Ecology Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Ecology Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Ecology Vocabulary Activities
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. Ecosystems Presentation
    I like to start with this short presentation that get’s students prepared for some of the concepts we’ll be using throughout the unit. It’s a really engaging lesson. The images are really rich with details, and I always call students up to the board to point out all the abiotic factors in the image or count the population of the butterflies etc.This resource includes an extension where students investigate the biotic and abiotic factors in a biome. This year I even had the students draw their biome on an index card and created a little collage from the work.
  3. Biomes Webquest
    Take a day (or two) off while your students complete this best selling webquest! I’m not sure how in depth you’d like to go as far as requiring students to actually memorize information about each biome. Personally, I don’t consider it a priority, but I do like to introduce the different types of habitats. This webquest should make it easy for your students to learn on their own. Discuss it later in a flipped classroom style!
  4. Ecosystem Shadow Box Project
    Optionally, at this point you may decide to assign the students a biome to recreate in a shadowbox. This is a classic project that even I did as a student. The finished products can be really gorgeous and fun to display. Check out some more of our student work here. 
  5. Populations Presentation
    Another relatively quick presentation covering the key vocabulary related to populations including population density, emigration and immigration, limiting factor, and carrying capacity.This resource emphasizes population graphs and includes a homework or extension activity where students must interpret a population graph.
  6. Energy Models Presentation
    Introduce food chains, food webs, and energy pyramids with this presentation.This resource includes a homework or extension assignment where students identify different types of consumers (producer, primary consumer, herbivore, omnivore, etc.) in a food web.
  7. Food Web Practice
    A second assignment for practicing with food webs and identifying the different kinds of consumers based on the evidence shown.
  8. Ecosystem Card Sort
    This is a fun open ended activity where students can start to see the interdependence in an ecosystem.Make this activity inquiry based by having students categorize the cards in the way that makes the most sense to them. From there you can reemphasize vocabulary (abiotic vs. biotic, consumer vs. producer, and omnivore, carnivore, herbivore, scavenger, and decompose). Challenge students to find new ways to organize their cards!Additionally, students can each be given a card and then “become” their card. Use yarn and have the students pass the yarn to another student whose card depends or is connected to their own. Have students pass the yarn until the whole ecosystem is quite entwined. Some students may never get the yarn. Have a student step out of the ecosystem. Any other student who feels the tug of the yarn is therefore connected to the missing link and would be affected by a change.
  9. Create a Food Web (FREE)
    I like to task students to create their own food webs as well. To make things more exciting, I allow students to design a food web for a made up ecosystem if they want. To make things even more intense, I usually use the best food web on the test! We always get some gorgeous student work from this assignment.
  10. Food Webs Webquest
    This is such an engaging website! I have advertised this assignment as emergency sub plans as it won’t require much from you. My students have always had a great time with this activity. After reading a short summary of a species, the students must place it within the food web. If the trophic level is correct, the species will stick. Otherwise, they must try again. Even if all the species stick, though, your food web may not be perfect. I always challenge students to continue until they get the whole thing perfect which normally whips the class into an excited frenzy to see who can complete it first.
  11. Food Web Quiz
    Test your students’ knowledge after several days of practice with this quiz. Could be formative for feedback or summative.
  12. Interactions of Living Things Presentation
    Review the concepts that have already started to emerge and develop themselves in the minds of your student with a final presentation on the interactions of life in an ecosystem. Topics included are: natural Selection, adaptations, niche, competition, predator/prey and symbiotic relationships: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism
  13. Endangered and Extinct Species Web Activity
    Allow your students to explore the outcomes of imbalance within an ecosystem over the next days beginning with this fun research assignment on endangered and extinct species. This activity will begin to bring in the human element as your students begin to comprehend the interdependence of all ecosystems with human life.
  14. Invasive Species Project
    Take it one step further with this invasive species project. You can go as in depth with this topic as you like, but the purpose will be that students can explore how human activities have introduced non-native species to ecosystems and the effects which follow. Have your students develop tri-fold boards about their species, web pages, or present to the class!
  15. Ecology Formative Quiz (Multiple Choice)
    This unit includes a quick multiple choice formative assessment which may be useful to help students gauge their learning as a test approaches.
  16. Study Guide and Unit Test
    In most units I require a performance based summative (such as a project) as well as a written test. This study guide and test cover all the topics in this unit, allowing students to express their knowledge with a variety of question types.
  17. Mars Biosphere Reading
    This reading is a free resource on my site, and serves as an intro to a biosphere project I have added to my ecology unit. In this assignment, students explore the Biosphere 2 Project in Phoenix, Arizona and begin to connect their ecology knowledge to the idea of engineering a remote ecosystem on Mars or another planet. The projects were a lot of fun, and my students really ran with their imaginations. See more of that project here.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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Inquiry Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Inquiry Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Scientific Inquiry Vocabulary Activities
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. Vocabulary Crossword
    I’ve recently added yet another vocab activity to this bundle. In this crossword, students read definitions as clues and fill in the words in the spaces. I really enjoy the “self checking” aspect of crosswords as it prevents wrong information from being studied.
  3. What is Science: Presentation
    I like to start my inquiry unit with a very general day about what science is and what scientists really do. This lesson includes a lot of facts about the history of science as well as describing the qualities of a scientist. Students will be prompted to think about how they may exemplify some of those qualities in their own lives.
  4. Problem Solving Activity
    I like to stress to my students that we apply the scientific method in our lives all the time, even when we don’t realize it. This activity is a fun, no prep way to get the kids in problem solving mode. They’ll be prompted to compare the steps they take with the steps of the scientific method. Everyone can do science!
  5. Scientific Method: Presentation
    Cement that learning with a presentation on the scientific method. Students will get down all the steps and key vocabulary necessary to do a scientific investigation. In the end, students make a foldable which is great for interactive notebooks!
  6. Variables and Controls Practice
    Get students in the mode of identifying variables and controls with this simple practice. Can be used in class or as homework.
  7. Investigations Practice with Minecraft
    My experience has always been that it takes kids a little while to master the concept of independent and dependent variables, so give them another shot at it with this fun Minecraft themed practice!
  8. Variables with Magazine Ads
    Take it one step further with this extension activity. Students must find magazine (or perhaps internet pop ups these days!) ads that advertise with an independent/dependent variable kind of slogan. “If you take _____, you’ll get _____ results!” This could be a extension for your students who get it early on, or it could be something you do with the whole class. I’d advise bringing in some examples for lower students to pick from.
  9. Reading and Drawing Conclusions from Graphs
    As another extension to variables, I like to give my students some practice with graphs. As you know, the x and y axis of most scientific graphs represent the independent and dependent variables of the investigation. This activity can really give your kids a leg up when it comes to standardized testing!
  10. Bias and Error: Presentation
    Now that your students are solid on what an investigation should look like, let’s show them where things can go wrong! Includes practice questions for internal assessment.
  11. Bias Practice
    This activity has always been a favorite of mine. These short stories are great for a whole group discussion. Give enough time for students to privately consider each situation, and then allow for whole group share time. It’s sure to bring up some interesting ideas!
  12. Scientific Investigations Practice
    Test prep assignment including 20 multiple choice questions for your students to finalize their learning. Includes space for students to defend their answers.
  13. Inquiry Color By Number
    For a day when you just need a minute to rest, this color by number review will keep the kids occupied and provide some artwork for the bulletin boards. I understand the importance of rigor, but I’d also argue that it’s always important to give the kids assignments that they can feel successful with! Sometimes we all just need to color.
  14. Scientific Inquiry Quiz (FREE)
    Any time after you’ve taught bias, it’s safe to give this quick formative quiz. Use it when you feel you need some feedback, possibly before or after the investigations practice.
  15. Inquiry Study Guide and Test
    Last but certainly not least, the study guide and the test. Always make sure the students have early access to the study guide. The test can be used as their final summative mark for the unit. Formatives can be given as you see best fit!

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Please leave feedback as to how I could better serve you and others through this bundle or the creation of new resources. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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Engineering Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Engineering Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Engineering Vocabulary Activities 
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. Vocabulary Crossword
    I’ve recently added yet another vocab activity to this bundle. In this crossword, students read definitions as clues and fill in the words in the spaces. I really enjoy the “self checking” aspect of crosswords as it prevents wrong information from being studied.
  3. Tower Building
    I like to start my unit with this fun hook. The spaghetti and marshmallow towers are a fun favorite, but I’ve recently switched to using aluminum foil instead. I distribute about 2 feet of aluminum foil and a bit of tape to each student or group, set a timer, and let them experience the whole engineering process on their own, especially failure. This experience should anchor the students’ learning throughout the rest of the unit.
  4. Intro to Engineering: Presentation
    Introduce students to the wonderful world of applied science in the four main fields of engineering: civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical. Some important engineering vocabulary will be touched on as well. This lesson uses the internet as students are given a chance to explore recent developments in all the fields of engineering. Science is relevant!
  5. Adaptive and Assistive Bioengineering Web Activity
    Next, have students explore the world of bioengineering with this fun webquest! They’ll read an article on Popular Mechanics and classify each of the technologies as adaptive or assistive. I find this is a great way to get kids out of the mindset that engineers only design things like buildings and bridges. Even contact lenses or the pencil in your hand require engineering!
  6. Bill Nye: Inventions
    What kind of teacher would you be if you didn’t introduce our students to the greatest teachers of this century: Bill Nye and Mrs. Frizzle. Take a 20 minute break to mark some papers while the kids shout “BILL! BILL! BILL!”
  7. Emergency Sub Plans: Inventions Webquest
    Unless you need to save this one for a day off, this webquest is a great follow up to the Bill Nye video. Students will do their own research to discover a variety of inventions from the past and present.
  8. Engineering Design Process: Presentation
    To close out the teacher led learning of this unit, I like to do a quick review of the Engineering Design Process to lead my students into their final project.
  9. Engineering Quiz (FREE)
    Perhaps right before beginning their summative project is a good time to quiz the students on their learning so far. This is a quick quiz that shouldn’t take more than half an hour of class time.
  10. The Invention Convention
    YES! The Invention Convention is a crowd favorite at my school and a best seller in my store! In order to truly learn about engineering, students must create! This fun 7 day project takes students through all the steps of designing, planning, and creating their own technology. Daily intro lessons are included (less than 10 mins each), as well as a student booklet that can be used as a daily log. Check out some more of our student work here. Note: I would definitely count this project as a summative grade.
  11. Engineering Unit Test
    I like to do two summative grades per unit. One performance based and one written. This unit test is designed satisfy that second requirement. Test your students learning and understanding with this test made to cover a variety of question types and levels.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Please leave feedback as to how I could better serve you and others through this bundle or the creation of new resources. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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Beginning of the Year Bundle: Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! Whether you are brand new to teaching or you’re just new to middle school science, I’m passionate about helping you. I’m going to assume this blog is a safe space and admit that my first years teaching (grade 7 science) were extremely rough. There’s so much to learn from specific computational inputs specific to your school like attendance and grade entry to SPED laws to lesson creation to classroom management. Let’s just say I didn’t do it gracefully, and even still I struggle keeping all the balls in the air.

With that being said, I designed this bundle to make your workload a tiny bit smaller. It’s filled with some helpful resources that should get you through your first week with students!

I’ll explain how I use these resources.

Hands on activities. Most teachers begin the year with a little bit of out of your seat fun. They like to see how the students work together as well as give them a chance to practice the kinds of appropriate classroom behaviors that are being established at this time too. In this bundle I’ve included 4 hands on activities, each with a science focus:

  1. Team Building: Whale Band Aid
    My personal favorite is the whale bandaid. Group students into 4-8 and have them all stand on a twin bedsheet or a stretch of bulletin board fabric. They have to flip the fabric over without any of the team stepping off onto the floor. Minimal materials, anyone can do it, and it’s sure to get a laugh!
  2. Engineering Focus: Tower Build
    A classic hands on STEM challenge is the marshmallow and spaghetti tower build. I’ve recently switched it up though and started using about 2 feet of aluminum foil and a few pieces of tape instead. It’s easier for me to bring in and less messy on the clean up. This activity is great for teamwork and even better if you plan to start the year with an engineering unit.
  3. Inquiry Focus: Dog, Goose, and Bag of Corn
    I love this assignment! With manipulative cards showing the dog, the goose, and the bag of corn students must determine how the poor farmer can get all three across the river without leaving any of the two forbidden pairs alone together on one side. Problem is: he can only carry one thing at a time! Students get so frustrated in a good way! Great for perseverance in problem solving and allows students to take a close look at HOW they think through a problem. Even better, no outside materials required!
  4. Attention to Detail: Blind Building Activity
    This is such a fun activity, but it does require a little more planning. You’ll need some toys that can be broken down and built again. Lego, K’Nex, anything in that realm. Students need a partner (but I think groups of 4 would be ok too). Partner A is the one who will give instructions and Partner B will follow them. When you begin, send all the Partner B’s out of the room while Partner A simultaneously disassembles the toy and writes instructions on how to reassemble it. When the Partner B’s return, all A’s must exit. Only the written instructions can be used to rebuild. (No photos!) This activity is frustrating and fun. Students will learn a lot about attention to detail.

Policies and Procedures. Every teacher I’ve ever known either has a written document describing their policies and procedures, or they’ve just got it up in their head. Everyone has a way they want things done. For me as a new teacher, this was INCREDIBLY difficult to think my way through without the experience of years of failure. I’ve included this one in the bundle to give you a place to start thinking. It’s editable of course.

Lesson Plans. Unless you’re going to start in your first week with a pretest (which I find quite cumbersome), I’d advise jumping right in to teaching and learning. Coming back from the summer with little to no structure, the kids will be more grateful than you know to get right back to their regular routine. I have traditionally always begun the year with the basics of scientific inquiry and/or engineering design.  Here’s what I’ve included for you:

  • Scientific Method Presentation
    A quick overview of the scientific method and all the parts of an experiment. I’d generally have the students make a foldable following the whole group learning portion which can go in their interactive notebooks if you use those. It would be fun to do the Dog, Goose, and Bag of Corn after this lesson as it connects well.
  • Scientific Investigations with Minecraft
    A good practice for students in determining the parts of an experiment (independent and dependent variables, controls, etc.) which can be used following the lesson on the scientific method.
  • Engineering Design Process Presentation
    Another presentation I’ve included is on Engineering Design. With the growing focus on STEM in science classrooms, I’ve designed this lesson to show the similarities between the scientific method (discovery) process and the engineering design (technology) processes. Follow this lesson up with the aluminum foil tower build!

This bundle is designed to be affordable and useful to most teachers new to middle school science. Please leave feedback as to how I could better serve the teachers of the future through this bundle or the creation of new resources. While I love helping new teachers in any way I can, I’m particularly passionate about classroom management.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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Punnett Squares Practice Made Easy

If you clicked looking for more Punnett square worksheets and practice you’ve come to the right place!  In my seventh grade classroom I teach a wide variety of ability levels, and Punnett squares are one of my favorite parts of our curriculum. I strongly believe that EVERY child not only has the ability to master a mono hybrid cross, but also the right. But if you’re like me you’re probably in this situation nearly daily: what do I do with the kids who “get it” in 3.7 seconds while I work with the kids who take 5 class periods?

I finally may have cracked it within this unit at least. Because my standards only require that all students master monohybrid crosses, and the fact that many of my students are capable of much, much more than that, I decided to make the entire unit self paced.

In a whole group setting, I taught the basic vocabulary (homozygous, heterozygous, genotype, phenotype, etc.), and after a day or two of practice we took a quiz. Students who passed the quiz were then given a video and worksheet for Incomplete Dominance and codominance, and directed to teach themselves. When they felt they had mastered it, they took an online quiz and had to show me their score. Then they were allowed to move on to sex linked. Meanwhile, I worked in small groups with my strugglers.

Here’s how the spreadsheet looked:

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The payoff was huge. Those slightly slower kids who have a hard time keeping up finally got the attention they crave! I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the glow on their faces when things clicked.

The middle and high students somewhat naturally grouped themselves by ability and started working through their skills methodically. Video, worksheet, quiz. Video, worksheet, quiz. Until the fastest group had finished everything all the way up to pedigrees.

What now!? you may ask. Well, I tasked this super speedy, super smart group of 4 kids to an extra special project: make the test. I’ve been taught that for kids to really put in effort, their work must have an audience. What better audience than all of your peers?

I taught the test making group about low, medium, and high questions. I set them up on Google Forms so they could all edit the test simultaneously.

I instructed the group to make each skill a separate section. For differentiation, I only allowed each student to take the test up the the sections they had already mastered. Since only the first section was really required by the standards, I thought this to be a fair form of differentiated assessment.

The feedback I got from students was wonderful. Most of them loved coming to class and working on their assignments without the boring whole group notes that they’re used to in most middle school classes. I was completely free to help out however I was needed, and in some instances I even assigned quick working students to be my helpers.

I’d like to continue to try and find ways to serve every student while being only one person. What have you tried with differentiation that worked for you in middle school?

Here’s some of the resources I found online. (I do not own any of these! If you are the owner of any of these files and would like the link removed, please let me know.)

Monohybrid Crosses:

Co and Incomplete Dominance:

Sex Linked Traits:

Dihybrid Crosses:

Pedigrees:

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Probability Carnival Project

The Probability Carnival has become a fun math project for classrooms across America! I designed this a few years ago, and it’s become a highly anticipated yearly event at our school. We bring elementary students to the middle school classrooms and allow them to play the games and win prizes. It’s a lot of fun for everyone!

Students design and man a game with compound events. Students must submit a game proposal and get approved by their teacher, calculate the theoretical probability of winning each prize, and then collect data and determine experimental probability.

Check out what this teacher said:

Thank you so much for this fun activity! My 8th graders embraced the challenge of creating carnival games, and then my awesome colleagues also embraced it, and my team had a carnival day! We were outside the whole day playing the kids’ games – complete with a ticket booth! The kids loved it, and I have gotten nothing but compliments from our entire community! I can’t thank you enough! This will now be a yearly activity for our team!

See the project here. 

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NGSS Pretest

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At my school we’ve been working hard to move away from standardized testing. We’re spending a lot of time developing assessments that require more from students than simply bubbling.

We use the NGSS standards so we’ve developed a pretest which assesses each of the following Practices of Scientists and Engineers:

  1. Asking questions (science) and defining problems (engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (science) and designing solutions (engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

The pretest is mean to not only assess your students, but also to provide a learning experience. As they complete the assessment, students will gain a new perspective on what it is that they will be expected to do. This is addressed in the included student reflection.

Check it out here!

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Forces and Motion Online Lab: Balanced and Unbalanced Forces

Exploring balanced and unbalanced forces has never been easier! Students love this lab! There’s something about these little simulated mannequins that’s hard not to love. There’s 4 parts of this PhET that allow students to explore:

  • Balanced and Unbalanced forces
  • Friction
  • Speed
  • Acceleration
  • Newton’s Laws

Even better, it’s completely inquiry based! The PhET site has lots of teacher resources and other simulators. If you’d like something ready made, the worksheet I created to go with this sim is one of my best sellers.

Check it out here!

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Kinetic vs. Potential Energy: Online Lab

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Explore kinetic and potential energy with another one of my popular virtual labs: the Energy Skate Park. This wonderful PhET Sim allows students to explore the trade off between potential and kinetic energy.

The PhET site has a lot of teacher materials available, or I’ve got a worksheet ready made for you.

Click here to check it out!

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Online Density Lab

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One of my most popular labs is my virtual density lab. I’ve always loved this one as a quick way to help students understand the abstract idea of density.

If you’re a science teacher and you’re not acquainted with the PhET Simulations, then boy do I have news for you! There’s tons of simple sims that students can use to explore a variety of science and math concepts. The site also includes some resources for teachers if you’re looking to start from scratch.

If you’re looking for something ready made, the worksheet I’ve made to go along with this sim is one of my best sellers.

Check out what this teacher said:

This lab is great! It was perfect for introducing our Density discussion and allowed students to discovery density at their own pace prior to a class discussion. Highly recommend!

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