Hands on Learning in the Middle Grades

Middle School is the divide between High School and Elementary School. It is the bridge from childhood to adulthood. Students grow and our expectations of what they can handle in the classroom grow along with them. Many teachers feel as though students should learn to listen to lectures, take notes while the teacher is talking and be able to function in a more "grown up student" environment.

When I started teaching 8th grade math, I had that philosophy. My students were getting ready to go into high school, so why not treat them that way? Rarely did I incorporate "fun" in my classroom. I followed along with the scope and sequence perfectly and used on the resources provided for me by the district. My students that year only worked from their textbook, note-taking guide or chapter resource book. I think this HUGE mistake on my part may have been one reason my first year as a middle school teacher was absolutely horrible less than stellar.
It's true that students in middle school are no longer "babies". They're also not quite adults either. When I started incorporating hands on activities in my classroom, I saw a HUGE change in student engagement, success and behavior. My assumption that 8th graders would think coloring was stupid was very, very wrong. The first time I gave my students a coloring worksheet as classwork, they looked at me like I was crazy. "But Mrs. Perro, we are in 8th grade. We don't color anymore." My reply, "Oh really? You do today!" Even the students who acted like my coloring worksheets were silly sat there and made sure their work was nothing short of a masterpiece. Did I use up a little bit of instructional time by having them color? Yep, I sure did. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Students in middle school have SO much pressure on them. They're pressured by their bodies, that are changing every single day. They're pressured by their peers to be "cool." They're pressured by their teachers to grow up. They're pressured by coaches and parents to keep grades up and participate in extra curricular activities. Giving them a 5 minute break to color isn't going to make the difference between whether or not they pass or fail that class or that standardized test.

My coloring pages eventually progressed to classroom competition games, puzzles and stations. Yep, stations in 8th grade. Insane right? Nope! My students LOVED being able to get up and move around the classroom. I started working with the theory that, if I was bored making an answer key, my students would be bored doing the work in class. Of course, there's a time and a place for seat work that doesn't involve coloring or scissors. There is a time for formal assessment, independent learning and quiet time. But, there is also a time for fun. I challenge you this school year, if you don't already, to incorporate more hands on activities in your classroom. Whether you teach science, history, Spanish, music, math, or any of the other classes offered in the middle grades, there are plenty of activities you can find or create to keep your students engaged.

Other In The Middle bloggers incorporate Hands on Learning in their classrooms below:

In middle school, if Social Studies isn't hands-on, interactive, and engaging, the kids simply aren't interested.  No matter what the content is, my number one goal is to get students excited and genuinely interested about what they are learning.  In my classroom, students are producers, detectives, and debaters.  We complete video projects and murder mystery investigations, while conducting simulations and class debates.  Students explain ideas and concepts through weekly "town meetings," write historical essays with document-based evidence, and compile weekly learning goal logs where they demonstrate on-going understandings.  To go along with my teaching style, this will be the fifth year my students will be participating in the National History Day program. All of this places students at the center of instruction to create an active, hands-on learning experience.   I am not a lecture teacher.  I am not a textbook teacher.  I am not a PowerPoint teacher.  Not that there is anything "wrong" with these methods, but I simply believe there are better, more interactive ways to get students involved in their learning.  After all, what truly is more exciting: listening to a teacher speak for 45 minutes about what happened on England's first attempt to setup a colony in North America or placing students in the role of CSI investigators as they investigate what happened to the "Lost Colony?  

Science naturally lends itself to hands-on learning, but nothing is more hands-on and current in the science education world than Interactive Notebooks.  While some have been notebooking for years, others are just beginning to try it out in their classrooms.  For those novices just starting out, you may want to consider the Interactive Science Notebook as a different way to take notes, organize information, and provide your students with a one-stop location for all important reference materials. With this in mind, transitioning to interactive notebooks won't be much of a stretch for you.  We all know that middle schoolers are the WORST at keeping up with everything, but your odds of having organized students are drastically increased, simply by having all of the information glued into one location, instead of spread between binders, backpacks, and lockers.  

If you have started using notebooks already, but are looking to do more with them in the current school year, I would suggest checking out these resources:


Science Interactive Notebook Resources:

ELA Interactive Notebook Resources:

Math Interactive Notebook Resources:

Social Studies Interactive Notebook Resources:

If you are the expert at notebooking, I would still encourage you to check out what's new and current out there.  After many years of notebooking, I thought I'd probably seen it all and done it all, but I am continually amazed at the resources being created everyday and the new ideas popping up.  Just two years ago I was shown FlipOuts and I was amazed at the possibilities.  Check out my blog post about FlipOuts.  

Bottom line - continue to learn, grow, and share your knowledge and ideas with other teachers.  Don't be afraid to try something new in your classroom, especially the things that are working well in millions of other classrooms.  Get your students actively learning with Interactive Notebooks!    

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