How (and if) we can do science labs this year, is a hot topic!
Science labs are a huge part of the middle school science curriculum. As we are getting ready to begin the new school year, my mind is swirling with more questions than answers!!
The best thing I have come up with is to get creative!
Our district has proposed two schedules for families to select – hybrid (2 days per week for students) and 100% distance learning.
Safety in the science lab is my number one priority. COVID has added an invisible enemy to the list As a teacher, it is our responsibility to maintain student safety and reduce (or eliminate) the risk of COVID exposure.
Two of the biggest challenges teachers face in the science lab:
- group work is nearly impossible
- sanitizing materials after use – it’s a ton of work and difficult to do between classes
After talking to some of my co-workers, we have come up with a list of creative ideas to modify science labs this year due to the COVID crisis. Maybe one of these ideas will work in your classroom.
Science labs done by students individually seems to be the obvious choice. For example, the heart rate scientific method lab and the helicopter scientific method lab would both be easy labs where everyone can participate. You can even take the students outside to get more space!
Pros: This could be done while maintaining six feet of social distancing.
Cons: Lack of materials and a limited number of supplies. Also, more equipment to sanitize between students.
Using Disposable Items
While it kills me to use paper cups instead of graduated cylinders in the science lab, this could be a solution to not having enough material or time to sanitize.
My students have been using disposable gloves for high touch labs. This a great option, especially when you have access to recycling plastic at your school!
Pros: You can toss materials when finished, less time to sanitize.
The Dollar Store is a great place to look for small plastic cups, plates, etc that can be used once and thrown away.
Cons: I have never seen a throw away graduated cylinder. Higher expenses and more trash.
Modified Group Work
Assuming that you have permission from your district, as well as proper safety equipment (masks, gloves, etc), you may be able to allow students to work together in an organized group.
Some ideas for student responsibilities in a group,
- Student A reads instructions
- Student B handles materials
- Student C collects data
- Student D video tapes the lab
Rotate activities throughout the semester so that all students are able to eventually participate in the different aspects of the lab.
Pros: Students can still collaborate and share their learning experience.
Cons: Students may not get to participate in the entire lab experience; students most likely will not be social distancing unless Plexiglas is used.
Off-Set Science Lab Schedule
In my opinion, finding the time to sanitize lab equipment poses one of the biggest challenges. Most teachers have very little time between classes to use the restroom, much less sanitize an entire class worth of supplies!
Depending on your schedule, you may be able to off-set labs to give you more time for sanitizing materials.
Example 1: If you have back to back classes, you could alternate the days each class has lab. This may allow you to sanitize between classes if students are working independently.
Period 1 – lab on Monday Period 2 – lab on Tuesday
Example 2: Schedule two or three days of the lab. Each day, do the lab activity with one morning class and one afternoon class. You would then have the ability to use a few minutes at lunch to sanitize materials.
Pros: More time to sanitize
Cons: More complicated to schedule, less time for lunch
Student Specific Trials
If you are doing a lab where materials are abundant and the independent variables are easily manipulated, each student can perform one part of the experiment.
For example: In the helicopter scientific method lab, students can take turns dropping their helicopter with a different number of paper clips or a different length of wings. The moon crater lab is another example of where this would work well.
Pros: All students can participate, everyone gets the hands on experience
Cons: As an individual you are only testing one of the independent variables, not all of them, may take more supplies
Science Lab Demos
Demonstrations can be a powerful visual for students. I love to do demos when I am short on time or do not have enough supplies available for the entire class.
If you have an Elmo projector available, it can really up your game for a demo. This allows students to have an up-close and personal view of your demonstration.
Pros: Students can learn from the lab without the stresses of social distancing; less materials are needed
Cons: Students do not get to experience the actual lab
There are tons of virtual, interactive science options. Here’s a blog post of my FAVORITE websites for virtual labs!
Some of my favorites:
I’d love to hear how you are managing science labs this year! Share your comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.