Educational Resources

Listed on this page are the science lessons that we’ve developed and implemented over the years. All of the GPSE materials – modules, lessons, and activities – are designed such that educators can implement them at their school or institution. Our materials are open source, please feel free to use and alter these materials to fit your class’s needs and specific curriculum. The supporting presentations and materials are linked here. The lessons are loosely grouped by the NGSS discipline area that they fall under (see for more information).

Although you do not need to contact GPSE to use these materials, we would greatly appreciate a brief  email to let us known whenever you do. Furthermore, we would love your feedback about the materials. Please let us know what worked in your classroom and how we might improve our activities and lessons.

Nature of Science Lessons

The Great Fossil Find

    In this lesson students are taken on an imaginary fossil hunt. Following a script read by the teacher, students “find” (remove from envelope) paper “fossils” of some unknown creature, only a few at a time. Each time, they attempt to reconstruct the creature, and each time their interpretation tends to change as new pieces are “found.” With several compounded observations, collaboration with classmates, and finally a comparison with “previous literature,” the students will change their inferences as their investigation proceeds, and ultimately end with a “best” conclusion based on all evidence gathered.


Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a CSI-styled collection of activities aimed at helping students improve their observation skills and evidence-based hypothesis building abilities through a fun and dynamic project. The activities that make up this lesson represent an amalgamation of borrowed ideas from numerable on-line resources; however, this lesson plan is unique in that we provide several avenues by which educators can discuss (and/or introduce) important aspects of the nature of science. To facilitate deeper exploration into the nature of science, we have designed this lesson to fill two approximately hour-long class sessions, but the guide below could be amended to allow for the lesson to be completed in a single hour-long class. Additionally, the complexity of the “who done it” challenge can be easily increased or decreased depending on the group of students that will be involved – changing the number of suspects, amount of conflicting evidence, and number of potential accomplices are relatively straight-forward ways to tinker with this parameter. 

Mystery Tubes

  Students are introduced to a preliminary activity that not only excites their curiosity but allows them to independently determine the difference between observation and inference. Students receive multiple cards with footprints/tracks of 2
animals, and from the pictures on the cards must infer what has taken place.

  The mystery tubes are then introduced and students are asked to make both observations and inferences about all aspects of the tube including what could be on the inside.This is meant to replicate the nature of the research that scientists conduct as there is no way to find the final answer without making observations and inferences; even then, final answers are often not clear with only inference and observation. Determining the mechanism inside the tube will be left a mystery to exemplify the how real scientific research is carried out

Life Sciences Lessons

Brains! Comparative Neuroanatomy

In this lesson students will examine five different animal brains after a brief introduction to the different regions of the brain. Students will then be asked to predict the lifestyle of an unknown animal based on a sixth brain provided. The goals of this lesson are to 1. Understand brain anatomy and link structure to function 2. Understand the hierarchy of neurons, brain, and nervous system 3. Understand differences and similarities between human and animal brains 4. Understand the techniques used to analyze brain function

Bacteria Morphology

Our surroundings and even our bodies are teeming with trillions of microorganisms all the time! When combined, these single-celled organisms far outweigh all other life on this planet. Some make us ill, but most are harmless and many are even beneficial (some bacteria live in our digestive tract and help us to break down food while others produce some of the food we enjoy). This module introduces students to bacteria isolation and identification on agar plates.

Endangered Species Recovery Planning

Students will be able to compare and contrast what it means for species to be threatened versus endangered, as well as the threats facing species that cause them to be threatened/endangered. At the end, they will learn about how people can positively or negatively affect species depending on their roles, and conservation actions that can be taken to save species from extinction. 

Is also relevant to Earth and Space Sciences.

Optimal Foraging

Evidence of nutrient and energy acquisition by animals and plants can be seen all throughout nature, as the acquisition of energy is essential to survival. However, going out and foraging comes with risks as well. To do so it is energetically costly, that is, when an organism moves about in search of food it is burning calories with no guarantee of replenishing them. The organism is also making itself vulnerable to predation, especially if it moves out into an open area. In light of this, some organisms have developed specific foraging/hunting strategies. Students will explore different strategies for optimal foraging through a strategy individual and team game.

Phylogenetics and Arthropod Diversity

Arthropods, especially insects, are the most diverse and speciose group of animals in the world, and they display a range of morphologies, behaviors, and life styles. The higher-level phylogeny of arthropods is also well-established, with strong scientific consensus down to the order level in most cases; thus, there is a “correct” phylogeny to compare against. The purpose of the activity is to formalize knowledge of arthropod diversity, and use that knowledge to practice building a phylogeny by putting concepts about evolution into action.

Race to Displace

Students will learn about the effects of invasive plant species in Arizona on the native plants species and the role of ecosystem management by playing repeated iterations of a board game designed to simulate and model complex species interactions in a local ecological environment.

Is also relevant to Earth and Space Sciences.

Animal Coloration

Why are some animals more colorful than others?  Are all animals brightly colored? Animals have to balance several pressures when it comes to coloration.  They may need to be as bright, or as hidden as possible, but still have to deal with things such as warming up and cooling down as a consequence of this coloration. This lesson gives a few examples of how coloration is important for different animals.

Form, Function, and Food

The primary goal of this activity is to give kids a chance to see how form and function relate in the important task of energy gathering.  For animals, foraging is essential in order to get enough energy to survive and reproduce. It is not always practical to conduct observational studies of every species to determine what it eats. Fortunately, we can get some idea of what an animal eats by examining the structure of its mouth. Form reflects function, because animals with mouths well suited for eating their particular diet will survive and reproduce more than an animal with an ill-fitted mouth. This is commonly used in paleontology, where live animals cannot be observed, or with animals that are rare and mostly studied through preserved specimens

Social Psychology

This lesson introduces psychology methods and concepts through a classic social psychology
experiment: Group Shift (also known as the Group Polarization phenomenon). Students will watch a short video to show them how we don’t always recognize the way we perceive our thoughts and actions. The discussion will then examine how scientists can study these thoughts, actions, and feelings to better understand how human societies work. In particular, many social psychologists are
interested in group behavior – and the ways in which groups of people together act differently than each individual member of the group would act alone.

Is also relevant to Engineering, Technology, and Application of Science.

Food Microbiology

Fermentation has played a significant role in food for at least the past 7,000 years of human history.  Fermentation has been used as a method of preserving food, imparting certain flavors, and used in celebrations and cultural traditions.   Fermentation is the process in which microbes, such as yeast, break down sugar for energy and produce CO2, ethanol, and other byproducts that impart flavor, texture, and carbonation to beverages and food.  The activity of yeast can be measured by analyzing the byproducts of its metabolism.

This lesson plan will introduce foods that are the result of fermentation.  It will establish the role that yeast plays in a variety of foods by first characterizing the traits of these foods and then by explaining how the yeast is responsible for those said traits.  The students will then complete lab activities in which they measure the effects yeast has on foods and contrast them to abiotic substitutes of CO2 from baking powder and CO2 cartridges.  Finally, the experiment is designed to familiarize students to experimental designs such as controls by looking at the nutritional requirements of yeast.

Is also relevant to the Engineering Technology and Application of Science Category

Modeling Natural Selection

The goal of this lesson is to introduce students to how the process of natural selection will change species over time as a response to environmental conditions.

Ecology of the Rio Salado

Ecology is the study of the relationship(s) between organisms and their  environment, including other organisms. For this module, we explore the  Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project. The Rio Salado Project is a stretch of the old Salt  River bed, once filled with more than a dozen land fills, that is now home to more than  170 species of birds. How did this change come about? By the efforts of the City of  Phoenix, Phoenix Flood Control, the Audubon Society, and a number of other entities, a  once dry, trashed stretch of the Salt River has been restored to something of what it might  have looked like a century or so ago. Native plants have been reintroduced, waterways  have been established, and organisms, many gone from downtown Phoenix for many decades, have begun to trickle back in. The module described below will introduce  students to this area and allow them to begin thinking about how organisms (aquatic  plants and algae) interact with non-living features of their environment (pH and  temperature).  

Animal Behavior

Behavior is essential to the lives of all animals. Almost all aspects of an  animal’s life are governed by their ability to accomplish specific behaviors. Grazing,  hunting, sleeping, mating, migrating, fighting, flying, swimming, playing,  communicating, these are all examples of activities that animals of all shapes and sizes  engage in every day. However, animal species differ in the set of behaviors they perform,  and even within a species, individuals may differ in their behavioral patterns. Males often  differ from females in their behaviors so much so that one can tell a male and a female  apart even if they look identical to each other. Young animals also can differ in their  behaviors from older animals. Because behavior is so important to the lives of animals, zoos pay particular  attention to it when monitoring the health and wellbeing of their animals. Features of zoo  exhibits are built to encourage healthy behavior patterns, and many veterinary diagnoses  and treatments require paying attention to the behavior of sick animals. This module is designed to introduce students to the world of animal behavior using a set of animals  housed at the Phoenix Zoo.

Desalination: Our Drinking Water

This lesson plan was developed to introduce the students to the scarcity of drinking water and possible solutions by which this can be addressed. This will build on previous knowledge of the water cycle and introduce students to the concept of distillation. Students will be introduced to large-scale water purification methods such as desalination and consider their drawbacks and benefits.

Genetic Basis of Inheritance

This lesson will cover basic concepts in genetics including heredity, mutation, modes of inheritance, and the relationship between genotype and phenotype. It includes a short slide deck with definitional information and visual examples of the relevant concepts. The lesson has been constructed to maximize student engagement and feedback for the teacher, so interaction with and between students throughout the lesson is integral to its success. Multiple formative assessments of student success have been incorporated into the lesson that still emphasize student collaboration, and these activities require minimal materials making it easily adaptable for remote learning. While the lesson’s subject will likely be unfamiliar and complex to students in middle school, the proposed activities provide an opportunity for students to learn from each other and share their understanding with the teacher.

Ready, Set, Pollinate!

Students will be playing a game acting as a pollinator. They will then explore flowers and the benefits each receives in these ecological relationships. Finally they will elaborate these ideas and design their own flowers to attract novel pollinators.

Wildlife Migrations

Many species embark upon regular, long-distance journeys that are referred to as migrations. This lesson will cover the biological and ecological drivers of wildlife migrations and the role migratory species play in transferring energy and nutrients between disparate ecosystems. The lesson begins with the students collecting data on humpback whale movements. They will identify individual whales based on pictures of whales’ tails (flukes) and record where/when the whales were (re)sighted. They will be asked to identify patterns among their observations and draw conclusions about whether or not humpback whales are a migratory species. This will set the stage for a general discussion about migration. Then, working in groups, the students will learn about five different migratory species and they will measure out the distance of these species’ migrations using paperclips. This will provide a foundation for discussing how and where migratory animals transfer energy. Finally, the students will work in groups to research a migratory animal in their state and they will draw a map of the species’ migratory route. Through this lesson, students will learn about seasonal variation in natural resources, behavioral cycles of organisms, predator/prey interactions, and conservation of energy. While doing so, they will develop their observation and reasoning skills, and will engage in mathematics and geography.

Marine Food Webs

In this lesson, students work as marine biologists to understand Alaskan fisheries. The goals of this lesson is to compare food chains in an ecosystem and make a corresponding food web. Students will also analyze human impact on the environment, including limiting factors and carrying capacity.

Phylogenetics and speciation

The aim of this lesson is to teach kids about evolution through a lens of speciation, particularly that everything alive on earth is related in some form. By the end of this lesson students should understand how to read a phylogenetic tree and understand the basic principles of how most animals are related. Students will do two activities involving phylogenetic trees: one ordering how closely related a set of animals are and another filling in a phylogenetic tree with associated physical traits.

How is a cell like a city?

Students will design a functioning city and then learn how some of the componentsof a city relate to similar components of a cell, such as the cell membrane, mitochondria, and thenucleus.


Physical Sciences Lessons


Batteries are a common part of everyday life, but we don’t often think about them. How do all of our electronic devices run? What’s so special about batteries, and how do they produce electricity? Students will use fruit to explore the parts of a battery. Batteries contain three main parts: the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. (see how a battery works below). Fruits (especially citrus fruits) contain acid and dissolved particles that can act as electrolytes. We will use zinc and copper strips to act as the anode and cathode. Students can test different fruit batteries to determine which ones work best and think about why that might be. This lesson combines the concept of cells and the chemicals dissolved in them with physics and energy.


Bouncing Balls

One of the most unifying toys across the world is the simple ball: from playing marbles to basketball or soccer, most people have an intuitive understanding of how balls move. There are many important concepts to study in these interactions, ranging from straightforward Newtonian motion to profound ideas of energy transfer and conservation. In this one hour lesson, middle school students have a chance to thoroughly examine how a bounce works, and practice creating observations from multiple scenarios. With the use of Youtube videos and qualitative experiments comparing how various kinds of balls bounce, students will come up with and condense their observations while mastering physics terms specific to bouncing.

Flying Hot Wheels

Ready, Set, Action! In this lesson students are movie directors trying to create the most impressive flying car shot for their next blockbuster. Students will test their ideas by launching toy cars under different conditions. This lesson teaches concepts for understanding projectile motion.


The goal of this lesson is to have students recognize the different types of scientific variables: response (dependent), explanatory (independent), and control. First, the students will observe the motion of three pre-constructed pendulums.  Second, they will make predictions about what factors affect the period of a pendulum. Third, students will construct their own pendulums in groups from provided materials and record observations. Fourth, they will compare their results with the other groups. Fifth, the groups will test all variables (or each group will test a specific variable) and record observations. Sixth, the class will discuss how each variable affects the period of a pendulum.

Solid Bubbles? What is a chemical reaction?

Chemical reactions are occurring all around us, and in us, every second of every day. This lesson will introduce one such chemical reaction, calcium chloride and sodium alginate. It will establish the idea that chemical reactions are common, safe, and fun. Additionally, chemical reactions can create different outcomes when in different situations. The students will perform an experiment where they make gel beads, or ‘solid bubbles’, where they will change the components of the reaction and observe how the outcomes change.  The students can also experiment with different ways of combining the components to create different shapes of solid bubbles.

Wonderful Water

 Because of its ubiquity in our everyday experience, it’s easy to forget just how weird a substance water really is. The nature of its bonds give water characteristics that differ from  most other liquids. Some of these properties make it invaluable to life on earth today. In this lesson, students will  learn about some of the chemical properties of water, and what makes it such an important substance for life on Earth.

Solar Car Race

In this lesson students will build their understanding of how solar energy can be converted to kinetic energy by constructing their own solar cars to race. 

Exploring Light

In these lessons, students will explore the basic properties (transmission, reflection, light as wave and absorption) of light. 



Earth and Space Sciences Lessons

Planetary Cratering

What does the surface of a planet tell us about its history? This lesson guides students through an analysis of how scientists can use asteroid maps to better understand a planets history. Students will then try to create a map of their own in an asteroid activity.


Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. Though it is only within the past century or so
that the discipline has matured into a robust science, figures like Aristarcus and Giordano Bruno have imagined that the stars in the night sky could be suns in their own right, warming and brightening the planets of creatures far away. In this activity, students will get a taste of the kinds of questions that astrobiologists ask, and what we look for when searching for life in
distant places by performing a mini NASA mission of their own.

After the quake! Seismology in action

Students will learn about two important types of seismic waves and how to make a simple seismograph. They will then work in groups to interpret seismograms and find the epicenter of an earthquake. Further discussion will determine if surrounding cities are at risk for a tsunami.  The lesson will end with a discussion on how we can protect ourselves from natural disasters.

Carbon budget and storage

This lesson was developed to introduce the concept of ecosystem carbon storage. By burning a continuum of carbon-containing soil types, this lesson demonstrates that 1) soils that come from ecosystems that store carbon have more calories than those ecosystems that don’t store a lot of carbon, 2) a certain climate creates more favorable carbon storing conditions. 

Understanding our universe

This lesson challenges students to create a timeline of events in the universe, starting from how the universe formed with the Big Bang, and evolved to form stars & galaxies in the present time. It also introduces the fact that the universe is expanding and how scientists know this.

What's in the Water?

This lesson plan was developed to introduce the students to the water cycle, the concept of a watershed, and why the watershed affects water quality. Additionally, the lesson is meant to introduce how humans affect the water cycle and water quality, and consequences for organisms.

Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science Lessons

Paper Airplanes

Students will be testing the variables that make a paper airplane fly farther. In groups, they will then present their data verbally and visually. After listening to their peers, the class will decide which factors were the most important in making the airplanes fly the farthest, and use that information to design even better planes. Through these activities, they will learn the basics of aerodynamics.

Water Filtration

The goal for this lesson is for students to iteratively design a simple water filtration system using an array of provided materials with the goal of cleaning water to match certain standards. Attention should be paid to cleanup and ways to minimize the likelihood of water spills. Student outcomes should include an understanding of how failure and revision of experiments can lead to stronger experimental design and results.


This is a semester long decomposition lesson plan that is broken up into two separate sessions. This plan address biological and environmental concepts and terminology. Students are going to be able to bring
in some of their own food scraps or clean garbage from home and watch it decompose throughout the semester. The big idea here is to teach students about decomposition in a fun lab environment using some of their own materials from home. Having students bring in some of their own materials allows them to feel better connected and engaged to the experiment. Compost containers can be made simply out of clear acrylic for longevity or clear 2-liter bottles, blueprints are attached.

Virus spread in a population

A virus is considered a nonliving particle. These are able to cause an ample of diseases once they enter an appropriate living organism or host. A host can become infected by being in close contact with another organism carrying the virus. The common routes of infection are the respiratory tract, alimentary tract, urogenital tract, and blood.

This lesson plan is intended to introduce students the concept of virus. The following activities depicted above guide students through the different facets of viral spread and prevention. Unknowingly students will dramatize how viruses inconspicuously are transmitted from one person to another through day to day life activities such as hand shaking, sneezing/coughing and touching objects, improper sanitary hygiene practices, sharing fluids (e.g sharing drinks).

Race to Renewables

The first goal of this lesson is to explain to students what climate change is and how it impacts our planet. The second is to help students understand what renewable energy is and how it can be used to offset climate change.

Our Material is Open Source – Please Use!

All of the GPSE materials – modules, lessons, and activities – are designed so educators can implement them at their school or institution. Please feel free to use and alter these materials to fit your class’s needs and specific curriculum. Although you do not need to contact GPSE to use these materials, we would greatly appreciate a brief email to let us known whenever you do. Furthermore, we would love your feedback about the materials. Please let us know what worked in your classroom and how we might improve our activities and lessons.

External Resources

Below are some of the external resources that our mentors like to use.

Category Group Description Link
Astronomy/Space Science
Gateway to lesson plans, space news, and mission information from NASA
Educator specific learning resources from NASA
Lecture videos from astrobiologists
LPI Lunar and Planetary Institution
Education resources from the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Data Science How data is used throughout space science
Ask a biologist Questions from real people answered by real biologists
Antmaps “The goal of is to provide an intuitive and efficient framework for professional and amateur myrmecologists to visualize the known distribution of ant species or higher taxon, and to access the underlying records for these data.”
American Chemical Society (ACS)
“The American Chemical Society is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry”
Citizen Science
Citizen Catalog of citizen science projects around the country
Zooniverse “The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — more than a million people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers. Our goal is to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, datasets useful to the wider research community, and many publications.”
Frontiers for Young Minds

“Frontiers for Young Minds believes that the best way to make cutting-edge science discoveries available to younger audiences is to enable young people and scientists to work together to create articles that are both top quality and exciting.

Distinguished scientists are invited to write about their discoveries in a language that is accessible for young readers, and it is then up to the kids themselves – with the help of a science mentor – to provide feedback and explain to the authors how to best improve the articles before publication.”
Ebird Active Projects from birders around the world
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Curriculum resources from the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Science lessons
“Located in San Francisco, California, the Exploratorium is a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception.”
Video resources
PBS spacetime space and physics videos
PBS Nova
PBS Eons Paleontology videos
Scishow A little bit of everything
Crash Course Introductory Videos on many subjects
Physics Girl “Physics Girl is a YouTube channel created by Dianna Cowern that adventures into the physical sciences with experiments, demonstrations, and cool new discoveries. Physics Girl has videos for every atom and eve.”
Infographics Animated Videos presenting a variety of topics
Natural World Facts
History of the Earth
Periodic Videos Chemistry videos
Scale of the Universe Allows student to compare the size of common objects in the known universe from Quantum foam to the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall.
500 Queer Scientists “A visibility campaign for LGBTQ+ people and their allies working in STEM and STEM-supporting jobs — a group that collectively represents a powerful force of scientific progress and discovery. 1,871 stories and counting..”
Gage by 500 Women Scientists “Gage is a global search platform where journalists, media outlets, conference planners and others seeking brilliant voices in science can discover women and gender diverse folks in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).”
The True Size …

“It is hard to represent our spherical world on flat piece of paper. Cartographers use something called a “projection” to morph the globe into 2D map. The most popular of these is the Mercator projection.

Every map projection introduces distortion, and each has its own set of problems. One of the most common criticisms of the Mercator map is that it exaggerates the size of countries nearer the poles (US, Russia, Europe), while downplaying the size of those near the equator (the African Continent). On the Mercator projection Greenland appears to be roughly the same size as Africa. In reality, Greenland is 0.8 million sq. miles and Africa is 11.6 million sq. miles, nearly 14 and a half times larger.

This app was created by James Talmage and Damon Maneice. It was inspired by an episode of The West Wing and an infographic by Kai Krause entitled “The True Size of Africa”. We hope teachers will use it to show their students just how big the world actually is.
Skype a Scientist “Skype a Scientist has a database of thousands of scientists and helps them connect with classrooms, families, libraries, scout troops, and more all over the globe! We give students the opportunity to get to know a real scientist and get the answers to their questions straight from the source.”