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Hands On

Science Demonstrations in the Middle School Classroom

Middle School Science Demonstrations for high student engagement without the mess of a lab

I’m a hands on teacher. I want kids to do things instead of me telling them things. But if I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that the power of science demonstrations is a pretty awesome thing. 

Science Demonstrations Are Captivating

Think of the moments you crave as a teacher – where students are completely engaged. They can’t take their eyes off of what is going on. They have huge smiles on their faces and ask so many questions. I find myself in those moments most during demonstrations. I forget how captivating science can be! 

pH Science demonstration for middle school can be engaging instead of a lab.

Teachers are told that kids need to be doing the work and manipulating the materials. What is the point if they aren’t directly interacting with it? Turns out, there is a time and place for demonstrations.

Kids are uniquely engaged while a demonstration is taking place. They feel suspense and excitement. They’re so curious. It’s a feeling that is rarely matched.

Check out three of my favorite demonstrations! 

pH Testing

First of all, did you know that red cabbage contains an enzyme that reacts with a substance to reveal its pH?? I didn’t either! Read about how to make it here if you’re interested, it’s a lot to explain! 

This lab was a must. I wanted my seventh graders to grasp the concept of pH. However, buying enough supplies for eight group in each of my five classes was not an option.

Acids and bases are tested for pH level in this science demonstration for middle school.

So instead of giving up, I did a demonstration. The supplies were laid out on the counter. We tested apple juice, vinegar, shampoo, glass cleaner and a few other things. Students came up to measure, pour, and stir. Acids turned red and bases turned blue. The kids were so excited. The ooohhs and aaahhhs I heard as we measured and poured were the best! Definitely a win!

Convection

I knew this was not going to go over well if I let the kids do it. No. Way. 

This demonstration super easy, but super cool! This is easy, because it doesn’t take a whole lot of time. The basic idea of convection is that hot material rises and cold material sinks. 

Collect four small, identical jars or beakers. Fill two small jars with hot water and two small jars with cold water. Add some food coloring to the hot and cold water to differentiate between them. 

This science demonstration for convection shows how hot and cold water transfer heat.
Make Predictions

Even middle school science students who have learned about convection think the two colors of water are going to mix in both demonstrations. Why wouldn’t it? Every other time they have added one color to another, they’ve mixed to create a new color. 

By placing the jar of cold water on top of the jar of hot water, convection occurs and the two colors mix uniformly. Students watch the convection currents mix the water and are completely captivated. They ALL want to know what is happening. 

When you place the jar of hot water on top of the jar of cold water, convection doesn’t happen! The cool water is already at the bottom and the hot water is already at the top. The colors do not mix. 

Students are completely mind blown. I hear about this demonstration in the hall for the rest of the day and at the next parent teacher conferences!

Half of their excitement was probably from me spilling water so many times, but oh well! I suggest using glass bottles if you try it! Plastic did not work so well. 

Density of Gasses

This one is fun! 

Carbon dioxide is more dense than air. But that means nothing to the student sitting in your class. If anything, it is going to be a fact they memorize with absolutely no understanding behind it. (PS… if you want to read about how to teach density, check this blog post out!)

Create CO2 Gas

First, get a clear bucket with deep edges and fill the bottom with water about an inch or so high. Drop some dry ice in the bottom. (Do not touch the dry ice with your bare hands! Remember your lab safety skills!)

Create CO2 gas with dry ice and water. Demonstrate that CO2 is more dense than air by blowing bubbles.

Next, let this settle a little bit. The process where it goes from a solid directly to carbon dioxide gas is called sublimation

(If you can’t or don’t want to deal with dry ice, put a layer of baking soda in the bottom and pour vinegar in it. The chemical reaction creates carbon dioxide gas. Just let the bubbles settle down before you continue with the next part.) 

Demonstrate!

You have a few options here. One, bubbles. Two, fire. 

Blow bubbles into the classroom. Students will notice that they sink to the ground. Next, blow bubbles into the bucket. They don’t float all the way down. The reason? They’re filled with air. Air is less dense than carbon dioxide. And while students can’t see the CO2 gas, it’s there keeping the bubble from landing in the water. 

Show middle school students how CO2 gas exists. Pour CO2 gas over candles and they will go out. This demonstration shows CO2 gas, even though we can't see it.

Light three small candles. Your students should know that fire needs oxygen to burn. Grab a pitcher and scoop some air out of the bucket. Not the liquid at the bottom the CO2. You’re students will look at you like you’re crazy!

When you ask them what’s in the pitcher, they’ll likely say nothing or air. Actually, carbon dioxide gas is in the pitcher. Slowly pour it over the flame. 

The candles will burn out. Why? The CO2 gas is more dense than air and stays in the pitcher until you pour it out. Student’s can’t see this because, well, it’s a gas. But they can see the evidence of the gas when the flame goes out. 

Make It Even Better

If you’re up for it, find a paper towel roll, cut it in half long-ways and tape the ends together. You’ll have a long half pipe shape. Do the same demonstration, but prop one end of the paper towel roll up on a stack of books.

Light the candles, be careful, and place in a horizontal row with the paper towel roll, but not too close. When you pour the CO2 at the top of the ramp, the candles will go out one at a time. 

This demonstration is so exciting! Chances are, they’ve never seen something like it.  Best of all, it illustrates a concept that is so hard for students to grasp!

Let Them Participate

Engage them. Let them pour, or cut, or measure. Ask questions. Have a conversation with them as you are presenting your demonstration. This is what makes science come alive to your students! 

It is totally possible to be engaging, exciting, and authentic without handing the reins completely over to your students. Every day is different. Every topic is different. Use your judgement on when to do a lab or a demonstration. 

Tell me your favorite science demonstrations in the comment section! I want to know what you use in your classroom!

Save this idea to Pinterest!

Science demonstrations are highly engaging for students. Middle school science is so exciting. Engage your students by showing simple demonstrations in class instead of setting up a complex lab!

Hands On, Labs, Middle School

The Perfect Chemical Change Lab for Middle School Students

Have you ever accidentally dropped bleach on a shirt? It’s ruined. Completely and totally. What I never realized was a chemical change is created between the dye in the shirt and the bleach.

I was overwhelmed the first time I taught middle school chemistry.

The supplies I thought I needed seemed so complicated. In reality, chemical changes occur all around us. Teaching this became a matter of utilizing simple examples students encounter every day.

Lab Objectives

Teaching students how to identify a chemical change does not have to be hard. In fact, you can use this Chemical Change Lab to demonstrate a simple chemical change with a few items you can find in your science classroom (or kitchen)! 

I love using labs that have multiple objectives. More objectives means more diverse student learning. This Chemical Change Lab meets the following objectives: 

  • Lab safety procedures
  • Measuring liquids using the metric system
  • Identifying a chemical change
  • Using evidence from the lab to write a clear conclusion

(TIP: If you use notebooks, you can copy the answer pages at 80% and students can glue them into their notebooks.)

Completing the Lab

The lab itself is very easy. Students add vinegar, bleach, and hydrogen peroxide to three different test tubes filled with colored water and determine which one shows a chemical change. 

Give students a chance to write a hypothesis and explain their reasoning before the lab starts. I ask them to write this alone to encourage independent thinking. However, collaborating with peers to write a hypothesis is a great option too.

Be sure to tell them they’re not supposed to be right. That’s why we’re testing it!

This lab includes so many simple steps. All the students will have a chance to measure, pour, or swirl… they are so engaged! The test tube with bleach poured into it will show a chemical change. The water turns a lighter color than the water in the other test tubes. 

(If you need a simple way to group students for labs, check out my Grouping Cards on TPT. Read about how I use them here!)

After the lab, students write a conclusion explaining whether their hypothesis was correct or incorrect using evidence from the lab.

While this task may be simple, students get the opportunity to think critically and write about it. It’s also an easy check for me to see who needs some additional support!

Why It’s Perfect

The simplicity of this lab is perfect. While middle school chemistry can be intimidating, this lab is not. The explanation, execution, and clean up time easily fits into the 45 minute class period.The materials are easy to find, the steps are simple, and students are amazed to see how the bleach makes the color of the water lighter!

Get your copy of the Chemical Change Lab here!

For more middle school science content, check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Chemistry, Hands On, Labs, Middle School

Teaching Observations and Inference in Science

I love middle school. But they think so quickly that they don’t necessarily think about what they are thinking! In science specifically, they have to know the difference between an observation and an inference. Their observations lead to their inferences and generally serve as evidence for their inferences.

To introduce this idea, I give them that “angry teacher” stance and eyes and ask them how I am feeling. Without fail, they tell me that I’m mad, angry, upset, that they want to run away and hide (HAHA!!)… and a few will say my arms are crossed or I’m not smiling, but usually not without some prompting asking them how they know I’m angry.

They can tell you clearly that I’m upset, but I need them to break it down and use their observations as evidence for their inferences.  Read More »

Hands On, Middle School, Notebooks

Does Mint Really Make Your Mouth Cold?

Mint Lab

You know those days you dread as a teacher… the ones where you have a pep assembly or a bus evacuation practice that messes up your schedule so that you only see some of your classes, but not all of them. Teaching middle school science makes it even worse… you either have to fill a day or have a class or two behind until who knows when. 

I had that day. I had been dreading it all week because the weird schedule can be so hard to come back from. My 7th graders were learning the difference between qualitative and quantitative data. I wanted to give them something they could do to practice this skill without killing a day.

That’s when I came up with the idea for the Mint Lab. The Mint Lab answers the question, “Does mint really make your mouth cold?” 

Read More »

Hands On, Labs