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How to use living books for middle school science {Season 10, Episode 121}

What does it look like to use living books to teach middle school science? Listen and find out.

Season 10 of the Tips for Homeschool Science podcast is here! This season will be all about living books and science.

In this episode, we'll be discussing how you can use living books for middle school science and what it can look like!

Key Takeaways

  • The three keys remain the same - do, read, and write - but they mature with your students.
  • Discussion time is still just as important, but the questions you ask will be more thought-provoking and less information-parroting.
  • Don't forget to add in a science fair project!

Episode Links

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Episode 121 - How to use Living Books for Middle School Science Transcript

So far in Season 10, we've chatted about what living books are, how we can use them for elementary science, and how we can even add them in using morning time. We've had two guests, Leah Boden and Pam Barnhill, and they've shared their wisdom with us. Next week, we're going to have another guest. But before we do that, we're going to talk about how you can use living books for middle school science.

Hi, I’m Paige Hudson. And you're listening to the Tips for Homeschool Science Show, where we're breaking down the lofty ideals of teaching science into building blocks you can use in your homeschool.

What are your goals for middle school science?


So when I talk about middle school students, we're talking about sixth, seventh, eighth grade. At this point, your students are becoming a little bit more independent in the way they want to approach their education. And that's good. We want to foster that independence, and we'll talk more about that later. But we have three main goals with our middle school students.

Our first goal is going to be to train our students brain to think analytically about the facts of science. So we don't want to just fill them full of knowledge and facts like we did during the elementary years. We want to actually train them to begin to take a piece of information and to think about it and think about how it relates to the things that they already know.

Second, we want to familiarize our students with the scientific method, and this is really going to help us with the first goal as well, because the scientific method helps to train our students to think analytically about stuff, to go through a process that all scientists go through when they're trying to answer a question. So we definitely want to do this through inquiry based methods, and then we want to continue to feed our children with new information about the world, about them.

If they're going to compare it to stuff they already know. We need to feed them with new stuff as well. So living books can be excellent tools to fulfill these goals, just like they were during the elementary years.

Here is how to structure your week...


When we're teaching science, during the middle school years, we're still going to have those three keys to teaching science. So we're going to do we're going to read and we're going to write.

But those three keys are going to mature with our students. So they may have been more simplistic during the elementary years. As we get into the middle school years, they're going to grow and evolve. And the first way that that happens is through the do the experiments that we do in the elementary years we were doing demonstrations, we were showing these hands-on science activities to our students.

We were leading them. Now we're doing experiments. These are much more student led than those demonstrations, and we want them to be more of a participant in their experiments. We want actually, we want them to guide the experiments and we just mentor them through. So we're there to make sure our kitchen doesn't explode, to make sure that they are doing the steps in the order they're supposed to be done.

And we're also there to answer any questions they have. So as you can see, the first key, do has matured with our students through the years. And then the second key read is to have our kids gather information from some source. And again, just like during the elementary years, this is going to be through a living book. Now, depending on how deep your living book goes, you may need to add in some additional information.

Whether you're doing that through videos, through lectures, through articles, through encyclopedias, maybe even a textbook you're adding to partner alongside with your living book. But we need to make sure that the information is at the level that they need to be learning. And then our third key, which is to write, and we want our students to be writing down what they've learned from this.

And again, this is going to grow and mature with our students. So we're as they may have been writing a sentence or two during the elementary years, and then maybe three or four sentences. Now they're going to be much more detailed. We're doing or much more organized, I should say. So we're doing a bullet list and then we're doing an organized maybe an outline, and then we're writing a paragraph of information or they're writing assignments are growing along with their abilities and intellect, just as the do and the read and the write keys are all going to grow with their abilities and their intellect as they're getting older.

And then I will add one more caveat. This kind of fits under our do key but we want to have all our middle school students doing a science fair style project. So if you want to give quizzes and tests during these years to familiarize your students with that process, you're more than welcome to. This is a great time to begin that to prepare them for high school.

But it's not absolutely necessary to do that because you're going to be working right alongside of them. So you'll see what they pick up and what they don't. But if you want to add those, this is a good time to do so. And then you can also have them do some extra Internet research or other related activities to round things out if they're seeking more.

And again, you'll know that your student will let you know that they want a little bit more than what they're learning already, or they may be just fine with what they're learning. So you're doing experiments and a science fair project. You are reading information from that living book. And then finally you're writing it down in a more organized fashion during the middle school years.

So that's what your components for the week will look like when you're using living books for middle school science. So now that we understand our goals for middle school science and the tools that we have to complete those goals, let's get to the nitty gritty. Let's talk about what it looks like for an actual week. So I'm going to use a week from volume three of the Sassafras Science Adventures to show you how this plan can work in action.

That said, you certainly could apply these principles to any other book like The Wonder Book of Chemistry or another Living book from the list we talked about back in Episode 119.

Day 1 (Read and Write)


So day one, we're going to do information or reading and writing. So first up, we're going to do reading just like we did in the elementary years. We're going to start by reading a section of the book.

So, for instance, let's say we started reading Chapter ten in the Sassafras Science Adventures Volume Three Botany. This part of the chapter introduces this student to the Arctic taiga as well as the dwarf birch shrub. After you finish reading the section, you could spend a few moments discussing what you read with the students. You can do this by asking questions like, Why does the dwarf birch shrub grow in large clumps?

Why do you? Or Why do you think it grows in low clumps? What are some adaptations that the dwarf birch shrub has that's suited for life in the Arctic? Or how is the dwarf birch pollinated? What type of flowers does the dwarf birch shrub have? Why do you think the dwarf birch shrub grows only in the Arctic? So those are types of questions you could ask your students.

You want them not only to be able to parrot back information, but also to be able to think about what was red and come up with an answer for that. So after you've completed the reading and the discussion time with your students, again, we want to discuss with our students before we're asking them to write. Then we can have them write that brief paragraph, or we could have them write a list of facts or an outline.

I will put a link in the show notes to a video we did about writing in science and how your students progress through the years. It's really a stages they go through in what they're able to do rather than necessarily grades. So I'll put a link to that series in the show notes and you can see how that works.

A typical sixth grader might write something like the dwarf birch shrub that is a low growing bush. Its small stature prevents damage from the Arctic winds. The dwarf birch shrub also has tiny hairs that trap water droplets and prevent moisture loss. It's dark green, thick and leathery leaves are designed to be more efficient with photosynthesis. The dwarf birch shrub also has large, widespread root system that allows it to grow just above the permafrost layer in the Arctic tundra.

So that's what your student can write. Obviously, it's a lot more detailed than what we saw in the elementary years. We want them to remember a couple of things and also explain and add on some of the scientific stuff that they learned about the plant or animal or whatever it is they're studying. You could also have them define Tundra and Taiga in a glossary that they've done.

Day 2 (Rinse and Repeat)


Day two we're going to rinse and repeat again. So we're reading and we're writing. And this is where we can make living books a family affair, because we're doing the same thing on the same days, just at different levels. We're going deeper with our middle school students. So on day two, they would read the second section of the chapter.

And again, during the middle school years, you could have your students do the reading themselves. So they're reading the second part of Chapter ten, which introduces the student to the crocus flower. After they finish reading the section, or you finish reading it aloud to the family, you can spend a few moments discussing, asking the same type of questions we talked about on day one, and then you can have them write either a summary, a list of facts, a paragraph, however you want them to share what they've learned.

But a typical fifth grader might write a list of facts like this The crocus is native to the woodlands and scrub lands from the sea levels to the alpine tundra. The flowers of the crocus are cup shaped and they're typically white, yellow or shades of purple. The stem is typically short with a thin tube and a large bulb at the base.

The crocus plant will form a bulb at the base of the stem before they go dormant in 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 grass that all come from the base of the stem. The crocus also has thin papery leaves that cover and protect the bulb, and the root system is extensive for a crocus plant.

It anchors it to the ground and connects it to sister plants nearby. That's a list of facts that a upper elementary or middle school student could have included. You can also have them define things like bulb and add that definition to their glossary in the back.

Day 3 (Hands-on Science)


So now we're to day three where we're going to do our experiment and a bit of writing.

So you finish reading the chapter, you can do a related experiment with the students. You could look something up, or you can look in the Sassafras Guide to Botany, which suggests that you dissect a bulb. Once they complete that dissection, you can have the students fill out an experiment sheet. So what makes an observation like this grow for older students versus younger students is that we're asking them to be a bit more involved in the process of the dissection of the bulb.

And we're also asking them to write down what they've done. I love what Adam Savage on Mythbusters says The difference between playing around and science is that we write it down, so that's what we want them to do. We want them not just to play with science, but to actually write down what they've learned from the experiment that they've done.

They'll cover the materials they used, what they did, what they observed along with sketches, and what they learned from doing the dissection of this bulb. We're on today for now. Just like during the elementary years. We can skip this stuff if our week is too busy, or if our students are really just not interested in the particular topics at all.

But if your students are enjoying what they're learning or you want to add on some more, we could keep going.

Day 4 (Additional Information)


In day four, we can do a bit of research and some writing. So this is where you would add in those extra encyclopedias or videos or even a textbook where the students are getting more information on what they've learned from the chapter.

So for this particular week, the students could scour the Internet to learn more about the differences between the tundra in the taiga, and then they could display their findings on a chart. They could watch a video about those two biomes. They could read about the polar regions in one of the encyclopedias and outline what they've read. So that's some options that they could learn some new information by using the skills that they have during the middle school years about the topics they're learning.

Day 5 (Additional Projects)


And then day five, we're going to do some more projects and more hands-on science and kind of review what we've done so we can sprout a bulb or begin the process of sprouting a bulb of garlic. You can make a biome poster about the Arctic taiga and add the plants that they've studied so far. You could make your own bulb garden, whether you do that outside or in a glass dish so that you can observe what happens when the bulb sprouts.

You can also do an oral review like asking some questions from their notes and just saying, Do you remember what this is? Do you remember what that is? Or you can do a quiz or even a test that has to do with what they've learned in the Arctic about the plants in the Arctic, and also add in the vocabulary words that they've learned to have them define those.

If you read nothing else, read this...


So that's what your week could look like when you use a living book like the Sassafras Science Adventures Volume three Botany with your middle school students, you're adding in a little bit more than you did during the elementary years. Again, these students can handle more, so we want to do more with them. But you're still doing the basic three things.

You are still doing some sort of hands on science. You are reading from a living book and you are writing down what you've learned. So those three keys that do read in the right are still the same during those years, but it's growing with our students. Our do is more student led instead of parent led. Our reading is more challenging for students and we may add in some extra reading if our living book doesn't cover enough for them.

And then our writing, they're doing much more writing than they did in the elementary years. They're not only writing what they've read, they're putting more facts and more thought into what they're writing. But they're also recording what they did for the experiment at a deeper level. And then once a year you're going to do a science fair project with them, and you're going to give them the time in the space to do a science fair project.

And I know it seems daunting, but we have plenty of resources on our website and in this podcast we've shared a lot about doing a science fair project with your middle school students. It's really worth the effort. It's worth the time. It doesn't have to be super crazy, but it does help teach your students to use the scientific method from start to finish.

And it's really, really beneficial, especially during the middle school years. So I hope that that gives you a picture of how you could use living books to teach science to your middle school students. Next week, we'll be chatting with Miss Cindy West about nature study and how we can tie nature study into living books. I'm looking forward to sharing that with you guys.

For now, thanks for listening and I hope you have a great week playing with science.

How Elemental Science can help with living books and science


Thanks for listening to Season 10 of the Tips for Homeschool Science Show, which is sponsored by her company, Elemental Science. At Elemental Science, we have several series of award-winning programs, including a series with living books to help you teach science. Sassafras Science Adventures will help you enjoy a journey as you learn about science. The newest installment of the Sassafras Science series is coming out in April of 2023.

This volume will be a journey through the periodic table. It's all about chemistry, which is my personal favorite subject. Head over to Elemental Science dot com. To learn more about the Sassafras Science Adventures and see how we can help you teach science.

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