How Teaching in a Private School Differs from Public

This is a question I get a lot from both teachers and non-teachers. It’s a little hard to compare my experience teaching in the Middle East to my experience teaching in America for several obvious reasons, but a big one is that I also went from a public American school (4 classroom years) to a private Middle Eastern school (3 classroom years, at the time of writing this). That being said, my experience may not be the same as someone who isn’t also shifting countries, but I still want to share with you as honestly as I can in hopes that this information reaches someone who needs it.

1. More direct access to the people who actually make decisions about my class sizes, salary, and curriculum.

I’m listing this first because I think it may be one of the most important ones. In American public schools, sometimes your only access to real change is through the election ballot. The people who make the decisions which affect you are influenced by a myriad of factors. Their bottom line may or may not be what’s best for students. Your administration may do all they can to soften the blows that come down the line for their teachers, but at the end of the day, they too are relatively powerless against bureaucracy.

This is completely different than what I’ve experienced in my private school. My chain of command is HOD (Head of Department) –> Principal –> Director –> Owner. And that’s where it ends. The owner ultimately makes all the financial decisions for the school, and let me be clear: his bottom line may or may not be what’s best for students either. Just like in the public education system. (However he is heavily influenced by his customers aka the parents. And their bottom line is definitely what’s best for their kids.) But one thing is for sure: I can be heard. In my private school I can make a stink even as one, little teacher and get things changed.

I’m not advocating bad behavior here, but there’s definitely something to be said for being in the same actual building as the people who sign your paycheck. If I think the decisions that are being made are bad for kids, I can appeal to someone within the same working day. (Just remember: going over heads will never get you far. Always follow the prescribed chain of command no matter what environment you’re working in.)

2. More freedom to teach what and how I want.

In my public school, I was a part of a district with 14 middle schools (and we competed against one another). I was also held accountable by end of the year state mandated testing. Bottom line, I didn’t have very much freedom with my curriculum. Sometimes there’s a current event that you’d like to work in. The pacing guide has no room for it and God forbid you spend more than 5 minutes on something that doesn’t directly contribute to test scores. So you forget about it. Coloring? Is that high quality instruction? I think not! Games? Let me remind you: bell to bell instruction! I felt a bit stifled to say the least.

In my private school, we of course have a curriculum (NGSS). However, the main stakeholder when it comes to what happens in my classroom is the parents of my students. I’m in close contact with my families, and when they have a question about what I’m doing with the curriculum, they ask me directly. From there we begin a dialogue about what’s actually best for the kids. If we don’t finish the entire curriculum, then oh well! I can speak directly with the teachers in the grades above and below and we can adjust our scope and sequences to make sure all the content is covered over the course of the three middle school years. There’s no high stakes testing deadline hovering over us causing anxiety. Neither is there any ambiguous government entity passing down random legislation.

Now, I take time in my classes to color. I think it’s good for the kids’ mental health and it gives us time to chat and build relationships. We play games. We talk about non-curricular topics like fairness, ethics, and science in the news. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to hear praise from my parents and believe it, as opposed to nervously waiting for a computer to crunch my students into a mysterious algorithm and assign a score to our year together. A single number 1-5 to define my “effectiveness” as a teacher that I’ll carry forever with either inflated pride or (in my case) confused shame.

Disclaimer: Curriculum alignment and teacher collaboration are always best for students. I am in no way advocating “going rogue” with your curriculum here.

3. My students come from families who put their money where their mouth is.

The families of my students in our private school all have one thing in common: they value education so much that they’re willing to pay for it. Honestly, this makes a world of difference when it comes to support. When I ask for materials, they come. When I contact parents, they (usually) respond and I see a (usually small, but still) difference in the child.

The negative flipside to this “involved parents” kind of school that you usually hear about is that they’re totally up your butt and emailing you 24/7 about the tiniest assignments. I’ve honestly had very few issues with that. That being said, though, I must admit that I do give out my personal cell phone number to parents and I do answer calls and texts at basically all hours of the day. I genuinely don’t mind it, and have never felt that the privilege was being abused. I consider it a part of my relationship with my families.

4. Class Size, Behavior, and Salary

I think it’s generally accepted that most of the time private schools have smaller class sizes than public schools as this can be one of their main selling points. In my school, though, we’ve been experiencing growing class sizes which has been considered by most a financial choice as opposed to being in the students’ best interest.

Again, this will most likely be extremely case by case. For me, behavior has not been much better in a private school as compared to public. Our school is relatively hesitant to kick students out due to government regulations as well as financial reasons. Perhaps in an extremely prestigious school with a wait list the pressure would be different and students would tighten up, but my experience has been that kids are kids wherever you go.

Finally, the question we all want answered is what about salary?? If you’re considering making a move, this information should be available online for your researching pleasure. In my case (bachelor’s degree, 4 years experience at the time), making the shift from public to private was an improvement.

With all of this said, I will admit that as a teacher I’m definitely happier in my new school. As a scientist, I’m also fully aware that there’s lots of variables at play here. I should add that I am fully pro public schools. I do believe that everyone deserves a free education! In the course of my career however, I’ve really had to grapple with this question: where do the rights of others end and my freedoms begin? How does my right to a healthy working environment mesh with the right of all children to receive a quality education. These questions are difficult to answer, but I do know there’s a lot of educators out there busting their butts for the kids with little governmental support or acknowledgement. I see you and I thank you.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss anything about the information you’ve read here. Find me on Instagram (@stemstrength). 

Are you teaching in a toxic environment?

As teachers, and perhaps especially new teachers, we’re always expected to be willing to go “above and beyond” in a way that’s not asked of many other jobs. We’re meant to be in this field because of our limitless passion, not simply as a “job” just to make ends meet. Similar to a toxic relationship, when we find ourselves giving, giving to a point of mental exhaustion and burnout with little to no reward or recognition, it may be time to ask a very important question: is this environment healthy for me?

Here’s some signs that you may be in a toxic school environment:

1. You feel like you have to hide your struggles.

Do you stiffen when you hear the door handle turn in the middle of a lesson, only to sigh with relief when it’s a student not an administrator? Do you feel anxious when you get a hint that a student may have talked to another teacher about what happens in your classroom? Feeling this way isn’t normal. If you’re in constant fear of judgement you may be in a toxic work environment. If you feel unsafe to share your struggles with admin or colleagues, how can you grow? And if you’re not growing, what are you doing?

2. Asking for help feels like a weakness.

This one cuts deep. Particularly in the areas of classroom management, new or transitioning teachers can sometimes come to some stuck points. Have you heard the advice “never send a kid to the office, because it will make admin think you can’t manage your classroom” and agreed with it? If you feel like asking for help would lead to judgement or somehow hurt your reputation with admin or colleagues, you may be in a toxic environment.

3. Sharing isn’t happening.

One tactic used by manipulative leaders is to pit teachers against each other. If the teachers in your team are fueled by a spirit of competition, then it’s likely they won’t be eager to share their materials or tips for success. The mentality is this: success is a finite resource and the achievements of others take away from mine. I taught in a school where state testing scores were so competitive, that other teachers refused to share any of their resources with me. How sad! A rising tide raises all ships! If teachers in your school are hesitant to share or support others due to a spirit of competition, you may be in a toxic environment.

4. You’re often made to feel like you aren’t doing enough.

Is there a culture of shame in your school from admin or other teachers about leaving right at the end of contract time? Do you feel pressured to not use your sick days? Do you feel like you should be spending a lot of your own money to design a Pinterest perfect classroom? Are you spending nights and weekends, your personal time, on school work and still feeling inadequate? Are you slightly embarrassed to admit that school isn’t the most important thing in your life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be in a toxic environment.

5. Children or parents are treating you abusively and administration is not supporting you.

I’m not talking about the behavior of typical children where rules and boundaries must be tested. I’m not talking about the behavior of typical parents who fiercely fight for what’s best for their child. I’m talking about extremely inappropriate behavior that’s meant to make you feel small as a person. Words and actions that cross a line. You’re not meant to just take it. Tell an administrator as soon as possible if you feel violated and if they don’t support you, then you may be in a toxic environment.

6. You wake up in the morning and your first emotion is dread.

Here’s the real kicker for me. By the end of my fourth year in a toxic school environment, I was convinced I was the worst teacher in the world. I was so closed off from any support that I never discussed the way I felt with anyone. I woke up every morning with a sick feeling in my stomach, dreading the day ahead. I trudged through my day in survival mode, the opposite of growth mode. I was unmotivated to make changes because I had accepted that this is the way it is. If you relate to what I’m saying, you may be in a toxic environment.

If you are reading this and you feel strongly that you are in a toxic environment, you are not alone. I have personally been where you are, and I empathize strongly. Beginning my career I had unfortunately been so groomed for misery with the constant reminder that “your first few years will be HARD!” that I never stopped to realize that although starting out in this field is difficult, you should be supported! You should feel safe sharing your struggles, and there should be at least a few other teachers around you who enthusiastically support and encourage you. If the school you’re in leaves you feeling icky at the end of the day, trust your gut. If you’re pretty sure you’re not growing, you’re probably not wrong. This isn’t the end, and you can always make a change! Start job hunting or connect with more helpful teachers through social media. I’ve found the community of teachers on Reddit to be one of the most honest places online to discuss the realities of this career. You’re not alone in the way you feel, and you most certainly shouldn’t have to hide it!

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my Instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Cell Cycle Bundle – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you teach the Cell Cycle effectively to your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

Topic 1: Mitosis

  1. Mitosis Posters
    If you can, try to put these posters up a few days or even a week or two before you begin this unit. Put them somewhere students naturally look. They can be a hook that gets students to ask questions before you even begin to teach!
  2. Cell Cycle Presentation
    Mitosis is a complex but beautiful process! I think taking the time to engage the class with a whole group lesson and notes is very important. Try to help your students wonder about the beauty of these cellular processes. They’re so intelligent yet also governed only by set laws. Biology is incredible.
  3. Cell Cycle Foldable
  4. Cell Cycle Webquest
    If you like a flipped classroom approach, I wouldn’t discourage giving this webquest before you do any kind of whole group instruction covering the cell cycle. I think it’s important that our students learn to read for comprehension, especially when it comes to informational text. This webquest could be an intro or use it later on as homework or for a sub day.
  5. Onion Root Identification
    I love this practice worksheet! One side contains a review of the key points of each of the stages of the cell cycle, and the other a snapshot of a growing onion root. I normally project an image of the root on the board and, after giving private think time, ask students to come up to identify a cell in the specified phase. It’s always a riot as students inevitably miss a few, and the class goes crazy.
  6. Cell Cycle Self Checking Practice
    I designed this practice to ensure that students practice with correct information. The self checking style prevents students from sticking with incorrect answers for too long, so this assignment can easily be completed without teacher assistance. Assign this one for homework 🙂

Topic 2: Meiosis 

  1. Meiosis Webquest
    Branch off of mitosis with this introductory webquest. Mitosis and meiosis have a lot of similarities and differences, and it’s going to be difficult for your students to differentiate the specifics. Give your students a chance to filter through the information at their own pace with this webquest.
  2. Meiosis Presentation
    Next, take the center stage and guide your students through some notes. This is your chance to answer questions and clear up any misconceptions developed during the webquest. I like to take a few minutes during this presentation to quickly review sexual and asexual reproduction. It’s important to stress that the chromosome reduction produced by meiosis is crucial to sexual reproduction.
  3. Meiosis vs. Mitosis Compare and Contrast Activity
    Help your students slowly work though the required content with this fun cut and paste activity. I normally ask my students to check with me before they glue anything, but there’s always a few hilarious mess ups. Great to use with interactive notebooks!
  4. Meiosis vs. Mitosis Color By Number
    Keep with the artsy theme with this color by number review! I love to use this activity as a follow up to a difficult classroom management day. Sometimes we just need a day off of the fight! I’ve never seen a kid that refuses to color (if they have all the materials they need).
  5. Meisosis vs. Mitosis Quiz
    Whenever you feel your students are ready, feel free to hit them with this formative assessment! Great for providing feedback.
  6. Meiosis and Mitosis Study Guide and Test
    Lastly, finish the unit with a summative test. This one has all kinds of question types in all levels in order to provide as clear a picture as possible of your students’ capabilities.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Photosynthesis & Respiration Bundle – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Photosynthesis & Respiration mini unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Video Introduction
    I like to start this section with a little flipped classroom style activity. The students are assigned to watch two videos on photosynthesis and respiration and answer the questions included on the worksheet. By doing this, they’ve got a little bit of prior knowledge that they can draw on when we start our whole group lessons. Assign this for homework or classwork.
  2. Presentation and Student Notes
    This PPT presentation covers all the basics in both photosynthesis and respiration for your students’ note taking benefit! I’ve especially focused on the concepts of chemical reactions and the Law of Conservation of Mass as my own students come in with shockingly little chemistry knowledge.
  3. Graphic Organizer
    This graphic organizer is a quick way to check for understanding as well as to help students focus in on the highlights of their learning.
  4. Photosynthesis Simulation Lab & Respiration Simulation Lab
    I designed these labs because my students just needed to see how the atoms and molecules in these reactions actually rearrange themselves. Unfortunately, with their chemistry knowledge so lacking, the students have quite a hard time grasping the conservation of matter as it pertains to these important reactions. For more advanced students, I’d suggest a little more inquiry driven work. Don’t tell the students how many carbon dioxides can be formed from a glucose molecule. If you have some lower groups, perhaps clue them in in advance.
  5. Homework Sheet
    A quick one page practice to review again the key learning.
  6. Self Checking Practice
    I’ve become a fan of self checking practices as they prevent students from studying incorrect information. The riddles also give a clue to struggling students for answers they may not be sure about. Use this activity as a final review before assessing your students.
  7. NGSS Aligned Assessment
    I designed this assessment based on the NGSS standards. In this curriculum, students are often asked to write and defend their ideas, so this assessment follows that pattern. Mark it as summative or formative, based on where you think your class is in the learning process.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Cells Unit Bundle – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Cells Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Cells Pretest (FREE)
    I like to begin my unit with a multiple choice pretest. I ask my students to focus on what they’re reading. Underline words they’re unsure of, and make guesses. I remind them that the first time you’re exposed to new information is always a confusing experience, and encourage them to experience that confusion. Sometimes we go over the answers to the pretest, sometimes I just post them for students to review later when they study for the test.

    Topic 1: Cell Theory 
    Generally, I teach my students about the discovery of the cell theory using a variety of videos (This one is great.) and text resources that I have at my disposal. While it’s difficult for students to envision the world before science was the norm, I think scientific history is a fascinating and fun part of the curriculum we teach.

    I like to use lots of examples of at-the-time mind boggling scientific discoveries to remind students that the Scientific Revolution is still a relatively recent part of our human past. For example, the existence of separate elements or the discovery of plate tectonics. If you focus on the drama between scientists, students will undoubtedly find the stories of scientific progress entertaining. This is also a great time to stress the interdependence of science and engineering.

    Additionally, I always like to have the students create timelines in their interactive notebooks (something I relatively recently picked up, so please send me all your tips for effective usage). I print off little 2D busts of the scientists heads and let the students independently research what they’re famous for and create their timeline. The silly hair always draws a nice laugh.

  2. Cell Theory Self Checking Practice
    Once your students are relatively well versed in the scientists who made the discoveries leading to the development of the Cell Theory, you can give them this practice as classwork or homework. It’s self checking, so they won’t study something that’s actually incorrect!
  3. Scientists of the Cell Theory
    Finally, a formative quiz should wrap up your study of the Cell Theory and its contributors.

    Topic 2: Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic
    With your introduction to the Cell Theory, students will already have some concept of the different kinds of cells from the language of “animalcules” and Schlieden and Schwann’s discoveries of plant and animal cells.

    Teaching the differences in cell types is a good introduction to types of reproduction and DNA. It’s also important that students wonder at the amazing variety of microscopic life which surrounds us, came before us, and will most likely outlast us!

  4. Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Presentation
    This presentation gives a good introduction to the two types of cells, and will allow students to get some notes down about the primary differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and then students will delve deeper into the jobs performed by bacteria around us. They do much more than make us sick!
  5. Antibiotic Resistance Reading
    I like to take the chance during this point in the unit to do a day on antibiotic resistance. This is one of many opportunities where, as science teachers, we have an opportunity to influence the future! It’s important that students not only connect their learning to the real world, but also develop the scientific literacy which will enable them to make smart choices in their practical lives.
  6. Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Self Checking Practice
    Assign this practice for homework or classwork. The self checking style ensures that students practice correct information rather than mindlessly filling in blanks!
  7. Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Quiz
    Finish off the prokaryotic portion of the unit with this formative quiz!

    Topic 3: Going Deeper into Eukaryotic Cells
    Eukaryotic cells are amazing! How crazy is it that we’re made up of trillions of semi-independent life forms all working together in a hive mind. We are them and they are us! The complexity of a eukaryotic cell is incredible. It’s shocking how closely a eukaryotic cell mirrors our own macrobiology and even the parts of an even larger societal structure.

    All that being said, I have the HARDEST time teaching this. Kids find it… dull. The curriculum is often a mile wide and an inch deep, and I can’t quite find a way to hold students accountable for knowing all the organelles and their functions without reducing it to pathetic flash card flipping. I always ask other teachers how they do it, so if you’ve got some tips send them my way!

  8. Organelles Reading Activity
    One way I like to start organelles is with a reading activity. It’s very important that we help develop our students’ informational reading skills. As 21st century citizens, they need to be able to read and comprehend scientific information. And that includes suffering the relative boredom. Don’t forget that your class doesn’t have to constantly be a 21 minute tv show with flashing lights and bright colors all 180 days of the year. Teach your students to sit and focus on a text.
  9. Organelles Foldable
    A foldable is a fun way for students to practice the information they’ve just acquired. You can also incorporate this into interactive notebooks if you use them.
  10. Organelles Practice Worksheet
    Another quick review. As my students in America were subjected to gruelling state testing, it’s became very important to me that they be exposed to a variety of cell models and become adept at identifying organelles by name or in a diagram. I made this practice to work on that.
  11. Cell Organelles – Color by Number
    Make practice a little more light hearted and decorate your room with this fun color by number! I love to give students things that they can do and they normally respond with excitement. Take this chance to praise your difficult students for a job well done! Hang their work front and center. Help them develop the confidence to continue trying even when the work is a bit more challenging.
  12. Cells Vocabulary Self Checking Practice
    This self checker helps your students study their essential vocabulary. Math doesn’t get to take all the credit with their self checking assignments! Our students also deserve immediate feedback. Give it to them with this fun practice.
  13. Cells Quiz
    This quiz covers all the topics in this unit: Cell Theory, Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic, as well as organelles. Use it as one final chance to give formative feedback to your students before the test.
  14. Cell Model Project
    A classic project where students design 3D cell models. This final assignment should fully solidify students’ knowledge of eukaryotic cells and their organelles. I always mark this activity as a summative. Check out this blog post for ideas on how you could switch up the boring cell project to require higher order thinking.
  15. Cells Unit Test and Study Guide
    Finally, the summative test with study guide! Be sure to make the study guide available to your students with plenty of time!

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

DNA Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive DNA Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. This is one of my favorite units to teach, and one of the best products that I sell. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. DNA Pretest (FREE)
    When I start a unit with a pretest I like to ask my students to focus on what they’re reading. Underline words they’re unsure of, and make guesses. I remind them that the first time you’re exposed to new information is always a confusing experience, and encourage them to experience that confusion. Sometimes we go over the answers to the pretest, sometimes I just post them for students to review later when they study for the test.
  2. What is DNA? Presentation
    I use this presentation to introduce DNA to my students. There’s a lot of fun facts included like how long would your DNA be if you stretched each strand from each of your cells. And how many books would you DNA fill? How many letter codes is it? Sometimes it’s hard for students to connect to microbiology, and if you can get them excited and fired up at the start, then the rest of your DNA unit should be filled with wonder and amazement! (I love this unit!)
  3. Matching Base Pairs Exit Ticket
  4. It’s imperative that student fully master the task of matching C’s to G’s and A’s to T’s. This practice will serve as a great exit ticket for your introductory DNA lesson. Everyone can succeed with this assignment, so it’s a great chance to build confidence before entering into more challenging assignments. Be sure to pile on the praise and encouragement!
  5. DNA Webquest 
    You could assigns this webquest for homework or use it for a sub plan. It’s a best seller in my store and covers 4 main topics: nucleic acids, DNA, amino acids, and enzymes. The questions closely follow the online reading, so this assignment should be easily completed by all.
  6. DNA Model Project
    This is a fun project to emphasize the shape and structure of the DNA molecule. In every middle school science class I’ve taught, students come to me with an abysmal lack of chemistry knowledge. I’ve tried everything to supplement that while simultaneously sticking to my (usually state mandated) primary curriculum. If we’re to  effectively teach DNA, we must somehow help our students connect with the unseen world of the microscopic. This project is one way we can help them see the unseen.

    If you do complete this project in your class, please send me photos of your completed student work at stemstrengthtpt@gmail.com. My own students have historically had the most difficulty in creating a model that doesn’t flop over as soon as they take their hands off it 🙈

  7. DNA Replication Presentation
    The wonder of DNA only begins with its miraculous structure! Somehow, DNA has managed to replicate itself, making life as we know it possible. DNA replication is an important introduction to understanding the unzipping required for protein synthesis as well as the possibility of mutations. I usually try to stress the vocabulary word “semiconservative” as I explain the process of replication.
  8. Protein Functions Comprehension Reading
    Again, macromolecules tend to baffle my middle schoolers. Hopefully, if you completed the DNA Webquest your students will at least have an idea forming in their minds about amino acids and protein assembly. However, if you ask them what a protein (or most adults for that matter) all they’re going to be able to give you is a comment about muscles. Proteins are infinitely more important than in just muscle function! DNA itself does nothing but contain the code for the creation of proteins, so whatever we are must be more closely related to protein than even DNA. At this point, it’s likely that both proteins and DNA remain somewhat abstract in the minds of your students, but I wrote this article to help your students expand their opinion about proteins and begin to see them for the fascinating molecules that they are!
  9. Protein Synthesis Presentation
    I like to start with this video to extend the concept of proteins in minds of my students. I love the way he describes the ability of proteins to do work. I’ve never heard the concept explained so simply. Start the video at about 10 minutes and watch for the next 10 minutes.

    Now that your students hopefully have an idea of what proteins are important they can begin to study how they’re made.

    With the help of several YouTube videos I use this presentation to introduce the concepts of transcription and translation. I’m partial to this one. I just mute it and talk while it plays. Don’t forget you can change the video speed on Youtube as well!

  10. Protein Synthesis Guided Practice
    This practice is designed for your struggling learners or as a recap. You could use the presentation as an “I do” and then this assignment as your “we do” and then the final practice as the “you do.” I’d perhaps do this one in segments, stopping to check answers every 5-10 minutes.
  11. Protein Synthesis Practice
    Similar to the previous practice, but this time without the explanatory descriptions. Could be homework or do in class.
  12. DNA Quiz
    Quiz your students over transcription, translation, and replication. Hopefully this formative assessment will be an experience where your students can feel quite confident! I find we rarely get to do fun science units like this one in the middle school, where memorization is not the focus but rather students get to solve fun “problems.”
  13. Mutations and Genetic Disorders Presentation
    If your students are like mine they’ve already been drawing a lot of their own conclusions about mutations throughout this unit. Well, let’s finally show them what it’s all about.

    Hopefully if you’ve already covered mitosis/meiosis your students will not have too much trouble grasping chromosome mutations. I’ve included a Cell Cycle Review (#19 in this list) in this bundle to review that info just in case your students are a bit rusty. Maybe you want to do that one before this presentation.

  14. Mutations Practice
    After you’ve introduced mutations, it’s time for students to try and decipher them on their own. This is a difficult skill. A lot of my students really struggle at this point, but the quick learners find it absolutely enthralling.
  15. Cancer Webquest
    A natural next step with mutations is cancer. Almost every child in your class will likely have some personal experience with cancer, so this DNA unit is an important chance to answer the questions that children naturally have. This can be a tricky one, with a lot of misinformation as well as some students still dealing with grief. As science teachers, this is our job! Don’t miss this opportunity to connect the classroom to your students’ personal lives. I usually take this opportunity to encourage my students to one day be the person who finds the cure! Making me the happiest science teacher in the world!
  16. Mutations Quiz
    Follow up your mutations lessons with this formative quiz.
  17. Genetic Disorders Project
    A wonderful project that I’ve done nearly every year I’ve taught middle school science. I always have my students prepare presentations and get up in front of the class to teach us about their disorder. It helps that my companion English teacher actually teaches presentation skills, so I mark the students with both that rubric and the science content rubric. Don’t forget to keep your audience engaged with feedback forms or some other kind of accountability.
  18. DNA Self Checking Practice
    A fun homework or time filling vocabulary review. Great for the days leading up to the test
  19. DNA and Cell Cycle Review
    This review should remind your students of the information they already know about the cell cycle. I think it’s important in the DNA unit to bring in cell division at least briefly, since this is when many genetic mutations occur.
  20. DNA Unit Test and Study Guide
    Finally, the summative test with study guide! Be sure to make the study guide available to your students with plenty of time!

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Ecology Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Ecology Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Ecology Vocabulary Activities
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. Ecosystems Presentation
    I like to start with this short presentation that get’s students prepared for some of the concepts we’ll be using throughout the unit. It’s a really engaging lesson. The images are really rich with details, and I always call students up to the board to point out all the abiotic factors in the image or count the population of the butterflies etc.This resource includes an extension where students investigate the biotic and abiotic factors in a biome. This year I even had the students draw their biome on an index card and created a little collage from the work.
  3. Biomes Webquest
    Take a day (or two) off while your students complete this best selling webquest! I’m not sure how in depth you’d like to go as far as requiring students to actually memorize information about each biome. Personally, I don’t consider it a priority, but I do like to introduce the different types of habitats. This webquest should make it easy for your students to learn on their own. Discuss it later in a flipped classroom style!
  4. Ecosystem Shadow Box Project
    Optionally, at this point you may decide to assign the students a biome to recreate in a shadowbox. This is a classic project that even I did as a student. The finished products can be really gorgeous and fun to display. Check out some more of our student work here. 
  5. Populations Presentation
    Another relatively quick presentation covering the key vocabulary related to populations including population density, emigration and immigration, limiting factor, and carrying capacity.This resource emphasizes population graphs and includes a homework or extension activity where students must interpret a population graph.
  6. Energy Models Presentation
    Introduce food chains, food webs, and energy pyramids with this presentation.This resource includes a homework or extension assignment where students identify different types of consumers (producer, primary consumer, herbivore, omnivore, etc.) in a food web.
  7. Food Web Practice
    A second assignment for practicing with food webs and identifying the different kinds of consumers based on the evidence shown.
  8. Ecosystem Card Sort
    This is a fun open ended activity where students can start to see the interdependence in an ecosystem.Make this activity inquiry based by having students categorize the cards in the way that makes the most sense to them. From there you can reemphasize vocabulary (abiotic vs. biotic, consumer vs. producer, and omnivore, carnivore, herbivore, scavenger, and decompose). Challenge students to find new ways to organize their cards!Additionally, students can each be given a card and then “become” their card. Use yarn and have the students pass the yarn to another student whose card depends or is connected to their own. Have students pass the yarn until the whole ecosystem is quite entwined. Some students may never get the yarn. Have a student step out of the ecosystem. Any other student who feels the tug of the yarn is therefore connected to the missing link and would be affected by a change.
  9. Create a Food Web (FREE)
    I like to task students to create their own food webs as well. To make things more exciting, I allow students to design a food web for a made up ecosystem if they want. To make things even more intense, I usually use the best food web on the test! We always get some gorgeous student work from this assignment.
  10. Food Webs Webquest
    This is such an engaging website! I have advertised this assignment as emergency sub plans as it won’t require much from you. My students have always had a great time with this activity. After reading a short summary of a species, the students must place it within the food web. If the trophic level is correct, the species will stick. Otherwise, they must try again. Even if all the species stick, though, your food web may not be perfect. I always challenge students to continue until they get the whole thing perfect which normally whips the class into an excited frenzy to see who can complete it first.
  11. Food Web Quiz
    Test your students’ knowledge after several days of practice with this quiz. Could be formative for feedback or summative.
  12. Interactions of Living Things Presentation
    Review the concepts that have already started to emerge and develop themselves in the minds of your student with a final presentation on the interactions of life in an ecosystem. Topics included are: natural Selection, adaptations, niche, competition, predator/prey and symbiotic relationships: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism
  13. Endangered and Extinct Species Web Activity
    Allow your students to explore the outcomes of imbalance within an ecosystem over the next days beginning with this fun research assignment on endangered and extinct species. This activity will begin to bring in the human element as your students begin to comprehend the interdependence of all ecosystems with human life.
  14. Invasive Species Project
    Take it one step further with this invasive species project. You can go as in depth with this topic as you like, but the purpose will be that students can explore how human activities have introduced non-native species to ecosystems and the effects which follow. Have your students develop tri-fold boards about their species, web pages, or present to the class!
  15. Ecology Formative Quiz (Multiple Choice)
    This unit includes a quick multiple choice formative assessment which may be useful to help students gauge their learning as a test approaches.
  16. Study Guide and Unit Test
    In most units I require a performance based summative (such as a project) as well as a written test. This study guide and test cover all the topics in this unit, allowing students to express their knowledge with a variety of question types.
  17. Mars Biosphere Reading
    This reading is a free resource on my site, and serves as an intro to a biosphere project I have added to my ecology unit. In this assignment, students explore the Biosphere 2 Project in Phoenix, Arizona and begin to connect their ecology knowledge to the idea of engineering a remote ecosystem on Mars or another planet. The projects were a lot of fun, and my students really ran with their imaginations. See more of that project here.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Inquiry Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Inquiry Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Scientific Inquiry Vocabulary Activities
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. What is Science: Presentation
    I like to start my inquiry unit with a very general day about what science is and what scientists really do. This lesson includes a lot of facts about the history of science as well as describing the qualities of a scientist. Students will be prompted to think about how they may exemplify some of those qualities in their own lives.
  3. Problem Solving Activity
    I like to stress to my students that we apply the scientific method in our lives all the time, even when we don’t realize it. This activity is a fun, no prep way to get the kids in problem solving mode. They’ll be prompted to compare the steps they take with the steps of the scientific method. Everyone can do science!
  4. Scientific Method: Presentation
    Cement that learning with a presentation on the scientific method. Students will get down all the steps and key vocabulary necessary to do a scientific investigation. In the end, students make a foldable which is great for interactive notebooks!
  5. Variables and Controls Practice
    Get students in the mode of identifying variables and controls with this simple practice. Can be used in class or as homework.
  6. Investigations Practice with Minecraft
    My experience has always been that it takes kids a little while to master the concept of independent and dependent variables, so give them another shot at it with this fun Minecraft themed practice!
  7. Variables with Magazine Ads
    Take it one step further with this extension activity. Students must find magazine (or perhaps internet pop ups these days!) ads that advertise with an independent/dependent variable kind of slogan. “If you take _____, you’ll get _____ results!” This could be a extension for your students who get it early on, or it could be something you do with the whole class. I’d advise bringing in some examples for lower students to pick from.
  8. Reading and Drawing Conclusions from Graphs
    As another extension to variables, I like to give my students some practice with graphs. As you know, the x and y axis of most scientific graphs represent the independent and dependent variables of the investigation. This activity can really give your kids a leg up when it comes to standardized testing!
  9. Bias and Error: Presentation
    Now that your students are solid on what an investigation should look like, let’s show them where things can go wrong! Includes practice questions for internal assessment.
  10. Bias Practice
    This activity has always been a favorite of mine. These short stories are great for a whole group discussion. Give enough time for students to privately consider each situation, and then allow for whole group share time. It’s sure to bring up some interesting ideas!
  11. Scientific Investigations Practice
    Test prep assignment including 20 multiple choice questions for your students to finalize their learning. Includes space for students to defend their answers.
  12. Inquiry Color By Number
    For a day when you just need a minute to rest, this color by number review will keep the kids occupied and provide some artwork for the bulletin boards. I understand the importance of rigor, but I’d also argue that it’s always important to give the kids assignments that they can feel successful with! Sometimes we all just need to color.
  13. Scientific Inquiry Quiz (FREE)
    Any time after you’ve taught bias, it’s safe to give this quick formative quiz. Use it when you feel you need some feedback, possibly before or after the investigations practice.
  14. Inquiry Study Guide and Test
    Last but certainly not least, the study guide and the test. Always make sure the students have early access to the study guide. The test can be used as their final summative mark for the unit. Formatives can be given as you see best fit!

 

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Please leave feedback as to how I could better serve you and others through this bundle or the creation of new resources. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Engineering Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Engineering Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Engineering Vocabulary Activities 
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. Tower Building
    I like to start my unit with this fun hook. The spaghetti and marshmallow towers are a fun favorite, but I’ve recently switched to using aluminum foil instead. I distribute about 2 feet of aluminum foil and a bit of tape to each student or group, set a timer, and let them experience the whole engineering process on their own, especially failure. This experience should anchor the students’ learning throughout the rest of the unit.
  3. Intro to Engineering: Presentation
    Introduce students to the wonderful world of applied science in the four main fields of engineering: civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical. Some important engineering vocabulary will be touched on as well. This lesson uses the internet as students are given a chance to explore recent developments in all the fields of engineering. Science is relevant!
  4. Adaptive and Assistive Bioengineering Web Activity
    Next, have students explore the world of bioengineering with this fun webquest! They’ll read an article on Popular Mechanics and classify each of the technologies as adaptive or assistive. I find this is a great way to get kids out of the mindset that engineers only design things like buildings and bridges. Even contact lenses or the pencil in your hand require engineering!
  5. Bill Nye: Inventions
    What kind of teacher would you be if you didn’t introduce our students to the greatest teachers of this century: Bill Nye and Mrs. Frizzle. Take a 20 minute break to mark some papers while the kids shout “BILL! BILL! BILL!”
  6. Emergency Sub Plans: Inventions Webquest
    Unless you need to save this one for a day off, this webquest is a great follow up to the Bill Nye video. Students will do their own research to discover a variety of inventions from the past and present.
  7. Engineering Design Process: Presentation
    To close out the teacher led learning of this unit, I like to do a quick review of the Engineering Design Process to lead my students into their final project.
  8. Engineering Quiz (FREE)
    Perhaps right before beginning their summative project is a good time to quiz the students on their learning so far. This is a quick quiz that shouldn’t take more than half an hour of class time.
  9. The Invention Convention
    YES! The Invention Convention is a crowd favorite at my school and a best seller in my store! In order to truly learn about engineering, students must create! This fun 7 day project takes students through all the steps of designing, planning, and creating their own technology. Daily intro lessons are included (less than 10 mins each), as well as a student booklet that can be used as a daily log. Check out some more of our student work here. Note: I would definitely count this project as a summative grade.
  10. Engineering Unit Test
    I like to do two summative grades per unit. One performance based and one written. This unit test is designed satisfy that second requirement. Test your students learning and understanding with this test made to cover a variety of question types and levels.

 

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Please leave feedback as to how I could better serve you and others through this bundle or the creation of new resources. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

 

 

Beginning of the Year Bundle: Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! Whether you are brand new to teaching or you’re just new to middle school science, I’m passionate about helping you. I’m going to assume this blog is a safe space and admit that my first years teaching (grade 7 science) were extremely rough. There’s so much to learn from specific computational inputs specific to your school like attendance and grade entry to SPED laws to lesson creation to classroom management. Let’s just say I didn’t do it gracefully, and even still I struggle keeping all the balls in the air.

With that being said, I designed this bundle to make your workload a tiny bit smaller. It’s filled with some helpful resources that should get you through your first week with students!

I’ll explain how I use these resources.

Hands on activities. Most teachers begin the year with a little bit of out of your seat fun. They like to see how the students work together as well as give them a chance to practice the kinds of appropriate classroom behaviors that are being established at this time too. In this bundle I’ve included 4 hands on activities, each with a science focus:

  1. Team Building: Whale Band Aid
    My personal favorite is the whale bandaid. Group students into 4-8 and have them all stand on a twin bedsheet or a stretch of bulletin board fabric. They have to flip the fabric over without any of the team stepping off onto the floor. Minimal materials, anyone can do it, and it’s sure to get a laugh!
  2. Engineering Focus: Tower Build
    A classic hands on STEM challenge is the marshmallow and spaghetti tower build. I’ve recently switched it up though and started using about 2 feet of aluminum foil and a few pieces of tape instead. It’s easier for me to bring in and less messy on the clean up. This activity is great for teamwork and even better if you plan to start the year with an engineering unit.
  3. Inquiry Focus: Dog, Goose, and Bag of Corn
    I love this assignment! With manipulative cards showing the dog, the goose, and the bag of corn students must determine how the poor farmer can get all three across the river without leaving any of the two forbidden pairs alone together on one side. Problem is: he can only carry one thing at a time! Students get so frustrated in a good way! Great for perseverance in problem solving and allows students to take a close look at HOW they think through a problem. Even better, no outside materials required!
  4. Attention to Detail: Blind Building Activity
    This is such a fun activity, but it does require a little more planning. You’ll need some toys that can be broken down and built again. Lego, K’Nex, anything in that realm. Students need a partner (but I think groups of 4 would be ok too). Partner A is the one who will give instructions and Partner B will follow them. When you begin, send all the Partner B’s out of the room while Partner A simultaneously disassembles the toy and writes instructions on how to reassemble it. When the Partner B’s return, all A’s must exit. Only the written instructions can be used to rebuild. (No photos!) This activity is frustrating and fun. Students will learn a lot about attention to detail.

Policies and Procedures. Every teacher I’ve ever known either has a written document describing their policies and procedures, or they’ve just got it up in their head. Everyone has a way they want things done. For me as a new teacher, this was INCREDIBLY difficult to think my way through without the experience of years of failure. I’ve included this one in the bundle to give you a place to start thinking. It’s editable of course.

Lesson Plans. Unless you’re going to start in your first week with a pretest (which I find quite cumbersome), I’d advise jumping right in to teaching and learning. Coming back from the summer with little to no structure, the kids will be more grateful than you know to get right back to their regular routine. I have traditionally always begun the year with the basics of scientific inquiry and/or engineering design.  Here’s what I’ve included for you:

  • Scientific Method Presentation
    A quick overview of the scientific method and all the parts of an experiment. I’d generally have the students make a foldable following the whole group learning portion which can go in their interactive notebooks if you use those. It would be fun to do the Dog, Goose, and Bag of Corn after this lesson as it connects well.
  • Scientific Investigations with Minecraft
    A good practice for students in determining the parts of an experiment (independent and dependent variables, controls, etc.) which can be used following the lesson on the scientific method.
  • Engineering Design Process Presentation
    Another presentation I’ve included is on Engineering Design. With the growing focus on STEM in science classrooms, I’ve designed this lesson to show the similarities between the scientific method (discovery) process and the engineering design (technology) processes. Follow this lesson up with the aluminum foil tower build!

This bundle is designed to be affordable and useful to most teachers new to middle school science. Please leave feedback as to how I could better serve the teachers of the future through this bundle or the creation of new resources. While I love helping new teachers in any way I can, I’m particularly passionate about classroom management.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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