Labs are some of my favorite learning activities to do with students. Labs are hands-on, inquisitive, collaborative, and fun. I try to do as many labs during the year as I can, and they are an important part of my science instruction. Of course, there can be limitations such as my school’s science budget, and the available lab supplies and equipment. And as fun as labs are, it’s extremely important to educate students and practice safe lab behavior. Chemicals and glassware can be extremely dangerous. I picked up a few battle scars along the way to prove it. Along with classroom rules and first day of school activities, Lab Safety is one of the first topics I cover at the beginning of the year. Don’t forget to check out my Teacher Script for Lab Safety for more inspiration!
Kesler Science Station Lab
My favorite way to introduce Lab Safety at the beginning of the year is with this Kesler Lab Safety Station Lab. In general I really like using station labs, where students explore and accomplish various tasks around the room. It’s perfect for tired high schoolers and squirmy middle schoolers because it gets them on their feet and moving. It takes some time to prepare this lesson upfront by printing and laminating, but then it’s ready to reuse year after year. My first 2 years teaching I used a lot of Kesler Science stuff. It saved me a lot of planning time and gave me a big pool of questions and activity ideas to pull from.
Make a Diagram of the Safety Equipment in the Classroom
This is a great lab safety activity, and it is actually one of the tasks in the Kesler Station Lab I mentioned. On a piece of paper, students illustrate the important safety equipment in the room on a map. I provide a list of the equipment, and students create a diagram of the classroom with colored symbols to represent each safety item. When I am setting up my classroom at the beginning of the year, I use signs to label all of this safety equipment in the classroom. Some of the important things are: First Aid Kit, Phone, Chemical Shower, Eyewash Station, Sharps Container, Safety Goggles, Trashcan, Sinks, Fire Extinguisher, Fire Blanket, Chemical Storage, Evacuation Map.
To review, it’s fun to ask the class where these items are and have them all point to it at once. As we go through each one, I like to explain when or how each item should be used. If I have an interesting anecdote, I’ll share that, too. For instance, one year students were goofing around in the classroom next to mine, and they bumped into the fire extinguisher. It fell off the wall and went off. Literally every single surface of the classroom was covered in foam. The particles activated the fire alarm and the whole school was evacuated. It was a substitute in charge that day, can you imagine being that teacher?! What a day! That’s why the number one rule in lab safety is: No Horseplay. Another year on the last day of school, a student pulled the chemical shower in the room next door. The entire classroom filled with an inch of gray, foamy water, and everything that was on the floor was soaked. It was a lot of clean up. I guarantee someone will ask what would happen if they use the chemical shower or eyewash station in a non emergency. You can tell them that the student was suspended for the first week of school after summer break!
Flinn Scientific Safety Contract
This is a really straight forward way to review Lab Safety, and I find it works well with my high school students. Check out my Teacher Script for Lab Safety! First, we go over the Flinn Scientific Student Safety Contract. I have the contract under the document camera and students annotate their copy. Basically, I go over the most common mistakes and ways to stay safe in the lab. Numbers 1-10 are like common sense, and I tell students that they will be tested on these. Other important rules are numbers 11, 14, 23, 25, 27, 29, 33 and 45. Students must sign the contract and have it signed by a Parent/Guardian in order to participate in any labs. It’s great if you can go over the Safety Contract in the first few days or the first week of school. Students will be taking lots of papers home during this time to get signed and you can add it to the bunch.
Activity Ideas: From the Lab Safety Contract, students can choose one rule and illustrate it on a piece of paper. They can present to the class to review for the upcoming Lab Safety Quiz. Another idea? Charades! Assign teams of students a rule from the contract to act out. The rest of the class has to guess which rule they are portraying. I like to make it a friendly competition by keeping score. The winning group can earn raffle tickets or prizes!
Lab Safety Group Practice Quiz
In groups of 4, take the Flinn Scientific Lab Safety Quiz together. I instruct teams to choose 1 person to be the Team Captain, and 1 person to be the Team Recorder. The Captain’s job is to make sure the whole team agrees on the answer, before the Recorder can write down the team’s answer. Work together, and if everyone in the group passes the Quiz they will get Bonus Points! Bonus points are not an exact science. But one of my strategies at the beginning of every quarter is to help students maintain an A or a B. I notice that it is incredibly motivating for students to start the year as a success, and then try to maintain it. Having an F within the first 2 weeks of the schoolyear or quarter is totally demoralizing for students. The ones who are likely to check out and not care will do it from the beginning of the year without little boosts like this and opportunities to improve.
Other ways to review: Play my Lab Safety Quizizz, or Kahoot. Reward students with raffle tickets or prizes. I guarantee they will love it!
Flinn Scientific Lab Safety Quiz
I spend at least a block period or two on Lab Safety before we take the actual Flinn Scientific Lab Safety Test. Lots of the questions are common sense, and it is multiple choice. Students must achieve a 75% or higher in order to demonstrate adequate understanding of Lab Safety and to participate in labs. If their score is below 75%, I will speak with them individually about when they can re-take it. As another incentive, I make the safety quiz an actual test score. If they get 75% or above, they get a 100% recorded as their first test score. This improves their test score average and is extra motivation for them to do well on the quiz.
If you don’t want to administer a hardcopy of the quiz, students can answer the same questions of the Flinn Lab Safety Quiz with this Quizizz.
Even if I go over Lab Safety at the beginning of the year, I can’t expect students to know everything moving forward. With every single lab we do, I go over with students the safety parameters specific to the equipment or chemicals in that lab. For instance in the lab, A Model of the Rock Cycle with Crayons, we use a votive candle to melt the crayon wax. I remind students about Fire safety – goggles, hair tied up, loose clothing tucked in. And when they are done with the lab, they clean up their station and work from their seat. They may not walk around the classroom!
Even with proper safety awareness, accidents happen. Luckily, no one has been seriously injured in my classroom. But it takes constant forethought and monitoring. No horseplay is the number one rule. This is when students get hurt. One year I did have a student electrocute himself by sticking a paperclip into an electrical socket. But we weren’t doing a lab, we were taking a test. I’m glad to say that I have been more injured over the years than my students. Like one year I sliced my finger open between periods prepping the lab, Hail in a Test Tube. The most common accident is broken glassware, so have a broom and dust pan ready, as well as a sharps container.
Labs are engaging and exciting. They are memorable experiences for me and for my students. Yes, they can be dangerous. I wouldn’t leave a lab as my sub plan for a substitute teacher. But with thorough safety instruction and review, I can do labs the entire year with peace of mind and confidence.
How do you teach lab safety in your classroom? Do you have stories of times when things went wrong (or right)? Please share by leaving a comment. I would love to hear from you! To read more about how I teach science, check out my blog posts below!
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