Teaching science to middle school students is not easy.
In addition to teaching complex science content and skills, science teachers have the added responsibility of ensuring the safety of students during labs and activities that involve potentially harmful chemicals, substances, and materials.
Therefore, effective classroom management strategies are imperative in middle school science classrooms.
Whether it’s the beginning of the school year, the beginning of a new semester, or the beginning of a new unit, classroom management is a significant part of our jobs as middle school science teachers.
While classroom management strategies are not “one size fits all,” and there is no “perfect classroom,” a few key classroom management strategies were most impactful in my middle school science classroom.
In this blog post, we’ll explore classroom management strategies that I’ve found most effective in my science classes.
What is Classroom Management?
The term classroom management terrified me during my first year of teaching. I knew it was necessary, but it seemed complex (because it is). In my first year of teaching, I had a narrow view of classroom management. It meant students behaved and did what I said while I taught. While student behavior is a big piece of classroom management, I like this definition from The University of Colorado Boulder:
While the definition is clear, implementing effective classroom management strategies is difficult.
Complete transparency. I’ve struggled with classroom management throughout the years. My classes during my first year of teaching were chaotic.
I didn’t have consistent structures or routines, I lectured rules and consequences, I didn’t always do the best job of communicating with parents, and I was stressed, had a really hard time, and struggled with behavior management.
As a result, inappropriate behavior ensued. From singing aloud and other inappropriate outbursts to a student doing inappropriate things to our class skeleton, it was a mess.
The behavior problems caused me negative feelings about my students and my career choice. The most unfortunate result of my poor classroom management was student achievement was negatively impacted.
Student learning took a back seat to trying to get through the day.
While I would never describe my classroom management as perfect ( I continued to make several mistakes year after year), I noticed that specific classroom management strategies had the most significant impact on my classes.
The Importance of Classroom Management
Before we jump into effective classroom management strategies, let’s discuss the importance of classroom management. Classroom management is important not only for students but for teachers as well.
Effective teachers have strong classroom management.
Overall, strong classroom management can increase learning, student engagement, and achievement. It can also create a more enjoyable classroom environment for students and teachers.
Being able to teach students who are actively engaged and behaving appropriately can positively affect a teacher’s feelings about their career.
When the classroom environment is out of control, distracting, and unsafe, students can’t learn. Teachers can’t teach. This benefits no one.
It’s also important to note that there is no perfect classroom.
Therefore, it’s important to remember that classroom management may look different in different schools, for different grade levels, for different teachers, and may even look different for the same teacher from class to class.
Classroom Management Strategies & Classroom Culture
One of my most successful management strategies was building a positive classroom culture.
Classroom culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that shape the classroom’s learning environment and social interactions.
Establishing a positive classroom culture in science involves keeping order in the school through classroom management strategies and developing positive teacher-student relationships.
While the start of the school year presents an opportunity to develop a positive learning environment intentionally, classroom culture must be built and maintained throughout the school year.
Classroom management strategies and classroom culture go hand in hand. One does not exist without the other.
Classroom culture directly affects classroom management. Classroom management dictates classroom culture. Taking the time to build a strong classroom culture can help to facilitate classroom management strategies.
Teachers can foster a positive classroom environment by:
- Defining their classroom vision
- Developing positive relationships
- Establishing clear expectations
- Promoting inclusivity
- Encouraging student-centered learning
- Providing opportunities for reflection
- Celebrating success
Routines and Structures
Routines and structures aren’t just for elementary school. Middle schoolers (as well as high school students) benefit from practices and structures.
Incorporating consistent classroom routines and structures signals what you consistently expect from students.
Clear patterns and structures help to reinforce high expectations and can help students to focus.
Examples of routines and structures include how students exit and enter your classroom. What do they do when they sit down? How do they transition between tasks? How do you check their homework? Where or how should they ask questions to get the teacher’s attention? What’s the bathroom policy?
Your school may dictate some of your routines and structures. Others are up to your professional judgment.
Regardless of the circumstances, classroom routines and structures in middle school need to be practiced in those first few weeks of school and revisited throughout the school year.
Here are some examples of typical routines and structures to consider in a middle school science classroom:
1. Protocol for how students enter the classroom
2. Location of the agenda and warm-up/bell work assignment
3. Seating arrangement (individual, pairs, groups, circle)
4. Classroom materials management
5. Transitions between activities
6. Handing in and getting back work
7. Rules related to getting out of seats
8. Lab routines
Having no routines and structures is not an option in a middle school science classroom. Routines and structures are an essential foundation of good classroom management.
As previously mentioned, one of the classroom management techniques I was taught in my pre-service training was ensuring the students knew I was the authority in the classroom.
I internalized this as lecturing off my classroom rules and consequences. I only did that at the beginning of the year in my first year of teaching. I had terrible classroom management that year. It was one of my biggest challenges.
In subsequent years, I started with a classroom agreements lesson. In this lesson, students worked individually, in groups, and eventually as a whole class to co-create a set of classroom agreements.
As a class, we came to a consensus and put our agreements up on poster paper. Each student signed the poster to agree.
Throughout the year, I’d hold students accountable to the agreements by referring back to them during disruptive behavior.
What I liked about this classroom management strategy is that it aligned with my natural teaching style, gave students a sense of agency, and contributed to a positive classroom culture.
Engaging and Accessible Lessons
One of my most effective classroom management strategies was ensuring my lessons were engaging and accessible for all my students. I don’t define engaging as doing tricks, experiments, and exciting hands-on activities in every class.
Instead, one of my most successful classroom management strategies was allowing students to connect complex science content to what they already knew and were familiar with.
This is referred to as building schema.
Education Week describes schema as “a mental structure to help us understand how things work.” As we learn something new, our brains are wired to connect it to our prior knowledge – which is made up of things we already know, believe, or have experienced.
My friends at ElevatED Learning Services offer a Building Schema workshop through which they describe schema as fly paper in the brain that new ideas stick to.
So, what does that look like in the classroom? Have you ever tried introducing a new concept to students that they could not grasp? This could be because they needed to build a schema around the topic first.
Our students, (regardless of where they’re from, educational background, first language, etc.) arrive to our classrooms with prior knowledge.
As teachers, it’s our job to structure our lesson plans in a way that gives students the opportunity to activate their prior knowledge so the new knowledge can “stick” to it.
Consider the following example. Instead of jumping right into the structure of an atom, a teacher begins a middle school chemistry unit with a stations activity through which students make observations and inferences about substances that are commonly found in the home (water, ice, baking soda, vinegar, etc.)
During this activity, students experience many of the complex chemistry concepts they will experience throughout the unit in a way that is low-stakes and familiar (ice melting, etc.).
Throughout the unit, as the teacher explains complex chemistry concepts, he ties it back to the initial stations activity that students experienced on the first day of the unit. This is also seen in the phenomenon the NGSS-aligned curricula.
Another way to engage students is through accessible instruction.
When our lessons are not accessible, we risk students’ attention being affected, which at the middle school level, almost always negatively affects student participation and behavior. One of the ways to make grade-level content accessible is through scaffolding.
Scaffolding is often misunderstood and seen as “watering down” content. This is not scaffolding.
Instead, scaffolding is providing students with the supports they need to access the content. Scaffolding is intentional and temporary. It is also a powerful tool that can inspire students and help them to be successful.
Check out this blog post for more information on ways to scaffold in middle school science.
Consistency and Follow-Through
Consistency and follow-through are essential classroom management strategies, particularly when addressing behavior issues in a middle school science setting.
While setting clear expectations is fundamental, consistently reinforcing those expectations goes a long way in fostering a positive classroom environment.
When addressing specific behaviors, it is crucial to respond promptly and consistently, ensuring that consequences and rewards align with established classroom agreements.
Consistency extends beyond responding to negative behaviors; it also involves consistently recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors. This not only contributes to a well-managed classroom but also plays a significant role in student achievement.
When students witness that their efforts and conduct are consistently acknowledged, it cultivates a sense of responsibility and encourages a positive class culture.
At the middle school level, follow-through also involves communicating with parents. I did my best to call each of my students’ parents in the beginning of the year so that the first time I was calling wasn’t due to behaviorial problems.
I also tried to call for positive behavior. Of course, it was also necessary to call for disruptive and negative behaviors as well.
While not all parents will respond favorably (or at all) to a call from the teacher, I found that communication and building relationships with parents helped curve negative behavior and
One of the best classroom management strategies is self-care. At the end of the day, if you are not well, your students are not well and neither is your classroom.
Amidst the demands of a busy school day, finding moments for self-care is not a luxury but a necessity, especially for middle school science teachers.
Teaching is not for the weak. But you are not a machine. You are a human being who needs and deserves to be taken care of. Managing a classroom full of pubescent teens and preteens is enough to make the strongest person lose their mind.
Extend the same grace to yourself that you do to your students. Whether it’s through a short walk, a few moments of mindfulness, or engaging in a hobby, finding what works for you during these brief breaks can make a significant difference.
Self-care isn’t reserved for the end of the week. There are things you can do right in your classroom throughout the school day to take care of yourself.
Effective classroom management strategies can help to build a positive, engaging, and well-organized learning environment.
The following classroom management strategies can help to contribute to well-managed classrooms, classroom order, and a positive classroom setting:
1. Building a positive classroom culture
2. Setting and practicing routines and structures
3. Setting classroom agreements
4. Planning engaging and accessible lessons
5. Being consistent and following through.
While the perfect classroom management strategy that leads to zero behavioral problems or the classroom eutopia doesn’t exist, having no classroom management is a recipe for disaster.
The most important classroom management strategies are the ones that work for you and your students. Give yourself grace and take care of yourself as you continue to do one of the most difficult jobs on the face of the planet.
If you’re looking to start the school year off strong with concepts discussed in this post, save time with Lit Science’s Beginning of the Year Activities Bundle.