What does a successful science lab experience look like to you?
- Students working collaboratively in groups? ‘
- On-topic discussions and idea sharing?
- Students helping each other to use lab equipment appropriately?
- Supplies cleaned and put away neatly when finished?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes!
If the above sounds like a DREAM to you, I’m here to tell you that an organized, successful science lab experience for students is not out of reach!
You can spend hours designing the perfect lab experience, but classroom management and science lab preparation is KEY to a smoothly run, successful science lab!
1. LAB SAFETY EXPECTATIONS
Most (if not all) science teachers pass out a lab safety contract at the beginning of the school year. The purpose of the contract is to outline the behaviors that are expected in the science lab.
While, I think the contract is extremely important to send home for parents and students to read through and sign, let’s be honest….
How many students actually read the contract in its entirety????
That’s where explicit instruction comes in!
Each year before we begin labs, I use use a presentation and notes (aligned with the Flinn Safety Contract) to discuss how the rules on the safety contract apply in our classroom/lab. It is a great way to set the tone for the behaviors that I want to see and what’s not appropriate in lab.
Need more lab safety ideas? Check out my post “7 Stupid Simple Ideas to Teach Science Lab Safety.”
2. ORANIZED SUPPLIES ARE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL SCIENCE LAB
Having your lab supplies neatly organized and in a designated area is key to preparing a science lab that runs smoothly!
I always set out lab supplies for each group in plastic storage trays. Groups can quickly get everything they need for their activity and BONUS they rinse out easily!
Want to make sure you get all of your supplies turned in neatly????
Something I’ve found really helpful is having an “exemplar” tray. This is an extra tray that no one uses. It has all of the materials inside the tray and serves as a model for students to know exactly how the tray should look when they return it at the end of the lab!
3. SET EXPECTATIONS IN THE SCIENCE LAB
It’s tempting to pass out lab sheets, assign groups, and say go!
It can also be a recipe for disaster in the science lab!
During our first lab of the year, I take the time to explicitly discuss each of the behaviors that I expect to see and model what they look like.
We talk about things like:
- What is the appropriate noise level?
- How will they move around the lab? Should they remain at their table or with their group the entire time?
- How will they get your attention when they have a question? Will students raise their hand, walk up to you?
- How should students get and return supplies?
- Where and how should materials be disposed at the end of a lab?
Posting expectations for successful group work has been a lifesaver!
One thing that has been a huge help is using editable science activity slides on lab days. I can save expectations, copy and tweak slides lab throughout the year!
Plus they are ready to go for next year’s labs!!!
It’s a HUGE time saver!
4. ASSIGN ROLES TO EACH TEAM MEMBER
Want your lab to run like a well-oiled machine? Be sure that each student in a group has a specific role!
I love having roles in my labs for many reasons:
- Roles keep students accountable and build responsibility.
- They help students learn HOW to work as a team.
- Roles help all group members feel important and valued.
- Students take ownership in their group and activity!
Some of my most often used roles include:
Materials Manager – get and return supplies
Facilitator – fairly assign tasks to group members
Safety – gets and returns safety glasses
Director ***– reads instructions and clarifies questions with teacher
This is my favorite one – only the assigned student leaves their station to ask a question or clarify instructions! No more feeling like a mother hen with a line of ducklings following you around the room!
Time Keeper – runs stopwatch
Clean Up Crew – quickly takes care of spills
Recorder – records accurate data for group
Presenter – reports findings to class
5. SCAFFOLD LABS
I once had a principal who used to say “Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up.“
This couldn’t be more true than beginning of the year science labs!
Take the time in the beginning to scaffold your labs so that students will really begin to understand the process and procedures that you expect as they work together.
Often during the beginning of the year, I’m not ready to let the kids jump right in.
Depending on the level of the students, I feel it’s important to take time to preview the lab as a class, read directions together, and encourage students to make note of important steps in the lab.
In the beginning of the year, I often chunk the lab and talk about it as a class in sections. Groups work on one section as a time. This way I can make sure groups are following all of the procedures and using their roles appropriately.
Taking the time to plan and organize a well-run science lab saves so much time and energy in the long run! You will be amazed at how well your students will work together and how much they learn through lab experiences all year long!
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