Interactive Science Books Archives - Eva Varga

November 10, 20151

Last year, for the first time, we took part in Physics Quest, a story-based activity that aims to teach middle school students physics concepts and give them a positive experience with physics. When the kit arrived, we jumped right in!

Physics Quest: Hands-on Physics for Middle School

Physics Quest began as a World Year of Physics 2005 project with a kit based on Albert Einstein. The American Physical Society (APS) sent out nearly 10,000 free kits that year, to classes across the country. Teacher feedback from the initial PhysicsQuest indicated that it successfully met a need for fun and accessible physics material at the middle school level, therefore APS decided to continue the program.

Spectra: High Intensity

In celebration of the International Year of Light, the 2015 kit, Spectra: High Intensity, provided the equipment needed to teach students about bending light, spherical lenses, how color and energy are related, and how the sun’s light also carries heat. We spent an entire day reading the story and exploring these physics concepts.

In Spectra: High Intensity, the storyline begins with the students learning that Miss Alignment had broken out of jail and was on the loose hatching evil plans. “Armed with a high IQ, an inferiority complex, and a secret lair, she will try yet again to control the town.”

Working together as a team, my kiddos completed the activities outlined in the book. In doing so, they applied the skills they need to help Spectra and her gang prevent Miss Alignment’s attempted town domination. It was great fun and the hands-on activities were perfectly designed for their age.


Physics Quest: Hands-on Physics for Middle School


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APS  provides a free Physics Quest kit to registered 6-9th grade physical science classes, home school groups, science clubs, and after-school programs. The kit includes a user’s manual and materials for four physics experiments. This program focuses on middle school students because these grades have been identified as the point when many students lose interest in math and science.

Registration is now open for the 2016 PhysicsQuest, Spectra’s Current Crisis.

October 24, 2015

Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Though the nights are cool, I love stargazing in autumn. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the fall months.

Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Would you believe that many college graduates have wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons?

You can help dispel these misconceptions by reading quality non-fiction materials and providing opportunities to engage in hands-on experiments or demonstrations designed to test hypotheses. With the help of DK Publishing, I’ve created an in-depth unit study around our autumn night skies utilizing two DK books as my spine. I hope to release the complete curriculum by years end.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School @EvaVarga.netMany thanks to DK Publishing for providing these books to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.

Most objects you can see in the night sky are within our own spiral, disc-shaped galaxy. Did you know that when you’re looking at the Milky Way, you’re looking into the heart of the galaxy from Earth’s position on the outer fringes of one of the spiral arms? The Milky Way is at least 100,000 light years across, and contains perhaps 200 billion stars. The milky band you see in the sky is a layer of dust, gas and stars that is closer to the “galactic center”. The dust is so thick, no one has seen beyond it to the dark side of the galaxy. There’s probably a humungous Black Hole at the heart of the Milky Way, but astronomers can’t be 100 percent sure. Turns out we know more about deep space objects than we do about the center of our own little spiral, disc-shaped galaxy.

The Practical Astronomer takes you on a step-by-step journey from the basics of what can be seen with the naked eye, to how you can view more distant objects such as the planets of the solar system, and even galaxies far, far away-all in your own backyard. It is the perfect spine for a homeschool astronomy study. It provides maps of the constellations and detailed information on the planets and stars of our own galaxy.

With this book as a guide, you will be able to find planets, identify stars, track movements, find constellations, and even begin star hopping from one constellation to another. The first part of the book explains the kinds of objects you will be looking for such as planets, stars, and nebulae. Additionally, with a spherical shape in mind, it details how to navigate around the night sky. The second part of the book provides practical information regarding telescopes and keeping a log of your observations.

During the course of the year, our view of the night sky changes from month to month. Some constellations are always in the sky, while others appear and disappear over different regions.  The Night Sky Month by Month by Will Gater and Giles Sparrow shows the sky as it is seen around the world in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It is the perfect guide for amateur astronomers – the illustrated pictures and monthly sky guides will help you recognize patterns and track changes in the each hemisphere.

Astronomical Events 2015

A brilliant double planet: October 26

For the second time in 2015, Venus and Jupiter will engage in a close conjunction, this time separated by just over 1 degree, Venus passing to the southwest (lower right) of Jupiter and shining more than 10 times brighter than the huge gas giant.

  • Full Moon, Supermoon: October 27

    The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 12:05 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Hunters Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This moon has also been known as the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon. This is also the last of three supermoons for 2015. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

  • Conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter: October 28

    A rare, 3-planet conjunction will be visible on the morning of October 28. The planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will all form a triangle in the early morning sky. Jupiter and Venus will be only one degree apart with Mars just a few degrees to the east. Look to the east just before sunrise for this spectacular event.

  • Taurid meteor shower ‘fireballs’: October & November

    The Taurid meteors, sometimes called the “Halloween fireballs,” show up each year between mid-October and mid-November. The shower should peak from Nov. 5 to Nov. 12 in 2015. Meteor expert David Asher has also discovered that Earth can periodically encounter swarms of larger particles, which can produce fireball meteors in certain years, and 2015 is predicted to be one of those years.

  • Geminid meteor shower: December 13-14

    If there is one meteor display guaranteed to put on a very entertaining show it is the Geminids. Considered by most meteor experts to be at the top of the list, surpassing in brilliance and reliability even the August Perseids. The moon will be a narrow crescent and will set early in the evening, leaving the sky dark all through the rest of the night – perfect conditions for watching shooting stars.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School

Expand Your Horizons

Hands-on activities encourage children to explore astronomy concepts in a way that is fun, yet meaningful, and to broaden their awareness of astronomy as they develop and apply new skills in other subject areas. Carefully selected demonstrations are one way of helping students overcome misconceptions, and there are a variety of resources available.

Check out the many activities and lesson plans provided by the University of Texas McDonald Observatory to get started.

Approximate the relative size of the earth and the moon with my free, Balloon Moon activity

Explore how misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy 

Take part in the Global Moon Project and learn how the moon and tides are interlinked

Gather with fellow astronomy enthusiasts for the Annular Lunar Eclipse, the Perseid Meteor Shower, or a Super Moon Viewing Party

Get to know the autumn night sky in the northern hemisphere with stargazing tips from BBC’s Sir Patrick Moore and his guests on The Sky at Night.

Focus your study around the contributions of Women in Space 

September 21, 20151

These past couple of weeks, I have been talking about using journals with middle school students. Last week, I focused on the details of What Are Interactive Science Notebooks? Today, I discuss how to get started in using Interactive Science Notebooks.

Getting Started with Interactive Science Notebooks @EvaVarga.netGetting Started

The notebook I prefer to use with my students (in STEM Club or previously in the public classroom) is a bound 200-page composition journal. In the elementary grades, we utilized one for each science discipline – earth science, physical science, and life science. Now that they are older and we cover more material, we use one for each unit of study – chemistry, astronomy, genetics, etc.

The composition style notebook is small enough to fit in the pocket of a three-ring binder, and is therefore less likely to be lost or misplaced. More so, it remains essentially intact, whereas spiral-bound notebooks typically become inaccessible once the spirals are crushed.


  • A roll of clear tape
  • White school glue (optional – I find glue can make the pages stick together)
  • A set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens and/or colored pencils

Tip :: In a large classroom setting, I would suggest using colored or patterned duct tape on the spine to more easily distinguish between class periods or students.

When setting up the notebook, students are required to label and date each page based on the assignment or lesson. Handouts can be cut and taped to pages, or taped so they flip open. The first page of the notebook is skipped and is used as a table of contents. You can either create a printable for the students to adhere to this page at the end of the school year or add it gradually as the year progresses.

Tip :: If using composition style notebooks, you’ll want to reduce the size of the handouts you provide so they fit the smaller format. I like to print two per 8.5×11″ page.

Those in a classroom setting may also wish to use a scoring guide or rubric. This can be adhered to the inside cover of the notebook for quick and easy reference for both the student and teacher. The rubric is used for assessments throughout the year, and each point is assessed with a different color marker to show trends in performance from one notebook check to another.

Tip :: Keep your own journal with the template already put into it as a model. Give them a specific amount of time to get the printable glued into their notebook and then begin the lesson. Set a timer and don’t wait for stragglers.

Setting Up the Notebooks

In the first few pages of the notebook I like to include the following items:

  • Table of Contents
  • About Me (the student)
  • Formula Chart and Periodic Table of Elements
  • Signed Classroom or Lab Safety Contract (optional)
  • Vocabulary Index

A Table of Contents will help assure that your students are on the same page as you are in the journal.  This also makes it much easier to use as a reference tool and can set a benchmark of what a great journal should look like.  If you choose to do a table of contents, I suggest numbering all of the pages when setting up your journals.

The About Me page is really just an information page about the student.  You can be as specific or broad as you want to on this page.  Use it as a getting to know you activity at the beginning of the school year and ask that students share their thoughts about science.

What area of science most (or least) interests you? What unique experiences in science or travel would you like to share about yourself? What are your strengths/weaknesses?

Depending upon your state, students are often given a Formula Chart and Periodic Table for their state test.  It is important that they are familiar with these tools.  By including them at the front of the journal they can be referenced very easily.

While not necessarily applicable in a homeschool setting, a Lab Safety Contract is also a great document to have in the journal.  If there is ever an issue that needs to be addressed you can easily point to the signed document to put the ownership back on the student for their behavior.

Lastly, I would suggest using 5-6 pages an index of all the vocabulary words for the course.  This is a great reference tool for students throughout the year.

Tip :: Provide the list of vocabulary at the beginning of the year when setting up the notebooks so that the words are in alphabetical order. Students can then add the definitions as the words are introduced throughout the course of the year.

plant kingdom foldableWhere Do I Find Interactive Printables?

There are many resources online where you can purchase notebooking printables. You will find many are even available for free!

I have created and shared many with you previously. Here are just a few:

You can find these and many more indexed on my Freebies & Printables page. Others are available For Subscribers Only – so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you don’t already.

Follow Eva Varga’s board Science Notebooking on Pinterest.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • Science Stuff by Amy Brown – Amy has a diverse collection of interactive notebook materials, predominately in biology
  • Bond with James – James also has a large variety of graphic organizers and interactive notebook materials

September 14, 2015

Last week I wrote about using journal writing with middle school students and provided examples of a variety of journals that could be used with middle school age kids. Today, I share a more in-depth look at using learning logs or reflection journals in your science curriculum.

Reflection journals provide students with an opportunity to summarize what they have learned. Students are encouraged to reflect upon what they have learned, record any questions they may still have about the particular topic of study, and to communicate their understanding of the material. An interactive science journal is a creative, hands-on approach to doing just that.

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.netWhat is an Interactive Science Notebook?

An Interactive Science Journal or Notebook is a fun and engaging way to get students interested in the content they are learning about. Interactive notebooks allow for the information being discussed to be compartmentalized into chunks of information.  I have found when information is broken down into smaller bits that students retain the information at a much higher level. When you throw in an interactive element into the graphic organizer the retention is that much more effective.

The true interactive part of the notebooks are when students use the information provided to elicit their own responses or outputs in the journal.  This requires higher level thinking and ultimately allows the students to make a deeper connection to their learning. Once students understand what outputs are, they appreciate the opportunity to select their own and often refer to these exercises as “fun”.

Some teachers utilize a dual page format where one page is the input (where students get info from reading, video, observations, lecture, etc.) and the other is the output (where they make sense of that input). Outputs ensure that every time students learn something, they have time to digest and process the material.

I feel that this tends to be a bit limiting, requires more careful planning in advance, and thus often a waste of space. I thereby allow students the freedom to utilize their notebook in whatever way works best for them. I encourage them to take lecture notes, keep an ongoing glossary of terms, and adhere the interactive pieces as we progress.

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.netHow Do Interactive Science Notebooks Work?

Interactive science notebooks allow students to be totally creative with their notebooks. They are an open-ended, hands-on tool that provide students with an opportunity to make connections with what they are learning in class and provide time for them to think and reflect.

I encourage you to allow the students to come up with their own examples and sketches.  Let the students come up with their own responses to short situational prompts.  Allowing the students to make their own connections will ensure that the material is not forgotten.

Interactive science notebooks work very well as a warm-up to labs and lecture. Use the time students are cutting and pasting to review material from the prior lesson or to review for an upcoming assessment. Encourage them to use their notebooks as a study guide and reference tool.

Intrigued? Then join me next week when I will discuss how to get started in using Interactive Science Notebooks.