As we become for technologically advanced and our urban cities grow, I believe it is increasingly important for our youth to have an understanding of where our food comes from – both historically and today.
Whether you live in Atlanta or rural Nebraska, in the mountains or along the coast, engaging students in real world experiences and developing an awareness of agricultural practices is not difficult. There are many free teaching resources available for educators of all ages.
By encouraging teachers to integrate agriculture into their classroom via authentic, core curriculum concepts, Agriculture in the Classroom partners have collaborated to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the food and fiber system that we all rely on every day.
An agriculturally literate person is defined as “one who understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life.”
Take some time to explore the variety of resources available – I share a few of my favorites below. You can put together an entire semester course or pick and choose a few lessons to augment your current studies.
Plant & Animal Science
Agriculture has traditionally been defined by the production of plants and animals. Today, science and technology have added new areas of research, and investigation to the agriculture field.
To help educate students about the important role soil nutrients play in feeding our world, the Nutrients for Life Foundation sends out a monthly newsletter that will provide you with new ideas and tips for teaching plant and soil science while providing creative activities to bring into your classroom. They have also developed numerous modules for elementary, middle and high school classrooms to provide STEM activities and lessons.
Soil Science Reader :: A digital science journal specifically designed for grades 7-8 (graphics and photographs capture interest) introduces soil formation and soil horizons with a fun edible soil activity. Other topics include the nitrogen cycle, plant nutrition, and fertilizer basics featuring the 4R Nutrient Stewardship.
Soil Reader :: Written specifically 5th & 6th grade students, this 18-page digital journal features an interview with an agriculture engineer and features puzzles, quizzes, and visuals to enhance a teacher’s soil unit.
For complete curriculum, posters, games, flashcards, and much more – visit the Nutrients For Life webstore. Everything is FREE!!
Hundreds of invasive plants and animals have become established across the country and are rapidly spreading each year. These invaders are negatively impacting our waters, our native plants and animals, our agriculture, our health, our economy, and our favorite recreational places.
Prevention is the most effective strategy in managing invasive species. To increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife have developed curriculum and materials available free to schools and educators.
Stop the Invasion:: Students will learn about six different invasive species, the damage they cause, and how to stop their spread.
If you reside in California, you may also be interested in the community action week with events across the state and a youth art contest. Similar programs may exist in your state. Contact your local department of fish and wildlife or county extension agency to learn more.
Geology is an earth science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change. Often, it can also refer to the study of the solid features of any celestial body (such as the geology of our Moon or Jupiter).
The study of geology is not always easy. Admittedly, I have a hard time identifying rocks. I can generally determine to which of the three rock types the specimen my son finds on the shoreline belongs, but that is about the extent of my identification skill. It is a skill that certainly takes practice.
When teaching geology concepts, I generally focus on the processes of change like plate tectonics and erosion. I know I’m not alone so today, I share a variety of geology activities and resources that you can incorporate into your science curriculum.
Three types of rock:
Igneous rocks are formed when hot magma (melted rock) is rapidly cooled, either by hitting underground air pockets or by flowing from the mouth of a volcano as lava. Granite, obsidian, and pumice are all common examples of igneous rocks. Pumice is a very porous rock, because when the lava cooled, pockets of air were trapped inside. Because of all those air pockets, pumice can actually float!
Sedimentary rocks are formed by layers of sediment (dirt, rock particles, etc.) being mixed and compressed together for extended periods of time. Common examples of these rocks are limestone, sandstone, and shale. Sedimentary rocks often have lots of fossils in them because plants and animals get buried in the layers of sediment and turned into stone.
Metamorphic rocks are a combination of rock types, compressed together by high pressure and high heat. They usually have a more hard, grainy texture than the other two types. Schist, slate, and gneiss (pronounced like ‘nice’) are metamorphic rocks.
My kids love history. I thereby incorporate history of science lessons throughout our science curriculum. Through biographies and non-fiction materials, students can learn about the work of geologists and the impact they have had on our world.
For example, Alfred Wegener is best known for his theory of continental drift. Yet his impact on our understanding of geology is so much more. He was he was also the first to describe the process by which most raindrops form.
Learning about careers in science is another avenue by which students can learn about the work of geologists. My kids recently visited a hydrogeology office and talked with the engineers, water resource specialists, and geologists.
Orienteering is a family of sports that requires navigational skills using a topographical map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain.
Field Trips & Site Visits
One of the best ways to learn about geology is through field excursions, especially when accompanied by resource specialists. Often national parks provide ranger talks on the geology of the park.
During our week in the Galapagos, our guides interpreted the geology of the archipelago on a daily basis. Seeing evidence of the geological processes we had read about in North Star Geography solidified our understanding volcanic change, erosion, succession, and plate tectonics.
Reach out to the resource specialists at local agencies like the Forest Service and National Association of Conservation Districts to see if they might be willing to guide you on a field experience.
Many local communities have geology clubs that provide an opportunity to connect people who love to share what they know with others. Often local clubs will have an annual show or display – perhaps at a community center or public library.
Our local club collaborates with the community college and interpretive center to offer a monthly lecture series. Topics in the past have included The Tortoise and the Hare: Slow vs. Fast Earthquakes and Parks and Plates: How Earth’s Dynamic Forces Shape our National Parks.
Their passion for mineralogy and geology is contagious. I highly recommend you take advantage of their expertise for your homeschool co-op.
If rock collecting is a hobby you enjoy, consider joining a local rock club. It is a great way to increase your knowledge and get more enjoyment from your hobby.
There is a wide variety of geology curriculum available, some specifically written with homeschoolers in mind. 2015 was the Year of Soils and the USDA provided a wealth of activities and lesson plans to engage students in soil ecology.
For hands-on geology lessons, check out Our Dynamic Earth is a 10 week hands-on earth science curriculum unit study on the geology of our Earth incorporating scientific inquiry and language arts applications. Available today!
Ever since the continents were all mapped, people had noticed that many coastlines, like those of South America and Africa, looked as though they would fit together if they could be moved like puzzle pieces.
With his revised publication of The Origin of Continents and Oceans in 1915 (originally published three years prior), Alfred Wegener was one of the first to suggest continental drift and plate tectonics. In his work, he described a ‘super-continent’ he called Pangaea had existed in the past, broke up starting 200 million years ago, and that the “pieces drifted” to their present positions. Citing similar ancient climates, rock structures, and fossil evidence. [ Frank Taylor, an American scientist, had published a similar theory in 1910 but his work attracted little attention. ]
When continental drift was first proposed by Alfred Wegener in the early 1900s however, it was met with skepticism by the scientific community. The proposal remained controversial until the 1960s, when it became widely accepted over a fairly short period of time. Today, the theory of plate tectonics is key to the study of geology.
However, Wegener is not only the father of the theory of continental drift, he was also the first to describe the process by which most raindrops form. This process is now called the Wegener-Bergeron-Findeisen procedure.
During Wegener’s lifetime the process by which cloud particles reach raindrop size was not known, but there was some idea how much rain, even during summer, began as snow in the clouds. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin had suggested this, and in 1904, Wilson A. Bentley, who spent a lifetime studying snow crystals and raindrops, found supporting evidence for the conjecture.
“Perhaps the only thing that saves science is the presence of mavericks in every generation.” ~ Alfred Wegener
In his 1911 publication, The Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere, Wegener noted that ice crystals invariably grow at the expense of super-cooled droplets because the crystals have a lower equilibrium vapor pressure. He then suggested that raindrops might result from this competition between ice crystals and super-cooled cloud droplets. Read more in the article Introducing Precipitation from the Eyewitness Companions: Weather from DK Publishing.
Wegener had hoped to document this process in real clouds, but other projects intervened and he never returned to the subject. Thus, it was left to Tor Bergeron and W. Findeisen to develop and prove the theory in the 1930s.
He also explained two rare ice crystal halo arcs that bear his name as well. Ice crystals often form in the frigid air just above the Greenland ice cap and can produce spectacular halos. In a 1926 article, Wegener explained two relatively rare arcs that appear opposite the sun and are now named in his honor.
Born in Berlin on November 1st, 1880, Alfred Wegener, was a German climatologist and geophysicist.
From an early age he took an interest in Greenland. He studied in Germany and Austria, receiving his PhD in astronomy in 1904. No sooner did he finish his dissertation than he dropped astronomy to study meteorology, the new science of weather.
At a time when the conquest of the North and South Pole began to enjoy enormous international public attention, Wegener made his first expedition to Greenland as the official meteorologist on a two-year Danish expedition in 1906.
Wegener experimented with kites and balloons, pioneering the use of balloons to track air circulation. That same year, he and his brother Kurt set a world record in an international balloon contest, flying 52 hours straight. When he returned he took up teaching meteorology at the University of Marburg.
He was the first to use kites and tethered balloons to study the polar atmosphere.
His fourth and final expedition was in 1930 as the leader of a major Danish expedition to Greenland. He celebrated his fiftieth birthday on November 1, but shortly afterwards the team got separated, and he was lost in a blizzard. His body was found halfway between the two camps.
Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.
In a series of posts this week, I will be sharing 5 Misconceptions in Science and providing lessons and activities to help dispel these conceptual misunderstandings. Today’s post focuses on common misconceptions in geology and meteorology. I’ve selected to highlight just a few.
Common Sources of Misconceptions
You may be asking yourself, how do misconceptions take root in the first place? Misconceptions are formed by a variety of contributing factors.
Everyday language can cause misconceptions. For example, students may have seen their parents buy or administer “plant food” and so believe that plants need food to grow.
Lack of evidence leads students to form mistaken conclusions. Because students cannot see germs or microscopic organic materials without a microscope, they may not grasp the concept.
Word of mouth, the media, and speculation all spread misconceptions.
Confusion over concepts can create wrong impressions.
Misconceptions in Geology & Meteorology
The greenhouse effect is caused when gasses in the atmosphere behave as a blanket and trap radiation which is then re-radiated to the earth.
First let me clarify that the greenhouse effect and global warming are NOT the same thing. The greenhouse effect is the name applied to the process which causes the surface of the Earth to be warmer than it would have been in the absence of an atmosphere. Global warming is the name given to an expected increase in the magnitude of the greenhouse effect, whereby the surface of the Earth will amost inevitably become hotter than it is now.
I will be discussing the greenhouse effect in this post – not global warming.
The fact that Earth has an average surface temperature comfortably between the boiling point and freezing point of water, and thus is suitable for our sort of life, cannot be explained by simply suggesting that our planet orbits at just the right distance from the sun to absorb just the right amount of solar radiation.
Parts of our atmosphere act as an insulating blanket of just the right thickness, trapping sufficient solar energy to keep the global average temperature in a pleasant range. This ‘blanket’ is a collection of atmospheric gases called ‘greenhouse gases’ based on the idea that the gases also ‘trap’ heat similarly to the glass walls of a greenhouse.
These gases, mainly water vapor ( ), carbon dioxide (), methane (), and nitrous oxide (), all act as effective global insulators. To understand why, it’s important to understand a few basic facts about solar radiation and the structure of atmospheric gases.
The following activities will help your students better understand the concepts described above.
Soil is rarely devoid of life. Soil which supports plant life is teeming with many soil organisms, the majority of which are too small to see. Some examples of soil organisms are fungi, bacteria, nematodes, diatoms (algae), earthworms, ants, centipedes, millipedes, beetles, snails, and slugs. All these soil creatures and more make up the soil community. In STEM Club, we sought to discover for ourselves, what lives in our soils?
Most fungi and bacteria are supported by relationships with plant roots, so they stay close to plants. Any creatures that live on fungi and bacteria also stay close to the roots. Other larger herbivores, like beetles, ants, centipedes, and termites, feed closer to the surface where more plant debris is located.Therefore most soil creatures live within a few inches of soil closest to their food sources.
This community of organisms is deeply involved in the soil food web. It’s basically a recycling program, where plant and animal residues are broken down by a chain of soil consumers (nematodes, bacteria, fungi, mites, earthworms, etc), who are then consumed by birds and other mammals, cycling carbon and essential nutrients.
Soil protects soil organisms from harsh sun, wind and, rain, while still providing air, water, and nutrients essential to life. When soil organisms break down plant and animal debris they change the structure of the soil. Creatures like earthworms break down larger vegetative clumps into smaller clumps of organic matter, making the soil structure finer. In a good plant debris-based soil, the actions of earthworm, as well as the amount of organic matter, greatly increases the soil’s ability to hold nutrients and water, as well as structure (pores).
Soil lacking in oxygen, water, and organic matter would be very bare and devoid of biodiversity. The area would consist only of a few, very specific kinds of soil organisms and specific plants that could tolerate these challenging environmental conditions.
What Lives in Our Soil?
Can you think of any other examples of food webs? What are some reasons why a soil would not have a layer of organic matter or humus near the surface? What would be some environmental strategies to remedy such a soil? What would happen if a group from the soil food web (fungi, animals, plants, insects, earthworms) suddenly disappeared?
The goal of this activity is to discover what lives in soil. Students will select a location to collect a soil sample, return to the classroom, and thereby note a variety of characteristics of the soil (moisture content, texture, color, etc.).
Small shovel(s) or trowel(s)
1-liter plastic freezer bags
Map of school grounds, town, or county (geographically and by elevation)
1. Preparation :: Take note of locations that the students would be interested in taking samples from. Be sure to have a variety of locations:
Garden or flower bed
Near a parking lot
Near a sidewalk
Turf (grassy area)
Have a table in the classroom or other open space ready for observing soils. If students will be drying soil, you’ll need a place where soils can be left for several days
Have students draw a map of the school grounds.
2. Digging Soil :: At each selected area, have students:
Observe location and vegetation
Describe location and vegetation orally
Write about location and vegetation in journals
Use trowel or shovel to collect several clumps of soil
Place soil in freezer bags
3. Observations :: Place soil samples on table or other open space. Divide students into groups and distribute one soil sample bag per group. Observe characteristics of the soil
which may include:
Other soil creatures
4. Record observations by location on chart (sample below). Predict from chart which soils might be best for growing crops.
Develop an inquiry project to further investigate your prediction in step 4.
Choose a soil organism and write an expository paragraph (include: name, appearance, role, supporting details, and conclusion).
Think of three animals that live in the soil and the homes they build. Students draw a soil community that includes small creatures, creatures above the soil, and plants.
Create an informative poster to illustrate the soil food webs (include at least five trophic levels).
You can learn more about the activities we undertook in STEM Club here:
Before I was blessed with children of my own, I had the honor of working as a science specialist at two public schools in Oregon. Teaching middle school science was my dream job! We explored a variety of topics and enjoyed hands-on labs every week.
As a homeschooling mom, I understand that budgets are tight and we have to make tough decisions about what extra-curriculars and curriculum we can afford. The best things in life are indeed free so I have compiled a list of free science curriculum for middle school.
This is NOT just a list of free printables and a hodge-podge of activities – but complete curriculum units!
Life Science Curriculum
A secular middle school science text that is available for free on Amazon is CK-12 Life Science for Middle School. As a digital text, the 1143 pages won’t weigh you down and it contains all kinds of embedded media and related educational videos.
For nature study, you’ll absolutely love the Handbook of Nature Study! Barb has an incredible collection of tutorials and resources for using nature study in your homeschool. I’ve linked to her Getting Started post here, but be sure to browse around her site – there are enough printables and lessons to keep you busy all year long!
I have shared a number of great human anatomy lesson plans and activities here on my website. STEM Club: Introduction to Body Systems is the first post in the series. Read each for a complete unit study on the human body.
Also available from the CK-12 Foundation is CK-12 Earth Science for Middle School – a combination of various earth science disciplines encompassing geology, oceanography, climatology, meteorology, and even for the purposes of understanding the position of the Earth in the Universe, astronomy.
Scientists report their research in journals, which enable scientists to share information with one another.
The Natural Inquirer is a middle school science education journal published by the US Forest Service. They also have a series for upper elementary entitled, Investigator.
There are many free issues to download and read. When you click on each issue, it tells you what the theme will be and some of them have additional lesson plans to download. Each free issue is full of pictures, ideas, and questions to stimulate the science mind.
In addition to the journals, the US Forest Service also provides a wealth of other educational resources to accompany the journals including Lesson Plans and Games & Activities.
Science News for Kids is another great source for current events and news. It is an online collection of articles and resources for students and educators. Some of the recent article titles include: Something’s Cooking on Saturn’s Moon, Chickens Spread Latest Deadly Bird Flu, and Corals Dine on Microplastics.
Scientists keep notebooks. The scientist’s notebook is a detailed record of her engagement with scientific phenomena. It is a personal representation of experiences, observations, and thinking – an integral part of the process of doing scientific work.
The science notebooks of Charles Darwin,Linus Pauling, among other scientists are also available online. These primary source documents capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. It is fascinating to look at the illustrations and sketches famous scientists have made and to compare them with our own.
As developing scientists, middle school students should be encouraged to incorporate notebooks into their science learning. Read more about using Science Notebooks in Middle School in this PDF by FOSS.
Students today enjoy creating interactive elements for their notebooks – mini books and foldables to record new vocabulary or gather data from a lab activity. There are many science notebooking printable available online to accompany a wide variety of topics.
Subscribers to my newsletter will receive the Human Anatomy Systems printables and interactive notebooking set shown here:
SciGirls is a television show for kids ages 8-12 that showcases bright, curious real tween girls putting science and engineering to work in their everyday lives. SciGirls Connect provides inquiry-based STEM activities for a variety of science topics.
I am sure everyone is already familiar with Steve Spangler‘s store but did you know he also has a number of Fun Science Experiments?
Another great resource for junior high science teachers and students is The Science Spot.
Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science. Most also provide lesson plans and curriculum to help you get started. Here are a few great citizen science projects to consider:
Darwin for a Day – A web application that allows you to explore the Galapagos Islands through Google Street View and document its unique plants and animals.
Old Weather – Help scientists recover Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States ships since the mid-19th century by transcribing ships’ logs.
As students develop their own science skills, it is equally important that they get a feel for what scientists are actually doing. Integrating career exploration gives students an opportunity to learn about real scientists and the variety of jobs available with a science degree.
The US Forest Service has put together a great set of Scientist Trading Cards. Print the cards to learn more about each scientist and then create your own. The USFWS – Pacific Region has an incredible set of photos on Flickr, #ScienceWomen.
I periodically write about science career options – Entomology and Hydrogeology are two thus far you may wish to explore. More to come soon!
In my history of science series, Science Milestones, I highlight architects, engineers, inventors, and scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us. In each post, I share learning guides or unit studies featuring basic facts about the person, questions for discussion, and places to read, watch and otherwise learn more.