We chatted about the three goals for middle school science last week. In today’s episode, we are going to discuss the tools you can use to accomplish those goals!
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In our last episode, I shared your three goals for science during the middle school years – to begin to train the student’s brain to think analytically about the facts of science, to familiarize the student with the basics of the scientific method through inquiry-based activities, and to continue to feed the student with information about science. Today, we are going to chat about six tools you can use to meet these goals.
The tools you can use during the middle school years are:
The first three components are key to include in each week and the fourth is essential to do at least one time during the middle school years, but the last two are optional. How you use these tools will vary on the method you choose, which we will talk more about in the next episode. For now, let us take a closer look at each of the components.
The purposes of the hands-on inquiries you do are to allow the student to experience real-life science, to build the student’s problem-solving skills, and to practice using the basics of the scientific method. You can use experiments or nature studies to fulfill this component, but the main idea will be for the students to find the observe the answer to a question in nature or to the answer to a scientific question through testing or through observations.
We chatted about experiments in episode 35 and nature study in episode 44, but the key to remember during these years is that your role will be shifting from demonstrator to supervisor. The students will be moving into performing the experiments, inquiries, and observations on their own during these years. Once again, whatever you choose to use for the hands-on component, make sure that it relates with the information the students are learning as this will help the students to think analytically about the subject and begin to make those important connections.
The middle school student should be reading from an encyclopedia, living book, or textbook weekly as they need to be working on building their knowledge base. During these years, they also need to be discussing the material that they are reading with you on a more formal level as this will help them to organize and store the information properly. Your discussion questions need to help them to pull out the key pieces of information and to think critically and what they have read. Questions like, “How are plant and animal cells alike and how are they different?” will fit the bill. As you discuss the material, you will also want to highlight any unfamiliar vocabulary along with key facts, such as laws, conversion factors, and basic equations.
As the students read and discuss this new information, you can have them also draw a sketch or a diagram from what they have read, if possible. This drawing should be labeled and represent the subject matter accurately so that it will give your student a more organized picture of the information that they have just learned. For example, it is important to know that a plant cell contains a cell wall, cell membrane, cytoplasm, vacuole, nucleus, and chlorophyll, but it’s far more effective for the student to have a mental picture of the parts of a plant cell and where they are located. Remember that your goal is not just to feed them with information, but also to help them to organize and think analytically about what they are studying.
The purpose of the writing component is to teach the students how to process and organize information. You want them to be able to read a passage, pull out the main ideas, and communicate those ideas in their own words. Your discussion time with the students (part of your scientific reading time) has already prepared them for this task. You are simply asking them to write a record of what they have learned and discussed with you.
You can assign short reports, note-taking, outlines, or comprehension worksheets to fulfill the writing component. However, I prefer to use outlining for the writing component as it will help your student to organize the material they are learning in a more logical manner. We chatted about middle school writing way back in episode 13 as part of the writing with science series, which you might find helpful when considering what to assign for writing.
Although writing is not always the favorite task of a middle school student, it is important that you do not skip this component as having the students write out their thoughts in an organized manner will help them to shape the material into their informational filing cabinet. It will also give them yet another opportunity to interact with the material they are studying, which will serve to further cement the concepts into their mind.
Once a year, every middle school student should complete a science fair project. We chatted about why this is way back in episode 28. The key is that their project should work through the scientific method from start to finish on a basic level, meaning that their question should be relatively easy to answer. At this point, you need to thoroughly explain each step and coach the student through the entire process. They need you to work alongside them as an advisor from the time they formulate their question until they polish up their conclusion so that they learn the process correctly from the beginning.
It is also important to also have the students present their projects to a group and answer related questions from them. This will reinforce what they have learned as well as help them to discern how to communicate what they know. The best way to achieve this is to have the students participate in a Science Fair where their project will be judged, but if that’s not possible, don’t skip this component. The students can still present their project to their family or a group of their peers.
Step-by-step help for the Science Fair Project:
It’s a good idea for middle school students to get some experience with researching on the internet. So for this optional component, you can have the students, under your supervision, search the internet for websites, YouTube videos, virtual tours, and activities that relate to what they are studying. You can also use this component as a basis for a brief research report if you feel students need work in that area or you can include this as a part of their science fair project.
During the middle school years, it is not absolutely necessary that you give quizzes or tests to the student. However, if you want to familiarize them with test taking skills, I suggest that you give quizzes or tests that will set the student up for success.
In other words, only test materials that have been thoroughly covered through multiple touch points during the unit. I like to include things like vocabulary matching, true/false questions, and brief short answer questions on the middle school tests if I give one. But you can create whatever type of assessment that works for your family!
For the middle school years, you can use hands-on inquiry, scientific readings, organized writing, a science fair project, internet research, and quizzes or tests to help you accomplish your goals for science. A good science plan during these years will give you options for each of these components and it will make sure that each of the pieces always relate back to the topic being studied for the week or for the unit.
As you teach science each week, you may not incorporate every single one of these components. But by regularly doing hands-on inquires, scientific readings, and organized writing, along with an annual science fair project – your students will dig into learning about science during the middle school years. Add in a bit of internet research and a few assessments along the way and you will set your students up for success with science during the high school years!
Next week, we are going to chat about what it actually looks like to use these tools to share science during the middle school years.
Until then…thanks for listening – I hope that you leave our time together encouraged in your homeschooling journey.
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I can’t wait to share another piece of the roadmap in our next episode, but until then – I hope you have a great week playing with science!
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