Once upon a time, I was a boring science teacher. Back to school science activities consisted of stale icebreakers, rules, procedures, lab safety and “getting to know you” worksheets. I was not confident enough go “hands on” in the first week of school before my students understood my classroom expectations and lab procedures. Too much could go wrong! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I was cheating my students (AND myself) by wasting valuable time on low value fluff to pass the time.
It was a slow process figuring out what worked for me. However, after my first full year in science, I found some courage and began trying ways to incorporate demos and hands on activities the first week of school. Guess what? No body has lost an eye (yet?). Now, I am even brave enough to try new things from year to year!
I think old and new teachers alike can benefit from trying something new, so I wanted to provide some unique, low prep back to school activities to make sure your students are engaged from day one! I have included a variety of free and low cost resources from several elementary and middle school science teachers, so you know they are tried and true!
DEMONSTRATIONS & INVESTIGATIONS
Demo activities can be the best of both worlds. You can wow your students with some cool science and practice the scientific method without the risk of bodily harm (to them at least…)
Breathing Fire Mystery | Grade Level: 4th-8th | Price: Free
Breathing Fire has been a non-negotiable feature of my classroom since 2015. Word travels fast in a small school like mine, so the students have come to expect this from me every new school year. Although they may know it is coming, this demo never fails to light up their eyes…literally.
Besides the cool factor of breathing fire for your students, they will also investigate an actual event that took place involving a mystery combustible substance and learn the importance of following lab procedures. You can get this demo and activity set here for free!
The Great Pencil Caper | Grade Level: 4th-8th | Price: $2
Andrea from Ohio recommends this back to school activity from her resource shop Classroom 214. It is a practical and engaging way to start the year!
This is an exciting mini-inquiry lab that uses a common everyday classroom supply, pencils! In this lab activity, students read a short newspaper article about a pencil thief who is sneaking into classrooms and breaking pencils. The students get to put their observation and inference skills to work to help the police discover how six pencils were broken.
Air Pressure Experiment | Grade Level: 4th-8th | Price: Free
Lynda from Utah recommends trying this free Air Pressure Experiment to impress your new students! Although this NGSS aligned resource is for the weather and climate unit, it is simple enough to work as a back to school activity. The lab guide is comprehensive and includes pictures to help you get a better idea of the setup.
Your students will love watching the water balloon get sucked into a jar. This resource comes with directions, discussion questions, a lab sheet, a lab followup sheet, a short nonfiction article on air pressure and a vocabulary flap for interactive notebooks. All you need for the experiment is a glass jar, water, balloon, paper and a match. This is a REALLY low prep demonstration and it is fun and dramatic to watch.
Blobs in a Bottle | Grade Level: 2nd-6th | Price: Free
Polly in Kentucky likes to use this lab demo from Science Bob and says her 4th grade students are “absolutely amazed by it”. There is even a video to show you how it’s done!
All you need to make this blob lava lamp demonstration is a clear one liter soda bottle, 3/4 cup of water, some type of fizzing tablet (like denture tablets or alka seltzer), some cooking oil and food coloring. This is a great lab to introduce density.
Crosscutting Concepts Lab Stations | Grade Level: 4th-9th | Price: $4
Melissa Ann from New Jersey likes kicking off the new school year with this low prep, NGSS aligned lab station activity set. There are seven different rotations to introduce your students to the CCCs in this comprehensive resource!
This activity includes 7 station activities that require no prior knowledge for students to complete.
- Patterns in Snowflakes
- Cause and Effect in Newton’s 2nd Law (students flick index cards off cups)
- Scale, Proportion, and Quantity using Our Solar System
- Systems and System Models of Dropping a Ball Versus a Sheet of Paper
- Energy and Matter in Photosynthesis
- Structure and Function of Screwdrivers, Thumbs, and Birds’ Beaks
- Stability and Change in the Florida Everglades
If you aren’t quite ready for hands on, Kate from Indiana recommends this engaging investigation of the Periodic Table of Elements. Your students will appreciate this great activity for introducing or reviewing student knowledge!
This activity includes an up-to-date Periodic Table of Elements , including the full 7th period! Use this Freebie Periodic Table of Elements Color by Category for students to label the major elemental categories.
Scrambled Eyes: A Lab Safety Investigation | Grade Level: 5th-8th | Price: $3.50
This one belongs to me! Students have learned about lab safety for years by the time they reach me, so I feel obligated to keep it interesting. Scrambled Eyes never disappoints!
This activity is low prep and your students will definitely remember their safety gear all year. Students will investigate substances and test the effect of chemicals on the human eye using an egg white, and there is a set of worksheets for a small group investigation OR demo only if you aren’t comfortable allowing students to handle chemicals just yet.
Scientific Method Candy Worms Experiment | Grade Level: 4th-6th | Price: $4.25
Dawn in Minnesota likes to engage her new students with this scientific method experiment. Candy is always a hit with this age group, and incorporating it into a meaningful activity is the best of both worlds!
Students will follow each step of the scientific method as they set up and conduct an investigation to see what happens to candy worms when they are left in water. This is the perfect investigation to start the year.
Magnet Science Stations | Grade Level: 3rd-6th | Price: $4
This low prep activity comes from Anna in Oregon and includes five stations for your students to investigate magnets!
The stations include a variety of activities to engage all learners! Reading, investigations, vocabulary, illustration, and experiments are all included. Younger grades may need some scaffolding for reading activities.
Don’t forget to think about homework when you are starting the year! I don’t believe in piling on the homework, but a simple activity to complete during the week at home (or during after school programs) can be a great tool to reinforce concepts you are learning in class.
Vocabulary Homework Menu | Grade Level: 3rd-8th | Price: Free
This is another of my own resources. I am a huge advocate of using science vocabulary to increase comprehension, and I give six new vocabulary words every week. This homework menu allows students to choose two activities to complete each week using all of their new words. Get it here free!
Scientist of the Week | Grade Level: 1st-5th | Price: $4.40
Anne in Texas recommends this truly unique homework assignment she created, and I am seriously considering adding this in to my own classroom homework routine.
This activity allows one student a week to be the “scientist” and present a simple experiment (about 5 minutes) to the class. It includes a letter to send home to parents with the sheets for the child to complete about his/her experiment. Also included is a “demo experiment” to model student expectations, which is a great way to set expectations and grab student attention early in the year.
Do you have any to “back to school science activities” that didn’t make the list? Let me know in the comment section.
NEXT: A first day of school lab demo that will truly light up your students. Get it free here.