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Middle School

How To Create Digital Interactive Assignments with Google Slides

Pre-COVID school shutdown, I was pretty familiar with how to manipulate Google Slides to facilitate distance learning. I had even made a few digital interactive assignments in the past. But what I didn’t know was that there are a lot of teachers who struggled with this. I feel it is definitely my job to give you some direction on how to do this! 

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t use Google on my campus!” … I’m sorry! I’ve found Google is the most widely used platform at this point, and there are a few things I think you’ll still find valuable (there are similar features on Powerpoint).  

If you want to download my sample digital activity to follow along and see some of the features, click here!

GOOGLE SLIDES VS. POWERPOINT

When you start making digital interactive assignments, this might be the first question you have. There are pros and cons to using both programs to create editable Google Slides. The bottom line comes down to this: both allow you to get to the same results, just with different steps. Google Slides is already included in your G-Suite for Education. I personally like Powerpoint because I can use fonts I downloaded onto my computer but other than that, Slides will work just fine. More on why it doesn’t necessarily matter which program you start with in a little bit. (If you don’t have Powerpoint, don’t go out and buy it – use Google Slides!)

WHAT KIND OF ASSIGNMENT SHOULD I MAKE?

My Monster Family Digital Genetics project requires kids to copy and paste monster parts to create a family! Want it? Click here!

Next you have to decide what you’re going to put on your slide. What is the goal of the assignment? Big question – I know. Are students using this as a worksheet or simple Q&A? Include want more spaces for writing or typing. If you’re using it as a review or instruction, you may want links to click and videos to watch. Can students drag and drop vocabulary or pictures?

STATIONARY BACKGROUND & ELEMENTS

Of course we want our students to manipulate some elements on the digital interactive assignments you’re creating. But there are certain things we may not want them to change or move. A title, the background, directions, or tables may be an example of this. 

I solve this problem by creating two files of the same assignment. The first file (if you use Powerpoint, this is where can use it). I start with is what I want to be stationary and immovable by students on the activity. It will be the background to the assignment I am giving them.

Let’s say I am giving them vocabulary on landforms and they have to look up the definition, write it down, and find a picture of that type of landform in real life. 

The following items should probably be stationary: a border, clipart or an image, the title, directions, and a data table for students to organize their work. You won’t want students to move, delete, or alter these pieces. Of course, some students won’t if they’re not stationary, but others definitely will. 

SAVING YOUR BACKGROUND

Save a slide as  JPEG

Create the bones of the digital slide you want to give to them. If you downloaded the example I created, this is slides one and two. Anything you want students to be able to move or type into should be included on this slide.To make this a stationary background, save the slides as a JPEG image. To do this, click File > Download > JPEG (current slide). This means you’re turning the slide you just created into one flat image. 

Now create your second file. If you used Powerpoint for the first part, you’re going to want to make this on Google Slides. The image you just downloaded will be the background you add to the slide. Right-click your new slide and select “format background.” Drag and drop the JPEG into the box, and that image will be the stationary background for your slide. 

If you’re a Microsoft based school, you can still add a JPEG to a background in a Powerpoint file. Use the Format Background feature to add your picture, and then add features the same way I’m getting ready to talk about! 

ADDING EDITABLE FEATURES

Now that you have the bones of your assignment, you can start adding your editable features. There are a few I’ll highlight. Don’t forget, you want to include the directions for whatever you want them to do on the slide in the stationary background. 

Writing Text

In this case, we want to add text boxes for students to type in. You might think – can’t they add text boxes themselves? Yes, but it is so much easier for you to add them. Add a text box wherever you want them to write and size it to fit the dimensions of the space. Try making this box a light color to show kids they’ll type there or add an outline. 

Text Boxes on Interactive Digital Activities
Students type in the gray and green boxes.

DRAG & DROP 

Since drag and drop is versatile and you have a lot of options, you can do this a few ways. 

Add pictures or clipart to the slide that students drag and drop to a specific spot. This is helpful for sorting or identifying objects. (If you make digital products for TPT, be sure you check the seller’s TOU before you add movable clipart to your digital interactive assignments!)

The next drag and drop feature is vocabulary words. You can just add a text box with the prewritten for students to drag and drop. There is a downside to this. They’re not as easy to move, and students can change the words by retyping in the box if they want!

To fix this, I like to type vocab words on a blank slide, take a screenshot of the word, and then add the screenshot of the text as an image. When you do this, it is no longer editable to the students. 

This is something you can use to categorize, resequence, and create a scaffolded venn diagram… anything you want them to manipulate on the screen. 

SHAPES

This student using the square shape to add layers of the Earth to a grid, creating a scale diagram.

This really depends on your lesson or assignment, but you can use shapes for a lot of things. I’m going to use my example of the square shape. I asked students to fill in a grid showing the layers of the Earth with the correct scale. 

Shapes Interactive digital Activities
This student using the square shape to add layers of the Earth to a grid, creating a scale diagram.

You can add shapes to the slide and ask them to copy and paste the given shape to add more. The line shape can be used for graphing. 

Because there are so many possibilities for this one, I’m going to leave you with those ideas and tell you to think outside of the box! 

ADDING LINKING FEATURES

Sometimes it’s just not possible to include everything you want in a Google Slide. This is where links come in. You can add two types of links: outside websites and other slides in the file.

LINKS TO OUTSIDE WEBSITES

Let’s circle back to links to outside websites. I’m going to talk specifically about a video, because there are multiple ways to do it. The second and third way work for any link, anywhere on the internet!

VIDEO LINKS

Add a video directly onto the Google Slide presentation. Add this on top of your background. Click Insert > Video and search on Youtube for the video you want the kids to watch. This adds a square thumbnail of the video onto your slide, so be sure you have space for it. 

HYPERLINKS

If you’ve seen a different colored font in a paragraph that takes you to a website, you’ve seen a hyperlink. Highlight the word you want to add the link to and click Insert > Link. Add the link you want the kids to go to in the space provided. This option works great when you’re typing onto the presentation the kids edit (and the words are not a part of the stationary background).

LINKS ON A SHAPE

Did you know you can add a link to a shape? This is best when you want to link to something, but the image or text is on the stationary background. Create a shape – use a colored outline and a transparent fill so kids can see through it. Highlight the shape, click Insert > Link and add the link to the site. Drag the shape over where you want students to click. When they do, a notification pops up under the shape with a link. 

I used this assignment in the spring. The background is completely stationary, so I added a transparent shape with an outline over the words I needed to add a link to! It helped students so much!

Shape Link Interactive Digital Activities
I used this assignment in the spring. The background is completely stationary,
so I added a transparent shape with an outline over the words I needed to
add a link to! It helped students so much!

LINKS TO OTHER SLIDES IN THE PRESENTATION

Just like you’d add a link to any website on the internet, you can add navigation to different slides in the presentation. If you have instructions on the first slide with nine slides of activities, you may want to add links to other slides to help students navigate. 

Add hyperlink to slide

Add this the same way you would using option 2 or 3 above, but when you’ll see when you click Link, click the option underneath the link box that says “slides in this presentation.” Select from any of the slides you want to link to!

Pro Tip: I always add a link to the websites kids are using in the speaker notes! But it’s one more fail-safe in case something goes wrong! 

Now assign them!

Finally, you’re done creating your digital activities! Double check everything – make sure your directions are clear and your links work. Then assign your digital interactive assignments and watch your student’s progress!

Digital Learning, Middle School

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

Scale Diagram Layers of the Earth Project for Middle School

Inside earth scale diagram banner

How far down is the center of the Earth? Is it 5,000 miles? Or as big as the moon is?  Really… I want to know! These are the exact kinds of questions we get from our students. Curiosity drives the questions, and this awesome layers of the Earth project answers them!

How big are the layers of the Earth?

Student is using a chromebook to work show how

My middle school students never seem to grasp the idea of how vast everything around them is. When I teach the layers of the Earth, we draw the diagrams, cut out the foldables, and look at those pie chart like pictures where the layers are so dang even. But I wanted them to really get it. This layers of the earth project has something that the others don’t – the scale size of the layers! You can grab this for your classroom here!

Do you see the picture of the Chromebook and think this isn’t right for your classroom? Keep reading! I have a solution for you!

Let Them Predict

After kids have learned the order of the layers, the project asks them to predict how large each layer actually is. How cool! Students show exactly what they are thinking. You’d be surprised! No matter how much you stress that the crust is really thin, students always overestimate how big it is. 

Integrate Math Concepts

Cross Curricular science and math assignment with a scale diagram of the layers of the Earth.

After they estimate how thick each layer is, they find the scale size of each layer. The boxes on the grid represent 200 km and using simple proportions, students calculate how many boxes each layer should take up. All of the boxes will be filled to the top of the grid. Bonus: Anytime I can use a math concept for a cross-curricular lesson is a golden opportunity! 

Creating The Diagram

Next, they’ll use the scale measurements the found to fill in how think the layers actually are. They have to start at the bottom and work their way up, otherwise they’ll get confused (trust me!). When they’re done, they should label each layer on the diagram. 

Finally, they have a chance to reflect on the differences between their two diagrams. I love this part of the project because they get to see how thin some of the layers are. The crust seems so big to them, but when they compare their hypothesis to the 35% of ONE box the crust actually takes up, their minds are blown. 

Completed layers of the earth scale diagram by middle school students.

At the very end, they’ll write an informative paragraph explaining the layers of the earth and how scientists find out what is inside, showing what they’ve learned. 

Let’s get real for a sec. As you’re asking your students to complete these rather simple tasks, they’re likely to try and talk over you. Check out these tips to manage a chatty class if this is a problem you face!

Snag this project here!

But I don’t have and tech!!

Don’t worry, I see you looking at the picture of the Chromebook thinking, I don’t have any tech! 

Students are completing the layers of the earth scale diagram on a printed version.

Great news! You don’t need any! You can absolutely use this layers of the Earth project with your students on Chromebooks. There’s even a quick start page in the file showing them which buttons to use. But, there are pages in the file specifically for printing!

I’ve used both. In fact, I had a class that was SO SLOW and so difficult to manage one year, four of my classes used the Chromebooks and that class used the paper. Truthfully, I really like both options. 

If you’re looking for a project that is relevant and engaging, yet shows students a perspective they rarely see (much less create) this is the project for you!

Pin the Layers of the Earth Scale Diagram Project!
Earth Science, Hands On, Middle School, Projects

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