Learning Wins in STEM Games

At the New York Botanical Gardens, students and parents play Biome Builder, a game from New York City–based learning games company Killer Snails. Photo courtesy of Killer Snails

Jamie Easley, eighth-grade science teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School in Dubuque, Iowa, says she created Science Ball—a baseball-like game—“to make test review interesting [for students]…It’s important to find every way possible to increase engagement and interest in the material we’re teaching, especially if it’s an unusual way to do it,” she contends.

Easley labels “bases” in her classroom, and divides students into two teams. One student from each team “answers [short-answer or multiple-choice] questions simultaneously on small whiteboards, then they reveal [their answers at the same time].” Correct answers allow players to advance to a base; incorrect ones result in an out. Easley selects questions for each pair, and pairs students of similar levels so she can choose appropriate questions—a must for special-needs students.

To inform students about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, Donna Muller, former K–8 technology teacher at Atonement Lutheran School in Metairie, Louisiana, says she turned The Game of Life® into a STEM careers game by creating her own “career cards, basing them on Career and Technical Education (secondary certificate) careers versus [the] college-bound careers. It makes it meaningful and shows career pathways.”

Muller has used other popular games in her classroom, many of which have free digital versions online: Kahoot!® for vocabulary; Heads Up to teach about scientific processes like the water cycle; Pictionary and Win, Lose, or Draw because “they allow students to draw [things like] the parts of a cell. [Games] are a way to reach [students with] different learning styles.”

When students excel at the games but don’t perform well on tests, “the games can show me why the tests aren’t working…If you set the game up right, it should test content knowledge,” Muller explains. However, “games should not be the ‘end-all,’ they should help students get comfortable with the material, but students also need to do projects, hands-on [learning].

“You are getting cross-curricular with games, which helps you meet the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),” asserts Muller. In addition, “you are actually teaching those [21st-century soft skills], such as learning to work together and it’s okay to not have the right answer; just keep trying…Students need to [be able to] make mistakes without it counting [against their grade].”

“Games [equalize] my class, even when some students have prior knowledge, and give everyone an activity to talk about,” says Cynthia Hopkins, seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Kaffie Middle School in Corpus Christi, Texas. She has students play games related to concepts before teaching the concepts. “I use a game called Suspend to teach [about] unbalanced and balanced forces,” she notes. Suspend involves hanging notched wire pieces on a tabletop stand. Adding pieces shifts the balance, and players try to add all their game pieces without making the structure fall.

“[Suspend] is the first thing I do in my Forces and Motion unit. I give no initial explanation. The debrief is the important part: Why is [your structure] balanced or unbalanced?,” Hopkins relates.

To create her own game cards based on state test questions, Hopkins uses the free resources on Problem-Attic, one of many resources that she and a colleague presented during their Game On: Gaming With a Purpose session at the Science Teachers Association of Texas’s 2018 Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching.

Playing games with her students helps Hopkins “get to know them and allows me to check in with them during the year…I’m willing to look foolish,” she admits, “because sometimes it takes that to reach some of my students.”

In her games, Allyson Macdonald, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík, Iceland, requires student preparation. For Sustainability Scrabble, each student “had to make five tiles…The tiles all had to be related to recent class work in sustainability and could be a word/ concept, a quote, or a picture (photograph or diagram)…The learning was in the questioning and defense of what [was] on the tile,” she explains.

Her Three More game familiarizes students “with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The year is 2025, and there are concerns that some of the goals will not be reached. Each person picks three of the 17 goals [that] they wish to alter in some way and [names] three additional goals,” Macdonald relates.

In each group, she explains, “two participants [decide] the steps they would take to introduce a project linked to the goals selected from the survey. The other two…[ask] searching questions about planning and implementation. The learning was in the questioning and defense of what was being proposed and audited.” Scores were determined by “clarity of proposal and feasibility, and additional points were given for incorporating an education project.”

Designing STEM Games

Whether teachers use commercially available games or create their own, they should always be sure to follow lab safety practices during gameplay. Other considerations include making sure all students can participate.

Valarie Broadhead, science teacher at Aliso Viejo Middle School in Aliso Viejo, California, says she has incorporated games “as part of my NGSS instructional strategies,” designing them “around special education students, then add[ing] on features and increas[ing] complexity for general education students.” She incorporates “visual aspects…especially [in] the instructions and content. Pictures, models, and the use of colors also help English language learners,” she notes.

Broadhead uses very large text so materials are easier to read, especially for students with visual impairments. She also places “pre-printed items (games, learning objectives, instructions, etc.) on their desks so they don’t have to look up at the board, reducing possible errors.” By using microphone enhancement, headsets with volume control, and print materials, students with hearing disabilities “don’t have to ‘hear’ the instructions to know how to play the game,” she explains.

“The great thing about science is that it’s really an active, engaging discipline, so games can be created [in which] student players are doing the work of the field,” contends Kathleen Mercury, who teaches gifted middle school students at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. “Students can [play] the role of engineers, learning how to create circuits by playing the right cards, or players can learn about the cycle of photosynthesis by moving the different elements around.”

Because she is “passionate about helping other teachers incorporate games and game design in their classes,” Mercury shares her game design teaching resources for free at www.kathleenmercury.com. “Playtesting prototypes is such an important part of the process for students to see,” she says, because “games, like any other open-ended work or research that starts with a question, are created through a process of inquiry, testing, and refinement. By modeling my willingness to engage in this process and to take feedback, they see the value of it, and that makes it easier for them to create and show their own unfinished work.”

Lindsay Portnoy, co-founder and chief learning officer of Killer Snails, a learning games company, says, “We wanted to make science accessible, but also impactful, so all of our games are based on both dynamic STEM content and extant standards.” In the BioDive game, for example, “student scientists collect data to iterate on their models as they work out their hypothesis, identifying how abiotic factors impact biotic factors across three marine ecosystems,” she notes.

“We’re also all parents and want to make games that are equally fun to play in class or at [home],” Portnoy asserts.

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports, featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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What makes you believe a student teacher is going to make an excellent teacher one day?
– J., Ohio

I looked for several things in student teachers to indicate they were on the right track:

  • Cared about their students. First and foremost, remember that you are teaching children and young adults. Be caring and flexible.
  • Thoughtful preparation. Nothing will destroy a lesson faster than a lack of planning.
  • Reflective and self-assessing. Student teachers should ask themselves these questions: How did that class go? What were the students doing? Did they understand my lesson? How do I know? How can I be sure? What is the next step? How could I have done the lesson three different ways?
  • Had vision. They could describe what their perfect classroom looks like. What’s happening? What are the students doing? What are they doing? What’s being accomplished. This vision will help guide all their decision making.
  • Participated in the school community. Teachers have to work together and should become integral parts of the school environment.
  • Would admit when they didn’t know something. Don’t ever try to bluff your way through a question. Model that you’re a life-long learner and find the answers or have the students find the answers.
  • Exhibit passion for the subject and teaching.

Things I do not consider important:

  • Create all their own lessons and handouts from scratch. They still had to do thoughtful preparation by analyzing everything they wanted to use.
  • Be content geniuses.
  • Be friends with the students. Caring and befriending are not the same.
  • Have perfect lessons. Near impossible.

Hope this helps!

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Legislative Update: What’s Ahead for Federal Education Policy (and Funding) in 2019?

Welcome to 2019. As of January 3, Congressional leaders and President Trump are still working on a final agreement on FY2019 spending and the federal government remains closed for business. As you will recall, federal education funding, including programs at the U.S. Department of Education, is not affected by this current shutdown.  The full-year appropriations bill for education H.R. 6157 (115) will fund the Department of Education programs, including Title II and Title IVA, through next September.  

So looking ahead, what can we expect from federal lawmakers and the federal agencies in 2019?

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) may happen this year, largely because Senator Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) , has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020.

Senator Alexander has served as the secretary of education under former President George H. W. Bush, as governor of Tennessee, and as president of the University of Tennessee. He was one of the key architects of the Every Student Succeeds Act and has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and working with Democratic colleagues. Many believe he will make reauthorization of the HEA a priority and move the bill forward in the coming months.

HEA reauthorization in the Senate went nowhere in the last Congress, and a Republican bill last year in the House to reauthorize the legislation failed to garner any Democratic support and did not come up for a floor vote.

Rep Bobby Scott, incoming chair of the House Education and Labor Committee (recently renamed from the Education and Workforce Committee), has indicated that HEA is also a priority for him and that he is willing to work with Senate colleagues to get the legislation passed.  

Earlier in December during remarks to the American Council on Education, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that “Like all of education, higher education is due for a rethink.”  The Secretary released the administration’s white paper on higher education  which includes broad goals for an overhaul of higher education policy in 2019.

Many also believe that Congressional Democrats and Republicans could work together in 2019 on a massive infrastructure bill that would include schools/education.  Rep. Scott’s infrastructure bill—Rebuild America’s Schools Act, (H.R. 2475 (115)—would create a $70 billion grant program and $30 billion tax credit bond program for high-poverty schools.

Also in 2019 look for work on rulemaking, as an ED panel begins work to rewrite federal regulations around college accreditation, religious schools and nontraditional education providers; and the Departments final rule for Title IX outlining how schools should handle allegations of sexual assault.

School Safety Report Issued December 18

The school safety advisory panel, formed by President Trump after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. and led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, issued their report in mid-December. The 177-page report provides information on 93 best practices and policy recommendations for improving safety at schools nationwide.

As expected, the report criticized the “Rethink School Discipline” Guidance issued during the Obama Administration that placed an emphasis on tracking school disciplinary actions by race and largely intended to end minority students’ more frequent expulsions and suspensions from schools.

The commission found the guidance “likely had a strong, negative impact on school discipline and safety.”  Conservatives have long viewed the guidance as a burden and possibly dangerous for its potential to keep violent children in school. Civil rights groups and Democrats have vehemently complained that the administration would connect the guidance with school shootings.

The panel also encouraged more coordination between schools and law enforcement that could include programs that arm highly trained school personnel. It did not address if firearm purchases should be subjected to age restrictions.

The school safety panel also denounced the prevalence of violence in video games and movies, social media, music and more.  The report says “it is estimated that depictions of violence are present in 90 percent of movies, 68 percent of video games, 60 percent of television shows, and 15 percent of music videos,” noting that “violent content is ubiquitous across these platforms and continues to grow.”  The panel report also notes the conflicting research on the influence violent media actually has on children.

Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House education panel, said in a statement that the report “promotes a longstanding, conservative agenda to undermine policies that protect students’ civil rights” and was not a “serious or good-faith effort” to make schools safer.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, said of the report that “The gun industry itself could not have written a more blatant and obvious distraction from the real problem gun violence poses to students across our country,”

Senate Confirms New Head of OSTP

And finally, after a nomination hearing in late August, the Senate confirmed Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier on January 2 to be the next Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). More here.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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Supportive communities for teaching science in the early childhood years

Child squeezing out white school glue onto a pinecone craft.There are times when educators miss opportunities to support young children’s interest in exploring and  learning about natural phenomena. We might be otherwise engaged, too focused on the next activity, or uncomfortable with what is happening. We might be talking with one child while another eagerly tries to tell us about a bird flying by, or we don’t want to pause for a minute and listen to the firetruck going past, or get Child pointing to a cricket.too close to that small animal. Sometimes a child uses too many materials or a child’s actions lead to an undesirable amount of cleanup, such as when a child squeezes and squeezes the glue bottle until there is a huge puddle of glue on the paper and the bottle is empty and then reaches for another bottle. Sometimes the school system requirements don’t include teaching science for any amount of time. 

How do we get better at facilitating meaningful explorations so children have first hand experiences and conversations to help them make sense of the natural phenomena they encounter? How can we incorporate math and language and literacy learning so children develop the skills they need to discuss and communicate about their experiences?

Supportive communities for teaching science in the early childhood years can be found online. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) position statements support educators in advocating for the time we need to develop our own learning as well as to teach science in our early childhood classrooms. These statements can be shared with colleagues, administrators, and policy makers to make them aware of the support needed for quality science education. The NSTA Learning Center forums give us a place to ask questions and share strategies and resources that make it possible for us to teach. For NSTA members, the listservs provide a responsive community we can access through email with questions and shared guidance. The NSTA journal, Science and Children publishes educator experiences and reviews of resources. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) publishes science education articles in journals and has an interest forum, the Early Childhood Science Interest Forum (ECSIF), that organizes conference sessions, holds meetings, and posts on the NAEYC social media site Hello.

 Webinars, or online conversations, can help you build a community of science-interested educators when you take notes of the ideas that you want to try and resources to look up, and watch with colleagues, then hold a discussion to gain more insight into the ideas presented. I presented one of the modules in the 11-part Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Early Learning Series from the Preschool Development Grant, and just watched two from the LinkEngineering Educator Exchange: Building Literacy with PK-2 Engineering Experiences, and Playful Learning: Make Engineering Fun.

I’d love to hear about the communities that support your science learning and science teaching!

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NSTA’s 75th: A Beginning and Future Forged with a Need for Science Education

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 1944.  After many years of discussion, two separate associations—The American Science Teachers Association and the American Council of Science Teachers — proposed and adopted a constitution that merged their members and joined their forces to organize as one national group for science education. By the end of 1944, the seed that had been planted broke through the surface and emerged as the National Science Teachers Association. Its founding purpose to “stimulate, improve, and coordinate science teaching at the elementary, secondary, and collegiate levels of instruction.”

There is no doubt that since its inception, the importance of science teaching and science learning has been the driving focus of the association. The ongoing need for this driving force has been society as a whole and the need to provide students with instruction that helped to understand scientific and technological advances of the time. Robert Carleton penned the following at the 25th anniversary: “The challenge to NSTA and to the profession is to tie science education together with the lives of people and the problems of society in a truly functional manner.” As science educators we have the ability to make connections between new advances and everyday life, influence the future, and to extend the reach of science to many.

At our 50th anniversary, then President Gerry Madrazo likened our Association to a giant Sequoia which has grown slowly by planting deep roots, and reaching wide but had yet to realize the fullness of the tree’s expanse. The challenge to tie people’s lives and science together and need for us to continue to develop and expand our reach still exists! Throughout the last 75 years, NSTA has weathered many changes from programmatic offerings to the location of our headquarters to changes in our governance structure to the overall manner in which we engage with our members and meet their needs. These events, strategies, and changes offered opportunities to interact with our members and look towards the future of science education and the growth of our association. While history provides us context, the future provides us promise.

NSTA has become the largest organization in the world devoted to the science teaching and learning and at its core has always been our mission statement “…to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.” Like the Sequoia, we have grown with time and arrive at a new era where our historical roots are deep and there is strength in our message. Our potential reach and growth still hold promise by modifying our strategies to meet the future of science education and needs of our members.  

Join us throughout 2019 as we uncover and reveal some of the new features of NSTAs digital presence and overall engagement strategy. As we look to the past with an eye to the future, it is clear that the science taught and need for science educators who create a love of learning and interest in students is as necessary today as it was in 1944. 

How, we engage ALL students in science learning and ensure that all science educators continue their own lifelong, lifewide, and lifedeep learning process is the focus for our future growth. With that goal in mind, the voice of the science teacher and need for all educators to advocate and speak out for science education is more prominent than ever before.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

Future NSTA Conferences

2019 National Conference
St. Louis, April 11–14

2019 STEM Forum & Expo
San Francisco, July 24–26

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This student is too loud. This student is too quiet. This student is…

I have a few students who chatter excessively and need advice on methods that have worked to quiet the disruption. I also need to involve students who are reluctant to participate in a group setting.
—H., Arizona

I like a chatty, active classroom— provided the students are on task. I would give students opportunities to chat and work in groups but kept them focused on thought-provoking topics or problems. Organize the groups yourself to minimize off-topic socializing. Limit discussions to keep them moving forward and have follow-up or extension activities for those who finish quickly. Requiring groups to present overviews of their discussions can be a good way to wrangle the talkers and channel their discussion to the work.

When you don’t want students chatting, have assigned seats and be sure to separate friends who chat too much.

My advice for handling shy students changes with different types of group work.
Labs: Create roles that each member has to assume for hands on or lab activities. Here is a link to a resource in the Learning Center describing the responsibilities I assigned for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) projects: https://goo.gl/EshMpi

Discussions/Workgroups: I believe shy students sometimes need more time to gather their thoughts and are less likely to join ongoing conversations. “Think-Pair-Share” approaches build in time for individual reflection and ensure that everyone in a group has a turn.

Employ some self-assessments or group assessments as part of the process. You are welcome to use these from my resource collection in The Learning Center:
Group Evaluation: https://goo.gl/UbqmNX

Hope this helps!

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First week back resources

Cover of the November/December 2018 NSTA journal Science and Children.When you have a moment to plan for teaching in January, reach for the 2018 November/December issue of Science and Children for inspiration. With a focus on visual literacy the activities discussed in the columns and articles promote helping children learn from and use images and models to understand science concepts. 

In The Early Years column, “Analyzing Media Representations of Animals,” I wrote up an activity using guidance from the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) to analyze, evaluate, and create media. Many children’s books show images of animals that are not at life size, either to fit on the page or for convenience of design. If children have seen the animals they may be able to understand that the image is not at life-size, but if the animals are unknown, children can’t know what the actual size is. Engaging children in exploring how images accurately represent size or are possibly misleading, perhaps showing animals such as mice and horses at the same size, is part of teaching media literacy. Helping children create their own illustrations and photos of animals develops their understanding of how others use images.

A top view of an isopod (roly poly/pillbug)

What size is this animal in “real life”?

Can one of our senses fool another one? The Poetry of Science column, “Visual Poetry,” presents a poem, and science activity, and internet resources for additional support!

The Engineering Encounters column, “Bears on a Boat Plus,” is a visit into a second-grade classroom where we learn from science educators and English-language Learner specialists about their work revising the classic plasticine clay activity into a problem-based learning one. They used the 5E model (Bybee) for two one-hour lessons on consecutive days. (Karen Nemeth of Language Castle posted additional resources for “Working with an English Language Learner” on the NAEYC Hello social media site.)

Student drawing of a scientist, a woman with brown curly hair and brown skin.Have your students ever drawn pictures of scientists or themselves as scientists? In the Methods & Strategies column, “Draw a Scientist,” Laura Beth Kelly offers suggestions for teachers who want to broaden their students’ ideas about science and scientists.

These four columns are only part of the helpful materials shared by educators in the 2018 November/December issue of  Science and Children.  Don’t miss reading pages 74, 75 and 80 where you can read the “Call for Papers” and be inspired to share your own science teaching practice!


Bybee, Rodger W. 2014. The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Personal Reflections and Contemporary Implications. Science and Children. 51(8): 10-13.

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Light, shadow, and literacy: Stories inspired by shadow play

Materials thoughtfully provided or set up by teachers often inspires children’s open exploration of a phenomenon. Much learning happens during this period of using their senses and tools to make observations of what intrigues them as they try things out, following up on their ideas and trying new things rather than making observations based on a teacher’s instruction. Specific activities and further focused exploration build from this beginning, as teachers hear or identify children’s questions, pose others, and additional materials may be provided. The Young Scientist series teacher resource books on nature, water, and building structures are a good starting point for developing science explorations.

In this class at the Clarendon Child Care Center, an open exploration of shadow using a wall and a lamp on the flloor opened up a stream of stories as children built on outdoor imaginative play where their shadows “ate each other.” Some of these marvelous stories expressed beginning scientific ideas about light and shadow. With a teacher nearby, the four and five year olds were careful with the light and had their stories recorded by teachers Sarah Abu-El-Hawa and Carly Gertler. Allowing the action to be child-led revealed their understanding of both the science of shadows and the structure of stories.

Further explorations were planned after asking questions such as, “How do shadows happen?” and “How do shadows come alive?” to help children reflect on their experiences. The class’s work continues. Documentation panels share the work with families and help children remember and think about their work thus far. 

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Ed News: Putting the ‘E’ in STEM for the Littlest Learners

News Roundup banner

This week in education news, Sen. Lamar Alexander plans to retire; 2018 federal report found that only 18 percent of the innovations funded by the Education Department lifted student achievement; project-based learning has developed a significant following in recent years; Illinois ranks fifth nationally in the number of STEM degrees awarded and has the fifth-largest STEM workforce in the country; federal school safety panel takes no stance on giving teachers guns as a means to protect students; preschoolers are natural engineers with an inclination to design the world around them; and robotics has emerged as the sport of STEM education.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Capitol Hill’s Top Republican on Education, Won’t Run in 2020

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has been Capitol Hill’s leading Republican on education issues for more than decade, announced Monday that he’s not planning to run again in 2020. Read the article featured in Education Week.

STEM Toys Promise to Turn Kids into Tech Geniuses. Grown-Up Coders are Skeptical

Like many parents, Dave Balter and Sarah Hodges spend hours and hours before the holidays each year puzzling over the array of educational toys that promise to help children develop scientific curiosity and technological skills. Toys aren’t just toys anymore. There’s a growing market for so-called STEM toys, which promise to imbue young minds with science, technology, engineering, and math skills. But for every product that helps kids learn, there are plenty of others that simply cash in on parents’ desire to prepare their kids for a changing economy. Read the article in the Boston Globe.

The ‘Dirty Secret’ About Educational Innovation

As part of the federal recovery effort to boost the economy after the 2008 recession, the U.S. Education Department suddenly had a big pot of money to give away to “innovations” in education. Since then, more than $1.5 billion has been spent on almost 200 ideas because Congress continued to appropriate funds even after the recession ended. Many of the grant projects involved technology, sometimes delivering lessons or material over the internet. In order to obtain the grants, recipients had to determine if their ideas were effective by tracking test scores. Results are in for the first wave of 67 programs, representing roughly $700 million of the innovation grants and it doesn’t look promising. Read the article featured in The Hechinger Report.

Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

Hand and Power Tool Safety

There are many safety hazards associated with the use of hand and power tools, and teachers and students should be trained to recognize them and understand what safety precautions should be taken to avoid them.

Safety Precautions

For hand tool use, follow these general precautions published by the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology:

Hand tools shall only be used for their intended purpose.
• Inspect tools for damage prior to use.
• Hand tools shall be maintained in good condition free of damage. For example, wooden handles on tools, such as a hammer or an axe, shall be tight and free from splinters or cracks.
• Bent screwdrivers or screwdrivers with chipped edges shall be replaced.
• Always direct tools such as knives, saw blades, etc. away from aisle areas and away from other employees working in close proximity.
• Knives and scissors must be sharp; dull tools can cause more hazards than sharp ones.
• Cracked saw blades must be removed from service.
• Wrenches must not be used when jaws are sprung to the point that slippage occurs.
• Impact tools such as drift pins, wedges, and chisels must be kept free of mushroomed heads.
• Iron or steel hand tools may produce sparks that can be an ignition source around flammable substances. Spark-resistant tools made of non-ferrous materials should be
used where flammable gases, highly volatile liquids, and other explosive substances are stored or used.
• Keep the work area and tools clean. Dirty, greasy tools and floor may cause accidents.
• Tools shall be stored in a dry secure location.
• Carry and store tools properly. All sharp tools shall be carried and stored with the sharp edge down. Do not carry sharp tools in a pocket.
• Wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

OSHA provides the following general precautions for power tools use:

Never carry a tool by the cord or hose.
• Never yank the cord or the hose to disconnect it from the receptacle.
• Keep cords and hoses away from heat, oil, and sharp edges.
• Disconnect tools when not using them, before servicing and cleaning them, and when changing accessories such as blades, bits, and cutters.
• Keep all people not involved with the work at a safe distance from the work area.
• Secure objects with clamps or a vise, freeing both hands to operate the tool.
• Avoid accidental starting. Do not hold fingers on the switch button while carrying a plugged-in tool.
• Maintain tools with care; keep them sharp and clean for best performance.
• Follow instructions in the user’s manual for lubricating and changing accessories.
• Be sure to keep good footing and maintain good balance when operating power tools.
• Wear proper apparel for the task. Loose clothing, ties, or jewelry can become caught in moving parts.
• Remove all damaged portable electric tools from use and tag them: “Do Not Use.”

Whether using hand or power tools, follow these five basic safety protocols to prevent accidents:

• Have regularly scheduled maintenance to keep tools in good operating condition.
• Use the correct tool for the job.
• Inspect all tools for damage prior to use. Never use a damaged tool!
• Read the manufacturers’ instructions before using any tool.
• By way of safety training, learn how to assess and use the appropriate engineering controls, operating procedures, and personal protective equipment.

Hand and Power Tool School Safety Programs

School administrations must develop a tool safety program that includes student and teacher safety procedures and employer and employee responsibilities for hand and power tools.

Suggested Employer (administrators and supervisors) Responsibilities

• Develop a hand and power tool safety program (including periodic evaluations and updates) based on OSHA and other regulatory agency standards.
• Provide oversight to make sure tools are free of defects and properly maintained.
• All tools must be operated according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
• Provide appropriate safety training and record keeping for employees using tools before working with them.
• Provide appropriate supervision to ensure employees and students are complying with the safety program.
• Make sure defective tools are taken out of service immediately.
• Conduct periodic inspections of instructional site using hand and power tools.

Suggested Employee (teachers and paraprofessionals) Responsibilities

• Attend safety training programs before using tools;
• Visual inspection for tool defects or hazards prior to use.
• Immediately tag defective tools as out of service.
• Report defects to supervisor.

For an example of a hand and power tool safety program check out the safety program developed by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Also, check out this PowerPoint employee/student training program titled Power Tool Safety.

Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at safersci@gmail.com or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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