Middle School Physical Science

Each of our self-paced mini units covers one NGSS standard and includes student slides and work packets, assessment projects with rubrics, extension activities and complete educator lesson plans.

Descriptions of each mini unit can be found below.

Synthetic Materials

Motion of Molecules

Changes in Molecule Motion

Evidence of a Chemical Reaction

Conservation of Mass

Thermal Energy Project

Energy Storyline

How does energy affect matter and how does energy change?

This is a great unit to begin the year with! Lab and graphing skills are reviewed throughout. In Energy and Matter, students find relevance in science as they connect Dr. Shirley Jackson’s childhood activities to her illustrious career in physics. They practice lab skills, plan and carry out investigations and then construct their own understanding of the relationships between matter, mass, temperature and energy. Finally, students build and test their own thermometer!

Students continue to make connections between the classroom and the world in Heat Energy Transfer. After learning that increasing global temperatures are endangering the tuatara population in New Zealand, students design, construct and test a tuatara nest that keeps the eggs cool! Students analyze their own data about conduction, convection, radiation and insulation and apply this knowledge to minimize heat transfer. Finally, students attempt to maximize heat energy transfer as they build a solar oven and cook some nachos or s’mores!

In Potential Energy, students continue to make connections between science and their lives as they identify all types of energy they have used today. Then, students break down the energy changes that occur in a bouncing ball and pendulum and make an excellent graph with TAILS (Title, Axes, Intervals, Labels, Scale). Finally, students see the fun of elastic potential energy by designing, building and testing a catapult to fling a marshmallow!

To wrap up this unit, students use marbles, ramps and blocks to learn how mass and speed affect an object’s Kinetic Energy. Then, students play with the Energy Skate Park PhET simulation to construct and analyze graphs and see the Law of Conservation of Energy in action. Students use a double ball bounce (drop a tennis ball on top of a basketball) to construct an argument and see the relevance of the science they are learning. Finally, students create a roller coaster and calculate their marble’s energy!

Forces and Interactions Storyline

How and why does matter move?

Students (even middle school students) love to play and we take every opportunity to teach physics through play! In Newton’s 1st and 2nd Laws of Motion, students play with balls, marbles, toy cars, ramps and anything else you have to construct their own understanding of force and motion. Students use the PhET simulations Balancing Act and Force and Motion to increase their knowledge of Newton's first and second laws. They plan and carry out their own investigation to learn how mass and force affect an object’s motion. Finally, students can choose to draw a world without friction, research a friction-reducing animal or demonstrate how friction helps (or hurts) when playing a sport!

In Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion, students continue to construct their understanding of the laws of motion through bouncing balls and their favorite sport or activity. Then, students use their understanding to design a space vehicle carrying sensitive equipment (an egg) that can withstand collisions with large asteroids (basketballs)! Finally, students design an original toy that demonstrates the 3rd law of motion!

What would it be like to play basketball on the sun? Could you even make a basket with a 38 pound basketball? Students construct their own understanding of Gravity by interpreting data about planetary mass, surface gravity, distance from the sun and weight. Finally, students learn about gravity’s role in ocean tides and how sea stars, sea urchins and anemones have adapted to life in shallow, salty tide pools!

To wrap up the Forces and Interactions unit, students play with magnets, balloons, cans, tape and fabric in Electric and Magnetic Forces. They build an electromagnet and figure out how to make it stronger. Finally, students design a game that actively uses electric or magnetic forces - or both!

Waves Storyline

How do waves behave and how do they affect me?

Students begin Waves by making transverse and longitudinal waves in the lab with rope and slinkies. They play with two PhET simulations and learn about waves that are difficult to see and then they explore wave behavior with flashlights, beakers, water, oil, mirror and tuning forks! Students apply what they learn as they analyze graphs of seismograph wave amplitude and earthquake magnitude. Finally, students determine the type of electromagnetic energy most important to them. Is popping popcorn in the microwave more essential than texting? They decide!

In Digital and Analog Signals, students first become familiar with these terms and connect many real life examples to both types of technology. They make and use a string telephone to experience the benefits (and disadvantages!) of analog technology. Students model wave transmission with a drawing activity and provide evidence for the claim that digital signals are more reliable. Finally, students write the binary code for a word using a seven segment display!

Structure and Properties of Matter Storyline

Why are there so many different types of matter? How does matter behave in different conditions?

Students love learning about Atoms, Elements and the Periodic Table. They feel empowered to finally understand what all of those letters and numbers mean! Beginning with elements they already know, students build their understanding by asking questions and finding answers. They build models of helium and copper atoms with Skittles, distinguish molecules from compounds and grow salt crystals to show cubic crystal structure! Finally, students create models of molecules from paper, clay, candy or anything else they can find.

In Synthetic Materials, students begin to see just how many different types of matter exist as they differentiate between natural and synthetic materials. Students make their own synthetic slime and research the environmental, economic and societal impacts of plastic and high fructose corn syrup. Finally, students research one synthetic material that they simply can’t live without!

After becoming familiar with atoms, molecules and many different types of matter, students move on to observing the behavior of matter. In Motion of Molecules, students plan and conduct an investigation about the motion of vanilla molecules then create a graph, analyze data and cite evidence of molecular motion in the gas phase. Students collect more evidence for molecular motion from Skittles, food dye and water and create a stop motion video to demonstrate the movement of those molecules.

In the final mini unit, Changes in Molecules Motion, students plan and carry out an investigation to answer the question, “How does a pure substance change when thermal energy is added?” They summarize their learning with an original cartoon of a pure substance facing increased heat energy. Finally, students conduct an investigation about the sublimation of carbon dioxide. Dry ice is always a crowd pleaser!

Chemical Reactions Storyline

How does matter change? Why does matter change? How do we know?

Students continue to make connections between chemistry and their lives in Evidence of a Chemical Reaction. They plan and carry out an investigation of baking soda and vinegar; compare reactants and products; and determine if a chemical change has occurred. Then, students describe the chemical and physical changes that occur while cooking a favorite dish or meal. Students love making connections between cooking and chemistry!

In the Conservation of Mass mini unit, students create a model of a chemical reaction by cutting apart reactant molecules and building the products! Then, students use their poster as a teaching tool for the Law of Conservation of Mass. Finally, students bake a cake in a mug to see if the law of conservation of mass holds true!

To wrap up the chemical reactions unit, students collect data about three chemical reactions (baking soda and vinegar; calcium chloride, baking soda and water; ammonium chloride and water) and determine if each reaction is endothermic or exothermic. Then, students build a Thermal Energy Device to keep a pie warm! Finally, students plan and carry out an investigation to determine if rising bread dough is an endothermic or exothermic reaction!