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.
I love teaching because we can finish a school year and start new. Now that we are entering the "start new" portion of the year, I love to think about what materials I want for my classroom that are outside the normal budgeting process. These tools are often things that encourage student creativity and allow them to build, grow and learn. Finding easy grant sources is a must. Two of my favorites are Donorschoose.org and MAC grants (from McDonald's). In both cases these grants are easy to fill out and reporting requirements are minimal. This year I would like to create some "maker space" stations that include Rasberry Pie computers that allows kids to code and create. If you've never looked at these grant provider, check them out.
The best part of teaching is the ability to start and finish every year. Summer provides the perfect time to reflect on your past your and make corrections. More importantly, it allows us to grow as educators and improve student experience the following year. Kids always come into my room after moving up and ask “Why didn’t we do this last year?” I like to reply that we are always making thing better. If you haven’t started this process, here’s some areas for reflection to help improve next year teaching.
These are just a few questions I look at in the summer, this could go on and on. Currently I am working through student notebooks to look at what exactly my kids did over the course of the year. These provide valuable clues for my pacing. Additionally, I am looking to better organize my physical space to include more supplies for make space type activities.
There’s nothing more important than building positive relationships with our middle school students. The simplest way to do this is to greet your students as they come in the classroom. Here a few reasons why this simple act of kindness is so important.
You set the tone for the class. A simple greeting lets students know that their day is starting over, you are ready to go and any past issues have been put to rest. How many kids face situations where love and relationships are conditional based on their performance. Kids get ignored, punished for things they have little control over in their home life. As a professional educator, we can give them a new chance every day without a cloud hanging over their head.
You model positive behavior. Students need to develop the process of communicating with others. Greetings are widely known as a prosocial behavior. Understand that many students do not have this behavior modeled in their own homes. You represent a positive role mode to a world they may not have access too.
Saying “hi” can communicate value. Have you ever known a person that simply ignores you and doesn’t even acknowledge your presence? This can be frustrating at the least. People have names and it’s the easiest way for us to build up our students.
You get a barometer of the day. Excited, bummed out, stressed? You can generally get a feel for the way your class will go just by this small interaction. There have been days where I restructured a lesson because I could sense the students were “nuts” that day and I would need a schedule that would help reel them back in.
If you never made it a point to greet your students, now’s the time to try. Building positive communications with students is like putting a deposit in the bank. The more positive interactions, the easier it is to make a withdraw when you have to deal with discipline issues in class.
Being outside with students is awesome. My kids love collecting bugs, leaves, rocks and all sorts of living stuff. For our students, we have a wealth of technology and tools at our fingertips. The daily challenge teachers face is how to maintain a positive hands on leaving environment, integrate technology into lessons and meet curricular goals. As usual, we are spinning lots of plates. Too much technology means too little hands on learning. Hands on learning not properly aligned with curriculum goals leads to missed learning opportunities. To address these issues I focus on three core elements in classroom lessons.
Mini lessons: introducing new content objectives are key for providing context to hands on learning experiences. This is face to face teacher led instruction. A teacher sharing their passion and experience is necessary to bring students into great learning experiences. This approach works in lab, or in the field. Before taking students to the salt marsh, we want the to have a basic idea of a wetland. Prior to collecting macroinvertebrates in a stream, they need to understanding what the difference is between biotic and abiotic factors. Mini lessons don't need to be long, 10 to 15 minutes is perfect. The key is to prepare your students for the learning that is coming.
Looking for the perfect mini lessons? Editable presentations, incomplete outlines and scribble notes all available in these complete lesson resources.
Lesson experience: Students get out into the field (or in the lab) to experience what we are learning. Collecting, classifying and organizing are key skills in taxonomy. Allowing kids to hold flowering plants, study vein placement in monocots or view protists under are microscopes are exciting opportunities. These activities need structure and purpose to help student connect the dots between content knowledge and real world application. For example, placing celery in colored water, then slicing it to look at xylem and phloem. This experience is even better if students understand that xylem transports materials from the roots and phloem brings nutrients from the leaves (they will note that the phloem tubs are empty when using samples from the grocery store). Hands on explorations that line up with core content mini lessons will maximize student achievement in your classroom.
The following lessons represent a variety of hands on experiences for the middle school classrooms. From mapping, model construction to quadrat studies, there is something for every style of teaching.
Lesson Reinforcement Allowing students to revisit, reflect and assess is a key process in learning. These activities can take place in a variety of formats. For example, using Google sorts to directly review lesson concepts. Google sorts are quick, effective ways to help kids experience content after a lesson experience. Classroom projects or lab reports also provide opportunities to review. The only caution is to be sure you outline your expectations and timeline. These assessments can consume many days in the classroom if not carefully planned. In the end, time circulating during these activities will provide valuable feedback to your teaching process. Students who can synthesize and apply what has been experienced will achieve the best learning results. Students who are struggling will quickly identify themselves providing you opportunities for reteaching and intervention.
Looking for some help with your lesson reinforcement. Each of the following products provide easy access and use with your middle school students.
Have you ever had a class of middle school students that tested your resolve to come to work each day. Engaging difficult classes is at the core of a successful middle school teaching career. Activities that students can learn from, stay busy and be motivated can be difficult to find. The metric race car lab was an activity that I created for such a class. They loved it, it kept their attention and we learned a little along the way. The lab is broken into three basic parts
Student choose a race car, Formula One or NASCAR. This is a great internet research activity. Using that car, they need to figure out the dimensions of the car in the metric system, from length, width, height and mass. This is a great opportunity to get them to apply their measurement skills on a project. At the end of the activity, students draw their own vehicle with measurements and dimensions. As a culminating challenge, I provide them with three samples of simulated fuel. Students must calculate the densities of each fuel to determine which type is the best. Hint: Less dense means less car mass, which means greater speed. Its fun to have kids make posters or mark out the lengths of the car on the classroom wall.
If you are looking to try out this lab with out the extra work of creating the materials. Visit my store to purchase the lesson.
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What if Jupiter was a star?