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The Middle School Years Roadmap for Science – Part 3: The Methods {Season 4, Episode 69}

April 29, 2019 12 min read

Ep 69 The Middle School Years Roadmap for Science – Part 3: The Methods

At this point in our journey down the roadmap for science, we know our goals for middle school science and the tools we can use, but what does it actually look like? In today's episode, we are going to look at a few different scenarios.

Welcome to the Tips for Homeschool Science Show where we are breaking down the lofty ideals of teaching science into building blocks you can use in your homeschool. 

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The Middle School Years - Part 3: The Methods

In today’s episode, I want to share with you several different ways we have used the six tools we talked about in episode 68 to accomplish the goals of middle school science. The possibilities are endless, but I hope that these glimpses at how middle school science has worked in our home and how it could look in your home will help you to get a picture of how you could do science during these years.

Just like during the elementary years, the method you choose to teach science will depend upon the interests of the student and your strengths as a teacher. No one way is better than the other; it really depends on which method fits your homeschool the best. That’s why I say that curriculum is meant to be a tool and not your master. Because we should shape the programs we use to fit our unique situations.

I am going to describe four different scenarios – two from our homeschool, doing science within the classical model and featuring nature study, and two that are theoretical, using living books and piecing together units.  All of these options are similar to what we chatted about in episode 66, but the difference is that during the middle school years, you are digging deeper into the concepts as well as expecting more output from your students.

I will not go into what it is like to do a science fair project, as we have covered that in previous podcasts. Instead, we’ll look at a snapshot of a week. Again, all of these are valid ways to teach science, so choose the one that will work best for your homeschool or create your own eclectic mix of the six tools we discussed in the last episode.

With that said, let’s dig in…

Scenario #1 - Doing Science Within the Classical Model

It’s no secret that I am a fan of classical education, especially the model that is described in The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. And so for most of our daughter’s middle school years, we did science within the context of the classical model for home education.

When you teach classical science during the middle school years, your week is centered on experiments that are enhanced with reading from visually-appealing encyclopedias, advanced notebooking, and sketches. You will also add in the classical education hallmark of memory work and a few extra projects along the way. Check out the following post to learn more about science within the classical education model:

Here is what a week of doing science within the classical model for middle science looked like for us:

The focus of this particular week with Biology for the Logic Stage was jellyfish and coral, both of which are part of the phyla cnidarian.  The week’s experiment was entitled “How does coral grow?” We began by reading the introduction provided in the student guide and talked about how our daughter thought corals grew. She wrote a short hypothesis down on her experiment sheet before we read over the materials and procedure section together. I made sure that she understood what she had to do and helped her gather the materials before letting her loose to complete the experiment on her own. I did stay within earshot in case she needed help.

Our second day of the week began her reading the assigned selection before we discussed the spread using the questions provided in the teacher’s guide. After our discussion, we went over the week’s memory work and then she went back to her room to write a list of 6 to 8 facts from the passage. She showed me her work the next morning during our morning meeting before we went over the memory work again and then, I assigned the vocabulary and sketch work for her to do on the third day.

On day 4 of our week, I checked her work once again and we fixed anything that needed to be changed before we went over the memory work once more. Then, we spend a bit of time looking up a video on the coral reef and watching it before I asked her to read one of the optional reading assignments. At the time, we were working on writing short reports, so I told her that once she was done reading, I wanted her to sum the coral reef up in one sentence, to write 3-4 sentences which share some interesting facts about the coral reef, and conclude her report with why she liked the coral reef.

The mini-research report is not something we did every week, but she really enjoyed learning about the coral reef, and I thought it was a good time to capitalize on that interest! At the end of the unit, we did have a test, so I didn’t give weekly quizzes when we worked through this program. This scenario took us about ten to twenty minutes a day of working together and about twenty to thirty minutes of independent work to complete.

Scenario #2 - Featuring Nature Study

Nature study is something we like to do as a family and typically it is just the icing on our science cake. But we have had weeks where we took a break from our current science programs to focus on finding science in nature. During those times, my middle schooler also enriched our time outside by adding scientific readings, organized journaling, and a bit of internet research. Check out the following post to learn more about nature study:

Here is what a week featuring nature study for middle school science looked like for us:

For this particular week, we didn’t have an exact subject that we were looking for with our nature walk. Our oldest was working through Physics for the Logic Stage and we were taking a break from the program as she had just wrapped up the unit and we were planning on traveling. So my plan was to reinforce what she was learning by using natural objects to learn about gravity.

We started the week out by taking a walk outside as a family, looking for objects that we around the same size, things like seeds pods, small rocks, fruits, and nuts. We looked for objects that were round and about the same size, but different weights. As we went along, we also tried to identify what we found and put several of the objects in a baggie to use once we got home.

At home, I had our kiddos hold each of the round objects in their hand and drop them at the same time to observe what happened. {Spoiler alert - both of the objects hit the ground at the very same time.} I shared a bit about gravity with both the kids and then released our youngest to keep repeating the test while I discussed what we had done more deeply with our oldest. We talked about gravity, which she had learned about in previous weeks, along with why we saw what we did, and about Galileo, who did the very same experiment, only he used one heavy ball and one light ball. Then we added another layer by having her drop a round object alongside a large, flat leaf before discussing how air resistance had affected the results. After we were done our testing and discussion time, we sat down to work on a journal sheet. Our oldest included the date, the location, and a sketch of the two tests we had done along with a list of the objects we tested and several sentences about what we did and what she learned under each sketch.

Later in the week, I had her read about air resistance and flight from Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia. When she finished reading, we discussed what she learned before she wrote a brief report about the two concepts on the next page in her nature journal. On another day during the week, I had her add the definitions of air resistance, gravity, weight, and mass to her nature journal. Then, we flipped back to her sketches and drew arrows to show the forces at work in their nature-experiment. On the final day of our week, we searched YouTube for a video about Isaac Newton and his contributions to the concept of gravity. We watched the video and then she added several sentences about Isaac Newton to her nature journal.

When you feature nature study as your main plans for science, you learn about the flora and fauna around you, you create a more detailed nature journal entry with sketches, and then you can add in additional reading and writing on the subject, plus a bit of internet research later in the week to give the students another touchpoint with the material. If we had only used nature study for science that year, I would have created more thematic units with quizzes and we would have added in a science fair project at some point during the year. That said, this week took us several hours one day as a family and about an hour and a half spread out over the week complete.

These next two scenarios are not actual weeks from our homeschool because, by the time we got to the middle school years, we had figured out what worked best for us. But they are based on years of teaching science, partnered with the knowledge that comes from talking with hundreds of homeschoolers about how they taught science.

Scenario #3 – Using Living Books

Similar to the elementary years, the Living Books approach to middle school science is centered on a living book. What the student learns from the living book is then fleshed out through the use of the other five tools – hands-on inquiry, organized writing, internet research, quizzes or tests, and the yearly science fair project.

The students can read from a living book, such as a classic like The Wonder Book of Chemistry or a more modern option like The Sassafras Science Adventures. Since we discussed the modern option for our elementary science stop, let’s use a classic for this scenario. Here is a list of options:

My only caveat here is that the classics were written quite a long time ago and science has advanced since then just a bit. So, if you choose to use a classic living book for science, be aware that you will have to address gaps and changes in our understanding of science.

Here is what a week using living books for middle school science could look like:

You would begin the week by reading a chapter, such as Chapter 2 in The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jeani Fabre. In this chapter, Uncle Paul teaches his nephews about mixtures and how to separate mixtures. Once the students finish reading the chapter, you would discuss what was read. You could ask questions like, how did the boys know that the powder was sulfur and that the filings were iron, what is a mixture, and what were the two methods the boys used to separate the mixture?

The next day, you would have them read about separating mixtures from the Usborne Science Encyclopedia, the DK Eyewitness Chemistry or the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia. Then have them create an outline from that text. Then, you would have the students define mixture, solution, solvent, and reaction in their notebook. After that, have them draw a diagram of one of the methods that they boys used to separate the mixture, labeling all the key parts of their sketch.

Now that they have a good idea of what it means to separate mixtures, it’s time to do an experiment. Have them gather a bunch of small twigs and straight pins mixed together, a magnet, and a glass of water. Explain to the students that they are going to perform the same separation tests that Uncle Paul and the boys did in the chapter you read. Then let them use the magnet to separate a portion of the pins. Once they are finished mix the pins and twigs back together and have them add half a cup of the mixture to a glass of water. The twigs should float to the surface, while the pins will sink to the bottom. After the students finish, discuss their results with them and have them write a lab report.

On the final day of science for the week, you can have them watch a video on separation techniques used in chemistry or have them make a t-shirt using chromatography. Then, give them an oral quiz by asking them to define what a mixture is and have them name four ways of separating mixtures.

Basically, when using a living book for science, you read a section and chat about what was read while using this discussion to pull out the key scientific facts.  You have them flesh out the concepts by reading from other sources and then the students write down what they have learned. You do an experiment that helps them see the concepts in action and wrap up the week with a few extras with an oral quiz or written test. Plus, at some point during the year you set aside time to do a science fair project. This scenario would take about thirty minutes a day to complete.

Scenario #4 - Piecing Together Units

Just like during the elementary years, when you piece together a unit for middle school science, you are exploring topics that either the student is interested in or you want to cover. You do this by creating (or purchasing) a plan that will share about the topic using the tools – hands-on inquires, scientific readings, and organized writing, along with an annual science fair project, which could be a unit all to itself!

Here is what a week piecing together a unit for middle school science could look like:

The possibilities are endless for topics you could choose, but let’s chat at what a week would look like when you are learning about fossils as part of a larger unit on rocks.

You can begin the week by having the students read about the three types of fossils (impression, trace, and replacement) from a field guide or from an age-appropriate resource. Have them create an outline in their notebook about the three types of fossils. They can include sketches and/or pictures as examples, just make sure they label the fossilized specimen on each. Then have them look up your state’s official fossil and add that to the page in their notebooks.

The next day, have the students observe several fossils that you have found or purchased. Have them identify the types of fossils and create an entry in a rock journal with a sketch or picture of the rock along with a list of the details they have observed. Then, have the students create their own impression fossils using an object from nature and some plaster of paris.

When you piece together a unit, you spend time observing and reading about the subject. You write down what you have learned in a notebook or a journal. Then, you add in a bit of hands-on inquiry and a bit of internet research. At the end of your unit, you can give a quiz or test. And, just like the other scenarios, at some point in the year, you will do a science fair project with the students. These units can be a month-long or longer than that, but this scenario would take you about thirty to forty-five minutes a day to complete.

In a nutshell

Although there are many different methods for teaching middle school science, your goals remain the same. You want to begin to train the student’s brain to think analytically about the facts of science, you want to familiarize the student with the basics of the scientific method through inquiry-based activities, and you want to continue to feed the students with information about the world around them.

It’s okay to try out the options to see which one fits you the best as long as you make sure that you hit all three keys – doing hands-on science, gathering scientific information, and writing down what you learned – each week, plus that yearly science fair project. If you have time, you can sprinkle in the remaining tools of internet research and assessments.

When you teach science in this way during the middle school years, your student will learn quite a bit about science. And when the time comes, they will be prepared to tackle the challenge of high school science!

In the next episode of season 4, we are going to move onto the next stage on our roadmap to teaching science – the high school years.

Until then…thanks for listening – I hope that you leave our time together encouraged in your homeschooling journey.

Let me know what you think by leaving a rating or review in iTunes or in the podcasting app you use to listen to the Tips for Homeschool Science Show. I would appreciate you taking the time to do so as it inspires those of us who work so hard to put this podcast together for you to enjoy and helps others to find this podcast.

I would love to also connect with you beyond the earbuds! You can find me on Instagram or drop me an email through the link below.

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!

See how we can help you teach science to your middle school student!

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