Middle School Lesson Ideas

English Language Arts

Grade: 6-12
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to make corrections based on teacher feedback.
Original Post: Reverse and Improve Your Instruction with Screencasts

Feedback is one of the most important — and most time-consuming — pieces of a teacher’s job. Ideally, we would have regular conferences with all of our students going line-by-line through their writing. However, this isn’t possible. So instead, we collect their essays, grade them at home, and return them, along with comments that we hope will help the students improve.

Unfortunately, research shows that when students see both a grade and a comment on their work, they only look at the grade and ignore the comment. But screencasts can help.

Go through grading students’ papers as you normally would. However, use a document camera connected to your computer OR a video camera to record the paper and your corrections, along with your voice explaining the corrections. Stop and re-start the recording between each paper, so you’re creating a separate video for each student’s paper. Upload these videos on a website like YouTube or Vimeo, which give you the option to make them private. Share the video ONLY with the student whose paper is being graded.

Now, instead of only receiving a marked-up essay, your students can have a virtual conference with you. If they have any questions, they can add them as a comment to the video, which you can reply to. These dialogues are now recorded, and you can use them during parent-teacher conferences or special education proceedings, if needed.

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts, Technology
Objective: The student will be able to find and understand information from a variety of sources, including the Internet.
Original Post: Search Engine Scaffolding: Free tools help your students become search engine experts

Introduce students to SortFix. First, use it as a class to research a topic. Explain that, sometimes, computers need extra clues to understand your questions and, by giving them additional words, it helps computers answer our questions. Have students use the site as they work on research topics.

In their notebooks, have students record their original searches and their searches after they added and removed power words. After several weeks, once students become accustomed to using SortFix, discuss what SortFix teaches us. Tell students you want to know what jellyfish eat, so you’re going to type “jellyfish” into Google. Ask students to help you refine your search, without using SortFix. Ask them to predict power words and infer how you would add or remove words from a search, using Google rather than SortFix. Invite students to start using SortFix strategies on more general search engines, like Google, as they research future topics.

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to use reading comprehension strategies, including inference, to understand a text passage.
Original Post: Search Stories Give Reading Assignments a Fresh Twist

Create a search story for students (or use one of those already published on YouTube), and have them write a story that fills in the blanks. If you want to extend the lesson, have students make their own search stories, based on previous creative writing assignments. Then, other students can write their own stories, using their peers’ videos as prompts. Students will have fun comparing the original stories with those written based on the videos.

Grade: 6-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to effectively communicate his or her ideas using a strong, unique voice.
Original Post: Use What Their Mamas Gave ‘Em: Students’ Cell Phones in Education

Digital storytelling is the perfect extension for any reading or writing assignment. Rather than publishing original poems or stories on paper, students can create digital stories to express themselves. Highly engaging videos and slideshows are likely to get a lot of attention on the Internet, so students learn to create presentations for an audience larger than just their teacher. Multi-media presentations also give students more channels to express themselves — from film-making to photography.

Plus, the presentations help students understand concepts like voice and mood. My students published their poems as podcasts, and used music to communicate the mood of their pieces. Here’s one sample from then-fourth-grader Sylvia.

When it comes to reading, classic novels can become a lot more exciting and relevant for students when then create movie trailers for the books, like this one for The Book Thief:

Grade: 5-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to write a story using strong voice, plot structure, and literary devices.
Original Post: Wiki-Wiki What?!?

Any wiki gives students the opportunity to showcase, and thus improve, their writing. But several teachers have students create wikis entirely as a writing project.

Australian third- and fourth-grade students used a wiki to write a choose your own adventure book. It’s a brilliant idea — students can work collaboratively to finish several versions of a story. And, since wikis make creating links so easy, it’s the perfect layout from a reader’s perspective.

One of the most difficult concepts for many students to understand is the importance of editing. Wikis are a great place to demonstrate this, though. Since students all have the ability to edit one another’s work, lower-level writers will see how others’ editing improves their work before it’s published for the public.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to describe a character’s behaviors, values, and beliefs.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Anyone who has taught in a K-12 classroom knows that no matter what subject you teach, you teach reading. Reading comprehension is ingrained in nearly everything we do as adults and, as such, is embedded into every K-12 subject.

But, often, teachers complain to me that technology is destroying reading and, specifically, reading comprehension in 21st century students. Kids are so used to immediate gratification — to getting everything in snippets, to 120-character tweets, to Google synopses, and to Facebook status updates — that 500-page novels are a bore. “Can’t we just watch the movie?” they’ll ask. (I think this last question has been around a bit longer than the internet; I remember my own peers asking it 20 years ago.)

It’s true that technology has changed the way we process information, including the way we read. There’s a plethora of recent research studying how these new technologies have affected the way we interact, process, and analyze. There are studies suggesting that, as a society, our very brain chemistry is changing. Good or bad, this is happening. As teachers, there’s virtually nothing we can do to stop our students from having Facebook accounts or using their cell phones. But our job is still to teach them to read, understand, and appreciate tons of different writing — literature, science journals, historic papers, daily news, math proofs, websites, etc.

Frankly, it’s never been easy to get most students to love The Odyssey. But now, technology has given us a golden opportunity — a chance to hook most of our students into reading novels, textbooks, newspapers, and virtually anything else. We just have to do what great teachers do best — get a little creative.

Reading is all about empathy. If we feel for the people we’re reading about, if we can imagine what they’re feeling and thinking and hoping, if we can relate to them, we’re hooked. And social networks can help students become empathetic. They can allow students to walk around in someone else’s skin, virtually.

Say, for example, that your class is reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Assign each student a different character in the book. The student’s assignment is to pay particular attention to that character — their beliefs, actions, motivations, voice. Everything. And then, to become that character. Have each student create an Edmodo profile, posing as their assigned character. Then, as you read the book throughout the semester, students must post updates, comments, related links, videos, etc., on the class social network. They are to become their assigned character, interacting on a social network. (It’s great if the teacher takes on the role of a character as well.) What link would Ron Weasley share with his peers? How would Draco Malfoy react to it? These are all high-level questions students will have to ask, think about, and answer through the class social network. Best of all, they can be funny or ironic or touching — all motivation to try their best at the assignment. Your class Edmodo wall might look something like this:

harrypotter-edmodo

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to identify and communicate the mood of an original writing piece.
Original Post: Digital Storytelling for Beginners

After a poetry or personal narrative unit, have students record their original poems or portions of their narratives on UJAM. Allow them to select a ‘style’ that appropriately conveys the mood of their piece. After they perfect their piece, have them download the mp3.

Assign one student as the MC. Have him/her record introductions for each piece. Then, burn all the completed mp3s, in order with the proper introductions, onto a CD. You can give the CD to students at the end of the school year or sell it for a fund-raiser.

Math

Grade: 5-8
Subject: Geometry
Objective: The student will be able to use ordered pairs to describe points on a coordinate grid.
Original Post: From Trash to Treasure: Three Easy Steps to Convert Corporate Garbage into FREE Classroom PCs

Students can use Scratch, a logic-based computer programming tool, to explore coordinate grids with a real-world connection. Based on their level, you can create easier or more difficult questions and tasks. Use a worksheet to guide students through the activity.

For example, in this lesson by Karen Randall, you can have them answer the following questions (see worksheet on page 2 of this document), with a focus on the vocabulary quadrant, ordered pair, x coordinate, y coordinate, X-axis, Y-axis, and origin:

  1. What is the default location of the cat when you open a project? How does that location change when you drag the cat to other places on the screen?
  2. How can you draw lines by changing the x and/or y coordinate for the location of a sprite?
  3. How can you draw a line by changing one coordinate?
  4. How can you draw the x and y axis of the coordinate grid by using coordinate pairs?
  5. How can you use coordinate pairs to draw specific shapes, such as your initials?

For more Scratch lesson plans, check out http://wiki.classroom20.com/Scratch+Lesson+Plans.

You can also find Kig geometry lesson plans at https://wiki.edubuntu.org/Lessons/Kig.

Grade: 6-8
Subject: Algebra
Objective: The student will be able to:

  • determine the identity element;
  • decide if there is an inverse for each element;
  • determine if an operation is commutative or associative

Original Post: The $55 Interactive Whiteboard

When I was in school, I wasn’t a fan of math — too much boring memorization and drill and kill for me. Those arbitrary rules never seemed to make sense. So when I started teaching math, I took a completely different approach. I felt it was important for students to understand the why behind all those rules. Process over product became my mantra, and the TERC Investigations curriculum gave me some great tools to work with.

So I was really excited to find the Illuminations Web site, created by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. It offers lessons and applets ideal for teaching the why, and many of their applets are perfect for use on a Wiimote Whiteboard.

To introduce the ideas of identity, inverse, commutative, and associative, Illuminations offers a lesson that uses shapes to explain the principles. Check out the lesson, and be sure to find the applet link, which would be a perfect fit on a Wiimote Whiteboard.

Grade: 5-8
Subject: Math
Objective: The student will be able to use the language of mathematics to communicate his/her math thinking coherently to peers, teachers, and others; and analyze and evaluate the math thinking and strategies of others.
Original Post: Use FREE Blogging to Increase Your Students’ Writing Scores 20 Percent

Blogging is clearly an amazing tool for the writing classroom. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Reading teachers can use blogs to start discussions about books read in class; science teachers can have students explain their understanding of an in-class experiment; social studies teachers can have students write letters to their congress people and post them on their blogs.

Blogs are also the perfect place for students to learn to communicate their mathematical thinking. For students to progress in math, it’s extremely important for them to be able to articulate exactly how they solve word problems and why they chose this method. In addition to strengthening students’ mathematical understanding of a concept, it can point teachers to common misconceptions.

In essence, blogs can allow you to have every student complete a problem on the board. Here’s a possible math lesson:

  • Post a word problem for your students to solve.
  • On their blogs, the students are expected to explain their thinking step-by-step (i.e.. “when I read the problem, I thought this. So I…”) – this may require some pre-teaching.
  • As they explain their thinking, students should show their math calculations (for some students, the math calculations might be a drawing that you photograph and post on the blog).
  • For their next assignment, students should be expected to comment on other kids’ blogs. These comments might be a specific piece of praise, like “I like how you said that the problem reminded you of marbles grouped inside of cups. That helped me think about the problem differently.” Or they could be constructive criticism, like “the problem said he had four groups of five pencils. Why did you decide to divide? Maybe you could draw four groups of five pencils to help you.”

Grade: 2-12
Subject: Math
Objective: The student will be able to use grade-level appropriate mathematical operations to solve a problem.
Original Post: Reverse and Improve Your Instruction with Screencasts

Often in math class, a student will struggle with a particular operation or problem type. In 4th grade, a few of my students had consistent problems with subtraction and division. Screencasts are perfect for offering these students one-on-one tutoring, without having to schedule the time.

Create a screencast with a sample problem involving the operation the student has trouble with. Give the struggling student a worksheet with an identical problem, but with the numbers slightly different. Have students follow the screencast step-by-step, pausing it to complete each step on their own worksheet (for younger students, it might be a good idea to tell students when to pause the screencast during the recording).

You can create one such screencast and use it with several students over several years. The students can watch the screencast in class, using headphones, or at home, with parental support.

Grade: 4-6
Subject: Math
Objective: The student will be able to find the perimeter and the area of an object.
Original Post: Let Them Play: Video gaming in education

First, spend one day teaching students about perimeter. The next day, introduce the idea of area. Then, take students out onto the playground. Tell them to walk on the PERIMETER of the playground (generally, students will walk in a line around the outside of the playground). Then, ask them to walk in the AREA of the playground (they run around in the middle of the playground). Keep switching your directions — having students walk along the PERIMETER, and then inside the AREA. Afterwards, discuss what students noticed — were the perimeter and area the same? Etc.

Next, have students play the Cyberchase game Cyberspaceship Builder. In the game, students are given a set perimeter. Then they have to create shapes with various areas using the same perimeter. As students play, have them take notes about their findings. You might want to make a worksheet where students must demonstrate the different perimeters and areas they create. With older students, you could have them record their findings in their math notebooks.

After the lesson, discuss what students discovered, any questions they have, and have connections they made. (This is a good time to connect area to multiplication arrays and ask students if they found a more efficient way — other than counting — to find the area. For older students, ask about strategies for finding the area of oddly shaped spaceships.)

Grade: 5-8
Subject: Math
Objective: The student will be able to eliminate incorrect answers using logic and reasoning skills.
Original Post: iPad Dream at Realistic Price: the $250 Android Tablet

Have students use the FREE Sudoku app that comes with the Nook Color to practice their logic and reasoning skills. The app allows students to pencil in notes and use a “pen” when they’re certain of an answer. If they mark something that can’t possibly be correct based on the numbers already filled in, the number turns red, which can help scaffold understanding. The app also allows users to choose their difficulty level and pause play, so students can come back to the same puzzle day after day. The app times them, so they can see how long it takes them to complete a Sudoku puzzle and track their progress as their speed improves.

Science

Grade: 5-8
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to illustrate the transfer of energy through a food web.
Original Post: Powerpoint Schmowerpoint: Teach kids to create really engaging presentations

When I taught fifth-grade science, energy flowcharts, food chains, and food webs were a large part of my class. Students each had their own terrarium or aquarium, and they each created food webs for the living things inside. This became a difficult task because, as we learned more about the things inside our bottle ecosystems, students wanted to add to their food webs. They soon ran out of room.

With Prezi, though, students can create enormous food webs that an audience can view from afar. Then, students can zoom in on each section of the food web and provide more details about the animal or plant represented there. The food webs can be made more interesting with the inclusion of photos and videos (possibly some taken by students).

Grade: 6-8
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will understand the causes and effects of climate change.
Original Post: Harness the Power of Social Networking in Your Classroom, Safely and for FREE

After learning about climate change, post an assignment on your class social network asking students to come up with a project that will help stop the climate crisis. Students can advertise their project idea however they’d like – with videos, glogs, blogs, etc. – but they must post all their advertisements on the social network.

Then, the entire class will vote on which project they’d most like to undertake. As a teacher, you can decide if you want the entire class to take on the project that gets the most votes. Or you can have each student choose a single project, outside of their own, to help with and leave a comment on that post. Then, every student completes their own project, using the other students who signed up as helpers.

Grade: 6-8
Subject:
Science
Objective: The student will be able to communicate the results of an experiment.
Original Post: Moving Beyond Bar Graphs with Data Visualization

Throughout the school year, middle school students complete dozens of lab experiments, and they often collect unique data sets. Once you’re confident that students are able to create their own basic graphs, have them use Many Eyes. Students can type or paste their data directly into the site, assess 20 visualizations to find the one that will best communicate their findings, and create a visualization with two or more variables. Not only will the product help students communicate their findings, it may help them make discoveries about their data that they didn’t recognize earlier.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific scientist, animal, element, or concept.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Just like you can assign each student to be a literary character or a historic figure on a social network, you can extend that idea to science. You could assign your students to be famous scientists, scientific principles, or even scientific theories. What would Evolution say to Creationism? If you’re teaching marine biology, you could assign students to be different marine animals. How would they interact with one another if they had personalities, could speak, and could access social networks?

My absolute favorite idea for a science social network, though, was sparked by a video called “Chemical Party.” The video personifies chemical elements and compounds, and it got me thinking, “what would neon post on hydrogen’s wall?” Wouldn’t it be great if your chemistry students were asking this question at home on a Friday night?

Grade: 5-12
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to recognize the cumulative nature of scientific evidence AND perform tests, collect data, analyze data and display results.
Original Post: Skype’s New Education Site Connects Classrooms Across the Globe

On Skype in the Classroom, post a request for a partner science class with students of the same age as yours. Depending on your scientific focus, it might be interesting to find a class in a different climate or geographic area (coastal vs. plains). Once you find a class and a teacher that meets your needs, set up a schedule of Skype calls — several in the following weeks or months. Using class lists from both classes, work with your partner teacher to create Skype buddies or groups.

Have students meet their buddies on Skype — these will be their lab partners. Either have the students work together decide on their own science experiment or offer them a guided experiment. Have students communicate with their partners via Skype and each collect their own data for the experiment. Have students use Google docs (or another wiki-like tool) to collaboratively record and analyze data and create a final report or presentation.

Social Studies

Grade: 6-8
Subject: Social Studies (ancient civilizations)
Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast a typical day in the life of an ancient Egyptian with a day in the life of a modern-day American.
Original Post: Make Your Students Mythbusters with Video Lab Reports

A “Day in the Life” report is one of the staples of middle school social studies classes. Most of us can remember a project or paper we had to write about life in ancient Egypt or Rome or Greece. This assignment lends itself perfectly to a video report.

Students can act out a typical day in their own lives and then splice in clips of what a similar act would be like in an ancient civilization. See little Johnny wake up to his alarm clock. Cut. See little Johnny, dressed as little Magdi, wake up to the sunrise in Egypt. And so on. What does Johnny wear? What does Magdi wear? What does Johnny eat? What does Magdi eat?

Having to plan, film, re-film, and edit a video like this will certainly help students master the objective. Plus, the videos will likely help other students remember key concepts from the unit.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific historic figure, country, group, or event.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Social studies teachers have started some of the most creative social networking sites I’ve seen. It’s easy to see why — social networks can make history come alive for students, through role play.

When I was a kid studying the American Revolution, our teacher assigned each of us a historic figure to research. One student got Thomas Jefferson, another was assigned Ben Franklin, and so on. We all wrote papers and made posters. Then, we stood in front of the class and talked for 5 minutes, during which only about 3 kids paid attention. With social networking, this assignment can become more interesting and much more meaningful for all students. Instead of (or in addition to) writing a report, each student could be assigned to create an Edmodo profile, posing as a historic figure (like this Thomas Jefferson profile). Then, students could be required to interact with one another as that historic figure. How would Ben Franklin respond to Thomas Jefferson’s comment about democracy? Students would have to understand a lot about their own historic figure, but they’d also have to know a good deal about other figures in order to converse with them. Deeper, higher-level thinking would be required of students, but the assignment would also be fun and motivating for them.

Social studies social networks don’t have to stop with historical figures, though. No matter what time period you’re studying, students can be assigned to act as countries, groups of people, or even historical events. “If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses” is a funny look at this idea (be aware, though — it was written for an adult audience).

historical-facebook

Foreign Languages

Grade: 6-12
Subject: Foreign Languages
Objective: The student will be able to express his/herself verbally in a new language.
Original Post: Reverse and Improve Your Instruction with Screencasts

Using the FREE program Jing, have students create screencasts in the language they’re learning. They can explain step-by-step directions or record a dialogue, all the while annotating pictures on their computer to accompany their speaking. Students can re-record their speaking over and over, until it’s perfect — the repetitive practice will help them learn.

Once they’re finished, they can post the video for their classmates to watch. They can create an accompanying worksheet for their peers to complete as they watch the screencast.

Grade: 5-12
Subject: Foreign Language
Objective: The student will be able to use speaking and listening skills to communicate fluently in the target language.
Original Post: Skype’s New Education Site Connects Classrooms Across the Globe

On Skype in the Classroom, post a request for a partner class that natively speaks your target language. Most likely, there will be a class out there looking for English language partners, as well. Chat with the teacher to set up regular Skyping times and to assign students Skyping partners. Ideally, these sessions would be about an hour in length, with the first 30 minutes spoken in one language and the last 30 minutes in the other.

For each chat, give your students specific assignments — questions about their partner’s culture, life, etc. — to guide the conversations. You might also offer students some prompts, if they have trouble keeping the conversation going for the full hour.

Art

Grade: 6-8
Subject: Art
Objective: The student will be able to analyze and describe the artistic styles associated with renowned artists.
Original Post: Screencasts Turn Students into Digital Teachers

In most subjects, students are asked to do a report and give a presentation on a specific person or topic. I’ve seen art teachers have their students report on the characteristics of Jackson Pollock or Frida Kahlo’s styles. Why not have your students create a screencast to communicate this knowledge? They could pull up photographs of artwork on their computer. Then, while recording with Jing, they could explain their thinking about brush strokes and color as they annotate over specific parts of the paintings. You could then use these screencasts to help instruct future students, or post them online to help teach art students around the world.

Technology

Grade: 4-8
Subject: Technology (tinkering)
Objective: The student will be able to create an object to solve a problem or answer a question.
Original Post: Let Them Tinker

Once students have a strong grasp on circuits and how they work, thousands of tinkering opportunities open up. Students can use motors, switches, and batteries to create complex robots and machines.

Have your students discuss school-wide problems they think they can resolve. For example, maybe they’ll notice that the window where they turn in their lunch trays is always backed up and piled high with dirty lunch trays. Then, have students work independently or in groups to design and build something to solve this problem. Maybe they’ll create something good enough to solve the problem. Maybe they won’t. Either way, the objective has been acheived — in tinkering, it’s process over product.

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts, Technology
Objective: The student will be able to find and understand information from a variety of sources, including the Internet.
Original Post: Search Engine Scaffolding: Free tools help your students become search engine experts

Introduce students to SortFix. First, use it as a class to research a topic. Explain that, sometimes, computers need extra clues to understand your questions and, by giving them additional words, it helps computers answer our questions. Have students use the site as they work on research topics.

In their notebooks, have students record their original searches and their searches after they added and removed power words. After several weeks, once students become accustomed to using SortFix, discuss what SortFix teaches us. Tell students you want to know what jellyfish eat, so you’re going to type “jellyfish” into Google. Ask students to help you refine your search, without using SortFix. Ask them to predict power words and infer how you would add or remove words from a search, using Google rather than SortFix. Invite students to start using SortFix strategies on more general search engines, like Google, as they research future topics.

Grade: 4-8
Subject: All subjects using project-based learning
Objective: The student will be able to organize  and track all the pieces of a long-term project.
Original Post: Timelining for Every Classroom

I work with a lot of middle and high school teachers who utilize Project-Based Learning in their classrooms. There’s a great benefit to PBL — students are engaged, motivated and learn a ton of content. On top of that, though, students also learn important soft skills, like working in a group and time management.

Timelines can be a great help when it comes to those soft skills. Students can use programs like Capzles to plan out their projects — what date they’ll finish their abstract, when they’ll complete their research, etc. As students complete various tasks, they can upload the finished product directly to the timeline (or add a link to their work). Then, everything is in one place and, if it’s a group project, group members can divide the work and then access one another’s completed products.

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