A great activity for the first day of school or any day that you need a fun hands on pick me up. Have your students compete to see who can build the tallest tower with a supply of random materials. Traditionally, I always saw this activity done with spaghetti, tape, and marshmallows, but I’ve since switched to using aluminum foil.
Unfortunately, in all the years I’ve been teaching photosynthesis and respiration, I’ve never had a group of students come to me with much of a background in chemistry.
I’ve approached this problem a lot of different ways, including teaching a 2 week crash course in chemistry. What we really need is for the students to have an understanding of the Law of Conservation of Mass as well as the concept that molecules exist and molecules are made of atoms and those atoms can be rearranged. Simple, right? Not so much.
This lab has been my latest solution to this unique situation. How do you teach photosynthesis? Do your students come to you with or without chemistry backgrounds? What do you do if they don’t?
The DNA model project is a hilarious mess! My students had such a hard time getting their models to actually stand up, that I gave up completely 😂 😂
If you’re able to get some photos in your class, please send them to me at email@example.com. I’d love to see what your students come up with!
Welcome to my middle school Biosphere Project! I designed this project with an ecology and interconnectedness focus, but I’ve had ideas of adding in some sociology and government facets.
Take a look at the work some of my 7th graders submitted this year!
I allowed some of my students, with permission, to make their biospheres in a digital format. I’ve never seen this program before, but these boys did a great job! They even included an art gallery that features exhibits from the former Earth.
These boys were really creative with their research center and neighborhood!
This group of boys really made me laugh by creating their biosphere ON THE SUN!!!
A great Neptune biosphere by this group of girls.
These girls made the cutest mini domes featuring all their biomes and farming regions.
Another great one featuring a very detailed human area, with a pet dog!
These girls invented their own planet and made it fully unicorn themed! I love their enchanted forest and their farm domes!
Another great one. These girls included a hub in the middle to represent the machinery keeping their biosphere going.
Wonderful job by this team of girls! Their biosphere even has a clear dome skylight with a working fan! I love their human area!
This biosphere has such great detail! I loved this little robot work station!
This group even included a generator! I love the creativity!
Here’s a few links that’ll get you started if you’re interested in doing this project with your own students!
- Start with a free introductory reading about Biosphere 2 in Phoenix available here.
- Newsela also has a related article here: What is a biosphere?
Unpack the NGSS standards with this fun booklet!
14 pages cover the basics of the NGSS practices of scientists and engineers:
- Asking Questions and Defining Problems
- Developing and Using Models
- Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
- Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
- Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
- Engaging in Argument from Evidence
- Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Optionally, in the end, I’ve grouped students and assigned one practice per group. From there, the students were in charge of unpacking substandard and rewording them in “middle school friendly” language.
Here’s an example of a poster made by one of those groups:
Implement the Invention Convention in 2020 to give students a chance to put the Engineering Design Process into action! Already being used in over 100 schools, this engaging project is yearly favorite for students around the globe. In the Invention Convention, students are encouraged to choose a problem in their everyday lives and then create a solution through new technology.
To walk students through the phases of the design process, your download will include a 19 page student booklet in which students brainstorm, sketch, and report on their efforts during each day of the project. The booklet also has a checklist where students can keep track of their requirements.
- To Do Checklist
- Define a Problem
- Brainstorming Solutions
- Pre Conference Form with Teacher
- Develop a Model
- Materials List
- Materials Request Letter
- Daily Progress Logs
- Create a Poster
- 2 User Testimonials
- Self Evaluation
- Formative Rubric
- Summative Rubric
After completing their prototype, students will design poster with a summary of their project including a title and a description of the problem their invention solves.
Invention Convention Ideas
And let’s be honest, not all students enjoy perfectionism as much as others. I can’t quite remember what this kid was making, but I hope it was a door stop. Not all projects are created equally! It’s important to remind our students that failure is a natural part of the creation process!
Another great Invention Convention idea to incorporate a more sustainability twist is to challenge your students to create their prototypes using only recycled resources. This is a great way to incorporate the modern ecological considerations that are on everyone’s minds in 2020.
Still unsure if you can swing the Invention Convention in 2020? Check out what these teachers said!
This is a well thought out plan to guide students through the invention process!
I am so excited to use this format! Well laid out and easy to implement. Thanks!
About the author: I’m a teacher too! I work in an American International School in Abu Dhabi. Read more about me here.
If you’re looking for other great STEM Projects, check out the Biosphere Project which has more of an ecology and sustainability focus.
My teaching resources have already benefitted the learning of over half a million students. Please pin the image below to help me expand my reach.
The classic cell model projects for middle school science! My students love this one! We’ve done it a few different ways over the years, and it’s always been a messy but fun time. Some ideas to consider are:
- Do you want your students to make their projects in the classroom or at home?
- Do you want to allow students to use food?
- Will your students make a literal cell model or will they create something that represents a cell, such as the cell school?
- Can students work in groups?
- Will digital alternatives be allowed?
No doubt a quick Google search will bring up thousands of student examples. I can still remember making my own cell in middle school. I chose to make my cytoplasm out of Jello, but I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t have access to a refrigerator at school. I submitted a project that more closely resembled a soup than a cell. Cue traumatic memories.
More Ways to Implement Cell Model Projects for Middle School:
A great variation to the cell model project is to require that students make a unique project with represents the parts of the cell. Rather than literal cells, students create a metaphor. Cities, factories, and human bodies are all very similar to cells. Students will be required to label which parts of their project coincide with the organelle functions they have learned.
Check out this cell school made by a few of my students:
If you’re looking for a rubric, I have provided mine below for your reference. Be sure to pass this out to students ahead of the project for their reference.
See more about how I teach my Cell’s Unit by clicking here.