Oh, Those Middle School Students!

Let me ask you something: what do you remember about middle school?  I’ve been asking a lot of people this question, and I was frankly pretty surprised that most of these people either remembered very little about it or remembered it as a traumatizing experience.  Most of them, however, remember one or two teachers at that level who are beloved even today.

thinking cap, middle school

Not every teacher is cut out for middle school – it takes a certain knack.  I’ve seen many good teachers fail in the middle school because they simply did not have this knack.  These teachers might have been excellent instructors of small children or almost-adult students, but it takes that knack to succeed in the middle school.

We must remember that middle school students do not consider themselves to be children.  Oh, we know they still are, but don’t make the mistake of treating them like children.  A teacher can lose an entire group of 7th-graders simply by referring to them as “boys and girls.”  I’ve seen entire classes turn against a well-meaning teacher because he/she used a tone of voice that connoted “elementary.”  I’ve seen principals wonder all year why the students disliked him/her so much, and it was all because of a condescending remark made on the first day of school that the adult doesn’t even remember but every student knows by heart.

Put simply, talk to middle school students as THEY THINK you talk to other adults. And put simply, that’s not simple.  Two teachers can say the exact same thing and one of them will succeed while the other antagonizes and infuriates the students.

There is some kind of internal attitude inside each teacher, and the least astute kid in the entire school can pick up on it.  Being a good middle school teacher is hard work; it’s exhausting and nerve-wracking.  Loving kids isn’t enough.  Being organized isn’t enough.  Being passionate about the subject isn’t enough.  Combinations of these things aren’t enough.

Oh, those are excellent and necessary parts of a good teacher, yes.  Definitely.  But alone or in any combination, they are not enough.

It’s the internal attitude that counts the most.  To be able to deal with middle school students, to be able to genuinely communicate and earn their respect, a middle school teacher has to have the right kind of internal attitude.

Pre-teens have the instinct to detect sincerity and trustworthiness.  It’s sharp and clear and laced with brand-new hormones, a fear of the unknown, and an intense desire to be accepted.

Every time the bell rings, a good teacher has to shake off one personality and put on another.  No two classes are alike, and a good teacher will not try to teach them in the same way.  Middle school teachers are doing stand-up, and the audience differs with every gig.

Good middle school teachers know how to talk to the students as the students think one adult talks to another adult.  Read that sentence carefully, for it does not say that a good teacher talks to the students as one adult to another.

Good teachers try to keep up.  I don’t mean friend all your 13-year-olds on Facebook, but monitor things when you can so you’ll know what your kids are talking about when they try to tell you that so-and-so is twerking in front of the boys behind the bleachers before first period.  Don’t try to be one of them, but be the adult in their lives who understands.  These things have to be done carefully.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to ingratiate yourself with students by using their generation’s groovy, out-of-sight, beat-me-daddy-eight-to-the-bar, gnarly vernacular.  Some words were never meant to come out of the mouths of actual adults.  Am I right, peeps?

Sometimes, other teachers sense something different about a teacher with that awesome internal attitude, and there can be clashes.  Age has nothing to do with it; some of the very best teachers are 110 years old if they’re a day, and some of the least savvy ones are 24.

It really bothers me when teachers say that the middle grades are a nightmare.  Such statements are unkind, and untrue.  Middle school students are young enough to still be eager, enthusiastic learners, and old enough to be able to actually do and understand a lot of things they weren’t ready for down in elementary.  Middle school students are bright and kind and interested in so many things and quite capable of learning and doing these interesting and sometimes not-so-easy things.

Challenging?  Oh yes.  Quite.  But they’re supposed to be, aren’t they?  I think so.



Avengers, X-Men, Loki, the Culinary Arts and Polymers

As I dug through my briefcase last Friday morning, I discovered some test tubes full of polymers. What. Doesn’t everybody carry test tubes of polymers in his/her briefcase? Well, apparently I do.

test tubes of polymers
I didn’t want to waste an opportunity.

Just down the hall from the college office, there is a Culinary Arts department full of high school students earning dual credits for both high school and college. They are fun and funky kids, so I took the test tubes down to the big kitchen and poured them into a fishbowl wine goblet that happened to be sitting on the counter behind the teacher’s desk. I don’t judge.

I told the students that the tiny little polymers represented them, themselves, a few pieces of what looked like cookie sprinkles and rock salt, and that to transform these insignificant little specks – and the students – only one ingredient was necessary.  I told them to add some water to the goblet.   I went back to the college office, and waited.

culinary students, polymers

There wasn’t long to wait before I heard them screaming about “how awesomely cool, how absolutely awesomely cool!”

I went back down to the kitchen and took a few pictures so you can share in the excitement.

I‘ve posted before about using polymers as analogies for patience, tolerance, learning, and personal change, but each time I do this with students, I learn as much if not more than they do.  Kids that spend more time out in the hall doing lines than time in the classroom will try extra hard to behave so they, too, can stick their hands in the swollen polymers and give them a squeeze.

A tangible example of what change can mean can be the catalyst that will set a stubborn student onto a path of learning no book or set of rules could ever hope to do.

culinary student, wineglass full of polymers

Be sure to bring a box of baggies with you whenever you do this with students; they’ll all want to take home a handful of the swollen polymers to put in a little glass, set it in the windowsill, and water it regularly to remind themselves of the power of learning, and how one simple little thing can genuinely transform one thing into another: a tiny rock-hard piece of polymer or a human being.  Justone simple little addition, and there is a transformation that rivals anything an X-Man or an Avenger could dream of.  Even Loki.

Loki, glorious purpose

Our students, too, are burdened with glorious purpose.  This is something we must help them continue to nourish.  Some tangible examples help tremendously.

Loki is a villain, of course, but even from the villains there is learning to get.  Besides, if you show them Loki, you’ll have their attention for sure!

How a Device Used to Kill Humans Saved Penguins

Humans Saved Penguins By Trying to Kill Other Humans

Be honest: do you like penguins?

The answer is yes. You love penguins just like everyone else.

You’ve watched Happy Feet more times than your 11-year-old niece has sang “Let It Go” in the last 5 months. (Don’t worry, we won’t talk about how much you cried during March of the Penguins.)

Well, what would you and your penguin-loving friends say if I told you that humans placed close to 20,000 land mines  on the beaches of the Falkland Islands? Perhaps I should tell you that millions of penguins call the islands home.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you how that really isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, these gruesome seeds of war may have actually saved the penguins from, you guessed it, humans. The Falklands’ reputation for penguin-based conflict began with whale oil.

Whale Oil for Energy

As everyone who has completed their whale oil handbook knows, rendering whale oil requires big vats and boiling water. This posed a problem to the European whalers in the area, as the Falklands don’t possess much in the way of trees for burning. They turned to something way, way out of left field: penguins. Penguins proved to be easily caught, and even better for fire because of their own fat layers.

How Bombs Saved Penguins on the Falkland Islands.

Now, in the year 2014, we don’t have much use for whale oiling. We find our relentless desire for power from other places like fossil fuels, the sun, and water.

War in the Falklands

With the fossil fuel discovery, so came a reprieve from penguins being used as tuxedoed pieces of firewood. The population began to grow in numbers, again, until Argentina’s government attempted to regain control over the islands from the hands of the British.

Those two combatants are less likely than a Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield rematch, but combine political instability in Argentina with an aggressive no-dictator policy from one Margaret Thatcher, and you’ve got a 2 month conflict over the Falkland Islands.

When the tide went out the British remained victorious, but had a large military invoice show for a fairly lackluster piece of real estate.

To make the conflict worthwhile, the Falklands became an exclusive fishing zone. Our tux-wearing bird friends also eat fish. You can see where this is going.

Competition from human counterparts dropped the penguin population from 6 million to 1 million in just 10 years. So, humans contributed to this penguin downfall, but they’ve also saved the penguins.

Humans Saved Penguins

Remember those land mines we told you about?

The Argentinians left them all over the coast of the islands as British deterrent (we’ve found George Washington does a great job, too).

Thankfully, no humans have actually died from the estimated 20,000 left. Instead, these land mines protect the islands’ penguin inhabitants. The penguins are too light to set off the incredibly dangerous explosives, while humans and the 700,000+ sheep on the island will go… um… kaboom!

So, humans, what do we have to say for ourselves? Our best animal protection efforts happen out of trying to blow the legs off of each other. Thankfully, both Argentina and Great Britain are tentative about going back for the estimated 11 billion (that’s billion with a gigantic “B”) gallons of oil there. Maybe nukes will give the penguins an even better habitat, but don’t count on it.

Steve Spangler’s Kit of the Month Club – Summer Edition Perfect for Stopping Summer Learning Loss

The staff at Steve Spangler Science has a reputation for playing and having fun at our jobs. A requirement for working here is being a kid at heart.

When the boss is a big kid himself, you have to have a playful side to survive. We work hard and play just as hard at the Spangler Labs.

Kit of the Month Summer Edition from Steve Spangler Science

This helps when we are tasked with developing new ways to make science fun and get it into the hands of teachers, parents and kids. 

To add to the solution of stopping summer learning loss and finding engaging ways to bring parents and kids together, we came up with the Kit of the Month Club – Summer Edition.

Kit of the Month Club Summer Edition from Steve Spangler Science

In June, July and August you will receive a kit designed to spark Wow! moments as you and your children become mad scientists. These kits were developed by Steve Spangler himself to include the best STEM learning activities that will keep your kids focused all summer long.

June : Mad Scientist Lab – Color Mixing
July: Science of Electricity
August: Super Solar Science

Each kit will be delivered to your door and contain at least eight STEM and science activities (including one that involves the box itself) that will keep them busy and discovering. 

The kits come with enough materials for one child, but siblings can share or work together. If you want each child to individually do each activity, multiple kits should be ordered.

Why Should I Sign Up?

  • FREE shipping!
  • 3 Months of science adventures from Steve Spangler delivered to your door
  • Perfect for children ages 6-12
  • At least 8 hands-on science activities each month
  • Easy to understand step-by-step instructions
  • Access to an exclusive video lesson from Steve Spangler
  • Learn the real science behind each amazing experiment
  • Great resource for teachers, child care professionals and science enthusiasts
  • Individual kits not available to purchase anywhere
  • Make STEM learning fun!
  • 100% Money Back Guarantee


Education for Every Child Based on Their Individual Interests and Learning Needs

Let’s stop arguing and let teachers teach. 

As our public education system slips and slides down the international scale of standards and knowledge, our students and teachers are paying the price in a system run by fear and teaching to the test.

Let's Let Teachers Teach Every Student Based on Needs and Interests

What has happened to education in America?

A simple answer is politics. Instead of working together to improve a once solid system, we are becoming polarized in our political views of how education should be run.

Some believe education should run as a business. Money in, equals profit out. The profit in education is test scores and numbers, not how well our children are prepared for the workforce and their communities.

Every student is looked at as potential profit with potential return. Students who do not perform well on tests get left behind. Teachers no longer have time to work with struggling students. They must continue pumping out material so every student has an opportunity to succeed on the assessment. Those who fall behind must catch up on their own.

How we will find every child’s strengths and give them equal access to resources when we are too focused on measuring their success on paper?

Walter McKenzie, on The Whole Child Blog, says the current education system does not reference a choice or children -

  • Education is a public enterprise funded by taxpayers.
  • Government reports to taxpayers on its performance.
  • Elected officials craft policy and practice in the name of accountability.

McKenzie says our education system is being run as a “business that needs to produce numbers to justify the value.”

Some believe the way to “fix” education is to privatize it. This will allow the haves to continue to succeed and receive a strong education, while the have nots will continue to struggle to gain access to opportunities.

Others believe holding teachers and schools accountable is the right way to go. Put numbers to paper on how well each student is doing and that will rate the job of every teacher and in turn rate schools.

But what does this really do?

It takes away the individual strengths of each child, and lumps everyone into one pile – you get it or you don’t. Individual interests, ability and learning needs go out the window along with discovery and well rounded learning in an environment of fear. Educators teach in fear, students take assessments in fear.

Let’s stop the arguing and the fights over how to politically reform public education and refocus on our kids.

Focus on every single one of them and what makes them special and unique.

Let’s trust teachers make the decisions for each of their students in the classroom instead of making uneducated decisions in a courtroom. Teachers are the experts in education, not politicians.

We leave you with Silhouette Man and his opinions of American education…

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today