Middle School Science Blog

A collection of ideas for interactive science notebooks

Into to Metric System Activity & Foldable

I was looking at my metric system notes that I have been using for years and was wondering how I can jazz it up and make it more visual and interactive. My notes are a basic intro with a short class activity where the kids measure thing like their hand span and fingernail width in cm, then they use those to estimate the length of things like a pencil or their lab table. We wrap it up by finding the actual measurements and seeing who was the closest to the real length.

This is not on the handout, but while the kids are doing this activity, I have them come over to a square support column where I have a few pieces of construction paper taped vertically to it and I mark their heights in cm then put their name next to their mark. I leave that up all year long and they love to see how much they’ve grown since Sept!

Left Side:

Using Publisher, I opened a Brochure template but used the 4-panel fold instead of the standard 3 panel. This makes it a legal sized document (8.5 x 14). For page one, I only used the 1st column and the 4th column. In the first column I wrote “English” and placed a washed out image of the USA behind it (we are 1 out of maybe 3 countries that use it). On the 4th column, I wrote “Metric” and placed a washed out image of the French flag behind it to signify that it was created by French scientists as a standard unit of measurement around 1791.

For page 2, the columns on the left are in English units and the columns on the right are for metric units. As part of the lesson, we brainstorm all the different English units we use everyday and categorize them according to their use: mass, volume, or length. I then introduce the base unit for mass, volume and length in the metric system: gram, Liter, and meter. Then I introduce the prefixes that can be used with the base units: kilo, centi, and milli. (I mention them, but I don’t really go into deci, deca, or hecto because they are not as commonly used.)

Then I explain how you can mix and match the prefixes with the base units and I have the kids list as many as they can and we go over what they mean, as well as practice their abbreviations. For example centi + meter = centimeter (cm) and its used to measure distance (length).

At this point I pass out the rulers and we go over where the cm side is and how each number represents a cm, and the little lines between are millimeters. I have them count the small lines and they see that there are 10 mm for each cm.
Now that they are familiar with the “other side” of the ruler, I show them how to measure their hand span (pinky to thumb with fingers spread apart as much as they can), their index finger length, the width of their index fingernail, the back of their hand (make a fist and measure across the knuckles) and their foot length. (When we are all done measuring I tell them that their foot fits between their wrist and the bend of their elbow. They don’t believe me, but when they do it they think its pretty cool!)
The one thing that is different in this lesson than the original is that I am having them measure in inches, also. Mostly just for practice and that they can compare the values and see that the values for cm are larger than the values for inches.
So after we have taken those 5 measurements, I take the rulers away and they have to estimate the values for the lab table, width of paper, pencil length, width of chair, and width of a floor tile. This part is great because now they use the known values of, lets say their hand span or fingernail width, to find the unknown values of those 5 objects. (and while they are doing this, I call up one at a time to measure and mark how tall they are in cm)
Once everyone is done with their measurements, we talk about what some of our estimates are and compare values. I then hand the rulers back and they measure to find the true values. After a few minutes, I then ask for the actual measurements, one item at a time, and we see who was the closest and if anyone had it exactly! Their answers are usually pretty close!
Right Side:
When everyone is done, and if there is time, I’ll have them start the right side activity which is practicing and reviewing the units that we learned today. I made this handout as a way for the kids to start using metric vocabulary and to become familiar with “thinking metric”.
For the foldable, it is formatted to print out on Legal sized paper (8.5 x 14). If you have legal size printer paper and legal size copy paper, then that is a one option. If you do not, there is an option in the print menu that can shrink it to fit onto 8.5 x 11 paper. ( see next post)
  • Metric Notes pdf (For this one and most of my in class activities, I would have the kids glue this into their notebooks after they have completed the lesson)
  • Metric Notes Practice pdf – right side practice or hw

Surface Tension Demonstration

I do this lesson as an observation with the students gathered around the table. We talk about surface tension and most kids have a general idea of what it is.

I fill up a glass with water, but not all the way to the top. I ask the kids “Can this paper clip float on top of the water?” Kids usually say no. I add a little drama and try really hard to get the paper clip to float on top of the water and act really disappointed when it drops to the bottom each time. Then I “remember” how to do it the right way.

I slowly add more water to the glass and the kids watch as the water rises over the top but does not run down the side of the glass. It forms a dome. We talk about surface tension again.

I then take a paper clip (the smaller ones work really well) and hold it horizontally. I place one edge on the lip of the glass and slowly slide the paper clip onto the dome of water. I give it a slight tap and the paper clip slides across the top of the dome to the other side. The kids think its such a neat trick. We then make observations of how the paperclip is slightly indented into the surface of the water and that the surface tension is holding it up.

I then add another paperclip and we make more observations. Sometimes the paper clips bump into each other and float around the top. We keep going until I can no longer place anymore on top. I think we had 15 floating at once as our highest count.

After we discuss this demo and wrap it up, I show the kids how to use a pipette and have them practice using it so they are ready for our surface tension lab the next class. Using a pipette is a fine motor skill and takes practice so all the water doesn’t gush out at once or come out in uneven large drops. I show them how to hold it with their thumb and first two fingers on the bulb end and to keep the pipette on a slight angle. You don’t want to hold it perfectly horizontal because you want the water to be near the opening and reduce air bubbles. Holding it vertically doesn’t give you as much control. You want to hold the pipette steadily and have good control.

One other key point is not to the have the tip of the pipette touch anything or submerge into the water. When they do the real lab, I remind them that the pipette tip should not touch the penny or any drops of water on the surface of the penny. I bring up that whenever I watch crime shows and they show some kind of testing liquid from a dropper touching the item they are testing it drives me nutty because they just contaminated the bottle they were using and its not using proper “CSI” techniques. =)

The kids then practice with different amounts of pressure and experiment on how to get a good even flow of drops of water, and to practice counting them. The kids really get into it and we see how many drops of water they can get in a row.

Using Publisher, I made a tri-fold brochure for this demonstration, here is the pdf.

Vocabulary Foldable

This is my first attempt at making a foldable, I may make adjustments before school starts, but I think it might work as it is.

Using the Microsoft Publisher template “Blank Page Sizes-1/2 Letter Booklet-4.25 x 11 inches” – I placed dashed lines every 1 inch, leaving enough spots for each vocabulary word I wanted to use. I then used Word Art to type each word and centered it between the dashed lines.

For page 2, I used word art again to type the heading “Picture or Example” and on page 3 “Definitions“. Page 4 will be glued into the notebook when they are done making the foldable.

Print out the 4 pages (2 sheets of paper) and then double side it when you photocopy it. The bottom part where the directions are, can be cut off completely before it is glued into place.

Students will cut the dotted lines to make tabs, be sure not to cut all the way through, only the front flap. After they have cut the tabs, students can write the definition for each and either an example or picture, or both if they would like to, for each word. Students can use this foldable to study their vocabulary words by stating the definition and an example. They can self check by opening the tab and seeing the correct definition.

Here is the foldable as a pdf

Mystery Footprints – Observation vs. Inference

This is another start of the year activity I am going to use to stress the importance between observation and inference. I have a ppt & worksheet for class (left side) and a homework assignment (right side) for this lesson.

I’ll start with the power point and have the students write down their observations and inferences as I show one frame at a time. There is a lot of room for interpretation and I look forward to what they come up with!

  • This is the power point I modified for my class: Mystery Footprints
  • UPDATED 9.16.09 – (I had a few typos towards the end, so the corrected version is posted. My 5′s are so helpful in pointing this out!) This is the booklet of notes and where they write down their observations and inferences: Footprints pdf. To make the booklet, copy two sided, fold in half, and glue the 4th page into the notebook. (I found this lesson last year but can’t find the link I downloaded it from. I reformatted it, but other than that there are only minor changes)
  • And this is the practice assignment for homework and review: Practice pdf

Mystery Footprints – Observation vs. Inference

This is another start of the year activity I am going to use to stress the importance between observation and inference. I have a ppt & worksheet for class (left side) and a homework assignment (right side) for this lesson.

I’ll start with the power point and have the students write down their observations and inferences as I show one frame at a time. There is a lot of room for interpretation and I look forward to what they come up with!

  • This is the power point I modified for my class: Mystery Footprints
  • This is the booklet of notes and where they write down their observations and inferences: Footprints pdf. To make the booklet, copy two sided, fold in half, and glue the 4th page into the notebook. (I found this lesson last year but can’t find the link I downloaded it from. I reformatted it, but other than that there are only minor changes)
  • And this is the practice assignment for homework and review: Practice pdf

Bloom’s Taxonomy – Verb Wheel

I just saw this posted on another teacher’s blog and had to grab it! This is a fantastic visual resource that the students can refer to when looking for ideas to do their right page activities. This will be glued to the inside back cover of their notebooks.
Some more Bloom’s Wheels:

"D & T" Activity

What do the D and T stand for? The “D” stands for dog and the “T” stands for turnips. What do dogs and turnips have in common besides a Russian tale? And what does it have to do with science? Read on…

This is a lesson I first heard about last fall from the middle school science group . This is a very good group activity, it makes the students think like scientists, use their problem solving skills, and show a bit of their creative side. (I usually have groups with 3-4 students per group.)

Left Hand Side:

Each group is given the same exact 23 cards, each card has one word on it (such as dog, turnip, white, bone, bowl, etc… ). All the cards are face down, and they turn over any 5 cards. Using those 5 words, they have to guess what the story is about and make some kind of sentence out of it. After they write it down, they turn over 5 more cards and either try to continue their story, or make a new story now that they have new information. Once again, after they write down their new hypothesis, they chose another 5 cards and either add to their hypothesis, or make a new one.

Once everyone has uncovered 15 cards and made their 3rd hypothesis, I have each group share it with the class. Even though each group starts out with the same 23 cards, no two groups have uncovered the same 15 words (what is the probability of that happening…). Each group has their own hypothesis and we compare what is similar, what’s different, if there were any common themes, etc…

Now that we have all shared our stories, we turn over the rest of the cards. They have to use all 23 words to make the final version of their story. This is not as easy as it may sound. By this point, they may have a story they really like and want it to work out, or they may not agree on a final hypothesis, or they may get stuck because they have narrowed down which words belong together, ie. red dog, red bowl, or red house? Big dog, little dog, fat dog, big red fat dog?

We now share our final hypothesis, or story, with the class and we discuss what we came up with. I then ask them, “If we all have the same 23 words, why don’t we all have the same story?” The kids come up with some great reasons as to why. We talk about what challenges they encountered when trying to come up with a story, if there was disagreement in the group, if their stories even made sense, etc…

I then tie it into how scientists may have the same exact information or data, but come up with different hypotheses and disagree just like they did in this activity. I then bring up the topic of who has the “correct” hypothesis? How do I know what is “correct”? Scientists are always getting new information (just like they got more words to work with) all the time and have to either make it fit, or come up with a totally new hypothesis and start from scratch, throwing all their previous ideas out the window. You can then tie in real examples of that like how people thought the world was flat, sun went around the Earth, etc..

After all my classes have done this activity, I then reveal what the “correct” story was, and it usually is not even close to the stories they came up with! Then they always say that their story was better! =)

Right Side:

For the right side, I will have the students write a half page reflection about what they learned or experienced by doing this activity, and then a half page drawing showing a scene from their unique story.

When we do this activity in Sept, I will post what they came up with as well as some of their drawings. I can then keep a log for each year, will be fun to compare then with each new group of students.


ISN Version: http://www.middleschoolscience.com/turnips-isn.pdf
Lab Journal Version (includes the 23 words, print out and laminate): http://www.middleschoolscience.com/turnips.pdf

Original Website with the Lesson Plan I made the lab sheets from: http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/education/dynamic/session4/sess4_act1.htm

"I am a Scientist" Drawing

What does a scientist look like? Most people think of an older man in a white lab coat with beakers and bubbling test tubes around him. I wanted the kids to realize that this is not always the case and they are actually scientists, too.
When I did this activity last year, I hung the drawings up in the hallway. This year, I want them to draw the pictures into their interactive science notebooks. This would be a right page activity after we do the science classroom scavenger hunt.

I wanted the kids to view themselves as real scientists and draw themselves in a scientific setting of their choice. The kids came up with some great scenarios such as a marine biologist, zoologist, vet, chemist, astronaut, researcher, paleontologist, entomologist, etc… They really got a sense of how there are so many different kinds of sciences to study and types of scientists, not just the usual stereotype most people think of.

I condensed the handout so that they can glue the instructions to the top of their notebook page and have about 3/4 of the page to draw themselves as a scientist in a setting of their choice. Here is the new handout: http://www.middleschoolscience.com/i-am-a-scientist-isn.pdf

I also mention that the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Hillenburg, was actually a marine biologist before he started the cartoon series.

Scavenger Hunt

During either the 1st or 2nd day of class, I usually do a scavenger hunt in our science classroom. I love this activity and its a good icebreaker. For my 5′s, it is the first time they are in a science classroom in the Upper School. They were in the same science room from K-4, so its an exciting change. It gets them up and out of their seats, they find where the important items are in the classroom, and I get to see how they handle a task, if they work with a partner or prefer to work alone.

After everyone has had a chance to work on the scavenger hunt, we take our seats and go over the answers. For example, if I ask “Where is the fire extinguisher?” all the students point to it at the same time. There are a few tricky ones and its fun when they are all pointing in different directions thinking they are right! One tricky one is we have these pull down coiled up extension cords that hang from the ceilings with 3 outlets on each, we use these to plug in laptops if the battery power is low. Most kids point to the wall outlets thinking they are the ones we use for laptops, then I point up to the ceiling and they are like “Where did they come from!”

Here is the updated version that I will use in September. I used a landscape layout and each student will have half a page in their notebooks. http://www.middleschoolscience.com/scavengerhunt-isn.pdf

SpongeBob Lab Safety Activity

One of the first lessons I use after we talk about lab safety is the SpongeBob Science Safety Rules Challenge. The original lesson plan along with teacher notes is posted at http://sciencespot.net/Media/scimthdsafety.pdf .

I reformatted the information from the original handout using Microsoft Publisher and used a blank catalog template. I will use this new format in Sept, but have used the original lesson plan several times with my students. This template allows me to use a standard sheet of paper and double sided photocopying to make a 4 page booklet. I then saved it as a pdf file.

Students will fold it in half and glue the 4th page into their science notebooks. This is the new handout I made and Tracy posted it on her sciencespot site along with the original lesson plan: http://sciencespot.net/Media/spongebob-safety-challenge-isn.pdf

Left Hand Activity:

How I use this lesson is I have several students take turns reading the story outloud. After we read it as a class, each student works with their lab partner and underlines the broken safety rules in pencil. After several minutes, giving everyone a chance to finish up, we go over the answers. I have them take out a colored pencil and we underline all the goofy broken safety rules that SpongeBob and the gang make and discuss why we chose those.

If a student has a correct answer, they have a regular pencil line and a colored pencil line for the broken safety rule. If they missed one, its only underlined in colored pencil. As I walk around the room, it allows me to quickly assess their work. I only grade it as completed or not completed, not by the number of answers they got right or missed. The kids like this activity and its a good way to get them thinking about lab safety.

Right hand activity:

I am not sure what I will use yet, but a few ideas I have are to have students make an illustration of a safety rule either being broken or followed, draw a scene from the story with SpongeBob or Patrick breaking one of the rules mentioned, or make observations from different drawings and see how many broken rules they can find. All three are visual, but having students draw pictures about safety rules would be more creative.