Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Nip it in the Bud" Using Formative E-Assessment

I remember growing up and listening to my grandmother proclaim to my father, "Eugene, that is a bad habit, we need to nip it in the bud, before it gets really bad."  The saying, "Nip it in the Bud", comes from plant origins, whereby gardeners would pull off buds of plants to prevent them from growing any bigger.  According to, if you nip something in the bud, you stop a problem from becoming serious by dealing with it as soon as you notice it. 

In education, this could translate into using formative assessment to diagnose student problems before they write a unit test, midterm or final exam.  One of the promising practices in using formative e-assessment, is that it will give you rich assessment data in a timely manner before errors fossilize.  Many top performing schools use common formative assessment on a frequent basis. Then, they analyze these results, make adjustments to their teaching, and re-teach individual students before the student takes any kind of summative assessment.  
At my current school, we embarked on a study to see if using formative e-assessment would help raise student achievement in grade 9 science.  Two grade 9 science teachers developed over 1000 multiple choice type questions and used Moodle to deliver these question to grade 9 science students in the form of practice tests (self assessments).  Students were encouraged to take the self assessments as many times as they liked.  Each time the student submitted the self assessment, the computer would score their attempt.  Rich feedback would be available to students at the bottom of each question to act as extra information to further enhance learning, as indicated by the red font in the picture below.

Has using formative e-assessment raised achievement in grade 9 science?  Action research in the field of education is always challenging because there are so many factors that could attribute to a rise in student achievement beyond the strategy you employed.  That said, our end of year exam results over the last three  years have shown promising signs that may lead to a conclusion that formative e-assessment is helping our grade 9 science students achieve mastery.  The graph below shows what percentage of students achieved a score of 85% or higher(standard of excellence) on the end of year exam.  There is a remarkable trend in the last 3 years of the graph, which were the years we employed formative e-assessment.  

Electronic assessment has gained considerable criticism over the years.  Some claim that multiple choice questions are a poor way to assess learning.  I would agree with this claim, if it was the only way we assess students.  It is important to note that our school did not abandon other forms of assessment.  We continue to use portfolios, projects and a variety of assessment practices to ensure students are given an opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a plethora of modalities.  Our formative e-assessment project is giving students and teachers the opportunity to understand what students know, what they do not know, and is affording them the opportunity to take actions to fill in the gap in a timely manner.  We are finding that formative e-assessment is promoting student responsibility and building student self efficacy.  This low-risk approach to formative assessment in Moodle is enabling students to build self confidence.   Students do not engage in activities they believe will lead to negative outcomes.  With the help of formative e-assessments, students are engaged in their learning and more motivated to seek help and review material, because they are encouraged to make multiple attempts at constructing knowledge.

If your school is implementing a similar strategy, or considering employing this type of assessment, I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Building a PLN around Science Experiments on Twitter

Twitter has become an amazing platform for teachers to share and connect with other educators around the world.  When I first joined just over a year ago, I was apprehensive about what to tweet about.  However, with a year under my belt, I am starting to find a niche in regards to what to share.

As a science teacher, it is essential to offer an interactive hands-on experience.  Allowing students to inquire and solve problems is fundamental to a strong science education.  This year, as students embark on a science experiment or tackle a science problem, I have my iPhone handy to capture a picture (without student faces) of what they are doing and post it on twitter to share and solicit ideas from other science teachers around the world.  Here is a sample of some of those tweets:

Sharing my Tweets with others about science experiments we are doing has provided me with many benefits.

1.  Fostering Communication Beyond 140 Characters -  I have often received comments, words of encouragement, questions and ideas from other science teachers regarding how the experiment was conducted, what we used for materials, alternate ways to conduct the experiment  and what we collected for results.  This has opened the door for rich meaningful communication.  In the next few months, I am hoping to connect with another class in USA to do a joint experiment, Skype about our results, discuss conclusions and debate suggestions for improvement to the experimental design. 

2.  Soliciting Global Feedback Lab Reports-  On occasion, I have tweeted a scanned copy of a student lab report (with the name removed) and asked for advice and feedback on how the hypothesis or conclusion might be assessed or improved.  This has been powerful feedback for to align my assessment skills.

3. Expanding my Idea Bank of Experiments- Many of the experiments and labs that I do in class come from ideas in the teacher resource manual and textbook I have used for many years.  However, since I have been tweeting about some of the experiments I do, I have had other science teachers reciprocate ideas of other labs they do, which has helped me quickly build my repertoire of possible labs.

So, what are my next steps from here?  I know twitter uses hashtags (#) to allow users to post tweets on certain topics.  For example, #edchat and #edtech are very popular twitter hashtags for educators.  I wonder if one could be started for posting anything related to science experiments?  The next time I post a photo about what we are doing for a science experiment or a student lab report I will use this hashtag #sciexperiments in hopes to start a growing trend for science teachers to collaborate on the scientific method.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Buffering Capacity of a Middle School Student: Managing the Ups and Downs

In environmental chemistry the pH of a water supply can be significantly altered and have it's ups and downs depending on environmental pressures.  At times, acids can lower the pH of a water supply and alkaline substances can raise the pH of a water supply.  I often use this clip to demostrate to students these "Ups" and "Downs".

So what does pH and color changes have to do with teaching Middle School Students?  The middle years can often be difficult times for students, as their bodies are adjusting to physical, emotional and chemical changes which can sometimes make learning a challenge.  As teachers, it is our job to adjust our pedagogy to ensure that these "Ups" and "Downs" translate into small changes that are manageable.

In environmental chemistry, we often use buffers to help water supplies withstand significant changes in pH so that the water supply does not undergo drastic alterations.  What might these "buffers" look like for Middle School Teachers to help their students?

Problem (Up or Down)
Buffering Technique 
The student is inconsistent on  summative assessments.
Ensure that students have been exposed to a rigorous formative assessment regime.  Like learning a new sport, students need extensive practice to ensure they have mastered the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.  This should include the opportunity to retry assignments without penalty.  Furthermore, are you scaffolding your teaching/learning to ensure students are given the necessary steps along the way?  Here is a link to more resources on middle school assessment strategies:   formative assessment
The student seems bored or disengaged during lessons. 
Are you using a variety of teaching, learning and asessment practices in your classroom?  Within each lesson, try and incorporate a little bit of everything.  Research indicates that there is no one best teaching strategy.  At this age, the more you can personalize learning and make it interactive the more engaged the learner will be.  Tecnhology is an excellent tool to help ensure you are differentiating.  Have you considered using Learning Centres?  Here is a link to Learning Centres for Middle Schools:
The student is sometimes disorganized, loses things, and forgets things.
Not coming prepared for class with appropriate materials is a common complaint by many Middle School Teachers.  How can we teach students to come to class prepared without punishing them?  The practice of docking marks and/or sitting them in the hallway when they are not prepared for class are ineffective strategies.  So, what does work?  Patience has to be one of our first tools.  If a student forgets their book, binder or material, don't take it personally.  Often we want the disorganized student to fix the problem instantly!  I often wait at the door and greet the students as they enter my class.  I take time to remind some students as I see them coming down the hallway to check if they have their books, etc.  
The student is sometimes an emotional roller-coaster: sad, happy, or aloof.
Take time each month to have individual conferences with your students to discuss academic and social/emotional progress.  I often set up a desk just outside my classroom to meet with each student privately.  While students are working on individual projects or in Learning Centres, I meet one on one with students to listen to what they have to say about their portfolios as well as their social growth.  Depending on the student, I might ask specific questions like, "I notice yesterday that you looked really tired, is everything okay?" Or, I might challenge them with a scenario like, "Let say you came to school and found out that you didn't make the basketball team and you have a big test that day; how would you handle this situation?"  Being a mentor or advisor to the students you teach will help them enjoy your class more because they know you care about them.  Here is a link to a great article about helping Middle School Students succeed: 
The student is not completing their homework on a regular basis.  
Homework should be meaningful and only assigned when necessary.  If you have to assign homework, keep it to 15-20 minutes.  Students need to live a balanced life outside of school.  There is no definitive research to say that homework translates into higher gains in academic scores.  In fact, too much homework can turn students off school.   If a students comes to school and homework is incomplete, work with them to find out why.  I believe assigning a "0" or deducting late marks for homework is not a good idea.  Instead, I keep students in at lunch to help them finish the work assigned and work with the student on strategies that can help them complete homework in a timely manner. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Power of Interactivity and Engagement

There is no denying the premise that increasing student engagement can translate into greater learning. Easier said than done!  With larger class sizes and greater diversity of learners in our rooms, how do we keep students thoroughly engaged?

This Asics commercial is a great example of how interactivity can turn passive people from slightly interested into active participants that are fully engaged.  Have a look:

So, what lessons/inspiration can we take from the clever Asics marketing team that designed this interactive advertisement?

1.  Use technology to generate and harness the power of interactivity.  Often technology can generate individual experiences which allow everyone to participate, instead of large group experiences when only a few are part of the action.  For example, equipment might not be readily available for every student to conduct math or science type experiments. However, there are simulations sites like and, which enable students to interact with material in a one-one-one situation, creating a much more engaging experience.  Ipads, Ipods and computers have many apps that can help generate a more engaging and interactive experience for every learner.  Here is a great place to start to investigate more about using apps in education

2.  Differentiate with Learning Centers.  When it is time to address content, teachers of older grades (8-12) often address the whole class to explain new concepts and review old ones.  Why not explain content in small groups or with individual students?  As a husband of a grade 1 teacher, I often marvel at how elementary teachers design "center based learning".  Learning Centers are designed so that students can explore and learn instructional material alone or in small groups.  Teachers in the older grades could use a similar strategy.  The room could be filled with various small group learning centers and one of the centers could be meeting with you in a small interactive and engaging discussion of new content.  Here is a great place to start to think about modifying learning centers for older grades

3.  Use Games and Role Play to learn.  Games are often interactive, fun and therefore engaging.  Kinesthetic games whereby students have to get up and become active are a great way to learning concepts.  Once such game, I designed as a project for my Masters of Education was called, The Hypnotic Game.  At the start of class students would be given "hypnotic cards", which outlined that if the student heard a specific word during class they would pretend to do something, like get up and erase the whiteboard or read an excerpt out of a book.  Then, after every student was given a card, I would pretend to hypnotize the audience/class with a stop watch.  Once all students were "hypnotized", I would snap my fingers and begin the lesson.  As the lesson evolved, certain key words would trigger student responses, interactivity and engagement.  This type of role play was based on humor, personalization and the premise that is better to be active.  It was well received by most students.

Here are two links related to learning games;

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"This" or "That" in Education

After more than twenty years of classroom teaching, trying new strategies and reflecting on pedagogy, I have shaped my teaching philosophy from "This" to "That".  Let me use this funny commercial to introduce the concept.

We all have different ways to learn lessons and adjust our direction in teaching.  Trial and error, watching others, reading books and talking to  colleagues are just some of the various methods.  Regardless of the method of learning, the result can be very powerful and forever change the way we approach assessment, pastoral care, dealing with parents, curriculum and instruction.  Here is my list of ways I have grown over my many years of teaching from "This" to "That":

“This”…(But, now I  ..)
“That” (I used to….)
Now, I allow them to come in at lunch so I can give them the opportunity to complete the work and at the same time I find out how I can help them with meeting deadlines.
I used to take late marks off student assessments when they didn’t hand them in on time.

Now, I give lots of formative assessments, allow students to redo work and learn from their mistakes and I give fewer quizzes and tests.  I never give “pop” or surprise quizzes.

I used to believe that my class would be more rigorous if I administered more summative assessments in the form of “pop" quizzes, regular quizzes and tests.
Now, I differentiate many of my lessons and one of my “stations” involves students working with me, one-on-one, to discuss their portfolio.

I used to work on marking or planning while students were working individually on a quiz, test, project or assignment.
Now, I ensure students complete all work assigned to ensure we are getting a chance to formatively assess their learning progress.  I never assign a zero.
I used to give students a “0” if they failed to complete an assignment.

Now, I stand at more doorway to greet students with a smile and sometimes a joke and I deal with latecomers with kindness and respect (waiting for a private moment to discuss what happened).

I used to lock my door when the bell rang and if a student arrived late I would make them wait in the hallway until I was able to deal with their tardiness.
Now, I have taken care to ensure we discuss the assessment scheme (or rubric) for all assignments before students. And, I go over a few samples as exemplars (high, low, medium) so students have a chance to use the rubric before they begin.
I used to give projects and assignments with what I thought was a clear assessment scheme.

Now, I incorporate experiential learning into my instructional design so kids can experience what we are learning in the community by booking trips to wetlands, pond studies, fire stations, ski hills, etc.
I used to feel most comfortable teaching in the classroom.

Now, I am sharing ideas and communicating with other educators around the world everyday through Twitter and Blogs.
 I used to believe that professional development only meant conferences and attending sessions.

Now, I never give notes, nor do I have students take notes.  I use a variety of different instructional strategies to ensure students have engaged and inquired to a point where their learning is “beyond notes”.
I used to believe that students needed to take notes in my class to ensure they had the content necessary to regurgitate back to me on assignments, quizzes and tests.

So, as hamsters in the video proclaim, "The choice is yours, you can deal with 'this' or you can deal with 'that'!"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some Thoughts on Assessment and Grading

As our school starts to "wind-up" for parent conferences and prepare for report cards, I can't help but notice rising stress levels in the faces of many teachers.  The assesssing and grading of children can be less stressful if we follow current educational research.  Here is my prezi on some of these effective assesssment and grading practices I have adopted over the years:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Has Having Children Done to My Teaching?

Earlier in my career, as Vice Principal of a Junior High Catholic School, I remember having a meet and greet with several parents during Curriculum Night.  One bold parent approached me and proclaimed, "Mr. Frehlich, you have been an educator at this school for several years, and my wife and I think you are a really good teacher.  But, once you have children of your own, you will be an outstanding educator."  

Needless to say, I was offended by this statement at the time.  Although I did not overtly argue with the man,  my stoic express did not portray how I felt inside at that moment.  I couldn't understand what he meant by this bold opinion.

Fast forward many years, and now I am more grown up (so to speak), married and I have two children making their way through school.  As I reflect on this incident, I truly understand the wisdom this man was trying to convey.

What Has Having School Age Children Done to My Teaching? 

Let me start this section by sharing a video clip that was shared with me on twitter by @amichetti (Thanks for this)

As evidenced in this video, loving Parents are filled with struggles.  How do you balance boundaries with freedom, self doubt with trust and compassion with control.  Personally, now that I have children I am more compassionate, patient, trusting and more apt to give students the "benefit of the doubt".  When dealing with difficult situations I usually take time to reflect, "What if this was my child?"

My teaching/assessment practices have evolved over the years, because of my own children.  Here are some pedagogical  practices I can thank my children for:

1.  I refuse to give a student a "0" for an assignment, I will keep them in at lunch until they finish.
2.  I allow students to eat snacks in my class, to ensure they are not hungry.
3.  I make a habit of standing at the door to my room to greet students with a smile and a welcome to begin each class.
4.  I allow students to re-attempt many of their assessments.
5.  I communicate with parents more often on the good things I see in my classes.
6.  I am quick to praise and slow to judge.
7.  I give less homework, and more advanced notice for summative quizzes and chapter tests.
8.  I try and work one-on-one during class with students while others are working on online labs and assignments like
9.  I facilitate more and broadcast less.
10.  My powers of perception and instinct seem more heighten.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Classroom Without Walls-Thanks to the Magic School Bus

As child growing up, I was usually glued to the television show The Magic School Bus.  In the show, Ms Frizzle doesn't just tell her students how the world works, she shows them by hopping on the Magic School Bus and taking them on incredible adventures.  Here is a clip of one of the episodes;

The Magic School Bus is based on Experiential Learning. This "learn by doing" philosophy can be a highly effective teaching methodology, especially if it involves taking students to places beyond the walls of the classroom. Having taught at several schools with extensive outdoor education components embedded in their physical education program, I have always enjoyed the multitude of benefits that Experiential Learning can avail.  Students are able to have the opportunity for immediate application of classroom knowledge through active learning outside of the classroom.  The result can be greater student engagement and motivation. 

Yet, many schools are not structured  for such a learning style.  In some cases, a rigid schedule whereby students have a set timetable with math period 1, science period 2, history period 3, and so on...does not give teachers amply time to journey outside of the school or classroom.  If only they had the power of Ms Frizzle and her Magic School Bus. 

This year, I was given just such a gift.  Our school has a 21 passenger "Magic" school bus.  This summer I wrote my class 4 drivers test so that I, like Ms Frizzle, am able to take my science students on short adventures around the city and be back in time for their next class. 

One of our first trips was to a local man-made wetland only a few minutes from the school.  Students were able to take pictures of abiotic and biotic interactions and record sounds of the wetland.  We took water quality tests and will blog about our experience once back at the school.  Then, we will revisit this wetland in the winter and spring to inquire how they are similar and different.

Since I am a strong advocate of Experiential Learning, I plan on using the "Magic" school bus several times this year to learn by seeing and doing.  Here are some of my possible trips (all within a one to two our visit):
1.  A visit to our Cancer Centre when we study about cells to learn how they diagnose and treat cancer cells.
2.  A visit to a local grocery store, Safeway, when we study about heat and temperature to learn about how they control heat to work with food storage and preparation.
3.  A visit to several ponds around the school to compare water quality.
4.  A visit to the local animal shelter to learn (and maybe volunteer) about how to treat animals with sickness and diseases.
5.  A visit to a local ice rink to learn about the science behind ice making for our unit on heat and temperature.
6. A visit to a greenhouse to learn about different varieties of plants and how to take care of them.
7.  A visit to our local ski hill to learn about the science behind snow making.
8.  A visit to our local mall to find out how they use solar power to power the mall.
9.  A visit to a large restaurant to talk to the chef and learn about safe food handling procedures to prevent the growth of micro-organisms.
10.  A visit to a heavy machinery business to learn about how hydraulics work for our unit on simple machines.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cultivating Open-mindedness Through Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. 

We have often heard the saying, "Let's agree to disagree".  What does this mean?  To me it means we may not have the same belief system or philosophy, but we respect each other's opinion or approach.  Discussions whereby arguments take place and debates ensue are healthy and can often act as a learning experience.  In Susan Scott's best selling book, Fierce Conversations, she advocates the importance of having open and honest conversations with people.  Such relationships should be cultivated in workplaces.  People shouldn't feel threatened by arguments and debates; they need to treat them as learning opportunities. 

We can learn a lot from our enemies or people who don't uphold our same viewpoint or approach to doing things.  Walkers can teach runners to pace themselves.  Junk food eaters can teach healthy eaters to indulge once in awhile.  Lex Luthor can teach Superman that he can't do all by himself.  But, being open to this approach can be messy.  It is often human nature to get emotional when debating and arguing.  Most people want to minimize conflict and thus steer away from opportunities related to cognitive dissonance. 

Just this week, while on the social networking site, Twitter, I was following a person who was constantly making negative comments about the course management system Moodle.  I got frustrated with him saying bad things about a system I think is fantastic.  In the end, I decided to not follow his tweets anymore.  Was that the right move?  When a person has affection for something, they can often develop a biased toward the object or way of doing something.  In hindsight, I can learn a lot from someone that doesn't hold the same views I do about Moodle.  The saying, "You should keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer", speaks volumes about the importance of being open-minded and willing to listen to other people's views. 

In fact, I am going to activity seek out people on Twitter that uphold differing opinions and points of veiw.  Twitter often gives you suggestions of people to following based on similarities.  I think they should have another category for people to follow based on differences of opinion!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cultivating The Hidden Curriculum--Fortitude

Teachers wear many "hats" in the classroom.  As we become more and more comfortable with curriculum, instruction and assesssment, those "hats" start to change and look different.  We start to develop what might be called, "our hidden curriculum".   The hidden curriculum may be thought of as something that is indirectly cultivated by teachers or a school that is not written down or articulated in any book or manual.  Our hidden curriculum is often embedding in our teaching philosophy.  Over the years I have spent a lot of energy ensuring students learn to "never give up", as evidenced in this video clip.

Schools often make it difficult to help students learn to never give up.  One popular and arguably damaging practice related to instilling a "never give up" attitude is the zero policy.  That is to say, teachers will establish due dates, time lines and late policies for assignments and then penalize students when they don't meet these deadlines, which may ultimately lead to giving a score of zero on the assignment.  This assessment practice has grave consequences.  Instead of teaching the student the lesson of responsibility, it often teaches them that giving up is okay.  Douglas Reeves wrote an excellent article about assigning a zero to student work; you can view it here.  What strategies could we adopted to build fortitude in students?

1.  Never Give a Zero-  if students fail to hand in assessments in a timely manner, have them come in at lunch until they finish what you have given them.  If the purpose of the assessment is to gather information about the student to see where they are at and where they need to go, then giving it a zero is counter productive to moving students forward in their learning.
2.  Give assignments that enable students to try more than once- Students need to be able to practice what we teach, learn from their mistakes without fear and punishment, reflect and grow.  The best way to do this is allow them multiple attempts.  E-assessments can afford the opportunity for many attempts at certain types of assignments so that students can try again without overwhelming the teacher with a huge workload.

In the end, teachers should be doing all they can to build success in student's.  As we all know, success builds confidence.  "May the Force be With You"!

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's A Small World

Margaret Mead once said, ""Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  

With more and more citizens around the world having access to internet, small groups of people are starting to collaborate, share, reflect and learn from each other to change the world.  As educators, we should feel more and more obligated to provided opportunities for our students to connect with others beyond the text in a book.  Instilling international understanding and intercultural awareness is no longer just the social studies teachers job.  It is my belief that global education should permeate through all subjects.  Here is a video clip of how teachers might get started:

The sites I recommend in this video are listed below.

1.  Epals-
2.  IEARN-
3.  Take It Global-
4. Teachers without Borders-

Here are some more Global Education sites-

5.  The Global School House- 

6.  Flat Classroom Project-

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Making Learning Fun

In many places around the world, the pressure of doing well on standardized tests has taken the fun out of education.  Yet, making something fun can often motive people to work harder, as evidenced in this video clip.

One of my favorite books as a beginning teacher was The Laughing Classroom, by Dianne Loomans and Karen Kolberg.  In their book they advocate several quick and easy strategies to keep the fun in learning and motivate students to work hard.

Over the years, I have also come up with my own games or strategies that I have adapted from television shows.  Here are some of my favorite strategies to keep learning fun;

1.  The homework game- near the end of class I would ask for 5 volunteers to play a contest.   The contests would vary depending on the day: rock-paper-scissors, shoot the ball of paper into the garbage can, bowling, name that tune, etc.  If the student beat me at the contest, I would take one question off their homework assignment.

2. The Mystery Bag- I used this strategy at the start of class, as a set induction technique.  In an old pillow case, students would have to stick their hand into the pillow case and try and guess the item without looking.  If they were correct I would bring the item out of the bag.  Items in the bag would be related to the topic of lesson.  Once all items were identified, we would discuss how these items were related to the lesson.

3. Jeopardy Auction Game-before a major quiz or test, we would play an electronic game of jeopardy (see this site to build your game).  Students can earn monopoly money for each correct answer.  Then, close to the end of class, I would have small prizes that could be purchased with then fake money they won during the game.

4. Spin the Wheel Review-I build a spinning roulette wheel like the one in the picture.  Then I place review questions and small prizes on the wheel.  I ask for students to come up and stand by the wheel.   I give it a spin, when the wheel stops, students answer the question that is pointing to them, if they are correct, they get the small prize.  There is an option to ask for help from the audience but then they must share the small prize.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Useful Science Apps from Apple

We have a mobile Ipad cart and several middle school students bring their own 4th Generation Ipod Touches and Iphones to school, which affords me a lot of freedom when it comes to integrating technology into my middle school science labs.  With such great access to apple products, I have spent some time this year investigating useful science apps for labs.   Some apps have been invaluable, as they are much cheaper than purchasing a science instrument from a supply store all on it's own.  In addition, students will often go home and use the same apps we use in school at home on their own personal devices, thus extending their learning time.  Science fair projects are much easier now that we have apps.  Here are a few of the science apps I have used:

1.  Tinkerbox (free)- this physics type game allows you to build complex machines from simple parts.  It is very similar to an old game called "The Incredible Machine".  You learn about simple machines, mechanical engineering principles and problem solving.  After some free play time, I will usually give the students some guiding questions to help them with steer them in certain directions regarding their learning.

2.  Instant Heart Rate Monitor ($0.99)-  In middle school science we investigate many questions regarding what might affect our heart rate.  Students often come up with some very interesting questions which require more precise measurement than your feeling your pulse with your fingers on your hand.  For example, one student wanted to test whether chewing gum affected our heart rate.  With an Ipod Touch 4th Generation or an Iphone, you can put your finger over the camera and the device will record your pulse rate.

3.  Decibel Reader ($1.99)- Our school does have more sophisticated and accurate decibel reader, but this one works fine for the simple sound experiments we do in middle school science.  The more accurate one is used mostly by the high school physics classes.  Again, I love the portability of this device.  Students that are dong experiments at home can download this app on their own personal devices at home and continue to experiment, which many do!!