Thursday, November 29, 2012

More Awesome Science! (videos and resources)

Time for some more awesome science -
With some student friendly, ready to use teaching materials to match!

Time Lapse Erosion
Two amazing looks at erosion - aided by time lapse! Above,
Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach (Sydney, Australia) in June 2007. During 3 days,
almost 300 000 cubic meters of sand was removed from the beach.
Below, the erosion of a soccer ball over time.

Both work well with one of my freebie resources:

The Egg in the Bottle
Whoa! The fire consumes the oxygen - around 21% of the air inside the bottle.
This leaves relatively low pressure inside the bottle (as compared to
the relatively high pressure outside the bottle). This higher pressure outside
air pushes the egg in!

This demo is a great match with

The Ultimate Zoom-In Shot
 One of my (and student) favorites! 
A simulated zoom from the outskirts of the universe to the inside of an atom!
This is great for looking at relative sizes, and can easily be paired with my  
Cells vs. Atoms Worksheet.

The Blubber Glove

I have a friend who participated in a pain study at the National Institutes of Health.
She had to keep her hand in ice water as long as she could stand it - too bad
she didn't have blubber! Blubber is an incredible insulator, allowing very little heat to
transfer from the hand to the water!

This demo makes for some great lessons when paired with my Conduction Lab, 
Or get them all (and more) with the Heat Transfer Teacher Pack!
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Planning for Learning: A How-To

Bored Woman Studying
Middle school teachers have a special job.

I've discussed some of this in earlier posts. We have to wade through all of the middle school stuff and somehow facilitate 30 twelve year-olds in learning a new and specific concept or idea every day. In my 12 years teaching and observing (formally and informally) middle school teachers, here are four things I've learned.

1. Start with an OBJECTIVE!
I can't stress this one enough. While I like to allow for differences in style, objective-based planning is the only way to plan. You start with an objective - a measurable learning outcome that students need to know or be able to do by the end of the class. For newer teachers, this changes what can sometimes feel like the need to fill time into the need to have students learn within a limited time

Let's take as an example:
Students will be able to describe motion of particles in three phases of matter.

   -Specific? Yes.
   -Kid friendly? Yup.
   -Measureable? Sure.

Ok, we're ready to get to work.

2. Plan for Mastery
Now, the challenge is set. You, the teacher, have 45 (or 47, 50, 60, etc.) minutes to have every student meet your objective. In our example, this means you have 45 minutes for your students to learn and demonstrate a mastery of particle motion in three phases of matter. 

How in the world will you do it? If you're asking yourself this question, you're off to a great start. You've successfully changed your focus from filling time to using time. Answering this question is the reason you get a paycheck - this is your job. You are an expert in getting kids to learn. Not only that, but you need to continue to get better at it.

This step involves...
  • Planning Activities
  • Preparing Materials
  • Preplanning Questions (yes, preplanning) 

    and synthesizing everything into a smooth, focused lesson!

This is not to say that you need to do it alone! Hopefully, you have a strong, collaborative staff to help you. Discussing lessons with peers, asking others for feedback, and reflection (alone and in groups) are powerful tools that will foster improved teaching and learning.

3. Frame the Learning
The importance of framing is never better demonstrated than when seen from the student perspective. (Newer teachers, I urge you to seek out peers who excel at this and watch them in action)! This is an extremely powerful learning tool. Framing of learning involves explicitly communicating to students what they need to know or be able to do by the end of class.
In addition, it may involve...
-Explaining how you're going to help them get there. 
-Activating prior knowledge.
-Asking a question to help students begin to explore the topic.

In our example, this could be as simple as saying, "Please take a look at your objective. Today, by the end of class, you need to be able to describe how particles move in three different phases of matter. Are there any questions of what is expected of you by the end of class today?"

To me, this is so important that I use anywhere from 1-5 of my 45 minutes covering it each day. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes is 11% of the time students have in class.
It's worth it - every day.

4. Summarize the Learning
Ok, you've set an objective, framed learning for students, and planned and implemented a lesson for mastery. 
DO NOT let the lesson simply end with the bell - end the lesson purposefully by summarizing the learning with which students should be walking away!

Like framing, the power and importance of a good summary is most easily visible from the student perspective. Opening and closing the learning both work to focus students on the objective, and are well worth the time they require.


This blog post is by no means  meant to be comprehensive. The art of teaching takes years to develop, but I am a strong believer in the four ideas presented above. After observing them in action and consistently utilizing them myself, I feel safe telling you that they  
improve student learning.
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Middle School FREEBIES Linky Party!


How about some FREE Middle School products!

Add your link below, and scroll through and find your favorite freebies to download! 
(These should be links directly to free products).

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Geeks vs. Nerds: A Guide

Hello, geeks and nerds!
(You clicked to get here, didn't you)!?

I figured this would be fitting - for both science and middle school. I'm pretty sure I'm closer to geek than nerd, but that's just me. Thanks to for sharing!


Geeks vs Nerds

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Seven Years.

"Would anyone like more time on the quiz?"

"Ok. Please circle the first letter of your first name and pass up your quiz."
"Why do you always make us circle the first letter of our first name?"
"To make sure there's a name."

Seven years.

That little gem took me seven years to figure out.

Once in a while, just to keep things fresh, I'll switch to the second letter. Or the last letter. When I'm feeling really zany, I'll switch the circle to a box. Or even an underline.
That's right - an underline

Watch out, kids. Today's a crazy day.

Now, every class has asked me (multiple times) why I have them do that. I always give the same response, word for word: 

"To make sure there's a name."

The class then gives me the sterotypical, "Oooooooohhhhhhh."
Then one student raises his or her hand, and in a concerned voice says, "I accidentally circled the second letter. Is that ok?"

I love middle school.

 Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Correct Horse Battery Staple (awesome science websites)

My brother showed this one to me. Awesome.

It's from
A very cool (and addictive) math/science web-comic.
I especially like the What If section, self described as "Answering Your Hypothetical Questions With Physics, Every Tuesday." 
Disclaimer: I've browsed the site, but can't vouch for 100% kid-friendliness.

Cool and amazing videos, experiments, and a special section for parents and teachers!

Ok, so you may have heard of this one, but I had to include it.
It's too awesome not to.Wonder how anything (real or imagined) works?
You can probably find out here.


Some of the most amazing pictures on the web. 
For a longer chain of cool images, check out their Year's Most Amazing Scientific Images.
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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Best of YouTube Science!

(Or at least some of my favorites).

The Melting Gallium Spoon
The gallium spoon appears as any normal spoon would - until dipped in warm tap water!
Gallium, a metal with a melting point of 85.59° F (29.77° C), is a consistent student favorite!
Elephant Toothpaste
 What do you get when you mix hydrogen peroxide, sodium (or potassium) iodide, and  liquid soap? Well, not elephant toothpaste. But it sure looks like it. 

Potassium Chlorate and Gummy Bear
A science poem:
Guess what gummy bears hate. 
Yup - potassium chlorate.

Sodium in Water
Sodium - Making water more fun for millions of years!
Sodium acts to lose an electron, creating hydrogen gas (and heat!) when mixed with water.

Dr. Quantum and the Double Slit Experiment
An engaging, entertaining, and understandable explanation of the double slit experiment - One of the most unbelievable and unexplainable experiments ever performed!
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Saturday, November 17, 2012

The WORST Answer I've Ever Heard

By far. It isn't even close.

When a position is open on our staff, we usually put together a panel of interviewers. The questions, usually determined by and delegated to the group as a whole, are spelled out beforehand, and given to the candidate when they sit down. After introductions, the questions begin.

Even though it isn't usually one of the prescribed questions, I usually try to work the same question in at some point of every interview. It's simple, but can often be extremely telling.

I ask, "Why would you want to teach middle school?"

I've heard a range of answers, but there's only one perfect one - the kids.
If someone answers, "I like the kids," or "Kids this age are fun," they get a big fat gold star from me. I don't care how much experience they have, what their portfolio looks like, or how they describe their view of co-curricular planning. We can teach them to teach. What we can't do is teach them to like kids.

As great as a kid-focused answer is, a bad answer can communicate just as much. Answers like, "I'd like to try this out before teaching high school," or "The hours really work with my schedule," raise small red flags. While these answers don't mean the candidate isn't qualified (or wouldn't do a good job), kids deserve more than someone looking to use their middle school teaching job as a stepping stone or as a convenience. 

But what I really want to tell you about is the worst answer I've ever heard. It isn't even close.

To be honest, I wasn't in on this interview. A friend of mine (there are quite a few of us who use this question) told me about it after he interviewed a number of teaching candidates.
Towards the end of an unremarkable (yet not disastrous) interview, he decided to pull the question out.

"So, why do you want to teach middle school?" he asked.
"Oh, the parking is just so much easier than in high school."

I'm not kidding.
That's really what the candidate said.

Can you imagine being a parent of a student in that teacher's class?
"I'm so happy to be here! The parking is just wonderful!"

The parking. The PARKING!?

She didn't get the job. It wasn't even close.
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Thursday, November 15, 2012


 Today, I'd like to share with you the freebies available in my and other Teachers Pay Teachers stores. I'm hoping to add more soon, so please follow my blog or check back!

Identifying Variable Practice
This worksheet is a designed as practice identifying variables, although it may be used as an introduction or homework.

Heat MiniQuiz
This short quiz is designed to assess student understanding of heat transfer and knowledge of heat transfer methods.

Rock Cycle Simulation Lab
This lab walks students through modeling rock cycle processes, and asks them to make analogies between the activity and the rock cycle.

Science FREEBIES generously donated by other TpT sellers:
Please visit their stores and show them some support!

Topic: Static Electricity, Energy, Electrons

Non-Fiction Text-Feature Scavenger Hunt from Margaret Vaughan - iHeartLiteracy
Topic: Understanding Your Science Textbook or Scientific Articles

Magnetism Word Search Puzzle from Marcia Murphy
Topic: Physical Science, Magnetism

Surface Area in the Body from Cate O'Donnell
Topic: Surface area in lungs and small intestine. 
Topic: Floating and Sinking 

How to Interpret Graphics from Biology Roots
Topic: General Science

Plant Life Cycle Anchor Charts from Linda Kamp
Topic: Life Cycles
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

GREAT Science Songs and Videos!

Today, I want to share some of the best science music videos I've found.

They Might Be Giants (view their YouTube channel here) has done a great job writing catchy (and accurate!) science songs and making very high quality videos for them. 
A YouTube search for TMBG Science also turns up some nice results.

I use quite a few of them in my class, and the kids love them.
I've included a few here for your enjoyment: 

My personal favorite.
I love the beginning (very catchy), and it really drills in on cell reproduction!

I use it to introduce and summarize photosynthesis!

Meet the Elements
Focuses on the concept of elements and uses of several!

Please feel free to share any of your favorite songs/resources!
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Monday, November 12, 2012

I am a Sucker

I took a note the other day.

It doesn't happen often.
I don't know if that means that there aren't many kids passing notes, or if it means that they're way better at passing them than I am at spotting them. Either way, it doesn't happen often. Maybe four or five times a year.

But this note was a special one. The receiver REALLY didn't want to give it up. And this was a good kid. A rule-following kid. As I walked towards her, she quickly stuck both hands under her desk, confirming that she had the note. I stuck my hand out.

"Give it to me, please."
"Give it to me, please."
"Give what?"

We were off to a great start. Normally (which I guess means the three or four other times per year), after the second, "Give it to me, please," the student presents a defeated face and hands the note over. I then stick it in my back pocket and forget about it until I'm emptying my pockets when I get home. But this time, she didn't.

"The note that's in your hand. Give it to me, please."
"What note?"
"The one that's in your hand." 
(Blank stare).

By now, my interest is piqued. This is a special note. Something she really feels she can't give to me.

"This will be much worse if you don't give it to me. Please give me the note."
"She gave it to me," pointing to her friend. So much for loyalty. 
"Give me the note, please."

Finally, it ends. I get the defeated face, and I'm presented with the note. 
I put it in my back pocket, as usual. And, as usual, by the time class ends, I forget about it.

Until I get home and empty my pockets.
I reach into my back pocket for a pad of sticky notes I had also forgotten about, and I feel the note. 

It is time.

I de-crumple the note. It's really small, written in pencil, and a little smudged after its day in my pocket. I can barely read it, but I hold it close to my face and decipher:

I will bring Just Dance and Just Dance 2 for Wii. It will be a great party! 

I am a sucker.
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Like Brainteasers?

So do middle school kids.

Sometimes, when we finish a couple of minutes early, I like to do a couple with the class.

I've been using the same ones for several years, and it's interesting to see how quickly (if at all) the kids can figure them out. A few of my favorites follow. Now, I know that the Google search bar is just a few inches up, but no cheating!

(Don't worry - answers included below)! 
Feel free to post your favorites!

Truth-Tellers and Lie-Tellers
You're walking through the woods, and you come to a fork in the path. You know that one direction leads to the Truth-Teller Village (where everyone always tells the truth), and the other leads to the Lie-Teller Village (where everyone always lies). At the fork in the road is an old man. You don't know whether he is a Truth-Teller or a Lie-Teller, but you are allowed to ask him one question. Your goal is to reach the Truth-Teller Village.
What question do you ask? 


The Pattern

Take a look at the pattern to the left.
What comes next?

I love the "Ooooohhhhhhhhh," I get from kids on this one.


Given the arrangement of pennies to the right,
move exactly one penny and create one row
and one column each containing exactly four pennies.


And, the mother of them all...

1 11 21 1211
Given the following pattern, what is the next line?


After a couple of minutes, I usually tell the kids that...
1. The math involved isn't anything a kindergartner couldn't do.
2. I never figured it out. Someone had to tell me (although I tried it for two weeks).
3. Just for fun, I usually tell them the next line - 111221 - and ask for the one after that.
    (It goes on forever) 


Brainteaser Answers

Truth-Tellers and Lie-Tellers
You ask, "Which way to your village?"
A Truth-Teller tells the truth and points toward the Truth-Teller village.
A Lie-Teller tells a lie and points toward the Truth-Teller village.   

The Pattern

Given the image
to the left, I think
we can declare
this one solved!


Place the uppermost
penny directly on top
of the center penny.

Four across, four down!   

1 11 21 1211
This is a "say what you see pattern.
Each line, when read out loud, describes the line immediately above it:

                            11             "One 1"
                            21             "Two 1's"
                        1211          "One 2, One 1"
                      111221       "One 1, One 2, Two 1's" 

So, the next line would be...312211
That's, "Three 1's, Two 2's, One 1" 

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