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How To Use Living Books With Middle School Students

How to use living books with middle school students

Hi, Sassy-sci fans! Blaine and Tracey have asked me to come back and share about how to use living books to teach science to middle school students.

Several months ago, I shared with how to use living books with elementary students and the response was so great that the twins wanted more.

But before we discuss how to use living books with middle school students, I thought I would share a little background.

Your Goals For Middle School Science

Your middle school students are full of unorganized information from the elementary years. Now, it is the time to teach them how to store and organize those facts along with continuing to feed the students with more.

So, your goals for middle school science education are three-fold.

  1. To begin to train the student’s brain to think analytically about the facts of science.
  2. To familiarize the student with the basics of the scientific method through inquiry-based methods.
  3. To continue to feed the student with information about the world around them.

Living books are excellent tools to help you fulfill these goals!

The Components Of Middle School Science

When you are teaching science to middle school students, you want to include the following:

  • Experiments – Experiments are more student-led than the demonstrations you used during the elementary years. Read more about how they differ from scientific demonstrations.
  • Information – The students need a way to gather the facts they need to know. Living books with a science bent definitely fit the bill here!
  • Writing – Basically, you want a way to record what they students are learning. This can take the form of summaries or outlines during these years.
  • The Science Project – Middle school students should begin doing a yearly science fair project.

If you want to give quizzes or tests, the middle school years are a good time to begin. You can also have the students do a bit of Internet research and related activities to round things out if they are seeking more.

A Week Of Living Books For Science With Middle School Students

So, now that we understand our goals for teaching science and what we need to include – let’s get to the nitty-gritty!

I’m going to use a week from volume three of the Sassafras Science Adventures series to show you the plan in action. This is the Sassafras Science blog after all J!

That said, you can certainly apply these principles to another book, like the Wonderbook of Chemistry or others, from this living books for science list.

Day 1 – Information and Writing

First up – reading. Start by reading the first section of Chapter 10 of The Sassafras Science Adventures Volume 3: Botany.

This part of the chapter introduces the student to the Arctic taiga as well as the dwarf birch shrub. After you finished reading the section, spend a few moments discussing what you just read with the students.

You can do this by asking probing questions:

  1. Why does the dwarf birch shrub grow in low clumps?
  2. What are some adaptations that the dwarf birch shrub has that suit it for life in the Arctic?
  3. How is the dwarf birch shrub pollinated?
  4. What type of flower does the dwarf birch shrub have?
  5. Why do you think the dwarf birch shrub grows only in the Arctic?

After you have completed the reading and discussion time with the students, you will want them to write a brief paragraph about the dwarf birch shrub. A typical sixth grader might write:

The dwarf birch shrub is a low-growing bush found only in the tundra. Its small stature prevents damage from the arctic winds. The dwarf birch also has tiny hairs that trap water droplets and prevent moisture loss. Its dark green, thick, and leathery leaves are designed to be more efficient at photosynthesis. The dwarf birch shrub also has a large, wide-spread root system that allows it to grow just above the permafrost layer of the arctic taiga.

You could also have the students define taiga and add the definitions to a glossary they have created in their student notebook.

Day 2 - Information and Writing

Today, you would begin by reading the second section of Chapter 10 of The Sassafras Science Adventures Volume 3: Botany. This part of the chapter introduces the student to the crocus.

After you finished reading the section, spend a few moments discussing what you just read with the students using probing questions. Then, have them write a summary like they did on day one or a list of facts. The typical fifth grader might list:

  • The crocus is native to woodlands and scrublands from sea level to the alpine tundra.
  • The flowers of the crocus are cup-shaped and are typically white, yellow, or shades of purple.
  • The stem is typically a short, thin tube with a large bulb at the base.
  • These plants will form a bulb at the base of the stem before they go dormant for the winter.
  • The purpose of the bulb is to store food for the plant so that when it warms up, it can grow and reproduce.
  • The visible leaves resemble grasses that all come from the base of the stem.
  • The crocus also has thin, papery leaves that cover and protect the bulb at the base of the stem
  • The root system is extensive for the crocus plant; it anchors it to the ground and connects it to sister plants nearby.

You could also have the students define bulb and add the definitions to a glossary they have created in their student notebook.

Day 3 – Experiment and Writing

Now that you have finished reading the chapter, you can do a related experiment with the students. In the Sassafras Guide to Botany, it suggests that you a bulb dissection. This is designed to help the students observe the different parts of a bulb.

Once you complete that dissection, you can have the students fill out an experiment sheet that covers the materials they used, what they did, what they observed along with a sketch, and what they learned.

You could also have the student fill out a biome sheet on the taiga.

Note – Before we continue onto what you could do for day 4 and 5, let me say that what follows is optional. So, in other words, you can skip this stuff, or if your students are really enjoying what they are learning, you can keep going!

Day 4 – Research and Writing

Now, the students have a chance to really dig into what they learned earlier in the week. Here are a few options:

  • They could scour the Internet to learn more about the differences between the tundra and taiga. Then, they could display their findings in a chart.
  • They could watch a video about the taiga.
  • They could read about the polar regions in the DK Encyclopedia of Nature and outline what they read.

Day 5 – Projects and Review

Projects are a fun way to explore in what the students have read about. For this week, you could have the students:

  • Sprout a bulb of garlic.
  • Make a biome poster for the Arctic taiga.
  • Make their own bulb garden in a glass dish so they can observe what happens when they sprout.

You can also do an oral review or a written quiz with your students. You could ask questions like:

  1. What are some characteristics of the Arctic taiga?
  2. What are some adaptations of the dwarf birch shrub that allow it to grow in the Arctic?
  3. What is the purpose of a bulb?

If you decide to do a written quiz, you can use these questions and the vocabulary words to form multiple choice or matching questions.

The End Of It All

Whew . . . that was a long one!

If you made it all the way through, I trust that you now have a complete picture of how you can structure your week when you choose to use living books for teaching middle school science.

If you didn’t – basically, you:

  • Read the living book.
  • Do some writing, either a list of facts, a summary, or an outline.
  • Engage the students with a hands-on experiment.
  • Dig deeper with research and related projects.

Sprinkle these throughout the week and you are on the road to teaching science with living books to your middle school students.

Here is a handy infographic summary for you to use:

How to use living books with middle school students infographic

Psst . . . I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that we have already done the work of pulling together the resources and scheduling the week for you! So, if you are reading the Sassafras Science series, be sure to check out our activity guides and logbooks!

Paige Hudson

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