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Introductory Life Science Activities for Middle School

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Do you need some fun, interactive activities for your life science classroom? This series of activities works well to introduce life science topics in a fun, hands-on way that students are sure to enjoy.

Introductory Life Science Activities

Looking for activities to get middle school students engaged in learning about life science? These activities are focused on introducing middle school students to important life science topics including: the characteristics of life, DNA, cells and organisms that live in the student's specific environment. All of these activities can be used along with textbook lessons or as standalone lessons.

Is It Alive?

This simple introductory activity requires students to consider what characteristics an organism must possess to be considered alive.

Materials

  • Numerous objects (see suggestions)
    • Fire (lit candle)
    • Leaf
    • Picture of a tornado
    • Picture of a virus
    • Plant
    • Rocks
    • Picture of DNA
    • Bottle of water
    • Picture of a dog
    • Mushroom
    • Picture of stars
  • Worksheet (see sample)

Name of Object Living or Non-living? Reasons for Answer
Fire
Rock
Dog

Instructions

  • Divide students into groups and ask them to come up with three criteria an object must possess to be considered alive.
  • Hand out the objects to each group, and tell students to fill out the worksheet based on their criteria an object must have to be considered alive.
  • Discuss with students any challenges they faced in determining if an object is living or non-living.
    • For example, if students said an object is alive if it consumes other objects and needs oxygen, then fire would be considered living when it clearly isn't alive.
  • Finally, as a class, agree on several criteria that all living organisms possess, and note challenges scientists face today (are viruses alive?).

Seeing DNA

Since DNA is the blueprint for living things, and life science is the study of living things, it's worth beginning the course by exploring DNA. Strawberries are used because each strawberry cell has eight copies of DNA, so extraction is easier.

Materials

  • Ziploc bags
  • Strawberries
  • Graduated cylinders
  • Beakers (medium and small sizes)
  • Freezer
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • Dish soap
  • Salt
  • Strainer or coffee filter
  • Stirring rod
  • Water
  • Teaspoons

Instructions

  • Several hours before class, place the isopropyl alcohol in the freezer.
  • Ask students what they know about DNA and compile a list on the board.
  • Discuss where DNA is located and ask students if they want to see real DNA.
  • Divide students into groups and give them the following directions:

Step Number Procedure
1 Use the graduated cylinder to measure out 60 mL of water. Pour the water into a beaker.
2 Measure 2 teaspoons of dish soap and place it into the beaker containing water.
3 Add ¼ teaspoon of salt to the dish soap/water mixture, and stir using the stirring rod.
4 Remove the stem from a strawberry and then place the strawberry into a Ziploc bag.
5 Add the mixture from the beaker into the Ziploc bag, and then seal the bag (removing as much air as possible before sealing).
6 Smash the strawberry through the bag using your hands. Keep crushing and smashing until the strawberry is liquefied.
7 Place a coffee filter or a strainer over a small beaker and then pour the liquid strawberry mixture into the filter/strainer.
8 Add 1 teaspoon of the cold isopropyl alcohol to the strawberry mixture.
9 Stduents should notice a layer forming on top of the strawberry mixture (this is the DNA). Use the stirring rod to twirl and grab the DNA (it looks like snot).
  • Discuss with students why this works (the soap dissolves the cell's membrane, the salt helps break up the DNA, and the DNA is not soluble in isopropyl alcohol).

Microscopic Cells

This activity requires students to use microscopes to view different cells. It works as a nice introduction to the differences between plants and animals.

Materials

  • Microscopes
  • Toothpicks
  • Onions
  • Methylene blue
  • Iodine
  • Slides
  • Cover slips
  • Water with droppers

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