M&M Lab Activity

It’s a very simple lab experiment, but a good one.  Place an M&M candy in a shallow dish of water and make your observations. I found this activity on the American Chemical Society website, Inquiry in Action. Students will see how the colored candy shell dissolves and creates a pattern in the water.

There are so many ways that this activity can be differentiated for students.  It is an excellent lab for practicing the scientific method and can be used when discussing physical properties and physical changes.

The M&M Lab is also a great introductory lab for students to use when designing their own experiments.  After completing this lab, students begin to think of additional experiments that could be tested:

  • Does the temperature of the water affect the rate that the candy shell dissolves?
  • Does a frozen candy produce the same results as a candy at room temperature?
  • Does the color of the candy have an effect on the dissolving rate or pattern?
  • What happens when other types of candy are placed in water?

Give your students the opportunity to perform the M&M Lab and see what experiments they can come up with.




Good Things #6: Conversations with Former Students

Having a conversation with a former student can be an eye-opening experience. It’s a chance to see what “stuck” with the student – what lessons or activities were memorable, what was liked about my class, what was NOT liked. (And now that they are no longer my students, they usually feel more comfortable sharing these thoughts.)

As a junior high teacher, I have gotten to hear how some of my former students are adjusting during freshman year. I have had a chance to talk to some as they are making some big decisions their senior year. I’ve even ran into a few who have graduated from both high school and college and are now working as adults.

Hearing about the paths they have chosen and the experiences they have had since leaving my classroom are important to me. These conversations are reminders that teachers are given a unique opportunity.  They get to be a part, if even just a very small part, of each student’s journey through school and beyond.


Seeking Ways to Improve

I’ve been reading The New Teacher Revolution:  Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners by Josh Stumpenhorst.  This is what he wrote in the book’s introduction about the great teachers he has connected with during his career:

“They all believe they could be doing better and seek out ways to improve.”

So what are the things I can be doing to become better?  How can I “seek out” ways to improve my teaching?

I feel there are three strategies that will allow me to continue to improve as a teacher:

  • Honestly evaluate what’s working, and what’s not working, in my classroom
  • Accept helpful advice and constructive feedback from others
  • Learn new things

Efforts to become a better teacher will benefit me and my students – sounds like a win-win situation to me.






Making Hypotheses: Dogs and Turnips Activity

I came across the Dogs and Turnips Activity and knew I wanted to try it with my students during our study of the scientific method.  The purpose of the activity is to allow students to practice forming hypotheses based upon their current knowledge.  Then they make revisions to their hypotheses as they gain more information.

My students loved this activity!  They were interested, challenged, and engaged the whole time.   They also learned that even with all the same information, not everyone reached the same conclusions in the end.  I will be using the Dogs and Turnips Activity with future classes to practice making hypotheses.


The monarch caterpillar being observed in our experiment died.

The science lab flopped when the principal came in for my evaluation.

The internet connection was lost.

The copy machine was out of order for a week.

My child was sick so I had to leave school on short notice.

I was sick.

An unexpected fire alarm and evacuation interrupted my planning period.

A guest speaker cancelled on the morning of the presentation.

I have encountered all of these situations at some point in my teaching career.

Things will go wrong sometimes.  I try to have a back-up plan.

I have a collection of science articles set aside just in case my emergency sub is not comfortable presenting the lesson on the periodic table, the digestive system, or whatever may be planned for the day.

I have had the opportunity to teach my students that some experiments don’t turn out how we planned, and we can use the scientific method to find out why.

I have moved ahead to my lesson plan for the next day when the internet, the copy machine, or the fire alarm malfunctions.

I have searched through milkweeds after school to find more monarch caterpillars.  Three to be exact.  Just in case.








Scientific Method Practice Using Monarch Metamorphosis

This year, my 6th grade students are using a monarch to practice the scientific method.  Two of my own children volunteered to search through some milkweeds near our house so I would have a caterpillar for my classroom.  (Note #1:  The monarch will be released outdoors following our experiment.)

I started by showing the students a live monarch caterpillar that was placed in a jar with ventilation holes in the lid.  (Note #2:  The holes are punched from the inside of the lid with the sharp edges on the top of the jar lid.  This allows for a smooth surface on the inside of the lid for the caterpillar, but the jar must be handled carefully to prevent injury.  I placed red tape with the word SHARP on the top of the lid.)  A stick and some milkweed were placed in the jar.  A couple of the students could identify the caterpillar by its characteristic stripes.  Others commented that it would become a butterfly.  Some mentioned that it would make a chrysalis.  Since my students understood that the caterpillar would go through steps to change into a butterfly, I was ready to continue.

Students got out their science notebooks and I introduced the problem we were attempting to solve:  How many days will it take for the caterpillar to emerge from its chrysalis as a butterfly?  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I always remind students that they are not allowed to share their hypotheses yet.  I then asked the students to record their hypotheses in their notebooks by completing the following sentence:  I think that the monarch will emerge from its chrysalis as a butterfly on Day # _____ because . . . 

After I checked their notebooks, each student shared his/her hypothesis with the class and explained why they made that prediction.  I love hearing my students’ ideas!!  There was a wide range of guesses (12-64 days) since students were not sure how long the caterpillar had been in the larval stage, how big it would actually get before beginning to make the chrysalis, or how many days it needed to be in the chrysalis.  Students then made Day 1 observations and recorded their findings in their notebooks.  Observations are recorded daily until the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis.

This lab experiment can be differentiated for all ages and abilities.  Watching a caterpillar become a butterfly is fascinating for students at any age and is an engaging way for students to practice using the scientific method to solve a problem.

Introducing the Scientific Method: How Many Water Drops Fit on a Penny?

To introduce the scientific method, I have my students perform an experiment that answers this question:  How many water drops fit on a penny?  Before reading on any further, make your own hypothesis.  After you have done that, continue reading!

I came across this activity years ago and have used it successfully many times.  This lab activity is quick and easy which makes it a great introductory experiment.  Students are able to make hypotheses, perform an experiment, collect data, analyze results, and begin drawing conclusions.  To perform this experiment, you will need the following materials:

  • pennies (1 for each student or group depending on class size)
  • droppers (1 for each student or group)
  • small cup of water
  • paper towels or tray to set penny on
  • notebook and pencil to record results

Before announcing the question to be answered, I always remind students that I do not want them to announce their hypotheses.  I don’t want their guesses influencing others’ ideas.

I then ask the question that we are attempting to answer and students record their hypotheses in their lab notebooks.  (Some students will ask how big the drops are, so you may need to show them the dropper and squeeze a few drops out onto a paper towel or into a cup so they can make an educated guess.)  If needed, divide students into groups and then distribute materials.

Students then place the penny on a paper towel or tray, fill the dropper with water, and count the number of drops that can fit on the penny before the water runs off.  Record results from each trial.  Repeated trials make results more reliable so allow students plenty of time to repeat the experiment.  Just make sure they start each trial with a dry penny.

Students are usually very impressed with the number of water drops that fit on a penny.  I have found that this one simple experiment often leads students to begin asking more questions.  What happens with other liquids on a penny?  Does it matter if the penny is turned to heads or tails?  How many drops would fit on a dime or quarter?  There are so many ways to extend this project if time and interest allow.  Use this as an introductory experiment or a lab during a study of water molecules.  Either way, it is an easy, engaging activity that students really enjoy.

Lab Materials Identification Activity

As students begin their study of science in junior high, I like to introduce commonly used lab materials and equipment.  To complete the Lab Materials Identification activity, I set each lab material or piece of equipment on a desk or counter.  Next to it, I place a numbered index card that is labeled with the name of that piece of lab equipment.  Students move throughout the room and copy the name of each piece of lab equipment into their lab notebook.  They also make a drawing so they can easily identify it later.  Below are some of the items I include in the Lab Materials Identification activity:

  • graduated cylinder
  • meterstick
  • beaker
  • triple beam balance
  • microscope
  • microscope slide
  • petri dish
  • stirring rod
  • hot plate
  • dropper
  • test tube
  • spring scale
  • flask

Seeing some of the materials and equipment that will be used helps to build anticipation about experiments that we will be performing throughout the year.  It also makes the students feel like “real” scientists!

Let me know if you plan to try this in your classroom.  Also, feel free to give suggestions for items you would add to the list.

Planning Procedures for the New School Year

As the new school year approaches, I have been thinking about establishing procedures in the classroom that will keep things running smoothly and will limit the interruptions to learning.

Things to think about:

  • passing out papers
  • collecting assignments
  • bathroom/drink breaks
  • sharpening pencils
  • distributing lab materials/supplies
  • missing assignments/incomplete work
  • items forgotten in locker
  • determining partners/groups
  • absent students
  • iPad/laptop use
  • behavior concerns
  • switching classes
  • hand-raising/student needing assistance

Each moment spent handling one of these tasks can mean time taken away from my students.  I would love to hear your suggestions.  Please share any procedures that work well in your classroom.

Teaching Truth #1: TEACHING TAKES TIME

Over the years, I have had a lot of people mention how nice it would be to have a teacher’s schedule.  People see teachers having summers off and not working on holidays.  Most teachers would tell you that they do appreciate this, too.

I think most teachers would also say that they invest a lot of time throughout the year that many people don’t see.  One thing I have learned during my years of teaching is that teaching takes time.

It takes time to prepare the classroom to begin a new year.

It takes time to identify the unique needs of the students.

It takes time to develop meaningful lessons that will be valuable to learning.

It takes time to contact parents and discuss what is best for a child.

It takes time to grow and learn as a professional by reading, attending workshops, and interacting with other teachers.

It takes time to build positive relationships with students, coworkers, administrators, and school families.

It takes time to gain experience to confidently handle issues that arise in the school and classroom.

Teaching takes time.

Time spent interacting with students in the hallway between classes.

Time spent in the classroom working alongside the students.

Time spent in the evening attending an open house to meet parents or supporting the school’s sports team or music department.

Time spent before and after school preparing lessons and collaborating with other teachers.

Time spent outside the classroom reading about a new strategy that could help one of the students.

Teaching takes time.