I made ScienceFix.com to share my favorite demos that I do in my middle school science classes.  

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    by Sara Howard
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    NOVA - Origins
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    Human Body: Pushing the Limits
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Genetic Engineering in the Classroom

Genetic engineering may be the single most important development in biology in the last 20 years. Bio Rad is a terrific Bay Area company that sells easy to use kits that can be used in the classroom. Bio Rad’s pGLO transformation kit (see below) essentially allows students to insert the Green Fluorescence Protein (GFP) from a jellyfish and insert it into E. coli bacteria. With this inserted gene the bacteria make GFP and thus the bacteria glow green under UV light. The name of the kit is the pGLO Bacterial Transformation Kit. For detailed explanation of the kit, see video below.

pGLO kit

kit contents

video demonstration of kit


Science of 4th of July

The fourth of July means fireworks.  Here is a list of 10 science facts about fireworks, including the health affects of the smoke.  Here is also a good simple explanatory video of how a firework works.

Here is video on a red, white, and blue Mentos and Diet 7up reaction and explosive watermelon carving, via Steve Spangler.



Lesson: Google Maps/Earth Solar System Scale Model

Google Maps has recently developed “My Maps” where Google Maps can be annotated with pictures, lines, shapes, and points. I incorporated this new tool with one of my all time favorite lessons: The Solar System Scale Model. This model shows the Sun and the nine planets (yes I still include Pluto for comparison reasons) to scale in both size and distance. For details download the student (word document) and teacher handout (word document). You can take a look at the model in action by going to Google Maps or download the Google Earth kml file to look at in Google Earth. Below is a short narrated video clip of the Google Earth version.



Lesson: Sink or Float

We are now beginning our unit on density and buoyancy and I like to use this learning activity to introduce density. Making students aware of their misconceptions is one of the most powerful methods in teaching science. When you demonstrate the actual reality of the concept it can break their misconception and students are forced to change their thinking. I give the students the following challenge statement (word document):

“Ojbects that are high in mass sink in water.”

Students have to write a paragraph stating if they agree, disagree, or are somewhat in between with the statement. They have to explain in detail their reasoning. It is not important that they are actually right or not, they just need to be able to clarify their thinking. I then do the following (see video below).

Afterward the students need to explain in a paragraph if their thinking has changed and if so, they need to explain how. The items that were used in the demo can be found at Educational Innovations. Here is a list of the items, with their masses and densities (excel spreadsheet).


Lesson: Egg Saver

The egg drop is a staple of science classes. I love the egg drop. It is one of the few learning activities where all students can construct an apparatus that doesn’t require a parent to take over the student’s work, doesn’t require expensive or hard to get materials, and hey you might get to see eggs break! I like to do my version of the egg drop at the end of the year when middle school students are getting a major case of spring fever. I call my version of the egg drop, the Egg Saver project. I introduce the project by showing the students the video tittled Understanding Car Crashes: Its Basic Physics. The video, made by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is hosted by a high school physics teacher and demonstrates how inertia, momentum, and impulse are essential in designing safe cars. We next go over the project parameters. The parameters are designed so that students must construct a container in which an egg can be quickly inserted and then extracted after a drop. Also no liquids or packing material are allowed. These rules are implemented so that students design a container that that has to conform to real life requirement like a car. Passengers need to be able to get into and out of a car quickly and passengers in a car are surrounded by liquids. I ban packaging materials so that students are a little more challenged. The size requirement is because I want it to be more car size than tractor trailer size, and it also forces students to be a little more creative. I then give the students the handout (word document) to the project. The project has 5 parts:

    Part 1: Preliminary Design & Materials List
    Students brainstorm and write a brief description of what their egg saver container would look like and how it would work. They also must write a list of materials that they might use. The purpose of this part is to get them started, which is the hardest part. They do this in class so that I know they have something written down.

    Part 2: Final Design Specifications
    Students have to draw a detailed diagram of their final container that shows the parts, dimensions, and the functions of the parts.

    Part 3: Data Collection & Analysis
    Students collect data on the mass of the egg and container, height dropped, time from release to impact, velocity, and momentum.

    Part 4: Graph of Data
    Students construct a line graph that shows momentum versus height.

    Part 5: Final Analysis & Conclusion
    Students write a paragraph that discusses the results of the experiment.

For an incentive to design a container that works, if a student’s container is successful at the highest height, 14 feet, the student is exempt from doing part 4 and 5.

We do the drops in the classroom with a 10 foot ladder. My classroom has a high ceiling which can accommodate the tall ladder. Watch a video of design that works.