In this lab I used the classic sun angle lab to compare heat produced at two different angles. By naming one "Summer" and the other "Winter" students can quickly model abiotic factors in an ecosystem. More importantly, after the activity you can ask students to explain how abiotic factors influence biotic factors in an ecosystem. This leads to a great discussion on food availability (for animals in the north) deciduous trees dropping their leaves and a host of other adaptations due to season changes. Here's a picture of the lab setup. If you're looking for the complete lesson, check out my Ecology Lesson 1 for Middle School.
Fall gardening is a great opportunity for students. By choosing fast growing plants, student can grow, record and harvest plants. Not to mention its a great excuse to get outside. Each week we have students record the plant height, condition, weather and any other interesting notes. This year we grew radish and spinach the first months of school. Kids loved trying out some new veggies. In addition this provides a great data collection lesson for the scientific method. Don't worry if you didn't try it this fall, these same plant also grow well in the spring. Looking for a fun way to log data? Have kids create a slide show, one slide per day, include a picture with a ruler for scale.
One of my favorite ecology intro activities is biotic and abiotic factors on the sidewalk. Ask your students to go find examples of each, then bring them back to the sidewalk for discussion. Kids love getting outside and it provides a great opportunity for discussion.
This activity is included in my Ecology Lesson 1 with editable Google Apps and printable activities.
Testing paper towels is a great way to engage your students and have them experience science. Towels are cheap and easy to use. Measure how much water they can pick up, how fast it absorbs water or measure its strength. Data is easily portrayed in a graph. In the end, students can make recommendations based on their results. In this picture below, we are trying to determine the number of drops a paper towel can hold.
Looking for an easy way to plan this lab, check out my resource to learn more. Click Here.
Studying invasive species is a great opportunity in science class. Many of the organisms plague our ecosystems and out-compete native plants and animals. In this lesson I asked my students to take a clipping of Japanese Knotweed and bring it back to the lab to study this fast growing invasive. Here's a few things you can do.
1. Take scientific pictures, include rulers for scale
2. Study the roots, stems and leaves of these organisms.
3. Grow sample plant (contained in the classroom)
4. Research effective uses. Many of my students found recipes for invasive edible plant species.
5. Talk to kids about safe ways to control and destroy these plants.
From the teaching side, just be sure you understand how to dispose of these organisms. In our case we need to dry them and bag the plants before disposal to prevent the spread. Also research your states noxious weed list to be sure there is no specific law governing the organisms you are working with.
One of my favorite middle school topics is cells. Kids really enjoying looking at microscopes and learning about the tiny cities that compose their bodies. To better integrate technology I have begin including Google Sorts as part of my cells lessons. The basic idea is to teach for about 10 to 15 minutes, then give a small Google Activity to help students reinforce what they have learned. These activities coupled with traditional classroom labs and activities have been vital in improving my students success. The following product includes some of these new Google Sorts.
The best part about teaching is starting over at the beginning of each new school year. Few professions provide the opportunity to clear the slate and start new. New faces, clean rooms and an amazing lack of clutter (check back in November for the clutter piles). What things do you need to consider at the start of a new science class? Here's a few thoughts.
Lab Safety: Odds are you will have an accident. It is vital that you demonstrate that you are providing a safe and secure classroom. If a student were to ever get injured and you found yourself in court, your lesson plans will document a pattern of safety. Always record any lab safety moments you talk about in your lesson plans. Not sure where to start, Google lab safety and you will find countless resources. Here's a few examples
Amoeba Sisters Lab Safety Video
Lab Safety with Carolina.com (Worksheet download)
Lab Manager Website with Safety Rules
Classroom Expectations in Science: I like to take a few days to really dig into my expectations as a science teacher. Our rooms are different because of the materials we use. Fire, electricity, sharp objects are common. So take a little time to explain when they see microscopes, we don't touch them till instructed. If we're using a candle, we're not touching them with our fingers. The key to this discussion is that you are creating a safe classroom that is unique. It may be more structured than their home, but that's life, we are professionals.
Finally I like to get into to teaching some science. It can be cumbersome to go over safety and lab expectations everyday. So for the first week I devote 15 minutes to these task each day, then do some science. What lessons are first? The first is asking a student to walk through a sheet of paper. This classic science challenge will get your younger students thinking and older kids engaged. From there we discuss the basics of science and how the ability to observe has led to life changing discoveries. If you are looking to jump start your planning process, here are science lessons 1 and 2. These both include editable lesson presentations, students activity sheets and resources to make your first few days of school a breeze.
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What if Jupiter was a star?