Saturday, January 29, 2011

Setting Safety Rules in the Science

Over the years of teaching science I have always recognized that safety was the number one priority in the lab. I have used a number of approaches to setting the rules of conduct in the lab from dictating them, providing a contract for the students and their parents to sign, have them copy them from the textbook, providing cloze activities, and even a lab safety manual that I produced which gives visual prompts which the students have to interpret then write out the rule that is demonstrated in the graphic. This latter technique has been especially useful with the high needs learner because it provides evidence that the learner understands and communicates the rules.

Since using the Smarter Science framework to teach science I have witnessed first-hand the beauty of empowering the students by giving them ownership of their lab activities. So I decided to also give them ownership of the lab rules. Many thanks to Santa Claus for gifting me with the awesome sticky notes pictured below that sparked this idea for me।

Each pair of students was given one copy of each sticky note. They did a think-pair-share to decide on one rule to write on the “Thou Shalt” and one on the “Thou Shalt Not” sticky note. They then took turns coming to the front of the room and putting their sticky notes on the master rule sheets which I decided to make look like the Ten Commandment tablets. Because there was some confusion around the word “shalt” I put the words “Do” and “Do Not” at the top of the master sheets। This was to ensure that there was absolutely no confusion about what was and was not allowed in the lab।

One person from each pair presented one of their rules, thus ensuring that everyone had a turn to speak in front of their peers। The students also had to present the rationale for their rules. In the event that a rule was the same as, or similar to, a rule presented by another group it was stuck on top of the corresponding sticky note. Therefore, instead of ending up with 26 rules we actually ended up with about 10 on each side of the poster. Furthermore, because some rules correlated with each other there really were not that many rules and as usual, they were mostly just good common sense. For example, “Thou shalt not run” correlated with “Thou shalt walk”.

By pooling their collective prior knowledge, first in the think-pair-share then in the ensuing classroom discussions that arose around the presentations the students came up with every rule I have ever required in a lab. In fact, they were even more strict than my expectations. Even though the students did not know about wafting they did manage to articulate that it was not a good idea to take a big snort of an unknown substance!

I encourage you to give your students ownership of their learning in a controlled manner। The teacher does not need to be a dictator. By allowing your students to talk things through and pool their knowledge you will find both yourself and your learners in an excellent position to expand your knowledge!

Warning! I would never do this activity in a school that was not Christian centered in case it was considered disrespectful to other religions. It could, however, be modified, to become student created lists of “Do” and “Do not”.

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