How Can I Create a Safe Science Classroom?

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As a physics and chemistry teacher for over 30 years, Adah Stock learned firsthand the importance of proper safety precautions in the science lab. Stock’s emphasis on safe practices paid off; she only had one small accident in the lab in over 30 years of teaching. Stock, an NSTA member since 1986, is now retired from classroom teaching, but still works in science education as a consultant. She credits NSTA’s journals, conferences, and other services for helping her keep on top of safety practices.

Stock: NSTA absolutely helped me learn about safety precautions for the classroom. The NSTA journals were especially helpful. I particularly enjoy Science Scope’s “Scope on Safety” column and The Science Teacher’s “Safer Science” column. (Note from NSTA: For more information on these columns, see the “Safe Science” blog post from May 2014.)

One journal article I read a while ago talked about how important it is to install ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) safety outlets in schools. Students sometimes can be mischievous and put objects into electrical outlets. I learned that the middle school I was teaching in did not have GFCI outlets. So, I presented the NSTA article to my principal, who subsequently installed the safety outlets. Adding the GFCI outlets wasn’t expensive, but was necessary. By reading the articles and learning about what can possibly go wrong, you say to yourself, “I need to watch out for this.”

When I was a chemistry teacher in Texas, my district was building a new high school. The superintendent invited me to look at the specs for the building. When I looked at the specs, I noticed that the chemistry room had only one door. I knew that from reading NSTA articles that you need two doors in a chemistry lab. So, I told the architect, “Where is the other door?” And, he said, “What for? It would ruin the aesthetics of the room.” I told my superintendent that having only one door was a bad safety hazard. What if there is a fire in the lab? Students need another door to get out. My superintendent looked at the architect and said, “Put another door in.” I never got to see that building because I moved away before it was built, but knowing about proper safety precautions helped me prepare the school for the future.

I showed many journal articles to administrators over the years and showed them what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires. Sometimes, administrators weren’t aware of what precautions to take and thought that OSHA only pertained to companies, which it doesn’t. I became knowledgeable about safety in the science classroom thanks to NSTA. I would write down when I spoke to the administrators about my safety recommendations, what I suggested, and what NSTA articles I showed them. You have to educate administrators about safety and you have to cover yourself, honestly, in case there is an accident. You need to show that you took the proper steps to prevent the accident.

(Note from NSTA: For additional information, NSTA’s Safety Advisory Board has written a number of safety issue papers that address current safety issues in school science laboratories and classrooms. In addition, NSTA has compiled a list of safety resources that include state agencies, nonprofit and for-profit companies, and science supply houses that provide safety services and products for K–12 teachers and administrators. For a safety handout to give students, see “Safety in the Science Classroom.”)

What other features of your membership have you found helpful?

Stock: I love NSTA Reports because it keeps me up-to-date on current science education news and has provided me with summer opportunities throughout my career. I found out about AAPT’s Physics Teacher Resource Agent program (PTRA) through NSTA Reports and ended up being one of the first teachers to participate in that program in 1986. The program led to amazing opportunities for me and gave me a lifetime friend.

I also love the conferences. The first one I attended was in Dallas. The workshops gave me unbelievable ideas about what I could do in the classroom. And, overall, the conferences gave me energy. I always felt that attending a conference was like taking 12,000 mg of Vitamin C! I became so energized.

And, even though I no longer teach, I still work with teachers through my consulting business. When I want to look for information on a specific topic or grade level, I use the NSTA Learning Center. Coming from my perspective, you don’t have to go the library anymore. Being an NSTA member gives you access to all those articles in the Learning Center; what a terrific resource!

Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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