Science Topics to Review at the Beginning of the Year

As the new school year begins, a new chapter begins for the students. It is that time of year when teachers are establishing academic and behavioral classroom expectations and building rapport.  Students, on the other hand, are mourning the loss of summer and exhibiting the reality of “use it or lose it”. Ask them a question about the previous year’s material, and they may respond with something along the lines of, “I don’t think we learned that”.

While this sometimes may be the truth, likely, the information simply did not make it to their long-term memory. Since students do not tend to try to retain or rehearse material learned throughout the previous school year in the summer, they forget the material. To ensure the students have a strong foundation to build the year’s science content on, it is vital to take time to review key science topics. This may seem tedious, but it is essential when combating the loss of learned information. This isn’t something we fault them for, but a reality we simply adjust to. As you prepare your beginning of the year science activities, here are some important science topics to review at the beginning of the year. 

Nature of Science

First and foremost, students need to review the nature of science. The goal of all scientists is to gain scientific knowledge about natural phenomena. They do this in a couple of ways: 

  • Observation: Describing the natural world using the five senses. This is always a key part of the scientific process. 
  • Making Inferences: Scientists use their observations to make inferences. In other words, they create a logical explanation for their observations using thinking and reasoning. 

It’s important to review the nature of science at the beginning of your school year because it establishes the foundational purpose of your class. It’s what sets science apart from other subject areas. In order for your science students to fully understand the value and impact of your class, they must first understand the purpose of real science and the role it plays in the scientific method. 

Planning to start your year with a scientific method unit? Here are a few resources to get you started:

Graphing Practice 

Regardless of the curricular focus of your middle school science class, (life science, earth science, space science, even social sciences etc.) your students will need to know how to create and interpret graphs and charts. Graphing is a way of displaying data collected through science experiments or any scientific inquiry activity. Beginning the year with a review of this important science skill will set your middle school students up for success in your class. 

Let’s get your students graphing! Here are some great options for middle school graphing practice.

Microscopes

Similar to your review of graphing practice, taking time early in your school year to review the proper use of microscopes (and other critical science class equipment) is a good idea. Not only will it make your lessons far more efficient when students need to use this important diagnostic tool, but it’s also helpful in preventing costly damage to equipment. (It’s amazing what middle schoolers can *accidentally* do to a microscope.) Microscope usage rules as well as microscope diagrams make great resources pages in your students’ interactive notebooks. 

Lab Safety

One of the first science topics to review at the beginning of the year is lab safety. It’s important for students of all grade levels to understand the proper safety precautions and protocols required to keep everyone safe on lab day. I recommend reviewing list of safety rules and giving them a copy to keep in their science notebooks. It’s all a good idea to utilize a Lab Safety Contract, like this one when reviewing the rules and safety procedures of your science classroom. This safety contract includes the following information to review with your students: 

Safety profotocols for…

  • Before you enter the lab
  • During the lab
  • After the lab (clean up)
  • Student and parent signature

I intentionally make sure each contract is signed by BOTH students and parents. This can be helpful to pull out in the unfortunate event that a student does not follow protocols and is disciplined (or worse — is injured.) 

Team building/problem solving

Whether you teach 4th grade science or you have a classroom full of teenagers, spending time working on team building is a great way to establish a supportive environment when you ask students to work in small groups. I think small group activities and labs can be so much fun…but only when students understand how to listen, communicate, and share ideas effectively. Here are some great resources for team building. 

Following (and writing) directions

I know, I know…it seems like this shouldn’t be one of the science topics to review at the beginning of the year in a middle school classroom. However, if you’ve spent any amount of time with these pre-adolescents, you know exactly how important it is to review “following directions.”  Because science class sometimes involves labs, following directions does more than ensure the correct completion of assignments. It can be a safety issue. 

CER: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

The claim, evidence, and reasoning (CER) model is a method for teaching students to think and write scientifically. By going beyond simple one-word responses, this model encourages students to engage in a more comprehensive and analytical approach. Using the  CER model, your students will learn to make a claim, justify their answer with data, and connect the data with scientific reasoning. This process helps students understand the importance of evidence-based arguments and cultivates their scientific literacy. 

I’ve put together a collection of CER resources to introduce and practice the CER model with your students. It equips educators with all the necessary materials and guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the CER model effectively. Each of these products come with digital version and a print version. Check these out: 

Metric System & Units

The metric system is the base unit system for literally all of science. While students in many countries are used to the metric system and familiar with these units of measurement, for students in the United States who are used to using the English system of measurement, metric conversions require some additional instruction and teaching. If you’re looking for some solid resources for teaching measurement to your middle schoolers, check out this post! 

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