Studying the human body creates excitement in my 7th grade classroom. One of the best systems to study (in my opinion) is the digestive system. I mean, we get to talk about food and taste and eating. Students enjoy the system too, because this means I will probably bring in some sort of snack to help us learn about the system in real time!
Really, we could spend weeks talking about one system in the body. However, in my class, we only have 2-3 days before we must move on. I love doing hands on activities with my students, and found several digestive simulations that I wanted to try. The simulations only take a few minutes each, so I decided to divide them up among the students.
Each group focused on one particular area of the digestive system and performed the activity as instructed. Activity sheets were filled out, and each group became responsible for understanding how their activity connected to the digestive system.
Once all the groups completed the tasks, they had to share their findings with the rest of the class. Students gave mini presentations sharing what they did, what happened, and how it relates to the digestive system.
I described two of the mini lessons below, and will post three more soon!
Digestive System Length
Students use yarn to show the length of our digestive systems. I used 4 different colors so each color could be used to represent a different organ in the system. Students measured, cut, and tied the pieces together. At the end, they could see just how long our digestive tract really is!
Yarn (4 colors if available)
Use this chart for lengths:
Length in Centimeters
Students like this activity because it actually involves eating. Each person in the group receives two crackers. One cracker is chewed up really quickly and swallowed. Students state that their mouths get a little dry because not much saliva was used. Next, the second cracker is placed in each of their mouths. Students allow the cracker to sit for at least a minute without chewing (allowing the saliva to do all the work). The cracker does dissolve eventually and will taste sweet in the process. The crackers demonstrate how chemical digestion works in our bodies. The chemicals in our saliva start breaking down the crackers into the sugars needed.
Crackers (at least 2 for each member of the group)
It’s been a blustery few weeks here in Indiana. We have gone from a balmy February to a mild start to March, but as we approach spring break, it has been cold! All this up and down in temperatures has caused some extremely windy days. Like trees blowing over, branches falling, be careful when you go outside windy days! In fact, it is snowing today, but the forecast shows temps in the mid 50s in a few days. Welcome to Indiana.
On one of those days, after the wind was howling through the night, I decided to introduce Puff Mobiles to my elective class. This activity is easy to set up, and the students love it. Before introducing the activity, I do a brief overview of wind and wind power with my students. We discuss how wind generates electricity and the wind turbine (we have lots of these in our area!) We also recall how it was used for ships and boats as the first modes of transportation.
Then we get to the fun part–the Puff Mobile.
Students must design a vehicle that uses wind power from their own mouths to puff or blow their creation to the finish!The wind background info isn’t completely necessary for this one (but I like to include it), and it doesn’t really have a prompt or standard that it aligns perfectly with. But it is fun, works on engineering concepts and is easy to implement!
There are relatively few supplies needed, which makes it easy to prepare on short notice!
Each student (or student group) receives the following materials:
2 Paper clips
4 Peppermint Lifesavers
One sheet of paper
Tape (I limited the tape to about 50 cm so students don’t go crazy!)
Not all supplies must be used, but may no other supplies may be included.
Students get 3-4 minutes to plan out and sketch a design before actual construction. I do encourage students to stick as close to their sketch as possible. They are allowed to cut the straws and paper. Paper clips can be bent and twisted however students think necessary. Students can even color their paper if you have time! Construction takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes (depending on how much time you have!).
Once all was constructed, we set up a Puff Mobile tournament! We pushed the tables and chairs to the side of the room so we had a lot of open space down the middle. I drew brackets on the board (March Madness style) and pulled names out of a cup so students were randomly matched up. A start line and finish line are necessary, and the race can be as long or as short as you want!
Some rules we establish for the Puff Mobile Races:
During racing, the vehicles must start and remain (as much as possible) on the ground. AKA – not paper airplanes.
There is absolutely NO intentional moving, blowing, hitting, kicking, etc of another mobile in order to advance your own.
As audience members, students may cheer and encourage, but may not touch or get in the way of anyone in the race.
The teacher is the final judge. If mobiles somehow get stuck in the corner or turned, I can tell them to pick it up, turn it around or to “unstick” it.
I think it is hilarious watching the kids belly crawl across the floor, trying to puff their mobiles all the way across the finish line!
Kids have a blast, AND my floors are much cleaner after the races!
St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon! When your last name is O’Shaughnessey, St. Paddy’s day is a big deal! I like to make corned beef and have Irish Soda bread, but take a pass on the Guinness… (my husband and I don’t really drink much).
This year, I want my busy boy to help celebrate. Leprechauns and rainbows can be fun ways to celebrate, but our clan loves shamrocks. My husband’s family tends to collect, display and even grow shamrocks. Shamrock’s can symbolize the Trinity, which makes it even more special. Therefore, I hunted down ideas that involved Shamrocks! (You’ll notice several of them have hand or footprints too…another favorite of mine!) Click on the titles to see instructions or pictures for the activities.
I love this idea! My son enjoys playing with baking soda and vinegar and watching the fizz (we call it playing “science”). This activity combines painting and fizzing! Also, if you don’t have pipettes handy, we have used extra syringes (leftover from old medicines) and they worked great!
No need for a holiday to do this activity, but using a themed paper makes it even better. Grab some marbles, paint and a Ziploc container, and you are good to go! There are many more activities out there that don’t require much prep and look fun! Spend a little time with your little (or big ones) this St. Patrick’s Day and create something to pull out every year!
I currently teach five DIFFERENT classes everyday. I have three levels of science class and two levels of math. Five different preps in a seven period day. The other periods are not always free periods either. They are filled with recess and lunch duties, covering for study halls, IEP meetings, and all the other random stuff that pulls you away from the classroom and prepping for classes. Because of this, I don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on grading. I especially don’t have time to grade every single little assignments students have. Even with small class sizes (which I have this year), just grading math homework would take a lot of my “free” time. However, I assign math homework almost every day!
I think math is one of those classes, though, that students need to practice in order to understand what they learned. Often, we do not have enough time in our short class periods to get enough practice in. Therefore, students typically have math homework to take home and finish.
So then we have a dilemma! Students must complete their math homework, but most catch on quickly that they are not asked to turn it in everyday. When you teach middle school students, this is a recipe for disaster! In their minds, not turning something in = don’t have to do it. I needed a way to encourage students to complete their daily assignments without overloading myself with grading.
Enter the “Happy Homework Chart”. During my student teaching stint, a cooperating teacher did something similar to this and I loved the idea. It is a simple way to use positive peer pressure and encourage students to complete their assignments!
How it works:
At the beginning of every class, students are to take out their homework. While they are working on an intro question or warm up, I walk around the room and check for completion only.
If ALL the students in the class have the assignment completed, we get two stickers on our chart! If only ONE student misses, I still give the students one sticker.
Once students reach 20 stickers (fills one column), the entire class gets a reward!
I call it the Happy Homework Chart because I use happy face stickers. Pick whatever stickers that you like best! To make your own chart, use Excel or Word and create an empty table or chart with however many boxes you would like.
You can also choose whatever reward fits for you and your class. I actually have different “levels” of rewards for each quarter.
If students get the first column completed in a semester, I bring in a snack (usually cookies, brownies, etc) sometime during the next week. Food is such a motivator! Just the idea of receiving a cookie gets these students motivated.
A second completed column in a semester means I bring in a snack AND students get to play math games instead of a regular lesson.
If students can manage to get one more column (or more) completed during a semester, I bring in a snack AND we do no math. Instead we watch a movie, play outside, or do something else fun to celebrate.
I was a little worried when I first introduced this because I thought I would have to bring in snacks every other week. However, there are very few days when every single student does their homework, even with this system. It typically takes about 4-5 weeks before we complete a column (sometimes more or less depending on if there is an assignment everyday or not), so it is definitely manageable. You can always adjust the amount of stickers needed to complete a column.
A Few Other Things to Keep in Mind:
Sometimes students try to quickly fill in numbers right before I walk around to make it look like they finished it. Usually I can tell by looking at their homework if they did this, and if that occurs, no stickers are given, even if everyone else had it done… this usually discourages the problem from happening again any time soon.
I don’t count absences as incompletes. If a student did not receive the assignment because they are absent, it doesn’t count against the class.
Students sometimes have questions or are confused on one or two problems in an assignment. They occasionally don’t do those problems because we always review questions on the homework at the start of class. I often have to use good judgment if they simply did not understand, or if they just did not complete the homework and are trying to pull it off as “I didn’t get it!” I typically tell students to TRY and do something and not leave it blank.
This system has worked well for me, and most days students will at least get one sticker. A quick walk around the classroom takes little time and we can move on to questions. If I want students to hand in the homework, I collect the assignment after my walk through.
I know other teachers have many different methods for encouraging their students in their homework. If you have something that works well for you, I would love to hear it!
Does anyone have one of those new coloring books that are totally cool? Filled with awesome designs, these books encourage you to just sit and color. In fact, studies suggest that coloring helps relieve stress and improve relaxation. I would agree. I like to sit and color while sitting on the couch or watching tv. Which is why I came up with this lesson for my students!
We are working through our geometry unit right now in both my seventh and eighth grade classes. Lots of angles, triangles and other polygons going on! I wanted to do something a little different than just a regular worksheet and take a break from our normal routine of class. I was browsing Pinterest (what else is new) and saw a picture of a whole bunch of shapes in different colors; shapes that could be used as artwork on walls. Immediately,an idea popped into my head! Math + art = awesome!
My seventh graders had just learned to classify triangles by their angles and sides. I decided to take triangles, and have students make them into cool designs while still practicing their classifying skills!
Only a pencil, ruler, paper and colors were necessary for this activity.
Students drew lines across the page using their pencils and made several triangles. I warned students to not draw TOO many triangles because that might make way too much work for them later.
Next, students identified triangles on their page as scalene, isosceles or equilateral. They traced each type in a different color of their choosing, being sure to put their color choices on a key.
Finally, students shaded in each triangle according to the angles. Obtuse, acute and right triangles each received their own color. Colors used should also be recorded on the key.
The class loved the project. After I gave instructions, the class was quiet for several minutes, not because I told them to be, but because they were so focused on their triangles! Designs turned out really neat. I’m thinking a new bulletin board display is coming…!
Who doesn’t like a roller coaster? Let me rephrase that… what middle schooler doesn’t like roller coasters? And if they don’t like riding them, I’m pretty sure they would still like the idea of building one!
This is one of my favorite activities of the year. It incorporates concepts of kinetic and potential energy, which is a big standard to cover in sixth grade, while engaging and challenging the students.
I definitely cannot take credit for coming up with this lesson. It was developed through the SLED program. (Science Learning Through Engineering Design) This program, funded by a grant through the NSTF, was a partnership between the SLED program directors and teachers of grades 3-6. Because the program was developed at Purdue University, many local school districts and teachers were able to be a part of developing these lessons. The focus was to increase science learning through engineering design. I worked with the SLED program and its amazing directors for several years and through it, added a bunch of awesome engineering-based projects that align perfectly to Indiana science standards. (Here is more info if you want it!)
Before the Activity
Before starting the roller coasters, my students have learned/reviewed kinetic and potential energy. We do a lab where students “play” with wind up toys, mini circuits, bouncy balls and more, and trace how the energy is transferred in each situation.
I also LOVE showing them this video. It gets stuck in your head, so watch out! But then again, it will get stuck in students’ heads, which is fantastic!
I follow the SLED lesson plan, which you can find here.
Designing the Roller Coasters
To introduce the activity to the students, we begin with the challenge: Indiana Beach wants to build a new roller coaster with a lot of loops, but wants to be as economical as possible. Can they help? Instantly, students are engaged. Indiana Beach? Roller Coasters? Hooked. However, we discuss several concepts before designing.
What’s the challenge? (To build a roller coaster with loops)
What is the goal? (The most loop diameter for a limited coast)
Who are we working for? (Indiana Beach)
What are somethings that might limit us? (Space, materials, TIME!)
What concepts in science have we been learning about that will help us here? (Kinetic and Potential energy!!!)
Materials used to build the coasters:
Insulated pipe tubing. I use 3 ft sections cut in half. These make the “track” for our coaster. You can find them at any hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) or online. You will have to cut them in half.
Tacks (longer tacks work better)
Large pieces of cardboard to secure the coasters on(think refrigerator, tv, large sporting equipment, etc. I had a connection to someone that worked in a bike shop and got several large boxes from him!
The tubing and cardboard can be reused, so you will not need to get all new supplies every year!
Once we review the materials and the goal, students get a few minutes to plan and sketch their designs individually. Next, I put them in groups of 3 (if necessary I make a group of two. Four students seems to be too many in this activity…) and together, they come up with ONE plan that they want to use for their roller coaster.
Each team gets a large cardboard piece which is propped up along the wall around my classroom. This is their roller coaster canvas. They may receive up to 5 pieces of “track” and unlimited amount of duct tape, string and tacks (although all come at a price!). Students typically need about 30 to 35 minutes to design and build their coasters (or really, that is all the time I can give them!). For the coaster, we use a marble. I do allow students to test their coasters as they go so they can make slight adjustments as needed.
While students are building:
I usually walk around during construction, asking questions such as:
Why did you need to make your second loop smaller than your first?
Why are you starting the marble so high?
I see that this loop isn’t working. What do you think the problem is?
Encourage students to think about kinetic and potential energy when responding!
Once time is up, student groups calculate their coaster’s final cost, measure the total loop diameter on the coaster, and calculate a team score. Team scores are the cost divided by the total loop diameter. Lower scores mean the coasters are more cost efficient or have a high loop diameter, which were the goals!
Finally, groups present and test their coasters in front of the class. We take a “roller coaster tour” and walk around the room. Students share their designs, their cost and their team score. Then the moment of truth… will the marble actually make it through the entire track!? I do give students several attempts, but usually there are a few groups that are unsuccessful, and that is ok! At each coaster, students put sticky notes on where they believe the most potential energy and the most kinetic energy are located–super helpful in reminding students about these concepts!
Overall, this lesson takes me about three class periods. However, it solidifies students’ understanding on kinetic and potential energy. And it is fun! They will be talking about their coasters for weeks to come!
I believe that in any classroom, working as a team is important. However, dealing with others can be a challenge, no matter what the age! I like to incorporate activities throughout the year that focus on team building, but are also fun tasks for the students. These are just two of examples that are great for any grade level, any subject, or maybe even as a professional development exercise!
Students are put into groups of 3 or 4 and given a marker with 3 or 4 strings attached
Each student may only hold the end of one string, and may not touch any other part of the string or the marker
Working together, students must draw a picture, write a word, etc.
When I did this activity, I first had students write letters, like ABC or CAT. They could talk and instruct each other on how and where to move the marker.
After the initial round, I asked the student groups to draw a picture of a cat. I drew a cat picture on the board and told the groups they should do their best to copy that picture. Right before they began, I said “You may not talk!”
Many protested initially, but when I said go, it was silent. Students were forced to communicate without words and make the best cat drawing they could.
It was hilarious watching some of the groups attempt the cat. A few looked like my 2 year old drew them (or worse), but some groups were surprisingly successful! With each round we did, groups improved on their communicating and improved on their drawings!
The next activity is a simple one that uses straws and tape and that’s it! The goal is to use the materials to build the tallest straw tower possible in a short amount of time.
Students are put into groups of 2 or 3
Each group received 10 straws and about 30 inches of tape.
2-3 minutes of planning time given.
About 10 minutes of building time given.
Before students were allowed to even TOUCH the supplies, I told them they had two minutes to talk with their partners and come up with a plan. They could sketch things out, strategize and share ideas.
Once the two minutes were up, I told students I hoped they were wise in how they spend their planning time because now they could NOT talk for the rest of the activity. I gave students 10 minutes to build their towers. And it HAD to be silent
It was very amusing watching students use other methods to communicate (and I did not allow any writing of messages either!) Hand motions, pointing and lots of head shaking were seen.
Some students had great plans that worked well. Others found their original plans did not work and that trying to form a new plan without talking was very difficult!
After the timer went off, students could no longer touch their towers. I came around and measured each tower with a meter stick to see who won the challenge! (By the way, I LOVE using online-stop-watch. When the timer goes off, it always makes everyone in the room jump!)
We had a good class discussion afterwards about what was difficult and what worked well. Students agreed that making sure you had a plan ahead of time worked well. Communication is huge! If they couldn’t communicate, it made the task much more difficult to complete. We need to share our ideas, listen, and watch. If we can communicate more effectively, we can get a lot further!
These activities were very helpful in setting up how my students need to work together and communicate with each other. You can use these just for team building or class communication. And they can be done in middle school, high school, or even upper elementary grades!
When I first started my teaching career, I was single, living in a new town, and knew only one other person near by. Being a first year teacher is difficult by itself, but I also faced the challenges of trying to meet new people and figuring out a new area.
Luckily, the other teachers and staff at my school were amazing. And still are. I was immediately drawn into their circles and invited to events. Even though I was the only non-married person working at the school when I started (it’s a small school!) I didn’t feel lonely when I was there!
One of my favorite memories of that first year was one of these “events.” Another teacher, newly married, had been discussing how she wished she knew how to cook more things and ideas on what to make for dinner. She wanted to make meals for her husband and herself, but was stuck with the same recipes. I mentioned that I like to cook, but currently wasn’t cooking much since I was only making food for one. A more mature teacher, who had been married for more than a couple of decades, overheard this conversation. Immediately, an idea began to form and Cooking Class was invented!
My dear teacher friend invited another wise (and experienced in the kitchen) friend over to help a few of us younger ladies learn some kitchen tricks. We had an afternoon of grocery shopping and recipe sharing while prepping dinner. Then we stayed all night to enjoy the yummy morsels we cooked up!
The first class (we ended up doing this about two more times throughout the next year or so!) had a soup and bread theme. The temperatures outside were blustery cold and soup with warm bread was exactly what we needed at that time of year. While we chopped vegetables, stirred soup and waited for bread to rise, we all shared stories about food and our lives. It was a moment where I felt at home, even though I wasn’t home, and I hadn’t known these people for very long. But there is something about slowly simmering soup, the smell of baking bread and the sound of laughter that brings immediate comfort. And that’s what I felt.
One of the recipes shared that day was for Onion Cheese Loaf. It has been one of my go to bread recipes since! It is hearty, tasty, and easy. No kneading or rising required in this one! I like to bake up a loaf with big batches of chili, or any kind of soup. It’s savory and delicious.
I hope you make a loaf for yourself. Invite friends over. While the bread is baking and the smell all things good is in the air, have time to sit, chat, laugh, and feel comfortable.
Onion Cheese Loaf
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine in mixing bowl:
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have this, you can just use 2 cups of white flour and it will turn out fine! But in my opinion the wheat flour definitely makes this bread heartier and more rich in flavor!)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Cut in ¼ cup butter or margarine until the mixture resembles coarse meal
Add and stir lightly:
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (I like extra sharp best!)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Combine in separate bowl:
1 cup milk
Add milk and egg to cheese and flour mixture and mix with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn mixture into a greased loaf pan.
Sprinkle over batter:
½ cup finely chopped onion
Paprika (to taste)
Bake loaf for 1 hour. Cool slightly before removing from pan.
This is best when eaten warm, but will last for several days if wrapped with plastic wrap.
I absolutely LOVE when I can incorporate food into any of my lessons. When I saw a picture on Pinterest showing Bohr Models made of cereal, I knew I had to try it myself!
(You can see the link here from Some of the Best Things In Life are Mistakes)
My 8th grade science class learns about the different models of the atom. We typically use the Bohr model the most, since it shows the energy levels and prepares students to understand more about electrons being gained and lost. However, it is a struggle to get students to understand the electron levels and how to correctly draw these models.
Enter cereal. Creating larger, hands-on models with yummy, sugary, colorful cereal should help them remember!
Before jumping into the bowl (get it, cereal… bowl…? My students love those kind of jokes… maybe…) I made sure to show students how we draw Bohr models. We discussed the different energy levels and took note of how the periodic table is setup so we can see exactly how many electrons can fit in each level.
Students first drew and color coded Bohr models for two different elements. This way I could check to see they understood BEFORE getting the glue out! Once students could demonstrate good understanding of the model, I gave them a plate, cereal and glue. It actually worked out that the students that had no problem understanding could independently get to work on their cereal models. Students that were still confused gathered with me so together, we could review what we had learned about atoms and how to draw these models. Then, I could walk them through the process again with the cereal!
Cereal Bohr Models!
Overall, I think it was a success. Students happily munched on some extra protons and electrons while gluing down the pieces in the correct orbitals. Simple, but effective and fun! It also makes a great, EASY bulletin board. My kind of lesson!
I can’t take any credit for this one, but I had to share. I recently stumbled upon this gem of a review game. My 7th graders have been learning how to solve one and two step equations. Solving equations can be difficult for some students. Practice, practice and more practice helps! And who doesn’t like a game?
Before I gave students a quiz on these concepts, I wanted to do some review. I feel lucky to have found this… and it is free! You can find the game here and download it as a powerpoint for free. Again, I did not make this and cannot take credit for it, but HAD to share such a creative activity.
I couldn’t find exact rules listed, so I just made them up based on what parts there are and the rules I know from Monopoly, which I share below. You can definitely adjust these to better fit your class!
I made four different sets so my whole class could play at the same time, and 3 to 4 people can play with one set. Before my students played, I had to cut out all the pieces (not fun) and put them all individually through the laminator (even more not fun!). I do love a good lamination, but our machine NEVER works properly so it is always a gamble – are you going to get a nicely laminated product, or a ruined mess of melted plastic and 30 minutes of your precious prep time gone? Luckily, the machine was in a good mood for me that day! And, I had students with no homework to finish in a study hall, so I made them my card cutting slaves for the period. Awesome!
Setting up the game:
Each group receives a board, Chance cards, Community Chest cards and a set of “Property” cards, a set of dice, and whatever playing pieces you want to use (I used chess pieces because I have them in my classroom!)
Students stack the sets of Chance and Community Chest cards in the designated places. The property cards are set to the side in an organized way.
Students also need score sheets. Using blank sheets of paper worked well for me, but you may want to come up with a quick score sheet. I started each student with 25 points. No money is necessary in this version of the game!
Answer sheets can either be distributed to each group, but I decided to hold on to one, and when students solved the equation, they called me over to check. This way, one student would not be able to see the answers ahead of time and know the correct response without trying to solve it first.
To play the game, students roll the dice (you can do one or two) and move their pieces across the board, just like in Monopoly.
When they land on a property space, students must solve the equation correctly in order to “buy” the property. If another student then lands on that property space, they must give the “rent” in their points to the owner. Rent amount is the same as the number listed at the top of each property.
The rest of the game is played very similarly to the real Monopoly. However, I did not do anything for when they landed on railroads or Free Parking. Maybe you have an idea for these spaces? Let me know!
Ending the game:
I stopped the class when we only had a few minutes left. Students did not want to stop playing! We determined the winner by who had the most points at the end. I guess you could keep playing until one person has all the points, but just like in real Monopoly, that might take days and days!
It was a blast and the students got tons of practice with solving equations of all different difficulty levels! Thanks dannytheref for such an awesome idea!