448050911201448 7 Back to School Tips for New Middle School Science Teachers | Polka Dots and Protons - Interactive Science Notebooks & More

My goal is to make interactive science notebooks engaging for 5th grade and middle school science students while improving science test scores. NGSS expert, teacher, tpt author, mom, & widow

7 Back to School Tips for New Middle School Science Teachers

10 years ago, I was preparing to be back in the classroom full-time after several years of teaching part-time and staying home with my kids. I was excited and really nervous. It was great because my younger two children came with me to my new school and I loved being just classrooms away from them. 

I didn't plan on being a science teacher but there were several applicants for each teaching job and my science supplemental gave me a way back into full-time teaching. I love science and this would be an adventure. 

I set out to research how to be a great science teacher. I was starting from square one. It wasn't a perfectly smooth road but there are things I learned by trial and error over the years.

Maybe you feel a bit overwhelmed too like I did. Here are some classroom setup, lesson plan, and procedure tips:

1. Tested Classroom Set Up Strategy I Recommend for a Smooth Start:

You are in your classroom a lot so take time to make it a place you and your students love to be. 

Classroom Set Up Tips for Middle School Science Teachers

  • Reduce Stress and Start Early: If you are hired early, I recommend going in a few times during the summer to get the room set up so it isn't a mad dash right before school starts. This saves the time before school starts to get lessons prepped and copies made. 
  • Pick a Theme or Color Scheme: What do you love and what is age appropriate? I have done blue and green with white polka dots. Last year, I switched to a muted safari theme. (I teach by the Safari Park and work with the education staff at the park so it is a great theme for the area.) A theme and vibe make things cohesive. (I may even have some animal print outfits...) Link here to a blog post about my safari classroom decor.
  • Bring a Friend: It is a lot of work to set up a classroom. Take pictures of the room and make a plan. When you are ready, bring a family member or friend. And a step ladder. Take them to lunch after so it is a win-win. It is great to have another brain to bounce ideas off of. Also, it is a big help to have someone eyeball your borders as you put them up. 
  • Mini Fridge: I love having a mini fridge and microwave in my back room. I have a soda and cold water stash and it just keeps me happy. 

2. Ready for Simple Lesson Plan Tips and a Free Template to Keep You Organized?

I have tried all types of lesson plans. What I've found that works best for me are digital agendas by week. 
Get a free lesson plan template to make your own

3. Plan Ahead, Set the Tone, and Clear Procedures Then Reap the Rewards

Establishing clear procedures is essential for running a smooth class. Create routines for entering the classroom, distributing materials, transitioning between activities, and handling equipment and materials. 

Take time to set up expectations and procedures and teach them explicitly during the first few weeks of school. Reinforce them consistently throughout the year. You won't be going over your procedures just once or twice. Before each activity, remind them of your expectations and even have students act it out.
List of procedures to cover in your middle school science classroom

This will take longer than you think but is worth the investment. Realize that the first day is a big adjustment and some students may be new. Keep the first-week stress free. Give students a week to get supplies since some may not have what they need on the first day. It seems like overkill but you need to go over procedures for everything... (Here are some procedures to get you thinking about how you want things to go.)
  • Lining Up- One room I taught in was also a walkway for 2nd graders at our K-8 school. I had students line up in an area leaving a walkway for students and adults heading to the 2nd grade classrooms. We talked about how big and scary they might be to little kids and a big bunch of them would make it hard for the little ones to get by. We talked about being role models and kind to the little kids and how much they looked up to the middle schoolers. Think about where you want students to line up and others in the area. Anticipating issues will make life easier.
  • Entering the Classroom- establish a routine for students to enter the classroom calmly and quietly. For example, they can line up outside the door and enter silently, placing any belongings in designated areas.
  • Morning Routine: Set expectations for students regarding where to place their backpacks, collect any necessary materials, and begin their morning warm-up activity or assignment.
  • Attendance: Decide on a method for taking attendance. I like this to be a student job using a seating chart.
  • Morning Work- What should students do after unpacking? Is there a writing prompt on the board or two questions to answer?
  • Transitioning Between Activities: Establish a signal or procedure to indicate when it's time to transition from one activity to another. This could be a chime, a specific announcement, or a countdown.
  • Group Work Procedures: Outline expectations for group work such as assigning roles, providing clear instructions, and setting time limits. Establish norms for effective collaboration and respectful communication.
  • Lab expectations- no running, no eating or drinking, etc.
  • Leaving for the bathroom- Have students put a big bottle of hand sanitizer on their desks while they are gone. Then only one student at a time can be out.
  • Sending an email- Practice having them send you an email. Teach them to be formal, use capital letters, complete sentences, and take responsibility.
  • Pencil sharpening
  • Handing out materials
  • What to do when you are absent- Explain how students should handle missed assignments or notes due to absences. Provide a designated location or system for students to access missed materials.
  • Rewards and consequences- Communicate your classroom behavior expectations, consequences, and rewards. Establish a system for tracking and addressing behavior issues, ensuring consistency and fairness.
  • Phone- Be quiet when the phone is answered
  • Emergency procedures- Familiarize students with emergency procedures. Have students line up in number order (ABC by last name.) This makes it easier to make sure you have everyone. Clearly explain evacuation routes, assembly points, and expectations during different types of emergencies.
  • Setting up your paper
  • Expectations for interactive science notebooks
  • Technology Use- Establish rules and expectations for the use of technology in the classroom, including when it's appropriate to use devices and how to handle technical difficulties. I like to have students turn their Chromebooks around when I'm talking or there is a class discussion.
  • Clean-up procedures- We wipe down desks, door handles, etc at the end of the day, a student changes the date so it is ready for the morning, the floor gets swept, and trash cans are put near the door.
  • End of class/ Being excused- I like students to know that I will excuse them and not the bell.

4. The Most Important Thing You'll do is Build Relationships with Activities and Games:

Get back to school games to play with your middle school science classes

This helps build a supportive environment where students feel comfortable asking questions and are willing to share ideas. Get to know your students' strengths and interests. Some fun activities include: 

5. The Truth is You Need a Big Desk Calendar:

Teacher tips and why you need a desktop calendar

I didn't start this until last year but it is a simple game changer. So much is always going on and changing. Assemblies, field trips, picture days, meetings, etc. 
  • A big desk calendar helps it all be visible and easily accessible. If I need to work on plans at home, I just snap a picture of the calendar so I can work the school events into my plans. When the month is over, rip off and throw away the calendar page. (I wanted to keep them at first. Weird I know.) Here are desk calendars on Amazon. Choose one that works for you.

6. Here are Amazing Science Labs Perfect for Back to School Time:

Do a simple, hands-on lab or demonstration during the first week of school to wow your students.
Fun and simple labs for back to school
  • Skittles Lab: (See my blog post about this activity here)You just need a bag of Skittles, a sturdy plate, and water for this super simple lab. This is a great way to introduce procedures and science CER writing. Practice getting materials, listening for directions, and taking turns. I like to put students in groups and have them assign each student to either A, B, C, or D. Call the A's to get a plate for their group and so forth. Get this free activity here.
  • Demo: Elephant Toothpaste- You'll need hydrogen peroxide from the beauty supply store (the stuff for coloring your hair), yeast, warm water, and food coloring. This should be a demo because of the chemicals used. Wear goggles and demonstrate safety. I call students up to add ingredients. It's a messy one but so satisfying. Steve Spangler is my go-to guy for these fun activities. Mark Rober and Science Bob have cool videos too.
  • Magnet Magic- More Steve Spangler magic with magnets, hex nuts, cans of soda, a glass, and a ruler. Easy and fun! Demonstrate and have the kids try too! Click here.
See  the list of benefits to using science sketch notes

7. The Reason I Use Sketch Notes to Reach All Learners:

In our science classes, we teach all students often will little support and large classes. I found that sketch notes are a simple way to teach challenging concepts. I use fill-in-the-blank notes with interactive components. Students use a slideshow as a whole class to fill out the notes. 

Benefits of science sketch notes

Benefits of sketch notes in science class:

  • Differentiation- I can make copies of completed notes for students who need samples in front of them. 
  • Absent students- Absent students can get access to the slideshow to fill out later. I add the slideshow to Google Classroom.
  • Study tool- Students can refer to the slideshow to study.
  • Reference- Notes can be used for writing prompts and review games. I also like to do discussion activities like Kagan's Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up. Students take their interactive science notebooks with them, stand up and put their hands up and walk around while music is playing. When the music stops, they find the person closest to high-five and greet them. The teacher has them designate a student A and B. The teacher says something like, "Student A will explain the types of thermal energy transfer." Student B listens and gives eye contact. Then the teacher says, "We will have some of you who are Student B tell what you heard." Members of the class tell what they heard from Student A. This is great for using academic language and building community.
  • Meeting IEP requirements: Students who need access to notes for assessment have them
  • Simple layout- White space makes them not overwhelming
  • Graphics- Great graphics help students understand the concepts
  • Saves time- What you want them to know isn't a mystery or hidden on page 65 in paragraph 2
  • Access- All students can access the content
  • Games- (Here is a blog post about the scavenger hunt games I use) I like playing Up and Around review games and I have students bring their science notebooks with them as they play. Here are examples of the games on TPT. Most notes have a corresponding game available.

Want to see my 6th grade sketch notes bundle? Click HERE

Do you want sketch notes and the review games? Here is the LINK

Let me know which tip is your favorite. I hope you have a great start to the school year!