A collection of useful activities and plans for middle school science teaching and learning.
Science in the Middle School should be taught using an inquiry, project-based approach, with students engaged in daily hands-on, minds-on investigations. This is then enhanced as they move investigations into their communities and participate in solutions to science and technology issues. This allows science teachers to integrate units with all of the other subject area teachers on their teams.
Below are links to PDFs of plans.
PopulationsThis unit uses an experiment with milkweed bug habitats to guide students through an inquiry into relationships within ecosystems that affect populations. Investigating the Musculoskeletal SystemThis two week unit teaches students about the human musculoskeletal system, introducing 6th grade students to fundamental concepts that will be built upon in 7th and 8th grade. Each lesson is connected by questions that further student understanding of important concepts about how bones, joints, muscles, and tendons produce movement. These activities are inquiry transformations of lessons found in the FOSS and NSCR human body curriculum guides. Students have the opportunity to develop a bone classification system, revise it, and assemble a skeleton. Rocks and LandformsExamining rock types and the topography and geology of the local area sets the stage for investigating how rocks and landforms change due to weathering, erosion, and deposition. In the Prentice Hall series used by Briscoe Middle School, the next logical volume would be Earth's Changing Surface. The sequence of further investigations in Smith et al (2001) is as follows. "Key Questions" and key concepts are listed. Genetic VariationThis science unit addresses "Reproduction and Heredity' in the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for Life Science, Grades 6-8. It is based on the Full Option Science System (FOSS) by Delta Education, 2004, a nationally-validated, standards-based, STS-based curriculum. The science of genetics occurs at the cellular level and therefore is not readily observable phenomenon for Middle School students. This increases the need for activities and presentation to be engaging. Some concepts benefit from modeling to explain the processes that transfer traits from parent to child. This is an effort to use a familiar element for the students to explore the concepts of traits, dominance and recessive, genotypes and phenotypes of traits that are otherwise invisible. Discovering LifeThis unit takes students into the world of cells. The unit is composed of no less then six days of activities that will give students knowledge of how to use a microscope; discovering microscopic organisms; and learning the parts of a cell. The unit will lead to a collaborative group project that will tie in art, technology and several habits of mind. The students have just finished a unit about classifying living and non-living things. They have the background knowledge of the seven characteristics of a living thing. Weathering and ErosionThis unit will transition from the unit on rocks and minerals, where they learned about types of rocks and how they are formed. Then the driving question of how the Grand Canyon formed will introduce the unit on erosion and deposition. This lesson will focus on erosion and will lead into a lesson on deposition. WeatherThe purpose of this unit is to master their understanding of Weather and the Earth's Atmosphere. This unit is mostly based upon a Weather and Water unit developed by the FOSS (Full Option Science System) Middle School Project Staff. I have also added some information from the Climate and Weather unit created by Investigating Earth Systems. The class I taught has just finished a unit on the water cycle. The weather unit will build on some of the concepts learned from the water cycle unit. Solar EclipseWe all have witnessed shadows. Have you ever noticed that shadows change depending on what time of day or what time of year you witness them? Today we are going to go outside and collect some of our own shadow data. The Human Respiratory SystemThis unit on the Human Respiratory System is based on the Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools Human Body Systems curriculum (National Science Resources Center and National Academy of Sciences, 2000). Some of the activities in the Human Body Systems curriculum were modified to achieve the same learning objectives through activities for which supplies were available (or could be readily obtained at a low cost) as well as available (e.g. the school's science lab is not equipped with gas). The MoonThis is in the middle of the Moon unit, although they haven't gotten much content yet. They have filled out a preliminary survey to identify what they think happens in terms of Moon phases and the relationship between the Moon, Earth and Sun. They have just completed a two-week moon observation period that they noted the changing appearance and position in the sky of the moon over that time period. Milkweed BugsIn this unit, student groups compare two sets of habitats of milkweed bugs that were started at the same time. It is clear that reproduction has taken place in one set of habitats and not in the other. From this observation, students generate the question – "Why didn't the milkweed bugs in the second set of habitats reproduce? Force and MotionStudents explore the concepts of force and motion. The key concepts covered will be speed, velocity, distance vs. time graphing techniques, gravity, potential energy, kinetic energy. The goal is to create a unit which is student centered, project-based and placed the teacher in a more facilitative rather than "teaching" role. The material is a conglomerate of original work, curriculum from the ARIES Series created at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the FOSS Series created by Delta Education, the National Science Education Standards, Physics: A World View by Kirkpatrick & Wheeler, and the Massachusetts Department of Education Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Frameworks. Microscopic Life and the CellIn these two units, students are introduced to the big picture of life on Earth. Students discover that all living things share the same basic characteristics, that all organisms (bacteria, protists, fungi, plants, and animals) are composed of cells, and that a single cell is the fundamental unit of life. Students explore the relationship of organisms to their environment. In their efforts to answer the question "What is life?", students develop an appreciation for the awesome diversity of life on Earth and a personal interest in life in all its forms. The Senses This unit is based upon the FOSS Human Brain and Senses course and the NIH Brain course in which students have the opportunity to explore the awesome and complex functions of the brain. Through many different activities the students will be able to work cooperatively and build upon many process skills such as observing, measuring, predicting, and controlling variables. They will also have the chance to develop scientific habits of mind such as being open-minded. Moon CratersThis unit is based upon FOSS Planetary Science curriculum, in which students explore how impact is one of the major processes that shapes and changes the surface of planets and satellites. This unit, Moon Craters, will build upon the students' enthusiasm for astronomy while they explore several scientific concepts, build process skills and reinforce scientific habits of mind. At different times students will work alone, in pairs, in groups of three or four and as a class. The tempo, strategies and peer groups will change somewhat to provide variety in which the students can be kept interested at the inquiry at hand. Seed to a PlantThis lesson unit plan is about hereditary of all organisms. In the previous lessons, students learned about the basic principles of heredity. In this lesson the students will see demonstrations about heredity via hands-on activities with the Wisconsin Fast Plants. Movement of the EarthThis book starts with students learning how scientists use models to investigate and test theories about the Earth systems. Students investigate characteristics of the Earth's interior by modeling how earthquake waves travel through different materials. Students then look at how seismological wave interpretations tell us about characteristics of the Earth's interior material. Exploring Heat in LiquidsHeat moves from hot areas t/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=9188o cool areas. Temperature can be used to detect/measure heat change. We categorize the transfer of heat into three methods: conduction, convection, and radiation. The density of a substance/object is changed as its temperature changes. Warmer fluid expands and will rise in a cooler fluid (in the presence of gravity). Density and LiquidsA fluid will rise when placed in a fluid of greater density. HeatHeat is Energy! Energy is motion! Heat is Motion, the motion of molecules and atoms! Different objects absorb & give off heat differently. Heat moves from hot areas to cool areas. Temperature can be used to detect/measure heat change. We categorize the transfer of heat into three methods: conduction, convection, and radiation. Objects tend to expand when heated. The density of a substance/object is changed as its temperature changes.Using Our SensesThis lesson will introduce the students to how the senses pick up information from the environment and send the information to the brain. This will lead up to further lessons in which they will learn about how messages are sent to the brain and how the brain perceives these messages. TidesThe gravitational pull of the moon is the main factor in tidal processes; an understanding of how the spatial relationship between Sun/Earth/Moon effect tidal movements and fluctuations; current velocity is not constant throughout a tidal cycle; the relationship between the Earth's rotation and Lunar orbit as the reason a lunar day is 24 hours and 50 minutes. Chemical InteractionsThis unit is based on the FOSS Unit entitled Chemical Interactions. The basis of this unit is to introduce students to the basic concepts of chemistry through investigations. As part of this unit students will be observing the properties of matter and finding evidence of a chemical or physical change. Students will learn about the changes or transformations that take place when substances are combined. Learning about changes in substances is important because it gives students knowledge about how things go together and how they can be taken apart. What is Life?This unit is based on the FOSS Diversity of Life curriculum. Biology is one of the students' favorite sciences because it allows them to interact with the world around them. In this unit they will learn that all living organisms share a similar set of characteristics despite their size and appearance. Children are always quick to answer when asked whether an object is living or nonliving. They arrive at their answer by comparing the object to other familiar organisms like people, animals and plants. Students are less comfortable responding to the same question after finding out that living and non-living objects have many similar characteristics. Can You Handle the HeatThis unit involves kinetic energy and energy transfers. Students will utilize a variety of different techniques to demonstrate an understanding of kinetic energy and heat transfer through inquiry-based laboratory work and group problem-solving. Earth's CyclesThis 8-session unit is designed to follow the National Science Education Standards from the grades 5-8 Earth and Space Science "Science as Inquiry" content standards. The lesson is designed to be taught to a combined 5th and 6th grade class. The focus will be from Content Standard D. "Structure of the Earth System." Specifically, we will examine the Earth as a "water-planet." Students will gain an appreciation that the surface of the Earth is over 70% water, and that greater than 97% of the water is in the oceans. The mathematics of decimals and percentages will be an extension of the unit, and the concept of "powers of ten" will be introduced. The unit will also have extensions into geography and social studies as we consider concepts such as global warming and acid rain. Why Do We Look the Way We Do?Through a variety of experiments and activities, students learn how organisms inherit traits from their parents and how dominant and recessive alleles interact to produce traits in a population. Students also learn the many vocabulary terms required by participating in active discussions and debates. Throughout the unit students investigate the underlying mechanisms of change in population by breeding imaginary animals called larkeys and by manipulating virtual insects in a computer simulation.Motion and ForcesThis lesson focuses on factors that cause and effect motion and forces. Prior knowledge in the scientific method and the design process would facilitate the lesson. Benchmark lessons in tool safety, equipment usage , and graphing would enhance the project as well. Mystery PowdersThis lesson introduces the students to the unit on chemical interactions, a subdivision of physical science. Once this lesson has been completed the students will have an understanding that all matter is made up of different substances, having different physical and chemical properties, which are manifested in in physical and chemical changes, and that chemical changes occur when a reaction happens. Properties of MatterThis unit is based upon several inquiry activities from the Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools Curriculum, Properties of Matter (National Academy of Sciences, 2000) in which students will explore the properties of mixtures and solutions. Through these activities, students will learn various science concepts, as well as build on processing skills and science habits of mind. Students will perform investigations to learn about saturated solutions, solubility, the law of conservation of mass when a solute is dissolved in a solvent, and the possibility of volume change when a solute and a solvent are mixed. How Do Rocks Form?This unit is based upon FOSS Earth History curriculum, in which students exercise their inferential thinking with the study of the Earth's history. Students, after completing FOSS Earth History should be more confident in their ability to ask questions and use evidence from all types of rocks to hypothesize about past environments. This unit, One Rock to Another, aims to introduce students to two of the types of rocks round on Earth, igneous and metamorphic. Though conducting investigation and building explanations, students will understand the processes that form these two types of rocks. In this unit, students will work alone, in groups, outside and with potentially some community members.Where Does Your Food Go? What a Long Strange Trip It IsThis unit is part of a wider biology unit - The Human Body. "Where does your food go?- What a long strange trip it is" is a focus on the Digestive System. Most of the lessons are extracted from the Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools™ - Human Body Systems curriculum kit. The Digestive System is Part 1 of 3 Parts. Parts 2 and 3 are: The Respiratory and Circulatory Systems and The Musculoskeletal System respectively. Earth in SpaceWhy can't people fly? Why do the earth and the other planets in the solar system rotate around the sun? EcosystemsWhat happens to organisms if one factor of an ecosystem changes? What happens to a population in an ecosystem if another population is introduced?Measuring MotionThese five lessons will be situated towards the end of a start of the year unit on rock climbing. Within the larger unit, students will have previously studied topics in Earth Sciences (weathering, erosion, etc.) under the questions How can I become an expert climber, what makes a good place to climb, and where can I find one? Later, students will transition to the sub-question of How can I measure my climbing? Students will learn about force and motion, including distance, speed, and acceleration, within the context of scaling an indoor wall or a rock-face. Students will participate in a culminating activity involving a climbing field trip, during which students will measure each other's climbs applying the processes and concepts explored in the unit. Is Everything We See a Mixture?Students will be able to describe a pure substance and give examples, identify heterogeneous and homogeneous mixtures, understand solute, solvent, saturation, and super saturation, and understand that temperature affects the saturation point of a substance. PlanetsThese lessons will bring the previous lessons on Planetary Science together (previous lessons have been on the Moon, Moon phases, Seasons on Earth, Day and Night on Earth and Tides). The students will use the knowledge they have gained to compare and contrast Earth with another planet. Based on that comparison students will determine if their planet could sustain life or if we would want travel there to harvest resources. The students will explore potential difficulties in space travel. The students will explore hands-on experience in planet exploration in a field tripVolcanoesThis unit is based on the Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools curriculum, Catastrophic Events, published by Carolina Biological Supply Company, Burlington North Carolina. In this unit students will explore, experiment and uncover various facts about volcanoes which they hadn't been aware of and lay to rest some misconceptions they have harbored.
Vincent M. Livoti
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