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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Punnett Squares Practice Made Easy

If you clicked looking for more Punnett square worksheets and practice you’ve come to the right place!  In my seventh grade classroom I teach a wide variety of ability levels, and Punnett squares are one of my favorite parts of our curriculum. I strongly believe that EVERY child not only has the ability to master a mono hybrid cross, but also the right. But if you’re like me you’re probably in this situation nearly daily: what do I do with the kids who “get it” in 3.7 seconds while I work with the kids who take 5 class periods?

I finally may have cracked it within this unit at least. Because my standards only require that all students master monohybrid crosses, and the fact that many of my students are capable of much, much more than that, I decided to make the entire unit self paced.

In a whole group setting, I taught the basic vocabulary (homozygous, heterozygous, genotype, phenotype, etc.), and after a day or two of practice we took a quiz. Students who passed the quiz were then given a video and worksheet for Incomplete Dominance and codominance, and directed to teach themselves. When they felt they had mastered it, they took an online quiz and had to show me their score. Then they were allowed to move on to sex linked. Meanwhile, I worked in small groups with my strugglers.

Here’s how the spreadsheet looked:

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The payoff was huge. Those slightly slower kids who have a hard time keeping up finally got the attention they crave! I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the glow on their faces when things clicked.

The middle and high students somewhat naturally grouped themselves by ability and started working through their skills methodically. Video, worksheet, quiz. Video, worksheet, quiz. Until the fastest group had finished everything all the way up to pedigrees.

What now!? you may ask. Well, I tasked this super speedy, super smart group of 4 kids to an extra special project: make the test. I’ve been taught that for kids to really put in effort, their work must have an audience. What better audience than all of your peers?

I taught the test making group about low, medium, and high questions. I set them up on Google Forms so they could all edit the test simultaneously.

I instructed the group to make each skill a separate section. For differentiation, I only allowed each student to take the test up the the sections they had already mastered. Since only the first section was really required by the standards, I thought this to be a fair form of differentiated assessment.

The feedback I got from students was wonderful. Most of them loved coming to class and working on their assignments without the boring whole group notes that they’re used to in most middle school classes. I was completely free to help out however I was needed, and in some instances I even assigned quick working students to be my helpers.

I’d like to continue to try and find ways to serve every student while being only one person. What have you tried with differentiation that worked for you in middle school?

Here’s some of the resources I found online. (I do not own any of these! If you are the owner of any of these files and would like the link removed, please let me know.)

Monohybrid Crosses:

Co and Incomplete Dominance:

Sex Linked Traits:

Dihybrid Crosses:

Pedigrees:

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Probability Carnival Project

The Probability Carnival has become a fun math project for classrooms across America! I designed this a few years ago, and it’s become a highly anticipated yearly event at our school. We bring elementary students to the middle school classrooms and allow them to play the games and win prizes. It’s a lot of fun for everyone!

Students design and man a game with compound events. Students must submit a game proposal and get approved by their teacher, calculate the theoretical probability of winning each prize, and then collect data and determine experimental probability.

Check out what this teacher said:

Thank you so much for this fun activity! My 8th graders embraced the challenge of creating carnival games, and then my awesome colleagues also embraced it, and my team had a carnival day! We were outside the whole day playing the kids’ games – complete with a ticket booth! The kids loved it, and I have gotten nothing but compliments from our entire community! I can’t thank you enough! This will now be a yearly activity for our team!

See the project here. 

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NGSS Pretest

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At my school we’ve been working hard to move away from standardized testing. We’re spending a lot of time developing assessments that require more from students than simply bubbling.

We use the NGSS standards so we’ve developed a pretest which assesses each of the following Practices of Scientists and Engineers:

  1. Asking questions (science) and defining problems (engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (science) and designing solutions (engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

The pretest is mean to not only assess your students, but also to provide a learning experience. As they complete the assessment, students will gain a new perspective on what it is that they will be expected to do. This is addressed in the included student reflection.

Check it out here!

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Forces and Motion Online Lab: Balanced and Unbalanced Forces

Exploring balanced and unbalanced forces has never been easier! Students love this lab! There’s something about these little simulated mannequins that’s hard not to love. There’s 4 parts of this PhET that allow students to explore:

  • Balanced and Unbalanced forces
  • Friction
  • Speed
  • Acceleration
  • Newton’s Laws

Even better, it’s completely inquiry based! The PhET site has lots of teacher resources and other simulators. If you’d like something ready made, the worksheet I created to go with this sim is one of my best sellers.

Check it out here!

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Kinetic vs. Potential Energy: Online Lab

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Explore kinetic and potential energy with another one of my popular virtual labs: the Energy Skate Park. This wonderful PhET Sim allows students to explore the trade off between potential and kinetic energy.

The PhET site has a lot of teacher materials available, or I’ve got a worksheet ready made for you.

Click here to check it out!

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Online Density Lab

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One of my most popular labs is my virtual density lab. I’ve always loved this one as a quick way to help students understand the abstract idea of density.

If you’re a science teacher and you’re not acquainted with the PhET Simulations, then boy do I have news for you! There’s tons of simple sims that students can use to explore a variety of science and math concepts. The site also includes some resources for teachers if you’re looking to start from scratch.

If you’re looking for something ready made, the worksheet I’ve made to go along with this sim is one of my best sellers.

Check out what this teacher said:

This lab is great! It was perfect for introducing our Density discussion and allowed students to discovery density at their own pace prior to a class discussion. Highly recommend!

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Biome Shadowbox Project

The biome shadowbox is one of my favorite ecology projects! They can become a beautiful collection of decorations for a science project, and they’re pretty fun to make.

I normally require the students to include 10 biotic and 10 abiotic factors in the ecosystem of their choice.

Check out the project here!

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STEM Challenge: Tower Building

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foil tower

A great activity for the first day of school or any day that you need a fun hands on pick me up. Have your students compete to see who can build the tallest tower with a supply of random materials. Traditionally, I always saw this activity done with spaghetti, tape, and marshmallows, but I’ve since switched to using aluminum foil.

Check it out here!

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Photosynthesis Simulation Lab

Unfortunately, in all the years I’ve been teaching photosynthesis and respiration, I’ve never had a group of students come to me with much of a background in chemistry.

I’ve approached this problem a lot of different ways, including teaching a 2 week crash course in chemistry. What we really need is for the students to have an understanding of the Law of Conservation of Mass as well as the concept that molecules exist and molecules are made of atoms and those atoms can be rearranged.  Simple, right? Not so much.

This lab has been my latest solution to this unique situation. How do you teach photosynthesis? Do your students come to you with or without chemistry backgrounds? What do you do if they don’t?

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