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Why I don’t teach lab safety the first week of school… and other back to school science teacher tips

Why I don't teach lab safety the first week of school

It’s almost time for me to start planning out my first week of school (yes it’s crazy, I go back end of July). When I first started teaching, I spent the first week reviewing the syllabus, class rules, and (duh duh duh duhhhhh) spent time reviewing all the lab safety procedures. It just felt like the responsible science teacher thing to do. What I soon realized is the students were just plain bored… or nervous about finding their next class…. or thinking about who has the same lunch period as them… but they were NOT memorizing all those nice lab safety rules I was so carefully explaining. They are also reviewing rules in almost every other class and the chances of them remembering what you said those first few days are slim.  So I decided to throw the “let’s front-load all the rules that they will forget anyway” out the window and find more exciting activities for that first week.

I know some of you science teachers reading this are thinking “But I have to review rules the first week, because they need to sign a lab safety contract!” Yes, they do. (And if you don’t have one handy, I recommend Flinn Science’s contracts which you can download free here.) But is it really necessary the first few days? Here is my main argument on why you are wasting your time: Why are you teaching students to wear goggles and keep scalpels pointed down during dissections if you aren’t actually getting to the dissection until April? Or why are you teaching them the proper way to carry and store a microscope when the microscopes don’t come out of the cupboard until your cells unit in December? Students will just forget, and you will have to review the rules all over again anyway. Instead, wait until you get to the lab and then review the necessary rules. As far as the contract goes, have students read through it during class or at home with a parent and sign it. If they have any questions feel free to discuss them, but don’t waste too much time on it. Here are a few ideas to do instead:

  • Do a fun lab that doesn’t have hazardous materials. For biology, a great lab to start with is a characteristics of life lab, or have them plant popcorn kernels and see if they grow (even high school students will be amazed by this simple little kernel…. trust me).
  • Find a fun activity where you can get to know your students better. Maybe it is a “find someone who” activity, fun icebreakers, or a questionnaire, but I’ve found that students really appreciate it when you get to know them on a personal level.
  • Set up interactive notebooks. If you have a team of teachers that teach the same subject as you, make sure you set them up the same way in case students get the inevitable schedule change.
  • If you teach biology, bring in some living organisms (such as pill bugs or meal worms) and have students look at them under the stereoscopes.
  • Another fun non-hazardous lab is the firework milk lab. Here is a video showing the lab and you can also find the worksheet in my TpT store.
  • Find a memory/perception activity from this website or show this Monkey Business Illusion video. A lot of the time science is based on observations, but how good are we at actually making those observations?
  • For younger grades, you might enjoy this freebie demo from my store. All you need is a 2L bottle, water, and tape. Easy!
  • If you teach high school, don’t spend too much time on the scientific method. They should already know it! Instead, focus more on the nature of science. Here is a great freebie from Utah Root’s store about identifying bias and “how to spot bad science.”

Long story short: front-loading material too early is a waste of your time. Have fun the first week! Get your students excited about science! (because let’s face it, we teach the best content area!)

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Hi, I'm Becca!

I help busy science teachers get your prep back by providing you time saving lessons, labs, and resources.

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