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Science labs have the potential to be dangerous places. With reactive chemicals, glass equipment, and many sources for burns (or worse), the potential for injury is high and sufficient time is required to thoroughly cover the various risks in the lab and how to mitigate them. And, while safety demonstrations don’t sound like exciting activities at face value, there are ways to engage students meaningfully that will allow them to absorb the necessity of learning how to avoid risk in the lab.
Many school districts and institutions require students and/or parents to sign a science safety contract at the beginning of a school year or semester. Because most of the lab safety rules are common sense, it may seem like a waste of time to simply sign a contract. But that’s where the importance comes in: It’s not only outlining safety expectations in the beginning of the year but offering concrete demonstrations and/or examples of each that will allow the concepts to sink in and be carried out in the long run.
Reviewing necessary rules might be an organizational requirement, but remember that experiential and hands-on learning is the best way to get your students to reliably incorporate the lab safety rules in the future. So, rather than going over the lab safety rules on paper one by one, leaving students’ eyes wandering to the clock on the wall every 30 seconds, try pairing review with practical application early on. Following are a few ways you can refresh the lab safety review portion of the school year to keep students engaged.
Before setting your students loose in your lab, try offering a demonstration that allows you to show students how various rules look in action. One good example of this comes from Sunrise Science where Karla, a middle school science teacher, details the demonstration of the well-known gummy bear cannon experiment. Using her approach to teaching the experiment, which she dubs the “Gummy Bear Sacrifice,” students will:
learn how to draw and label scientific diagrams,
learn why it’s important to follow particular lab safety rules,
learn the names of some of the common pieces of lab equipment, and
gain the background knowledge necessary for understanding the importance of lab safety, and the contract, should your institution mandate one.
After you gather and set up these materials on a demonstration table or area where all students can see, ask students to create a lab notebook entry specifically for this demonstration in which they’ll draw and label the lab equipment used. Discuss safety precautions and explain the steps that you’re taking as you take them using the lab equipment names. It may be helpful to pause occasionally to prompt students to tell you what you need to do next; e.g., before beginning the experiment, ask students what you need to do (answers could be check for ventilation or put on safety goggles).
When the (loud and colorful) final reaction of the experiment is complete, ask the students to write down their observations of what happened during the chemical reaction.
A much simpler example comes from Eisco scientific and could involve audience/student participation: Watch this video as, in celebration of Pi Day, the demonstrator and his assistant use four simple materials—two pairs of safety goggles, a pie plate, shaving cream, and a towel—to demonstrate the importance of safety goggles.
Using eye-catching experiments like these to model appropriate lab safety behavior will keep students interested while seeing how the different safety rules come into play with each step of the experiment.
A presentation is a great way to discuss how lab safety rules apply in your lab. Assign a rule (or allow your students to choose their favorite) to individual or pairs of students and ask them to prepare a short presentation on the importance of the rule, noting how the rule tends to be broken and what steps need to be taken to adhere to it. Some rules may be simple to present on (e.g., tie long hair back or do not wear open-toed shoes) and it might make sense to combine a few of these together. Others, however, may require a bit more creativity to cover thoroughly, such as combine reagents in their appropriate order (e.g., acids and water or bases) and know locations of laboratory safety showers, eyewash stations, and fire extinguishers.
While listening to others’ presentations, students can take notes. Use the “turn and talk” strategy throughout the presentations to break it up and keep students engaged and thinking. At the end of the presentation, prompt student engagement by asking students to work in groups or pairs to answer questions like “Which rule do you think is the most important and why?” and “Which rule do you think would be the hardest to follow and why?”
To enhance your science lab safety presentations, have students use multimedia to create something discussing the importance of a chosen safety rule. For example, ask students to make posters with safety slogans and present them, explaining why they think the one they’ve chosen is the most important. Other creative projects could include drawing a safety cartoon (prompt students by asking them what could go wrong if a rule isn’t adhered to), record a safety video on Flip Grid, write a skit about science lab safety and perform it for the class. For one particularly creative example, check out this science safety rap.
When it comes to stocking your lab with safe equipment, hBARSCI is ready to partner with you to get you properly outfitted. Within our wide array of safety supplies, we offer several sets of clean-up kits for various hazardous waste spills, including solvents, caustics, and acids. And you can offer your students an extra layer of defense by using this three-panel barrier on any counter, desk, or even reception area. Check it all out here!
Lab safety is not a “one and done” thing, so keep the rules of lab safety visible in the classroom. If you’ve asked students to create projects or posters, hang them up to both brighten the science lab, classroom, or bulletin board and offer a constant reminder of safety rules’ importance