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Differences Between Academic and Professional Laboratories

As teachers, we must recognize the value of introducing various types of learning environments to our students, and that includes understanding the differences between academic and professional laboratories. With this knowledge, we can better prepare our students for future career paths and help them make informed choices regarding furthering their education. Help your students understand what makes these laboratories distinct from one another and explore their contributions to the scientific community.

Overview of Academic Laboratories

You will find academic labs in universities and research institutes. These labs generate knowledge, foster innovation, and conduct research to advance our understanding of the world. They rely on grants from government agencies, foundations, and private donors for funding.

Research objectives in academic labs span from basic to applied sciences. They offer invaluable opportunities for collaboration, learning, and cultivating a scientific mindset. Academic labs are vital for new knowledge and preparing future scientists.

Overview of Professional Laboratories

Professional laboratories are more commonly associated with industries and commercial organizations. Their primary focus is on developing products and processes that can be brought to market and ultimately generate revenue. When it comes to funding, these labs receive support from industry partners, private investors, and sometimes government initiatives.

The scope and focus of professional labs vary widely depending on the specific industry, but they often concentrate on applied research that can directly benefit commercial endeavors. Examples of this include pharmaceutical companies developing new treatments or technology firms creating innovative devices. These laboratories contribute to the growth of industries, the economy, and the well-being of society as a whole by turning scientific advancements into practical applications.

Differences Between Academic and Professional Labs

Now that you have a basic understanding of both types of laboratories, explore the main differences between academic and professional labs. Academic labs prioritize knowledge generation and understanding of scientific phenomena. They explore a range of research avenues that may not have immediate commercial applications but advance our knowledge in a given field.

Professional labs, on the other hand, focus on addressing practical challenges and meeting industry demands. They conduct research at a faster pace and emphasize applied science for tangible marketplace results.

Regardless of whether you oversee a professional laboratory or an academic lab, it’s important to prioritize safety. Always enforce wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and choose reliable chemical and equipment suppliers for your lab. By understanding the distinctions between academic and professional laboratories, teachers can better educate students on the career paths available within the scientific community, preparing them for the unique challenges and opportunities of the industry.


Why You Should Incorporate Science Stations In Every Unit


I find it so frustrating when a student is literally sleeping on their desk while I’m trying to explain something, but the moment… the actual moment we break into groups, they’re awake and chatty. This is the reason I incorporate science stations into my schedule almost weekly! 

Students who are socializing are much more likely to be engaged with the content, even if they’re not spending every single second talking about what they’re supposed to be learning. 

Science Stations Aren’t Only for Littles

Incorporating science stations in the classroom took me a long time to figure out. I did more so by accident than anything. I took small bits of information and placed them around the room, all while asking my students to go find each part. 

Elementary school teachers use stations or centers all the time. Why do we stop using science stations in middle school? I’d argue, we shouldn’t. 

These are my seven reasons why science stations in the classroom should be included in your science class!

1. School is not fun

Sorry, it’s not. Very few kids are truly internally motivated to be good students, and even they have rough days. We’re constantly competing for their attention. They want to talk to friends, scroll TikTok, or play games. The last thing they want to do is listen to teachers blab. 

Take advantage of kids wanting to be social and include stations. Direct instruction and inquiry both have value. Don’t misquote me here. Incorporating stations that include inquiry, instruction, or even just practice can engage students differently. Suddenly, they want to participate. Or at least willingly write down whatever the rest of their group does. Count it as a win!

2. Stations allow exploring content with different learning styles

I’m big on this and always have been. All kids learn differently, but being exposed to content several different ways boost what they remember. Before I intentionally incorporated stations, I always found a way to make sure kids were drawing, writing, talking, and listening. 

Some kids really do like to hear information, which is where direct instruction strategies can come into play. However, seeing pictures, talking about it, doing research, touching, or even reading engages kids with the content in so many ways. 

Stations allow you to address a variety of learning needs, not just one.

3. Science Stations Allow for Movement! 

Movement wakes up those sleepy kids I talked about earlier. Students are moving their legs from one place to another. They move their mouths as they talk. They’re likely trying to steal a pencil from a person in their group. 

Movement gets their blood flowing and their hearts beating much more efficiently than sitting at their desk. They’re awake and interacting with the content, and their peers. 

Including stations where students are not sedentary the whole class period has been one of my favorite additions. They talk, laugh, move, and it seems as though they overall enjoy class. But it’s in part because their body is not in chill mode. It’s in do mode. 

4. Science Stations give students accountability

I have never had a student sleep through science stations. Ever. Even the most difficult students will at minimum copy what the rest of their group wrote down… most of the time. It’s not ideal. But hey, sometimes I’ll count that as a win! 

Other times, the accountability lies within the group itself. If most of the group is writing an idea or answer down, the one student who may not be feeling it that day will participate because everyone else is.

5. Science stations naturally “chunk” your content

Chunking is usually an accommodation we see on student IEPs or 504s. That just means it’s good teaching practice. Science stations allow us to chunk information or tasks so our students can focus on that specific information or task before moving on. 

I love to use this graphing review station activity at the beginning of the year. They’re graphing skills are always less than ideal. 

Asking a student who struggles to make a graph to make eight is completely overwhelming. When I put one graph at a station and let them work with peers, suddenly the intimidation factor is gone. They still work through eight total graphs, but they do it one by one without becoming overwhelmed. 

6. Stations allow you talk to students! 

You heard that right. YOU have the chance to talk because you’re not tied to the front of the classroom. Finding out who your students are is the key to building relationships with them. 

You can start a conversation with every student in your classroom. Start by asking if they have a pet and if so, what’s their name. If not, do they want one?  

Do they have siblings? How many?  Do they play sports? Play an instrument? Like a certain video game? 

Asking non-academic questions signals that you’re interested in them. The flexibility given to you while students work in science stations allows you to naturally build rapport with them. 

Before long, they’ll call you over asking if you can settle their argument about whether the square on their paper looks more like a diamond or a square!

7. Students get the chance to work with other people all the time

Middle school students like to talk. We’ve agreed on that. Socializing is one of the reasons science stations in middle school are so great. 

I give kids plenty of opportunities to work on something with partners of their choosing or by themselves if they want. 

The problem happens when I let kids choose their own groups. One group is always too big or someone gets left out. However, structuring science stations gets kids talking to every student throughout the year. 

I use student grouping cards to randomize groups for the day. If students get stuck in a group they don’t like, they know it’s only for the day. 

Usually by the end of the quarter, everyone has worked in a group with everyone else. Sometimes with friends, sometimes without. But it all works out. 

Science stations are my favorite way to add variety to my classroom. On station days, the energy is bigger. Students are more excited. It seems as though more gets done by everyone, not just the kids who want good grades. 

If you haven’t already tried using science stations in your classroom, try it. It might just be the change you’ve been looking for. 

Best Teaching Practice, Labs, Middle School, Science Pedagogy

Hands On Labs & Lessons with Ward’s World

I remember walking with my new principal to my first classroom. She showed me to my room and then the book closet. “This is what we have for science! Feel free to use whatever’s in here!” With that, she told me to let her know if I needed anything and was off. 

I was so overwhelmed! Where do I start? How do I make this engaging for the middle schoolers walking into my classroom next week? How badly I wish I had a resource like Ward’s World all those years ago! 

Ward’s World hits the nail on the head by giving teachers a great balance between rock solid information and engaging classroom activities. Everything you need is right here without having to spend hours searching for content and even more time searching for or creating hands-on activities that make learning real. 

Making Science Relevant Right Now

How Vaccines Take A Big Shot Against Viruses is excellent! Check it out and read for yourself! Students reading this learn what a vaccine is and how it works with their immune system to prevent disease in language they understand. Bring learning to life with Ward’s World Science Take-Out® Pathogens, Antibodies, And Vaccines. Students actually create models to see how vaccines work for themselves. 

Getting kids to do is so critical to their learning. This Looks Like A Moon activity does just that, and again provides students with foundational information that helps them understand what happens as we see different moon phases. As I always look to increase my student’s content specific vocabulary, I love how words are introduced: easy and non-threatening for even the most hesitant learners. Understanding how moon phases work is an abstract concept for some students, but Modeling The Moon’s Motion helps them really see the Sun, Moon, and Earth relationship. This is one of the coolest models to bring moon phases to life, and it builds right into the Looks Like A Moon activity. 

Rainbow Respiration & Photosynthesis

If you teach photosynthesis and respiration, you need Ward’s World Green Glucose Production Kit. It is so cool. All the supplies you need for 15 lab groups to complete the experiment are in the kit. 

Photosynthesis and respiration are easy to talk about in a science class, but really hard for kids to grasp because they can’t see it. They have the opportunity to interact with the process with this kit! Whether the algae is in the process of photosynthesis or respiration determines how much CO2 the algae is releasing. When students add algae beads to the bicarbonate indicator, the pH of the liquid changes based on how much CO2 is released by the algae! 

Students do this by placing one vial under a light to start the process of photosynthesis and they wrap one vial in foil to block out light and start respiration. 

If you’re teaching this while you’re distance learning, do the experiment at home! Take a time lapse video and stop at certain intervals. Or take photos and add them to a digital presentation with an elapsed time underneath each photo. 

(Side note: it’s easy to share digital media with a wide audience. Make sure any digital activities you create with Ward’s World science content is shared with your classroom only!)

When you’re ready to do the lab with your class, you can make or buy algae beads through Ward’s World.

Get A Little Creative

With so many of us participating in distance learning right now, what and how we are teaching is different than what it may have looked like in the classroom. With a little bit of flexibility and creativity, you can still use Ward’s World to teach engaging lessons. 

The Looks Like A Moon activity says it requires cookies. Ask students to make their model out of cookies if they have them. Otherwise, you can ask them to create it out of household items. Or maybe you have them make a model out of recycled objects. Get creative! Have a show and tell on Google Chats (maybe for a little bit of extra credit… I know how hesitant some of them are). Or create a collaborative presentation with a slide for each student where they can add a photo of their model and explain the moon phases next to it. 

Take a look at The Periodic Table of Candy. It is a great in-class activity, but with a little tweaking, you can make it a great digital activity also! Find images of all those candies and create a presentation to share with students where they can drag and drop the images to organize them. Be sure there’s a space to explain why they organized the candy the way they did. Take a few of the most creative or thoughtful, copy those slides onto a separate presentation, and screen share as you discuss them in your Google Chat or digital class meeting. 

For The Bold

If you’re feeling like you’re up for a challenge, use Ward’s World activities to create video lessons. Trust me – when you have students absent for labs or activities next year, you’ll be so thankful you made these. 

A super simple example, again with an awesome article, is their Greenhouse Effect Activity. Record a simple video after your students have read the article so they can see the experiment and record data, creating their own conclusion.

Check out Ward’s World Science Take Out Kits! These are labs and activities are ready to use without needing extra lab supplies. Don’t forget to purchase the class set so you can actually use them in class next year with students! Use your webcam or cell phone to create digital experiments for your students. 

To help navigate distance learning, visit the Resources Page

Whether you’ve been teaching for 20 years or 20 minutes, you will find content that helps students engage with, and hopefully, fall in love with science at Ward’s World! 

If you decide to make a purchase on Ward’s Science, be sure to use my promo code SUPERSASS15 for 15% off of your entire order.

Pro Tip: Your administration has money designated to spend on curriculum and supplies. Talk with them about purchasing class sets. If they don’t have the funds available, chat with PTO. They want to support teachers in any way they can. 

Hands On, Labs, Middle School

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!


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.) 


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

Using Grouping Cards in Your Classroom

If you’ve been a middle school teacher for more than a hot second, you know that those kids are social! They want to talk and work with friends! Every time I’m done giving directions, at least one student in every class asks, “Are we going to work in groups?” Ultimately, I have to orchestrate group work and it can be either really easy or really difficult.  Using student grouping cards is a life saver in my classroom. 

Don’t make student groups this way

Option 1: Easy. Kids make their own groups. This is too lenient for how I run my classroom and leads to goofy behaviors or students feeling left out of peer groups. Occasionally, it’s totally fine.

Option 2: Complicated. I go through each class and put groups of kids together. This is so time-consuming because I’m thinking I know for sure these two kids can’t work together… and this kid and this kid are best friends…. and this kid is always working when he’s next to this kid but not next to this kid.

So this becomes a huge a jumbled puzzle that takes me some time to figure out. Or I can create an account on some website and type (ugh) in all the kids names for all my classes. The problem occurs when kids are absent or their schedule changes and they’re not in first hour anymore – and really, who has time to remember to move the kid’s name on the grouping website… what was my login to that anyway?!

student grouping cards in the classroom

Use Student Grouping Cards Instead!

Enter student grouping cards.

I LOVE THESE. I will never teach a day without them again. Here’s how it works. Each student gets one card. The card has one letter, one color, and one number. (I also have each of my lab tables labeled with each color, letter, and number so they know where to go once they are placed in groups.) They can be put into one of three different groups: 

easily put students in groups by using grouping cards

1. Their number.

When I tell the students to go into groups with their number, all the ones go to table one all the twos go to table to all the threes go to table 3 and so on.

2. Their color.

If I tell them to go to their colors, the pinks will go to the pink table, the oranges go to the orange table… and so on. 

3. Their letter. 

I feel like you get it by now.

Stop wasting time making student groups

The number of students in a class does not matter even one bit. If three kids are absent or one gets their schedule changed, it won’t impact how I use the student grouping cards. Take out a set of colors or numbers, and add WILD cards if you need to – I’ll get to those in a second! 

put students with the same color card in one groupAfter I pass out the cards, I’ll call out which group I want them to go to. Of course, this is the last thing I say because after that, they won’t hear a word – they’re so anxious to get going!

This is where the magic happens. Let’s say I told them to go to their letters. Against all odds, that group of four boys that cannot stop giggling ended up together. I can quickly say, “Never mind! Go to your color!” and I know all four of those boys will be separated, because none of the cards have the same color, letter or number. If they do end up in the same group, I know they’re cheating!

I LOVE this strategy because it’s easy to do on the fly and it is so flexible. Because sometimes you don’t plan for things and groups just suddenly need to happen. Or I don’t want to spend my night making groups.

Why I love the wild card

group students using the same number

The WILD Card was born from a year when I had a class of 38 seventh graders! I only had 8 lab tables, which meant I always had to make a few groups of five. The WILD Card says, “Choose a group, as long as you make the fifth member!” Because they are shuffled into the deck, different kids got them every time and were so excited to get to choose. When I didn’t need them, I took them out. Easy as that.

While I mostly use these for group work, sometimes I need to get the kids to get out of their normal rut. Occasionally I will let them work with their numbers for eight minutes, with their colors for eight minutes and then with their letters for eight minutes. So over the course of the class, they get to work with 11 other people on the same assignment but they didn’t work with friends the whole time.

I will say it again. This is the best classroom management tool I have ever used. The structure moves kids efficiently, but the flexibility to change things up is perfect for a classroom. Grouping cards are a LIFESAVER for any teacher!

Quick disclaimer, especially for new teachers. While these card will help your classroom management, introducing these cards will require you to model like crazy. Kids need to know that there is a specific procedure for how to use these. When you pass them out the first time, explain how to use them. Have all the twos raise their hand and then have everyone point to where the twos go. Repeat this with all the blues or all the As. Randomly call out a few groups before you decide on letters, numbers, or colors. Students will start to get the idea.


Classroom Management, Labs, Middle School

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?” 

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Hands On, Labs