I start the lesson by having the students watch a recent News Report from Fox31 in Denver, about a fire in a Colorado school science lab after chemicals were accidentally set ablaze.
After watching, I ask the students to think quietly how this may have been prevented. After giving 1-2 minutes of think time, I ask the students to participate in a Rally Robin conversation with their shoulder partners and share their ideas as to how to prevent an accident like this in our own science class.
Once each student has had a chance to share their ideas, I ask several random students to share something their partner thought of as a possible preventative measure, asking the rest of the students to evaluate each student's response by using the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down strategy. I chose this strategy because it is quick, involves no additional materials, and allows 100% participation. Since I am not using this activity as an assessment, I do not have to be concerned with students copying each others' answers or changing the direction of their thumbs.
I ask them to share their partners' thinking, rather than their own, as this develops them as careful and respectful listeners, as well as adds some accountability to the conversation (you don't want your partner to say that you didn't talk about the topic).
Although the students already have a pretty good idea of what today's learning topic is, I explain to them that we will be learning more about lab safety and how to work safely in science class.
Each student will get a copy of the Lab Safety Rap, written by Rhythm, Rhyme, Results. (This can be purchased on their website for $3.99*.) After passing out the lyrics, we I have the students read them independently. Next, we listen tot he song once for pleasure, and then again, this time highlighting all of the safety rules we can identify in the song.
While I cannot give away too much of the song, the chorus is as follows:
"Wait, youʼve gotta make sure that your lab is safe
Before you make a measurement, scope out the space
Got your gloves pulled up, got your goggles on
Don't want to be another lab experiment gone wrong"
Once students have identified and highlighted the safety rules from the song, they use their laptops to open the NSTA Lab Safety Rules. This document gives more detail as to how to stay safe when conducting science experiments and labs. We read through the document together, identifying which rules apply to our class and which ones are not relevant at this time. As a 6th grade class and not a full-fledged high school science lab, there are some things that do not apply to us. I make sure to let the students know which ones we do not need to cover and have the students cross them out. I want to spend our time focusing on the rules that apply to our class, and don't want to worry students or parents with safety issues that we will not encounter this year. This includes rules applying to gas burners, open flames, etc.
After we have carefully read through the guidelines, I have students sign the safety agreement and bring it home to review with and have signed by parents. I also email the parents before the end of the day, letting them know that this document will be coming home and encouraging them to email me with any questions or concerns.
*If you don't wish to purchase this song and the accompanying worksheets, there are many versions of this song for free on YouTube, TeacherTube, and other related sites. By typing out the lyrics and a filling in the blank worksheet on your own, you can easily recreate this lesson. It may take a little more time, but it is free!)
I conduct a quick Whip Around, asking students to share one rule they feel is particularly important for our class to observe this year.
Next, I explain to the students that it is our job as a class to not only follow these rules, but to also encourage our peers to stay safe and follow the guidelines as well. In order to remember rules, it is important to post them in the room to serve as a visual reminder. I explain that each student will select a rule they feel is crucial and create a safety poster to display in the classroom. They may select the rule they just shared with the class, or choose another, as long as it has not already been chosen by one of their classmates.
Since the students already have their laptops out, I project the Lab Safety Poster Sign-up (Google Sheet) and have students sign up for the rule they would like to use for their poster. By projecting the sheet, students can easily see who has already signed up, so they can be sure they do not select the same rule as someone else.
If you teach multiple classes, you may want to have students work in groups instead of on their own, in order to ensure that no safety rules are repeated.
Once all students have selected their rules, I pass out the rubric to help guide them as they work. We go through the entire rubric, making sure all students are aware of the expectations. One all questions have been addressed, I offer up paper, markers, rulers, and put the students to work!
Students work independently to create their posters, referring to their rubric and the NSTA document as they work. They are also allowed to go online to conduct research and look for images or other resources to help them create their poster.
I usually play the Lab Safety Rap a few times throughout the work time to keep them focused and to provide a little "ambiance" as they work. Students will soon begin singing along. Watch out - once it gets stuck in their heads - and yours - it's hard to get out!
Once students are finished with their posters, we conduct a quick gallery walk to view each others' posters and to provide feedback (questions and/or compliments) by writing them on a sticky note and sticking them next to each poster. While students view each others' work, I am grading them according to the rubric.
As a final (and fun) assessment, I pass out 2 in. x 11 in. strips of paper that I have cut ahead of time. I let the students know that as they view the video (below)*, they have to list, on their strip of paper, all of the safety rule violations they see.
*I have included two videos. Both contain great examples of bad safety practices. You may select the video that suits your needs, based on the amount of time you have available and/or how much reinforcement you need for your students.
I also have the students complete the "What do Scientists Do*?" paper in their science journals. This allows them to summarize their learning and provide a place to refer to later if they need additional prompting or support.
*The "What do Scientists Do?" paper is used throughout the unit. It is best to have students keep it in their science journal or another place where they can return to it throughout each lesson in the unit. We add to it as we build understanding and study each trait of a scientist.