I know as a new teacher there is a lot to take in. Class schedules (rotating!), a teacher planner, 100+ names and faces to memorize, bulletin boards to set up, class routines to decide on, and more. But a new SCIENCE teacher?! If you’re a new science teacher, you’ve got to figure out a whole other thing: setting up weekly labs! This blog post is for you.
If you’re a new science teacher, first of all, I hope that your school or department gave you a fantastic mentor teacher to help you. If they did, and that mentor teacher is teaching the same subject/class as you, I recommend asking them what labs they do and do those labs! During your first year, ask them if you can set up labs together with them so you can get an idea of what materials your school has available and what safety procedures are specific to your school. You may even be sharing a room and maybe you can do the same exact labs each week with the same setup! That is the best case scenario for the new teacher.
OK, let’s pretend you don’t have the best case scenario. I’ve been there! I was hired as a long term sub (for the first 6 months of school) and I walked in to a lab room with no RUNNING WATER. I’ve written about this on my blog before, but I had my students use the water fountain in the hallway (that was probably not exactly the safest thing on earth). The cabinets were an absolute disaster. There were unlabeled chemical in containers… everywhere. If this is the situation you are walking into, you must clean up your room first. Safety first. Safely, in safety hazard containers your school has (if they don’t have them, tell the school they must give you some by law), dispose of any chemicals that you find in your lab room that are not labelled. And put away labeled ones into the safe chemical storage area in your school. Clean the surfaces in your lab room. Get rid of cracked glassware. Safety is your first priority.
OK, your room is cleaned up and safe. Now, you’ve got to figure out how to set up weekly labs. Maybe your school has lab days scheduled for you. Maybe you have to schedule your own in during regular class time. I recommend doing a lab once a week or once every 2 weeks if you aren’t given a “lab period” in addition to your additional class period.
Here are some tips for setting up weekly labs:
1. Plan way ahead: Plan two months of labs at a time. It might be hard to plan more than that at first, but try to get down on paper the labs you plan on doing for two months. Sometimes prepping for a lab needs to be done ahead of time or live organisms needed to be ordered two weeks ahead of time. Sit down and plan (hopefully with a partner teacher!) what labs you will do, what you need to order, and what supplies you will need to get out of the cupboards all over your classroom.
2. Make a lab bin supply sheet for each lab that you do. Enter your email in the box at the bottom of the post to subscribe and receive the free editable PDF you can use to make lab supply lists!
You fill out this template for what materials each student group will need for each lab. Another important related tip: always do the lab yourself first. Never do a lab that you yourself have never done. When you do it yourself, you will notice things that might go wrong or places in the lab students may get confused. DO NOT SKIP THIS!
3. Get some lab bins: At Target or the dollar store, pick up some flat bottomed (make sure they’re not slightly curved) clear plastic bins, enough for each lab group. If possible, get double the number of lab groups, so you can start getting together the second week’s lab supplies while your students do the first week’s lab!
4. Fill ’em up: As you get ready for your first lab, line up your lab bins on the counter. If you have 8 lab groups, line up 8 bins, and look at your list of lab group supplies. Put one tool or supply specific to that lab (beaker, ruler, transfer pipette, test tubes & rack, etc) in each bin as you walk along the table! Use your lab group supply sheet as your guide. Then put a copy of that supply list in each bin. Make the kids accountable! Start from day 1 telling them that you expect them to return everything clean (and DRY!) to the bin for the next class. You could even laminate your lab bin supply sheet and keep them for the next year!
Now, after your lab safety lesson (often followed by a lab safety quiz that students must pass and a lab safety contract that students and parents should sign), you’re ready to do your first lab with your students.
Here are a few in-lab tips:
1. Don’t allow food and drink on lab day. Some lab classrooms don’t allow any food at all. Each school and science department might have different rules. Make those rules clear from the beginning and be consistent.
2. Assign lab groups. I know some teachers allow kids to pick their group. I don’t. I pick and here’s why. In life, we don’t get to pick our coworkers. We don’t get to pick our college roommates (usually at first anyway). We don’t get to pick our next door neighbors. In life, we all need to work with people we may or may not like. I assign 3 or 4 students per group, based on their row they sit in during normal classes (which I also assigned from day 1).
3. Do a 5 minute demonstration at the beginning of every lab class. Bring up one of the lab bins to the front teacher lab table and name each tool, what it’s used for, and explain what students will be doing and what they’re looking for or measuring. Some teachers use pre-lab assignments before each lab. I have tried this, but it doesn’t always work well. If students don’t complete the pre-lab at home, then you have to demonstrate at the beginning of class anyway to prevent total lab confusion.
4. Always stop students with 5 minutes left. No matter how far they got in the lab procedure, everyone must stop and start cleaning up. The lab bin instruction sheet has the list of supplies that need to go back in their bins, right there for them, which is the beauty of the sheet! It also lists some common clean-up instructions important for my lab room. Students know what is expected of them because I have it written RIGHT THERE! I threaten them with taking points off of their lab assignment grade if they don’t clean up properly and I tell them that I will take it off the whole group. Often students will take more responsibility if they know that the whole group will get points taken off if they don’t.
Now what are the benefits of using my method of lab setup? Here are a few!
- You have those lab bin supply sheets ready for next year! You could even laminate them and re-use them. Your second year will be way easier to setup because you’ve already done the planning part, you already have the bins – you just have to update and fix the lab to be better if something didn’t work the way you hoped and fill the bins!
- The bins and the instruction sheet help you get through all your classes with the same lab without you “resetting” everything after each class period! When your students help you get your bins ready for the next class in those last 5 minutes, that can save you tons of time in between periods.
Experienced teachers, do you have any other lab setup tips for newbies? Newbies, do you have any lab setup questions? Check out my Facebook page and join the conversation about lab setup!