New Lab Activities!

I’ve recently turned two more of my lab activities into products available to other teachers through my TpT store.

Activity: Predict, Measure, Graph and Analyze with Tasty Candy!

I use this activity with my 6th graders as they are learning to make quantitative observations, but I think it’s useful for 7th-9th as well.

Students enjoy getting to eat the candy after they make their measurements. Skills practiced are making a bar graph, calculating averages and percentages and comparing their data to the data of other students.

My 6th graders come to me without much experience with measuring and evaluating quantitative data. Math is not applied to scientific thinking in the lower grades unfortunately! While I think they would benefit from quantitative thinking in science in 4th/5th grade, I am happy to introduce them to the world of data!

Inquiry Activity: Magnet Challenge! Includes Google Doc Worksheet Option

I was really happy with how well my students did with this activity. I created it over the summer to use as a beginning-of-the-year warm up to remind my 7th graders how to collaborate and get back into academic work. I enjoyed their enthusiasm for the activity as they got beyond their initial struggle with inquiry-style experimentation. Fear-of-the-wrong-answer-syndrome impacts many of my hardworking students! I like the challenge this activity provided to set aside this paralyzing fear and just enjoy experimenting with magnets. The link includes a product PREVIEW so you can see student work.

Metals Activity: Malleable, Ductile, Shiny, Conductive, High Melting Point

I made this inquiry activity years ago, but finally got around to making it available to teachers like you just recently. I like the way my students have to come up with their own ways to demonstrate the properties of metals with nothing more than a piece of aluminum foil. The only other supplies is a heat source such as a hot plate and some way to test electrical conductivity (easy to make).

The activity has a built-in assessment so you do not need any separate way to assess understanding.

You can have students partner up for this, but I like for them to work independently with this activity. Too much partnering leads to too much reliance on others to do the thinking. With a piece of foil being the only individual supply needed there’s no real need to share.

Take a look at the PREVIEW for this activity to see some student work!

Science Lab Challenge – Practice following directions and using lab equipment

lab equipment lesson thumbnailI developed this quick and easy activity to teach my middle school students about common lab equipment, safety procedures and how to work together in a lab. It’s also specifically designed to help them practice the hardest skill of all – following directions!

This activity encourages students to document and learn from their mistakes. They do not lose points for making mistakes; rather, they gain points by recognizing and correcting their errors. The pressure for perfection is off and the pressure for learning is on!

The activity is quite safe since the only substances used are water, food coloring, vinegar and baking soda.

Objectives of this activity are for students to be able to:
• Follow step-by-step directions in a lab
• Identify common lab supplies and their uses
• Cooperate with group members to complete a lab activity
• Explain basic safety practices that must be followed when doing a lab

See what other teachers have to say about this activity here. 


Find other science experiments and labs:

Laying the Foundation…


Teaching Middle School Chemistry

As a middle school teacher I find one of the hardest parts of my academic work is to really pinpoint exactly what my students need to know at this level. I’m a details person and I like to dig into the subjects that I teach. My fear is that I’m not laying out the big picture well enough and get stuck in the weeds with the details. But the big picture doesn’t work without enough details so I can’t ignore the details. Now you know the type of arguments I have with myself.

I love chemistry. I love elements. I love atoms. I love electrons. Yes, I’m a total geek, but I can’t help thinking that it’s beyond amazing that we know so much about things we can’t directly see or experiment with. Everything is through indirect methods and ingenious ones. I’m always amazed at the creativity that it took for people to figure out all that we know about atoms. (This is somewhat beside my main point; except, the fact that I think it helps to be excited about what you teach, otherwise teaching can really suck.),

So, back to what I do with teaching chemistry to 8th graders. Below I’ve laid out my outline of topics in the order that I think works, after 8 years of fiddling with it. Every system has limiting factors so in figuring out what to teach I had to respect my limits – this is an introductory level AND it’s only a UNIT of 8th grade, NOT a year long course in chemistry.

My development of this unit reflects my personal teaching philosophy:

I am dedicated to giving my students an opportunity to build a foundation of knowledge and skills to take into high school courses. I want two things for them:

        1. They can walk into a high school course and feel confident that the knowledge they already have will support them in learning more. I am lucky in that I see my former students often and I ask them if I am doing a good job at this and they say yes. This comes from C students too. And, they are really thankful for it which is a major inspiration for me to keep pushing forward (otherwise, like I said, this job could really suck).

        2. I don’t expect my students to recall all the facts they learned, but I do hope they learned about analysis, drawing logical conclusions, and writing with precision. I do hope that they remember about analyzing experiments – the role of constants and variables, testable questions, placebos and trial sizes. At least this skill may save them from believing everything that they read on the internet and falling for junk science.

So, the question is, what are the foundational concepts that set the stage for deeper learning in the future? Also, what skills do I want them to learn in middle school that will give them more confidence for higher level courses, in this case, chemistry?

Here is my outline of concepts taught with some main points/vocabulary stated as well. It is just an outline so imagine that I’m filling in the blanks with (hopefully) all of the right details. The list is generally in the order in which I teach these concepts. I’ve included links to some of the lessons/worksheets I created to teach this unit. I’d love to know what you teach for middle school chemistry. Please share your comments and suggestions!

Atomic Theory and Structure of an Atom

  • Bohr’s model for understanding the atomic structure of the first 18 elements – protons and neutrons in the nucleus, electrons occurring at certain distances from the nucleus; these distances are energy levels (or shells); electron configuration rules for the 1st three energy levels. (no orbitals at this level)

  • Atomic theory history – Democritus – Dalton – Thomson – Rutherford – Bohr – quantum mechanical model – Chadwick

Free Atomic Theory Timeline Slides   Student Worksheet
Bohr Atomic Model – Warm ups or Exit Cards: Sample   Full Document
Chemical Element Mini-Research Project Full Document

Periodic Table and properties of elements

  • Arrangement by atomic number
  • Atomic mass – average atomic mass and mass of the most common isotope
  • Periods = number of energy levels
  • Groups – element in the same groups have similar chemical properties; valence electrons
  • Properties of particular groups – metals, nonmetals, highly reactive/less reactive, halogens, noble gases, metalloids

Structure and Composition of Matter

  • Atoms can bond and form compounds or molecular elements
  • Ionic compounds – ionic bonds, ionic bonding, Lewis dot diagrams to model bonding, properties of ionic compounds, crystal lattice, formula units
  • Covalent compounds and molecular elements – covalent bonds/bonding, Lewis dot diagrams to model bonding, properties of covalently bonded substances; molecule defined, chemical formulas
  • Metallic bonding – electron sea model, this model can be used to explain the properties of metals (luster, malleable, ductile, conductive, high melting point)
  • Mixtures vs. compounds and pure substances

Element, Compound or Mixture? Critical Thinking Exercises, Warm-ups or Exit Cards   Free Sample   Full Document

Matching Matter Worksheet:  Is it an element, compound or mixture?  Full Document

Introduce Chemical Bonding (Ionic, Covalent, Metallic) – Note-taking worksheets and practice exercises:  Free Sample  Full Document

Physical and chemical changes to matter

  • Physical changes to matter – kinetic molecular theory explains why matter changes phases; properties of solids, liquids and gases at the particle level; basic concept about the intermolecular forces that hold particles close together in the solid and liquid state and how these forces are overcome based on how much energy particles have)
  • Chemical change
    • Chemical equations
    • Endothermic and exothermic reactions
    • Combustion reactions
    • Acid/base reactions
    • Law of conservation of energy and mass
    • Balancing chemical reactions
    • Signs of a chemical reaction

Chemical Reactions Lab – 4 Easy and Fun Experiments for Middle or High School: Free Sample   Full Document

Nuclear Reactions

  • Fusion
  • Fission
  • Radioactive decay
    • Alpha particle
    • Beta particle
  • Transmutation
  • Nuclear energy to produce electricity

Fusion diagram with questions (Free)

Pathogenic and Beneficial Bacteria Introduced

Includes a Google Doc Version for Distance Learning!

bacteria webquest cover

[Students – please scroll down for the webquest links]

The hardest part of teaching 6th-9th grade science sometimes is figuring out what information is essential for these students to learn so that they develop important background knowledge to propel them forward to deeper learning in upper high school courses and beyond. I struggle with this question all of the time.

It has taken a few years, but I think I have found the right balance when it comes to teaching about the bacteria kingdom. We learn about this subject twice – first, when study the basic characteristics of the different kingdoms of life. Second, when we study pathogens and the immune system, which is when my students do this webquest.

I developed this webquest to engage my students in the reasons WHY we study bacteria. This could seem like a boring subject, but bacteria are amazing, complex and scary. They are a part of our history as humans and literally a part of our bodies. Learning about bacteria can be frightening at times given the havoc they can cause, but its through learning and studying them that we quell our fears.

For one, kids often are given the impression that all bacteria are bad and disease-causing. The exact opposite is true and most bacteria are harmless or are doing a job directly for us or in the environment that we rely on. Learning about this makes them a lot less scary. And yes, some do harm us, but by studying them and engaging with them, we learn to stop and prevent their infections.

**The student links are those students visit as they complete the webquest. Click HERE to see the worksheet.** Click here to find out about my unit on pathogens. Click here to learn about my Pasteur and Redi Spontaneous Generation activity.

Webquest Student Links

Reading, What are Bacteria?

Disease-Causing Bacteria, Video 1

Alexander Fleming, Video 2

Reading, The real story behind penicillin

Reading, What about Good Bacteria?

Reading, The Danger of Antibiotic Overuse

cover page pathogens

How the Eye Works Webquest

In this activity students will…eye wbqst picture

  • Learn the main parts of the eye and how they function
  • Have fun with an optical illusion
  • Learn about eye health and common vision problems
  • Compare human eye sight to other animals

Find more information about this activity here.

Student Links:

A. Movie: Eyes

B. Your Eyes Article

C. Diagram of the Eye

D.Experiments to Try

Experiments to Try

E. eye health


Caring for Your Eyes

F. common vision problems

G. Eyes Quiz

H. Eagle Eyes

I. Animal Eyes


Research Trophic Levels to Construct a Forest Ecosystem Food Pyramid

Research:  Trophic Levelsfood pyramid

Identify:  Biotic & Abiotic Factors of an Ecosystem

Find more information about this activity here.

Student Links:

Organism Menu – accessed through the WayBack Machine (Internet Archive) – all links work!

Ecology Vocabulary Quizlet

Video: Introduction/Review of Food Chains and Energy Pyramids

blank pyramid for web activity

Learn About More Food Web Activities

The Metric System (measuring length) – A Webquest

Includes a Google Doc Version for Distance Learning!

Voyage through 5 interactive websites to practice:metric system cover

  • Reading rulers
  • Making basic conversions between mm, cm and meters

Learn more about this activity:
The Metric System: A Webquest

Student Links:

A. Learn about metric length (link)

A. 4. Take the quiz.

B. Reading Rulers Practice – Measuring Length in Centimeters (link). 

C. Measuring Length in Centimeters with Decimals (link).  

D. Measure it! – Centimeters with Decimals (link)

E. Play the Conversion Game