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Top Resources for teaching middle school earth science

Calling all middle school science teachers! Are you tackling earth science with your middle schoolers this year? You’re in luck! Earth science curriculum is one of my absolute favorite science topics to cover with my middle school students. Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with many (and I do mean MANY) science resources and classroom activities, including a few I’ve created myself. Here are my favorite high quality resources for teaching middle school earth science!

Geology

Ah Geology. This unit covers everything from rock origination and formation to plate tectonics and volcanic activity. Personally, I find it fascinating. With these earth science activities, your students will too!

Graham Cracker Plate Tectonics

This hands-on lab is a great resource for teaching students of all ages about the movements of earth’s plates. Using graham crackers and cool whip, students will be exploring the ways in which plates move and form boundaries with one another. Throughout this lab, students will also be introduced to additional terms, such as subduction and convergence. This activity is fun and engaging addition to any middle school lesson plan.

Starburst Rock Cycle Experiment

Be honest with me…what middle schooler doesn’t LOVE a good candy lab?! This starburst experiment is one of my favorite free activities. In this science activity, students will be moving a Starburst candy through each step of the rock cycle, beginning with sediment and ending with igneous rock. Not only does this lab provide an excellent visual representation of rock transformations, it’s sure to be a fun and exciting day in science class!

Sandwich Stratigraphy

Need some fun lesson ideas for teaching relative age? Look no further! Using a sandwich model, students will work to determine the relative ages of different “sedimentary rock layers.” Students will analyze each rock layer and determine it’s age using the Law of Superposition.

Pangea Puzzle

When it comes to free resources for teaching middle school earth science, this is one of my favorites! Working in small groups, students will attempt to piece together the original continent of Pangea. How will they do this? By collecting evidence related to current continent shape, fossilized organisms, and the presence of certain earth formations, such as mountain chains. Not only is this a fun team building activity, it gives students excellent practice at using evidence to justify their reasoning.

Modeling of Seafloor Spreading

Art meets science! In this crafty lesson, students will be expanding their knowledge of subduction zones and magnetic polarity by creating their own models of the oceanic crust. This lesson is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards. The detailed instructions and list of instructional materials make it easy for both teachers and students to understand.

Lava Lamp Activity

What causes geologic activity such as earthquakes, volcanic eruption, mountain building, and seafloor trenches? Students will have the opportunity to explore that very question by investigating a lava lamp. That’s right! It’s time to take your science classes back to the 90’s. By using discovery and inquiry techniques, students will explore hot spots, hydrothermal vents, and seafloor spreading.

Making Geodes

Geodes are one of the most beautiful and alluring creations in the natural world. These hollowed out rock cavities often contain breathtakingly beautiful crystals! Your earth science lesson plans wouldn’t be complete without devoting a little bit of time to these beautiful rock formations. In this activity, students will have the chance to create their own geodes using cleaned out egg shells.

Stalactites and Stalagmites

In this earth science activity, student will explore how stalactites and stalagmites are formed. One of the more traditionally “sciency” resources for teaching middle school earth science, this experiment will have students mixing a magnesium sulfate solution in the process of making their rock formations.

Testing Rock Properties

In this science lab, students will be exploring the three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. This activity involves six unique tests, each aimed at investigating a different rock property (hardness, texture, etc.) This is one of my favorite simple earth science lessons because it’s both easy to setup and accomplish while still covering the topic at great depth.

Astronomy

Astronomy is an important part of any earth science curriculum modules. The study of space (the sun, moon, planets, stars, etc.) is a fascinating exploration that provides the “big picture” context for all of earth science. If you’re hoping to beef up your science content with a few good astronomy resources, here a few of my favorite lesson plans and hands-on activities for studying planetary science.

Astronomy Unit Guide

Is lesson planning just too much on top of teaching on top of grading on top of classroom management on top of *ahem* living your life?! Get all the guidance you need to teach a comprehensive, no-prep astronomy unit either in person, hybrid, or virtual with my all inclusive astronomy unit guide bundle

This unit guide will save you time, engage your students, and wow your administrators! Unit overview, NGSS standards, and a pacing guide are all included with links to relevant resources to make planning a breeze.

Modeling Eclipses

Using flashlights and 3D models of the sun, moon, and earth, student are able to simulate solar and lunar eclipses. This demonstration is a helpful lesson for the visual learners in your classroom. Additionally, it helps to solidify an understanding of the differences between solar and lunar eclipses.

Oreo Moon Phases

The moon is an important feature in our solar system. Understanding the moon and all of it’s phases is a fundamental topic in middle school astronomy. My favorite way to teach moon phases? OREO COOKIES!! That’s right! Students can simulate the different moon phases by scooping away part of the Oreo cream. This lesson is both informative and delicious!

Gravity & Orbits Virtual Lab

How do gravity, mass, and distance affect movement in our Earth-Sun-Moon system? Students are able to explore and unpack this important astronomy question using this virtual lab. Using the interactive simulation, students experiment by changing variables to create different scenarios. They will then report their observations and draw conclusions. To conclude, students will complete 3 short CER style questions.

Atmosphere/Weather

A list of resources for teaching middle school earth science wouldn’t be complete without a section dedicated to atmospheric research and weather. This unit includes important topics such as global warming, environmental impact, atmospheric layers, and weather patterns.

Interactive Lessons

Do you find yourself constantly battling to keep your students entertained? Yep. Me too! That’s why I created a series on interactive lessons designed to teach important weather concepts in an engaging way. Embedded frequently within these colorful slides are multiple stopping points that require students to predict, reflect, connect, and think critically about the information being presented.

Land & Sea Breeze Demonstration

This helpful video walks you through exactly how to conduct this demonstration. Using sand and water, you will be able to create a visual representation of sea breezes. This demo could be conducted from the front of class for student to observe, or could take the form of a partner lab experiment. The choice is yours!

Layers of the Atmosphere

Through this graphing activity, students will discover how the atmosphere can be divided into different layers based on changes in temperature. Not only does this activity reinforce important topics relating to climate literacy and earth science, it gives additional practice with another essential science education skill: graphing. It’s a win-win!

Hot Air Cupcake Challenge

You read that right! This video demonstration teaches the concept of hot air rising using candles, plastic bags, and yes – CUPCAKES. Yum! You could choose to simply watch this video with your students, or recreate the demonstration yourself! (Personally – I’m a fan of any excuse to have cupcakes in the classroom.)

Natural Hazards

Natural disasters are terrible to live through, but they sure can be fun to learn about! Here are a few of my favorite activities for guiding your middle schoolers in the exploration of natural hazards.

Volcano Models

It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Volcano models can be built using a variety of materials. Personally, I find that modeling clay or good ole’ fashioned Play-Doh make the simplest models. Easy prep meets easy cleanup! (Who doesn’t love that?!)

Natural Hazards Stations

Dive deeper into natural hazards with this engaging set of natural hazards stations that focuses on data analysis! With this resource, your students will be investigate maps and graphs covering 10 different natural hazards and draw conclusions from each. Each station includes a graph or map and several questions that encourage students to think deeply about the topic including how to predict and prevent future damage from these events.

Earthquake Proof Houses

Looking for a fun STEM activity to add to your earth science resources? Using popsicle sticks and glue, instruct students to build a house that could withstand an earthquake.

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