Natural Disaster Resources for Middle Schoolers

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

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


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

Two natural disaster resources that I use to teach earthquakes:

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

natural disaster resources

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


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

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


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

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

natural disaster resources


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

Thanksgiving activities for Middle School Science

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

Lesson Plan #1 – Thanksgiving Science Jigsaw activityscience of Thanksgiving

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

    1. Add vinegar to bones to remove calcium.

    2. How do cranberries float?

    3. How do you make butter?

    4. How does inertia work?

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

    6. Cranberry juice as a pH indicator.

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

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

Lunar Eclipse Viewer’s Guide

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


What is a Lunar Eclipse?

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

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

lunar eclipse viewers guide

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

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


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

Top 5 reasons why I Greet my Students at the Door

greet students at the door

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

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





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

“Back to Normal”

We’re not quite back to normal even though we’re trying our hardest to pretend that we are. School year 20-21 was bizarre around the world. Virtual school, hybrid, asynchronous, synchronous, cohorts – whatever your school did, it was weird. We had a lot of pivoting to do to adjust to the “new normal” last year – Zoom, digital assignments, virtual labs, and so on. But this year isn’t back to normal. There are new challenges that require pivoting in SY 2021-22 – while not quite post pandemic, everything from bathroom breaks to managing quarantined students is yet another airplane we need to build while we’re flying it.

Back to Normal

Paying attention

During SY 20-21, students had frequent opportunities to “zone out.” They could go off camera for a few minutes during zoom meetings or take a bathroom break whenever they wanted. This year, the expectation for paying attention went from zero to full attention all the time. Even on the middle level, students have forgotten how to focus for longer than a few minutes. How do you manage this? I’ve always had an open bathroom policy – if you need to use the bathroom, use the bathroom. Some teachers have stopped allowing students to sign out whenever they want as an attempt to help them focus better. I have gone the other way, encouraging students to take a walk when they need an attention break. Like everything, I guess we won’t know which of us is helping students until more time has passed.



Back to Normal

Some kids came back to normal school rocking and rolling and ready to reintroduce themselves to society. Others struggled a little with the new need to be social. Yesterday, I saw a student googling “How to start a conversation.” Some students have been able to work in groups but others have been a little afraid to interact in real time. How do we support these students? Teaching these skills is far more important to our students than teaching them mitosis, but most of us are unprepared to be guidance counselors or therapists.



When school was virtual or hybrid, monitoring of student work was reduced. Admins encouraged us to provide grace and give students a break when it came to homework – allowing late submissions to support students who were struggling with all that the pandemic brought with it. And now, we’re left with the results of that decision – a “regular” school year with “regular” expectations about homework but with students who either don’t know how to complete homework on time or who have fallen out of the habit of doing homework. Not to say that being compassionate is wrong, but the change in expectations has left me with whiplash. I can only imagine how stunned our middle schoolers feel. How do you manage this? I can see students are struggling but I’m reticent to reduce expectations.

Quarantined Students

I got a notification today that 4 students are quarantined. Last week, there were 3 other students quarantined. There’s a bit of a revolving door. The administrative expectation is that students who are quarantining will keep up with school work so teachers have had to post or email assignments to students. This is a challenging hurdle for science teachers. For starters, how do remote students keep up with the class when their peers have been conducting experiments, collecting data, and analyzing results? There are virtual labs to be sure, and they are a great option if there is a virtual lab that covers the same content and skills that you’re covering in class, but what do you do if there isn’t one available? I’ve been videotaping labs and sharing the videos with at home students. If you have a better solution, I’d love to hear it! I also have a pretty large collection of videos “flipping” each chapter in my curriculum. These have been handy to send home to students who are quarantining so that they have access to some instruction while out.


What challenges have you and your students had while attempting to return to normal? 

Flipped Learning in Middle School Science

Flipped learning in middle school science is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction is completed by the student independently and interactive learning, practice and reinforcement occurs as a group in the classroom. This “flip” reinvents the traditional passive lecture in class followed by independent practice at home, changing the priority from passive to active learning.

78% of teachers surveyed in 2014 report having tried flipping their classroom for at least one lesson and 96% of those who tried it said that it was a success. Here are some tips to help you incorporate more flipped learning in your middle school science classroom.

What is Flipped Learning?

Traditional classrooms have teachers instructing students on content in the classroom and then assign students practice for homework. In this method of instruction, the classroom time focuses on the passive receipt of knowledge but the active practicing of the knowledge or skill takes place at home.

Flipped learning is a method of instruction that assigns students the activity of viewing a lecture or copying notes at home and then practicing with the teacher in the classroom. In a flipped classroom, the active learning takes place in school and the passive learning takes place at home. Students are exposed to new material on their own and have the opportunity to ask question, review concepts, and practice skills with their teacher the next day.

Flipped Learning and COVID

For the past 18 months, we’ve had students virtual, hybrid, in person, synchronous, asynchronous, and all combinations of the above. Flipping the classroom enables virtual or absent students to keep up with new material.

What are some examples of Flipped Learning?

What kinds of assignments and activities can students do at home in a flipped learning situation?

  • Video or Screencast yourself presenting your lecture, providing students with a copy of cloze notes  or interactive notes to record what they learned. If you work with a team, you can take turns recording the video. Try one video this year. Add another one next year. Keep going. Over the past several years, I’ve collected a library of videos – one for each “lecture” – that I can assign to students in a flipped learning situation. Keep your videos short – maybe 10-15 minutes – to allow students an opportunity to repeat and review as needed.
  • Use pre-made videos to teach a concept rather than record yourself if you’re more comfortable that way. Khan Academy is a good place to start.
  • Students can complete an assessment.flipped classroom in middle school science
  • Complete an independent PearDeck, NearPod, or review activity.
  • BrainPOP.
  • Research.
  • Listen to podcasts.

What kinds of assignments and activities can students do in school in a flipped learning situation?

How does Flipped Learning work?

In a flipped learning classroom, the teacher switches from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side,” offering opportunities for practice and support for individual students. In the middle school science classroom, the teacher acts more as a lab assistant than a director, offering materials and guided explorations leading to experimentation.

Flipped Learning advantages and disadvantages

What do we love about it?

In middle school science, flipping the classroom offers enormous benefits. More class time can be spent conducting experiments, collecting data, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions.

One advantage of flipped learning is that students learn more effectively by using class time for small group activities and individual help. Giving student autonomy and greater control over their learning increases engagement, comprehension, and retention. Students can work at their own pace to learn new content and review videos as many times as they need to understand.

Flipping the classroom increases the quality of in class group projects, discussions and debates. Students take more ownership of their knowledge.

What do we not love about it?

A notable disadvantage of flipping the classroom is that it relies very heavily on technology. Schools that don’t have one-to-one devices will find it more challenging to implement and will have to depend on families to provide technology for their students.

Some students struggle with personal responsibility and have a difficult time transitioning to owning their own learning. They complete the independent assignments with little thought or clarity and are unable to participate in the class activities the next day. A cycle of failure is hard to break.


I believe that flipping the classroom results in less “sit and listen” and more “do and learn” in the classroom which makes learning more engaging, enjoyable, and productive for students. It’s also a lot more fun for teachers!

5E Science Lesson Plans

What is the 5E model lesson plan?

5E Science lesson plans use the 5E model and can help support student learning and growth through inquiry based instruction. Traditional science instruction employed a “sage on the stage” mentality where the instructor, who knew all of the answers, imparted his or her wisdom upon the students via lecture. The inquiry model of science instruction uses the teacher more as a “guide on the side.” The 5E lesson model allows students to make discoveries and to process new skills. 5E lessons not only help students learn but also improve student metacognition and understanding of their own learning process.

In a 5E lesson plan, the role of the teacher is to support students as they prior knowledge to build new knowledge. Students who learn using an inquiry approach score better on standardized tests than students who were taught by direct instruction.

What are the 5 E’s in Science lesson planning?5E science lesson planning

5E science lesson plans all incorporate the 5 essential elements in order:

  1. Engage – Engaging students in the topic by piquing their curiosity is an essential first step in 5e science lesson planning. The NGSS draws upon phenomena to cause students to be curious and ask questions. Engaging students can be a simple bellringer or Do Now but more often it invites students to open their minds and get ready to explore possibilities.  Students can be engaged with the activity in any way that draws upon their natural curiosity. A simple picture walk of locations displaying types of pollution can cause students to ask questions like why is there so much pollution, why has nothing been done, or what can be done to prevent it. KWL charts are a great way for students to begin identifying what they (K) Know about a subject and (W) Want to know about a subject – it’s extremely useful with things they might have some background knowledge of preconceptions such as genetically modified food or vaccines. Short videos are great ways to give students enough information to be curious enough to want to explore further. Students may express misconceptions but the teacher does not correct them yet.
  2. Explore – Allow students to form hypotheses, test variables, and draw conclusions about the new topic.  Once students are engaged in the lesson, the teacher’s job is then to allow them to explore the concept. Exploration can take many forms – games and experiments are the most common and easily accessible ways for students to explore content in a 5E science lesson. Students can use this exploration time to find the answers to the questions they developed in the engagement portion of the lesson by testing variables and drawing conclusions. The explore portion of the lesson should be student driven – the teacher’s job is to provide the opportunity but not to provide the answers.
  3. Explain – Teacher moves from guide to instructor by providing vocabulary terms, answering outstanding questions, and explaining new concepts. More traditional teachers will recognize this as a modified lecture. The teacher uses the explain portion of the 5E science lesson plan to answer questions students still have and to provide explanations for phenomena that they observed. Relevant vocabulary is defined and concepts are explained. The teacher can also conduct some formative assessments by engaging students in some traditional Q&A or some higher order questioning techniques such as asking students to make hypotheses, analyze data, or make connections with other learning.
  4. Elaborate – Students are given an opportunity to extend their learning by forming generalizations about what they learned and extending it to other situations. In the elaborate portion of the 5E science lesson plan, students participate in an extension or different activity that further explores the concept. This portion of the lesson also provides an opportunity for remediation and differentiation if necessary. Students may make new hypotheses and draw new conclusions to make generalizations about the new learning and apply it to previous learning.
  5. Evaluate – Students demonstrate that they have mastered the content in either a formal traditional assessment or in an alternative assessment. The evaluate portion of the 5E science lesson plan is a more formal summative assessments to measure what students have learned. It may be a traditional quiz or test but it can also be a project, a model, or an essay or reflection. Ideally, the student is evaluating his or her own learning.

A unit using the 5E model may take several days or longer to complete. Even thought the steps are presented in a chronological order, the process may be more like a cha-cha-cha than like a straightforward linear progression – a few steps forward, a few steps back. Let students explore and then engage them again. Explain and then engage them again, allowing them to explore. Maybe elaborate a little and then explore and explain.

How do you make a 5E Science lesson plan?

Engage – choose one or more of these activities to engage your students.

  • Video
  • Game
  • Display of objects
  • Model
  • short story
  • KWL
  • picture walk
  • phenomenon
  • Bellringers/Do Nows
  • Questions


  • Test variables
  • Form hypotheses
  • Conduct controlled experiments
  • Play games
  • Create or examine models


  • Define vocabulary
  • Explain concepts
  • Correct misconceptions
  • Ask leading questions
  • Provide models


  • Make connections
  • Make generalizations and apply them to new situations
  • Make a craft
  • Watch a video
  • Play a game
  • Conduct an experiment


  • Write
  • Have a conversation
  • Demonstrate
  • Assess
  • Analyze a new scenario
  • Critical reflections
  • Problem based learning project

5e science lesson plans




Download this free 5E lesson plan template by clicking here.

Interactive Virtual Field Trips

What is an Interactive Virtual Field Trip

There are times when talking about something just isn’t good enough. Great examples are glaciers, deserts and canyons. Even if my school allowed field trips post pandemic (mine hasn’t) there are still plenty of places I want my students to “visit” that aren’t possible. During remote schooling, I started using interactive virtual field trips to show my students ecosystems and geology in other parts of the world. An interactive virtual field trip allows students to learn about a remote location without leaving their desks. Incorporating videos and interesting articles to read along with some guided questions allows students to experience places they would ordinarily not be able to go.

How do you do an interactive virtual field trip?

The format for your interactive virtual field trip can be any format that your students can access. I typically use hyperdocs with links to videos and articles embedded along with guided questions. I’ve seen other teachers use Google Slides or even Google Forms (warning: Google Forms does not allow embedded links so students will need to copy and paste links which might be a challenge for some students).

Examples of Interactive Virtual Field Trips

One of my favorite interactive virtual field trips is this trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History  Among its truly fantastic exhibits, this museum’s presentation of the evolution of life on earth is engaging and easy to follow.

Students enjoy visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island via an interactive virtual tour. The National Park Service interactive tour is lengthy and presents a terrific historical background for the island as well as how Hurricane Sandy impacted it.

The Seattle Aquarium offers a 30 minute video tour. While there are no guided questions to accompany this tour, the video does a really good job exploring interactions among organisms at the aquarium.

The National Aquarium‘s virtual tour is a fun way to see still images of their huge collection. They also offer live webcams of coral reef ecosystems and jellyfish.

Monterey Bay Aquarium offers 10 live web cams of jellyfish, sharks, and penguins, among others.

The Georgia Aquarium has 8 live webcams including sea otters, beluga whales, and jellyfish.

The San Diego Zoo offers 11 live web cams of various animals including baboons, koalas, and giraffes.

Space Science

Learn the night sky with Star Atlas which shows you the stars and the planets in real time and also in the future so you can plan what you want to look for tonight. Take a virtual tour of Mars on the Curiosity rover. The International Space Station recently published a virtual tour here.

Earth Science

Check in with an assortment of live volcano cams and compare action from one day to the next. Take a virtual tour of Meteor Crater!

Take a virtual tour of the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam.

Look for aurora on Fairbanks AK’s Aurora cam.

Take a virtual tour through the Grand Canyon, Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, or a rainforest. Tour Easter Island, the Bermuda Triangle, the Himalayas, or the Hoover Dam.

Ocean Science

The Virtual Archaeology Museum offers fantastic virtual tours of 5 different shipwrecks.

Live webcams:

YouTube offers a panda-cam from the Atlanta Zoo, a Shark-cam produced by, and a penguin-cam and giraffe cam by the Kansas City Zoo. Southwest Florida hosts an eagle cam which, as of today, has a nesting pair of eagles. also hosts a polar bear cam based in the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Kolind, Denmark. The African Safari cam overlooks the main beach of the watering hole at Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya’s Laikipia County. We saw giraffes, a herd of elephants, hippos, and a crocodile.

National Parks

  • Death Valley National Park – Interesting exploration into the geology and biology of Death Valley National Park. This interactive virtual tour includes guided questions leading students to discover the adaptations of plants and animals in the Death Valley as well as some of the geologic features including the Racetrack Playa, the Eureka Sand Dunes, and Ubehebe Crater.
  • Everglades National Park – This 13 page Google hyperdoc includes multiple links to videos and virtual tours as well as guided questions that explore the Everglades including the characteristics that make the Everglades unique. The virtual tour examines how crocodiles and alligators are different and how lily pads work. The Everglades National Park virtual tour also helps students understand invasive species such as the Burmese python that impact the Everglades.
  • Glacier Bay National Park – In this interactive virtual tour, students learn about the animals of Glacier Bay and their adaptations. Learn how glacier form, retreat, and calve. Explore the native people of Alaska and learn about the earthquakes of Alaska.
  • Redwood National and State Park – Students follow links to make their own observations on web cams and videos and read about living things in the park including the great redwoods, the Roosevelt elk, banana slugs, black bears, and the California Condor and its conservation efforts. This interactive virtual tour also explores the redwoods prescribed fire program and how rangers help to prevent wildfires.

What’s your favorite way to use an interactive virtual tour?