme cosmetic surgery to become pretty when they turn 16. In the novel, a teenager rebels against the expected surgery. As a backstory, the city had collapsed when petroleum was no longer available.

Life as We Knew It

Life as We Knew It is a fascinating book based on a premise that a meteor hit the moon and moved it closer to earth. The subsequent alteration of the earth’s rotation causes catastrophes everywhere. The story is told from the point of view of a teenager who helps keep her family alive during the tumult.

First Light

First Light is a novel by Rebecca Stead. A teenage boy named Peter is in Greenland with his parents who are researching global warming. A teenage girl named Thea lives in an underground colony below Greenland which is being destroyed by global warming. Peter and Thea must save the residents of Thea’s colony.

Wing Nut

Wing Nut by Mj Auch is about a twelve year old boy named Grady and his mother’s boss who teaches Grady all about birds.

West with Giraffes

West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge is based on a true story of two giraffes who were brought to the San Diego Zoo to protect the species from extinction.


Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot is a novel that explores the efforts to preserve a colony of burrowing owls. The book does a great job explaining endangered species, their role in ecosystems and the importance of nature sanctuaries.


Flush is another novel by Carl Hiaasen. It is told from the point of view of a teenage boy whose father is an environmentalist. They learn of a casino boat which has been illegally dumping sewage into the ocean so the father and son set about trying to stop the dumping.


Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a classic exploration into what makes something alive. Kids will love it.

The Same Stuff as Stars

The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Paterson is about Angel whose life is a series of challenges. She meets a man she calls the Star Man who tells her about stars and planets.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas

The classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas is a fantastic story which was inspired in 1867 when author Jules Verne saw a model of an early submarine. The story begins when a sea monster is spotted and all sorts of expeditions go in search of it.

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave trilogy is written by Rick Yancey. The story is about a teenage girl named Cassie who tries to survive in a world that has been devastated by waves of alien invasions.  Among other waves that the aliens produce are electromagnetic pulses, giant rods which cause massive tsunamis, and a deadly virus.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne classic Journey to the Center of the Earth  and then later a 2008 movie might make for an interesting “science vs science fiction” debate.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures was written by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American (female) mathematicians who worked at NASA. As a biographical movie in 2016, it was critically acclaimed for its representation of these women who calculated the flight trajectories for Project Mercury.

The Radium Girls

Written by Kate Moore, The Radium Girls tells the story of young women who worked in radium dial factories and suffer from radiation sickness long before such a thing was even understood. The Radium Girls was made a movie in 2018.


Fever, by Laurie Halse, tells the story of the 1793 yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia.


There probably are hundreds (thousands) or more books that should make this list of cross curricular opportunities for science and language arts. What would you add? Click here to let me know!

FREE Plate Tectonics Boom Cards

The plate tectonics unit of my middle school science curriculum is fun – lots of hands on activities and really engaging projects. But students still find memorizing the different boundaries and faults.

Have you tried Boom cards? They’re digital flash cards that self correct so students can repeat until mastery. My students love them and I bet yours will too. They’re not difficult to make and I have a set for just about every chapter I teach. If you subscribe to the BoomLearning.com platform ($35/year), you can use all kinds of data to track your students’ progress, but you can use the Boom cards even without a subscription.

Here’s a link to download your first set of Boom cards to help your students review the vocabulary of tectonic plates. This Boom deck has 28 cards and reviews vocabulary such as convergent, divergent and transform.


free plate tectonics boom cards

Cardboard Tube Science

Cardboard tube science – Save your toilet paper and paper towel tubes! Here are 9 science activities you can do in your middle school classroom with your cardboard tubes!

cardboard tube science

What can cardboard tubes be used for?

  • Tunnels and support structures for your marble roller coasters or marble run walls.
  • Build bridges or or hold tallest tower contests.
  • Build a model rocket, dinosaur, or robot.
  • Use the paper towel tubes as a base for your rubber band, ping pong ball, pom pom, or cotton ball launcher.
  • Cardboard tubes make great balloon cars.
  • Use paper towel tubes as the structural support for a pulley engineering game.
  • Small cardboard tubes make great containers for soil to start seeds.
  • Smear the cardboard tubes with peanut butter and roll them in bird seed for an easy bird feeder activity.
  • Create mystery tubes from small toilet paper tubes and use them to introduce scientific inquiry.


Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Teaching the States of Matter

Students learn the states of matter in primary school science, so middle schoolers already know the basics. When middle school teachers are teaching the states of matter, our students have a good foundation from primary school but we need to expand on previous knowledge. Middle school science standards include phase changes and exploration of the states of matter including endothermic and exothermic reactions and the law of conservation of matter.

How do you teach change of state of matter?

The slide show that I use for teaching the states of matter in middle school is an interactive Google Slide Show. I use interactive notes because students find it easier to drag and drop correct answers rather than copying down long explanations. It allows them to pay closer attention without missing information and has been a great benefit for my students during remote teaching days during the pandemic.

Hands on activities for teaching the states of matter:

A good Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) activity is to provide students an opportunity to determine if air is matter. Using what they know about the states of matter, students can conduct controlled experiments to determine if air has mass and volume. My CER for the states of matter has 5 hands on stations for students to travel through.

The Ice Cream Lab

Everyone’s favorite hands on activity for the states of matter is the phase change lab in which students can make ice cream. Students spend a few minutes mixing their simple ingredients in a ziploc baggie, probably listening to me talk about freezing point depression. This one always makes it on to the end-of-year survey as my students’ favorite activity.

Resources for reviewing the states of matter in middle school:

Review phase changes with digital flash cards. Boom cards are commonly used in elementary school but less so in middle school. I still love them because they are self-directed and self-checking, and because kids still love them. My states of matter Boom card deck contains 26 cards and includes basic phases and phase changes.

My students still pixel art worksheets.  They are engaging and fun, and I love them because they are self-checking. For the states of matter, I have a mittens pixel art worksheet.

Digital escape rooms became my favorite review activity during the COVID pandemic, just like physical escape rooms were my favorite pre-COVID. Digital escape rooms allow students to find clues and solve puzzles but in a completely digital way. The escape room I use when I’m teaching states of matter is a scenario in which students must find clues and solve puzzles about what appears to be a crime scene in their science lab.

Assessing the states of matter:

I use a self-grading Google form to assess the states of matter. While it’s important to allow students to write about what they understand, I include enough of that in my hands on activities that I can use a simpler multiple choice format for the final assessment.


Teaching the Scientific Method

First up at the beginning of every school year are 2 important topics: safety and the scientific method. Teaching the scientific method can be an opportunity for you to observe your new students and identify strengths and weaknesses in group work, communication skills, analysis skills, and the ability to think outside the box.

How do you teach the scientific method?

When I teach the scientific method, I usually have students try to think metacognitively about how they solve problems. Present your students with a question. “How do you know what clothes to put on in the morning?” There are no “right” answers, but there are definitely wrong answers like bathing suits in winter or heavy  jackets in the summer. Students will realize that they base their clothing decisions on information they already have – what kind of weather it is and what events they have planned for the day. This is not unlike how scientists form hypotheses by taking information that they have and using it to make a possible solution to a problem.

Then, make the problem more interesting and something that needs to be tested. Your phone is dead but it was plugged in. What’s wrong. All sorts of hypotheses are possible – electricity went out, charger isn’t plugged in correctly, etc. Each of these is a testable hypothesis that can be solved by guess and check. Another problem students can use guess and check for is a puzzle activity in which each group of students is given a baggie containing pieces to a 16 piece puzzle. As they remove each piece, students need to guess (“form a hypothesis”) of what the whole puzzle is a picture of. Using this activity, students will see that more information gives scientists a more accurate idea of the situation.

What is the scientific method?

By now, students are ready to identify the steps they use to solve problems and probably will be able to guess the steps of the scientific method. Of course, I always have a slide show on hand to help students develop common vocabulary that we can use to communicate with each other. When I’m teaching the scientific method, I also like to have a worksheet or two for students to practice scientific method vocabulary.

Practice and apply

Give students a problem to solve using the scientific method. One easy problem is to find out what factors affect how well they memorize something such as a short list of random words. They can test different variables such as loud music or time of day and collect data to form a conclusion. The write up for this activity includes a 6 page student handout and a corresponding teacher’s guide. I’m offering it for free to any readers of this blog so please feel free to get your copy here!

Other problems students can solve using the scientific method:


What other teaching tools do you use when you’re teaching the scientific method?


Scientific Method Freebie

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. 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.

Please click this link to download your free copy of the scientific method freebie!

Advice for new science teachers

You’re about the start your first year as a science teacher. The first year or two is exciting but also intimidating. It feels like there’s so much to learn and you probably can’t wait to get in there and get your hands dirty. We asked veteran middle school science teachers what they wish they’d known and what advice they have for the new science teachers. Here’s what they had to say about how to prioritize and stay sane while you’re making that magic happen!



  • You don’t have to have a Pinterest-ready classroom, says veteran teacher Michelle B. of Wyoming. Make it interesting, neat and colorful, but don’t compare yourself to Instagram feeds. Sue from Florida says she likes to include her new students’ names in her bulletin boards – maybe write their names on leaves on a tree or stars on a space themed bulletin board.
  • Clutter distracts the mind. Put it away. Many science classrooms have a prep room where you can temporarily store labs that you haven’t cleaned up yet or papers you have to grade or file.
  • Nearly every veteran teacher we spoke with agreed that organization is key. When it comes to lab supplies, you can store supplies you use all year – beakers, meter sticks, scissors – in one place and curriculum specific supplies – mineral samples, DNA models, pH test strips – together with other supplies for the same lab or unit. I have one cabinet for each unit I teach and one for general supplies. Kelly, a science teacher entering her 12th year, says you might want to spend a day or two emptying every cabinet and creating your own system if you’re moving in to a classroom someone else has cluttered.
  • How you arrange the desks and/or lab tables in your classroom may be dependent on fixtures like sinks or built in lab tables. It also may be dependent on pandemic and social distancing standards. Your supervisor might even have input to provide. Mrs. T from Illinois says she prefers having students sit in pairs for group work and Jill from Texas prefers round tables of 4. There is no right or wrong way – I rearrange desks often in my classroom because I get bored easily and I guess students might also.


  • Back in the day, teachers kept giant binders of the original copies of all of their worksheets, labs, and handouts for each unit. These binders were essential so you didn’t have to recreate everything every year. Of course, those binders are now Google folders and organization became a little easier. Ken is a 6th year teacher and he suggests that you create a folder in your Google Drive for each unit. Then, create sub-folders within each unit. He suggests to name these subfolders by content – Lab 1, for example, or Assessments. Within each sub-folder, name the individual documents not only with a name that you’ll recognize but also with the number that indicates where it fits into the unit. 01-Do Now is the Do Now for the first day of the unit. 12-Erosion lab is the lab that is the 12th activity or document you’ll use in that unit.
  • Until you get to know your students and curriculum, make sure you over plan. Middle school science teacher Mrs. P from New York says she plans at least one additional activity for every class period until she feels she understands how long her students need to get through each activity. In terms of classroom management, it’s much easier to manage students who have too much to do rather than students who have too little to do.
  • Plan a unit at a time loosely and then plan each week more rigidly.


advice for new science teachers

  • The custodians and the secretaries run the school, says Bobbi from Oklahoma.
  • If there are other teachers that teach the same course as you, they are critically important. They’ll be able (and hopefully willing) to help you plan what you’re going to cover.
  • You will find your people. Find the people you trust and the people you admire. They may not be on your team or even in your department, but you’ll find people you can talk to or vent to or ask advice from.

Self Care

  • Ask for help when you need it and practice self-care. Nearly every veteran teacher we talked with said to take it one day at a time.
  • “Fake it until you make it” is another common thread. Don’t lie to your students, but tell yourself you’re confident and capable. One teacher reported that she was only 1 chapter ahead of her students in learning the content that she was teaching for the first time.
  • You don’t have to grade everything. Many veteran teachers said to manage your own time by planning assignments. If you have a lot of grading to do, give a multiple choice assessment instead of an open ended one or only grade some of the work you assign rather than all.
  • Don’t spend every spare minute grading papers and planning.
  • When you feel like you’re starting to burnout, and you will, don’t push yourself to keep working. Take a day off, put your feet up, take care of yourself.  Ask for help when you need it.
  • Everyone is new at something sometimes. Learn by trial and error, but don’t beat yourself up for the errors.
  • Remember why you became a teacher. Enjoy the relationships you’re building with your students. Laugh with them. Linda from Delaware wants you to know that they’ll forget what you taught (it’s humbling, but true) but they won’t forget how you made them feel.
  • Set boundaries. Many veteran teachers recommend that you not bring work home at all. Others recommend that you leave school on time every day. Find what works for you, but don’t feel like you have to spend every minute working.
  • When you leave your classroom every day, set it up so that you’re ready to start the next day. It’s easier to sleep at night when you don’t have that running list of things to do.
  • Wash your hands. Every teacher gets a ton of colds, especially in the first few years, says Fidelma of Vermont.

Classroom Management

  • It’s easier to manage behavior before it starts, says Tina from Indiana.
  • You’re not their friend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, says Ms. H who is a 17 year veteran teacher.
  • Hanna from Pennsylvania says to call or email home with praise as early in the year as you can. This helps build cache for a time when you might need to call with a less stellar report. Keep the lines of communication open was a common suggestion from many veteran teachers.
  • Souad from Massachusetts suggests using tools like student-made murals, online resources, guest speakers and the involvement of parents in the classroom to motivate students.
  • Kids do love to see you at their sporting events. If you can spare some time, go cheer on the lacrosse team and show your face for a few minutes to help build rapport, suggests Ms. E from New York.

Curriculumadvice for new science teachers

  • As a rule, middle school science standards include earth, physical science, environmental science, and life science. Your school district probably has a plan for which grades cover which of the standards.
  • If your school district has not provided you with a curriculum guide telling you what you need to cover, ask for one. Minimally, you should be told which standards you are expected to cover in a year says 18 year veteran teacher Joanne.
  • Souad from Massachusetts says that a good focus for middle school teachers is problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity to enable students to understand the world’s challenges.
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Someone, somewhere has taught this already.
  • Once you know the standards, scour sites like Pinterest, OER commons, TeachersPayTeachers, or even your favorite content specific Facebook group. Collect ideas, weed out the bad ones, try the ones that interest you, keep a few on the backburner to try if you need to reteach. It’s far better to teach the same thing 5 times then to teach 5 things once each.
  • The best advice I ever got as a parent also works for teachers. The days are long but the years are short. Enjoy them.

Parent Communication

  • Be sure parents know that you like their child and want their child to do well says Ms. R from New York. That’s the most important thing to them and therefore the most important thing to you if you want them to be a partner with you in their child’s education.
  • Early, positive communication is extremely important to set the tone for the year.
  • Document, document, document. Keep a notebook or spreadsheet of all of your phone calls and emails to parents.  Refer to previous communication before you contact them again.

What do teachers do all summer?

Because I work a 10 month job, I am often asked “What do teachers do all summer?” Truthfully, it just flies by. I usually take a week staycation to just recover – sleep late, clean my house, read a book. My husband and I will probably go on a vacation (well, not last year and probably not this year either). And the other 6 weeks?  Here are some ideas to help make your days count this summer:

what do teachers do all summerDestress:

This is my number one priority this year, and every year.

Teacher-adjacent jobs:

If you need the cash, there’s a huge market for professional educators to capitalize on their training this year.

  • Offer your services as a tutor. Advertise on Facebook in the local groups and give your name to the guidance counselors at the schools near your home. Or, sign up with an established tutoring company.
  • Teach summer school. Probably most of those jobs will be filled by the time you read this, but it’s worth a try!
  • Try selling some resources on TeachersPayTeachers or AmpedUpLearning.
  • Take one of your best lessons and launch a virtual course on Outschool.

Freelance jobs:

The benefit of a freelance job is that you can work as much or as little as you want.

  • Freelance copywriters can make upwards of $100 an hour. Glance through the listings at Etsy and get some ideas there.
  • Drive for a ride share company like Uber or Lyft.
  • Grocery shop for companies like Instacart or Shipt.
  • Deliver take out for UberEats or DoorDash.

what do teachers do all summerSummer professional development:

If you want to stay current or brush up on some skills for next year, there are many resources for you.


Get ready for next year:

By the end of summer, I’m ready to think about school again. Here are some ways to hit the ground running when school opens.


Photo credits:

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Photo by Dai KE on Unsplash