In the last decade, there has been a massive push for scientists and teachers to engage with one another to produce more interactive and representative science curriculum that adheres to local and federal standards. Not unlike the middle child, sometimes we overlook one of the most promising ages of science education: the middle school classroom. Middle school curriculum is an interesting beast to tackle. We have students that are able to grasp more complex material than their elementary counterparts, but lack the fundamental knowledge that comes with high school science students. What they can possess in droves is enthusiasm for science! The middle school curriculum also requires a broad range of science topics to be covered, demanding more extensive and expansive resources to meet middle school teachers’ needs.
I have to admit, middle school science holds a special place in my heart. My best friend of nearly forever—I’m willing to date myself to proudly own this 22 year friendship going all the way back to a fateful day in August 1995—has been killing it as a middle school science teacher for the last several years. As she’s listened to my tales of science undergraduate courses and my long journey to a Biochemistry PhD, we have often discussed her search for innovative middle school-appropriate science. For the middle school teacher that wishes to go above and beyond to incorporate cutting edge science into their lesson plan, are their resources out there? The answer is thankfully yes! Here are a few that I have come across recently. I hope to be reporting more in the near future. Thanks for all you do and here’s your time to be featured in the educational spotlight!
Science With Tom (https://www.sciencewithtom.com/classroom/)
Tom McFadden is the middle school science teacher’s dream—a science undergraduate who used his love of communication and music to produce new and creative resources designed for the middle school classroom. Best thing, he’s also a middle school science teacher! You can read about Tom and his journey to science rapping here: http://genestogenomes.org/tom-mcfadden-on-going-viral-as-a-science-rapper-and-middle-school-outreach/. This can also be a fun opportunity for discussing the intersections of art and science for students that may be interested in both.
Frontiers for Young Minds (http://kids.frontiersin.org/)
I came across this resource in CBE—Life Sciences Education, promoting this site as a novel resource for exposing middle schoolers to scientific writing (http://www.lifescied.org/content/16/2/le2?etoc). Of course I excitedly forwarded it instantly to my best friend to use in her classroom! Frontiers for Young Minds (FYM) hosts age appropriate articles for the middle school community. As a facet of the scientific publication, Frontiers in Science, FYM shares the open access nature of its parent journal, meaning you never have to deal with pay walls or restricted article access. Frontiers for Young Minds covers a variety of topics across several topic areas, including Astronomy & Space Science, Biodiversity, Health, Mathematics, Neuroscience, and Earth Science & Resources.
The really cool aspect of this site is the ability for kids to act as peer reviewers. Their tag line is ‘Science Edited By Kids, For Kids’. What an empowering experience for students to dig in and advise on a scientific article! This is an opportunity for your classroom to go from a passive reader to an active participant in sharing scientific discoveries fresh out of the lab. If you are looking for a neat extension project, strongly consider getting involved with FYM!
A Story of Encouragement: #BugsR4Girls
For your reading pleasure, peruse this evolving tale of an 8-year old girl who went from being teased to acting as the classroom science expert with the help of a supportive mom, social media, and some compassionate entomologists. Recently, Sophia became a scientific author for her part in bringing science and the public a little bit closer. A reminder that people of any age can advance the scientific endeavor whether it’s through research and scholarship, or simply acting as a support system for scientists.
Powers of Ten
Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges I face in describing my research to anyone outside of science (and sometimes across disciplines too) is to accurately portray the scale of molecular interactions we are studying. This is also made difficult by the fact that we are making small, oftentimes single alterations to the genome and producing tissue-scale defects. While the scale between cause and effect is quite large comparatively, even the large tissue effects require specialized microscopy to be seen. To help you provide scale to the magnitudes of science curriculum you may need to address (an oldie, but a goodie):
I always encourage you to look to your teaching and science professional organizations for resources. While these sites may or may not be tailored specifically for the middle school classroom, I’m sure there are some goldmines to be adapted for your use!
Here are a few for your perusal:
https://www.nabt.org/Resources-American-Biology-Teacher (see specifically BioClub articles)
Once again, to parents, teachers, and scientists who continually invest in our young students thank you for your dedication and innovation.