Students at all three grade levels need variety. While it is important for knowledge and conceptual understanding to be based in concrete experiences, middle school students will become as bored with exclusively hands-on experiences as with straight textbook instruction.
Sixth graders will stay with engaging projects for some time. Seventh graders have other agendas and often test out their social skills, however nascent they may be. Eighth graders will rapidly and smoothly convert a lab into a full-blown social experience which has little to do with what the teacher intended.
The key to working with each of these grade levels is to keep them involved. Adolescents seldom stop to contemplate. They storm through life. Plan lesson sequences with a mixture of strategies, from observing real things, to writing, to reading, to oral sharing to planning and carrying out investigations. The more variety and the quicker the pace, the better it suits them.
It takes creativity to keep the attention of these students. Use humor, bring in strange objects, tell stories, and ask intriguing questions. Have them try out puzzles or the question of the day from class at home and report back how it went. Involve them in planning the focus of some lessons. They are ready to take on more and more responsibility for their own education.
Text modified from Making Connections: A Guide to Implementing Science Standards © California Science Teachers Association. 1999. All rights reserved.