Once you have introductions and classroom logistics out of the way, it’s time to get down to the real meat of your lessons: LABS.  But wait!  How are you going to ensure that your budding scientists are aware of the dangers that lurk in the science laboratory?  Here are some tips to help you survive the chaos of those first few labs and to ensure that your students will watch out for themselves, as well as their classmates.

Make your expectations known.  The best way to make sure kids know and do what you expect in your lab is to provide them with clear expectations for behavior and procedures.  Lay the ground rules from day one with a Lab Safety contract that holds students accountable for their actions.  Go over the rules as a class and have students (and their parents) sign the contract.  Having two signatures on this document will ensure that everyone is aware of what is expected, and there are no surprises when a student is reprimanded due to horseplay or not following directions.   Turn your rules into posters and hang them around your room as a constant reminder of the appropriate way to act in the lab environment.

 

In addition to expectations for behavior, you should also communicate your expectations for what to do in the event of an accident.  Having a set procedure in place in the event of broken glass, minor cuts or fires, prevents panic and chaos later on.  Show students where all of your emergency equipment is located.  Post your first aid and emergency procedures in a highly visible place, review them and direct students to look at them frequently so they can become familiar and act quickly if, and when, an accident happens.

Familiarize your students with your lab equipment.  Often times, you make the assumption that students know more about lab equipment than they actually do.  Try to take the time to introduce your students to each piece of equipment, including it’s purpose, how it’s used, and what could happen if it’s improperly used.  At the beginning of the year, our first week of instruction always includes lessons on the proper use of our safety equipment, as well as the use and purpose of  glassware, scales and other lab items.  You may find that things that seem like simple tasks, such as  putting on goggles, measuring the length of a lab desk or weighing a rock, might prove to be a difficult task for a student who has never had practice or observed it being properly done.

Give them lots of practice.  Give students the opportunity to practice with each item before you turn them loose in an actual “real life” lab.  Let them measure simple objects like the amount of water in a graduated cylinder or the length of their classmate’s foot.  Allow them to “experiment” by giving students harmless substances to describe, weigh, and mix before you let them mix real chemicals.  Give them a virtual dissection before you let them cut open an actual specimen.  Rotate through student jobs and have students practice taking out lab equipment, preparing slides, cleaning glassware, or leading a group.  Give a quiz or have safety drills every month – pick a lab rule or procedure to review or  act out. You’ll find that you and your students will be better off with a little practice when the time comes to put it all into action.

Remind, Repeat, Lather and Rinse! Each lab activity we have in the classroom is an opportunity to remind students of everything above – your expectations, the consequences of not meeting those expectations, lab tools and how to use them safely, etc. The more the students are exposed to lab safety, the more smoothly your lab activities will run. Experiment with a few of our tips to prevent stressful labs and create  incredible  learning opportunities for you and your students.  Here’s to a year of accident-free, successful labs!

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