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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 Best Middle School Animal Adaptations Project

Tundra Rainforest Desert Middle School Animal Adaptation Project

Do you know what a Beargle is? Neither did I. Not until one of my students turned in this fictional creature as a project. In case you were wondering, it’s half bear, half eagle. This middle school animal adaptations project is pure magic. 

I created this out of sheer desperation, knowing I had to teach animal adaptations and having no idea what to do. It turned out to be one of my favorite things I’ve ever made. There are about a hundred different versions of this project online. The students create an animal with different adaptations, draw it, and write about it. This is that. 

The Beargle. Part bear, part eagle.

Except, this is NOT that. 

Teaching 8th grade science, I knew I needed something that was going to not just be fluff. It needed to be rigorous, yet capture their imagination. 

Nailed it! 

Imagination Meets Research

My students were super interested when they heard they were going to create their own animal!

I mean, who doesn’t want to make a scorpion wolf?! Their animal had to include five structural adaptations and three behavioral adaptations that addressed specific survival needs. 

They got a planning sheet, helping them detail some of these requirements. Each student completed their own research on animal adaptations. If they wanted their animal to be an herbivore, they looked up what herbivores needed to survive. They really did a good job finding adaptations and meeting the requirements. 

After they finished their research, they named their animal and created a Google Slides presentation addressing each adaptation and it helped their animal survive. 

Ya’ll, these projects were bomb!

The Striped BeeveCoon

I was so impressed! I did not have high expectations (and that makes me a terrible teacher). Come on. It’s a middle school animal adaptation project… it can’t be that great. 

I got a Beargle. One student made a Butterfish – half butterfly, half fish. I will never forget the sound BeeveCoon makes… because every time the student said, “BeeveCooooon!” she would make the sound effect too. They made models out of Legos, clay, dog toys… you name it! 

Imagination Meets Rigor

The same day the slides presentation on their animal was due, they completed the second phase of the project, answering the question, “Can my animal can survive in a mystery environment?” Based on the adaptations they gave their animal, would it survive in the rainforest, the taiga, or the desert? However, they didn’t have the locations until the last day of the project.

After some quick research, they made a claim – their animal could or could not survive in that environment. They completed two prompts using their animal’s adaptations as evidence to explain their reasoning.

Their responses were impressive! I read well thought out, clear, and accurate arguments. They told me exactly what adaptations allowed their animal to live there. Definitely a winning moment for me!

The Sleer. Middle school student made with dog toys.
The Sleer. Complete with paper claws and made from three different dog toys.

Show It Off

Once I realized HOW COOL these turned out, I knew we had to display them. We added their presentations to a QR code and put them in the display case in the hallway. I wish I had taken a picture, because they looked SO AWESOME. Parents came through at conferences and could scan the QR code to look at the presentations. 

Finally, here’s my last favorite part of my project. It takes about a week of class time to complete. I’m all about having kids work instead of talking at them.

I’m serious. This middle school animal animal adaptations project is a MUST HAVE if you teach life science. Imagination meets rigor. That’s the only way to do it. Grab your copy of this project here!

Shows a picture of a snowy mountain, rainforest, and desert. The best middle school animal adaptations project.

Middle School, Projects

Three Steps To Writing Perfect Sub Plan

The best middle school teachers have a plan.

My first week of teaching was rough. Let me tell you. And it got a little rougher when my principal came in to check on me Thursday afternoon. I was wearing my winter coat and a hat … inside.

“You feeling okay?” Nope. I was not feeling okay. I felt like I was teaching in Antarctica. She told me not to come in the next day. I needed to stay home and rest. 

Cue panic.

I had never in my life written a sub plan. I felt absolutely terrible. And I had taught these kids for exactly four days. I didn’t even know what I was doing!! Much less what someone else should do! 

Since that day six years ago, there have few days where I’ve had to call out last minute. I learned pretty quickly writing a sub plan is not quick or easy. Turns out there are a lot of facets a substitute teacher needs to know about your campus and classroom.

Great news… I’m giving you my sub plan template and sharing my super low prep, go-to sub plan!

I will say this. Teaching the same thing five times in one day does make writing sub plans easier. This sub plan is definitely geared toward middle school teachers, but can be used to science or social studied in upper elementary as well.

The Three Parts Of A Perfect Sub Plan

The bell schedule should be on the first page of your sub plan.
\A middle school teacher’s sub plan should include campus logistics, classroom logistics, and daily plans!

Step 1: Campus Logistics

So, here are the three components to a great sub plan you should print and keep NOW for those days you are unexpectedly gone. Plus, I’m sharing my sub plan template with you – including some verbiage and ideas for policies and procedures a sub may need to know! I’ve broken this down into three sections for you. 

As a middle school teacher, you know how complicated your campus can be! Your classroom is not a stand alone entity. It is one small piece in maze of other teachers, classrooms, and staff. Include information like: 

  • The bell schedule
  • Your duty location
  • Phone numbers to the office staff & other teachers on your team/grade level
  • The nurse’s extension (for emergencies)
  • Where the AED is – I can write this at a later time, but it’s important! 

Step 2: Classroom Policies

What is important to know about your classroom? Add that information here. It’s hard to remember what to include when you wake up in the middle of the night puking. 

A sub plan organized by campus info, class policies, and daily plans.
This plan includes all the necessary information for a sub!
  • Rosters!!
  • Seating Charts (preferably with name and picture if you can.) Highlight two students in each class you trust to answer questions truthfully.
  • A list of kids who have medical alerts that they should know (heart condition, allergy… use judgement here and ask admin what is appropriate). 
  • Your prep hour
  • Bathroom policy
  • Cell phone & headphones policy
  • Device (classroom Chromebook/iPad) policy
  • Group work policy
  • How and when to distribute supplies
  • Anything else that you think is important for your sub to know. Do you do something special with backpacks? If you need them to use the computer/projector/DVD player, how does it all work? 

Step 3: Daily Plans

This is what you think of when you think of writing sub plans. What are the kids going to do?

Here’s my secret recipe.

Step one

I start with an article from either Tangstar Science or  Newsela every time. Did you hear me? EVERY TIME! 

Tangstar Science is a TPT store with engaging, relevant science articles for middle and high school students. Each article includes comprehension questions – short answer and critical thinking. One of my favorites is The Chemistry of Fireworks. Kids think it is so cool. This tends to be written at a little bit of a higher level, so sometimes I will ask the sub to read it to them and go over the answers to the questions. Her store is such an awesome resource for middle school teachers!

Newsela is a database of nonfiction articles. You can find just about any topic under the sun. I love Newsela because you can adjust the lexile level for students who need accommodations. (Fun fact: did you know you’re legally responsible to accomodate for students even if you are not there?!) 

This screenshot of Newsela shows a variety of text selections about volcanoes.
This shows four articles come up in a search for volcanoes on Newsela. Several more were included in the search and each article has several lexile levels.

Step two

Students use this article to make a comic strip. I have hundreds of these copies in my emergency sub folder because they are so easy. They use the information to summarize what happened at six different points in the article and then they draw and color it. Keep in mind, you’ll probably need to do this with them and model it before you leave it as a sub plan. 

Download the comic template I use here for free!

Step three

This is a coordinate grid graphing activity of a volcano.
Keeps early finishers busy with this coordinate grid!

Leave something for kids who finish early. My worst fear is always that kids will rush through it and then cause chaos. but leaving something like this Volcano Coordinate Plane Mystery Picture gives them a task to complete. 

Copy everything and keep it in a tub or a file box in your classroom with your emergency sub plan info. This is will save you someday!

Let me make a suggestion.

Knock out at least the first two components of your lesson plan this week! You’ll thank yourself later. If you can get at least one day of lessons and copies done and set aside, even better! 

If you include these three components while you write your sub plan, your sub will love you. And so will your admin! 

Classroom Management, Middle School

The Only Way I Will Ever Teach Density

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sat on your suitcase to zip it up. No one is here to judge you. I know I’m not the only one. 

When I get to the airport, I anxiously place my suitcase on the scale and pray I’m under the 50 pound limit. So far, I’m at a 100% success rate – thankfully. 

Now that you know my travel habits…

I give you this word picture because it directly relates to how I talk about density with my middle school students. 

The concept of density is kind of tough to grasp. It’s very concrete, but it’s also very abstract. Do your students grasp it? 

Density is defined as the degree of compactness of a substance. Mmmmmkaayy….? Your sixth or seventh grade student can’t really wrap their head around that. 

You might try and explain it by saying it’s the amount of stuff in a certain space. Give them two objects that are the same size and are drastically different in mass. Closer. That is a little more concrete. 

What about a suitcase?

You’re going on a trip with a friend … let’s say to Bora Bora. The airline will only let you bring a standard carry on suitcase. Both of your suitcases are the same size.  In fact, they’re identical.

You are an overpacker. The kind of person I talked about earlier. Where you have to sit on the suitcase to zip it. 

You pack 14 shirts, seven shorts, three jackets, two different curling irons, 7  pairs of shoes – including rain boots… just in case, and three bathing suits, and a few other things you need for your trip. 

Your friend is a light packer. For the same trip, they pack six shirts, two pairs of shorts, a hairbrush, a jacket, a bathing suit, and two pairs of shoes. 

Are you still with me? Here’s what we’ve been building to. 

Whose suitcase is more dense?

Each one of those items is now a piece of matter. Remember… both of your suitcases are the same size. Which one is more dense? 

Yours. The one you had to sit on to zip! It’s more dense because it has more matter in it!

The suitcase with more matter has more mass and is more dense. It’s going to be heavier too. There is less air in between the matter. It makes your stuff more compact and less likely to move around inside of your suitcase. 

In contrast to your friend’s suitcase, there is less matter. The suitcase will be lighter, and there is more air or space between the matter. It’s less dense.

Students identify with this story! They either are one or know both types of packers. By capitalizing on an idea they are familiar with, you can easily illustrate the abstract concept of density in your middle school science class! 

For a great inquiry experiment about density, check out this video and supporting materials on the Teaching Channel

Chemistry, Middle School

Foolproof Your First Day of School

This is how I usually look on the first day of school – because I have a plan!

I don’t know about you, but I get anxious about the first day of school. I don’t get anxious about what I’m going to wear or what will happen if my alarm clock doesn’t go off (because I set three), but I always wonder what am I going to do with 32 strange kids for almost an hour?!

They don’t know me. I don’t know them. They need to know rules, procedures, expectations… but I don’t want to bore them to death. Yet, I’m also not ready to jump right into teaching that first day. So, what do I do?

PART 1 – ABOUT YOU AND EXPECTATIONS

I sometimes hear teachers say that we need to be engaging. “Don’t not go over the syllabus or expectations the first day of school.” I agree… to a point. Which is why this is part one. As in… part one of two.

Your classroom is your kingdom. You are the queen (or king). You are the boss. You set the rules. Period. So let your students know!

(I say this meaning – let them know gently. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT walk around announcing this the first day of school… or maybe ever.)

SEATING CHART

Before those kids walk in, have a seating chart ready. Let them sit where they want for a minute. Introduce yourself briefly and then switch their seats. Immediately. You are the boss.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF

As soon as they are settled, tell them a little bit about you! Maybe you have a (brief) powerpoint with some photos or share something you did this summer. They want to know who you are. This is a good time to briefly tell them what topics they’ll cover over the year.

EXPECTATIONS

This is the list I print every year.

This is where most of you tune out and say that this doesn’t belong on the first day. We should be engaging! Let me persuade you otherwise.

Do students sharpen a pencil on the first day? Do students have to throw things away?

Answer: probably!

Again – this is your kingdom and your classroom. They will spend the next nine months with you. I have a typed out list of things I tell students on every first day of school. This is limited to what they need to know in general. I introduce specific procedures and expectations as we use them. My list includes:

  • Where the pencil sharpener is.
  • How and when to sharpen their pencil.
  • What they can and cannot touch without permission.
  • Where to keep their backpacks.
  • How to throw away trash (yes… they need that reminder!)
  • Where to find daily information and bell ringer.

There are a few more, but for those of you needing an idea – there you go! This part should take no longer than 10 minutes, leaving you about 30 to get them working (and packed up properly)!

PART 2 – GRAPHING

Yes. I said it. Graphing.

Some students have a hard time making graphs. This activity doubles as an ice breaker and a formative assessment!

You can snag this worksheet here for free! Students spend a few minutes introducing themselves to each other and asking each other all three of the following questions:

 

  1. Which animal would make a better pet?
  2. Which sounds cooler to explore?
  3. Which type of ice cream is better?

Students collect data by gathering tallies for their peers answers. Give them a time limit to do this.

I actually use grouping cards (click here to read about them and here to just buy them – I live and breathe these!). Students visit a group with their same number, color, and letter (for a total of three different groups) before I send them back to their seats. They get to talk to 12 different people in the class and have some structured freedom to move, while not giving them complete freedom.

Students choose one question to make a graph using their data.

Here’s the assessment piece: look for a bar graph, intervals that are equal and on the lines, labels, and a title. These simple graphs pretty quickly give you an idea as to how capable they are of creating their own accurate graphs later.

I usually find that students need some remediation. Based on what I see, my next several weeks of bell ringers target skills they are missing.

This first day of school gives you the balance of structure while allowing students to start building relationships and friendships immediately.

Whether you’re in need of an idea or just a refresh, this fool proof first day of school will set the standards and engage your students.

Classroom Management, 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

Navigating Conflict on Your Campus

Picture this with me. You’re at the park on a field trip and you see a student on top of the 25-foot-tall, blue, shade tarp above the playground, and he’s jumping on it like a trampoline! The headline flashing through your head reads, “Student breaks all bones on playground while teacher is nowhere to be found!” Not to mention, this is the kid you JUST told sternly, for the second time, they couldn’t be on top of the playground equipment.

You’re walking him over to sit out and he’s arguing that, “he wasn’t on top of the playground equipment!” (As if it even occurred to you that you’d have to tell him to stay off of the shade structure.)

Now you get mad… 

During this conversation, a teacher on your team comes over and forcefully tells you that you are being mean to a poor kid and abusing your power. Kids should be kids and have less rules. In front of the student. You are a professional and explain that you will discuss this when you get back to campus and are not in the presence of children. You walk away and he’s now raising his voice so students nearby start paying attention.

TRUE STORY.

I worked with this teacher for five years, and we never really saw eye to eye on student management. I thrive on structure, and he is go with the flow. Until this point, it was just a difference we recognized and respected. This confrontation completely caught me off guard, and I was absolutely livid.

There’s a huge misconception that teachers work alone. Sure, we work alone in our classrooms with our students, but we don’t actually work alone. We work with our administration, the office staff, our SPED team, paraprofessionals, and even the teachers on our team or our campus. Inevitably, disagreements happen.

It’s tempting to go back into your classroom, close the door, and hope the disagreement blows over. But that’s not how we handle it. Because we are adults. And we are professionals! (I’m hearing you all cheer for me and my motivational speech right there!)

So, what should you do when you land yourself in the middle of conflict?

First, decide if this it a pet peeve or a true conflict? I will be the first to tell you that I have things that bother me about my coworkers. Little pet peeves that annoy me. On the other hand, conflict is usually brought on by a disagreement between two people. The distinction is important to realize because the approach is somewhat different.

Pet Peeves

If it’s a big deal, and it directly affects your job, mention something to them. Even try mentioning it in passing. One student started showing up to my first hour everyday, loudly announcing that another teacher sent him to give me something. He came in with the most random things – tape dispensers, books, puzzles, candy….

When I asked this teacher why the student kept showing up in my room, she explained the situation to me. I just said, “I get it, but you can’t send him to my room. He’s a daily distraction and it’s hard to reign my class back in. I’m so sorry.” I wasn’t rude and didn’t make a big deal out of it, but the student did stop showing up.

If it’s not a big deal or doesn’t directly affect your job, you might want to consider letting it go. A teacher might complain to about how bad their class is, but won’t take direction from administration or practical steps to resolve it… there’s not a whole lot you can do. Tell them what you think when they ask. Be brief without being rude. When you walk away, you don’t have to deal with their classroom.

Find someone to talk to. Find someone safe to vent to who won’t go blabbing your frustrations or secrets to everyone else. It doesn’t solve the problem, but I feel better safely getting it off my chest by talking to someone who understands.

We can’t fix everyone and everything. If you can just talk it through with someone, do it. If you can bring it up casually, do that too. But, I’ve found that a lot of my little pet peeves with coworkers can be solved by going back into my classroom. However, pet peeves can quickly turn into conflicts.

Conflict

1. First (and biggest) – Is it your boss telling you to do something you don’t want to? Excuse an assignment? Morning duty? Go to an IEP the Friday before fall break at 4 PM (It happened to me!)? Have a sit down meeting with them and a parent? Do it. This is not a hill you want to die on. If your boss is telling you to do something (reasonable), they have a reason. You might see their reason as wrong, self-serving, or self-promoting, but they’re the boss (and eventually, you’re going to have to ask them for a letter of recommendation).  

2. Is it your fault? Ouch. No one likes to be wrong, but we all are at some point. It might be your fault. My biggest advice – apologize. Approach the issue with humility. Being “right” is not worth creating lasting tension.

3. Who else is involved or needs to be? And who does NOT need to be? In my story about the student park, my administrator needed to know. They may have parents call or students say something. If my team wasn’t there watching, I’d probably tell them. We work as a team and when something is wrong, it throws us off. Does every teacher on campus need to know? Absolutely not. Tell the people that need to be involved in solving the problem and that’s it. Otherwise it’s nothing but gossip.

4. How will you take steps to resolve it?  I highly recommend having a vulnerable (and unfortunately, uncomfortable) conversation seeking a resolution instead of pushing it aside. It’s likely that emotions will run high. I always have to sit on what I am thinking for a few days to let it all process out in my head before I can approach the person.

You may need to write it out before you can talk. You may need a third party there to listen and help come to a solution. Your administrator may be able to help you determine what the best steps are. It’s possible that after talking to your admin, they can handle it for you.  

5. If the conflict is not resolved, can you put your feelings aside and remain a professional? This is so hard. Feelings might be hurt and lines might be crossed in your conflict. I implore you – be a professional. You may disagree. You may hate the way that person refused to engage in any resolution. The ultimate resolution to your conflict may be leaving the site and finding a new job.

Be Professional Anyway

Until then, know you are strong and capable. When you must engage with this person, be brief. Create boundaries as necessary. You are a professional and while the resolution you attempted didn’t turn out your way, you have an audience – your administration, your fellow teachers, your students.

I will be completely honest and tell you that after that teacher yelled at me in front of students, I tried to work it out several days later when I could think with a clear head. Instead of getting into a debate about managing students (like I said, we never agreed on this to begin with), I focused on the fact that brought this up in front of the student because it undermined my authority.

He held his ground that he was right. The conflict did not get resolved, and I still work with him. I set this boundary in place: I will not engage in a conversation with him unless it concerns something professional.

Conflict is hard and uncomfortable. When it comes to working with people, conflict is inevitable. It’s my hope that these questions help you think through how to navigate conflict on your campus. There is something freeing about being able to work together, navigate a problem, and come out the other side a stronger teammate, teacher, and person than you were before.

(Please note – this post is simply about disagreements between your coworkers. If you are dealing with consistent unresolved conflict or harassment, please look into your district’s protocol.)

Middle School, Professionalism

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.  

Two Bad Options

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?!

The Solution

Enter 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: 

  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.

No Planning Ahead

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 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! 

After 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.

The Wild Card

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

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

10 Things No One Told You About Teaching Middle School

If you’ve spent any time around teenagers, you know… they’re so weird! Whether or not you’re wanting to teach middle school or you’ve already signed your contract, you are ready to go because this is what you went to school for. WRONG! You’re about to become the sole adult in a room of preteens who do not play by anyone’s rules other than their own. True, your college classes prepared you to be a teacher. I quickly found out there were valuable things they left out about being a middle school teacher. Here’s my list of things to know:

1. They smell BAD. There’s not even a way to sugar coat it. Middle school kids smell like a combination of body odor, sweat, feet, dirt, Hot Takis, Skittles, and Axe. Sometimes it’s necessary to find some way to bring it up. I usually stick to addressing it passively by joking with the whole class and telling them deodorant is important because they all stink… because you can do that in middle school. Often times you will have to smile and suffer through it because it’s (hopefully) just a phase, and chances are that kid’s self-esteem is more fragile than an eggshell. Read More »

Middle School