Saturday, September 4, 2010

CSI: Lab safety

I am obligated to cover the basics of lab safety at the beginning of every school year. During my first few years of teaching, I spent about a week on safety, reviewing the rules and safety symbols. I had students create posters, skits and commercials all to drive home the importance of safety in the classroom.

I eventually realized that students were doing these same activities EVERY year. The rules were mostly common sense and I was determined to find a quicker, more engaging method of driving home the point of safety.

I came across an excellent article in NSTA's Science Scope magazine called "Good, Messy, Frothing Fun". It explained how to use a forensic crime scene to show the dangers of a science classroom lab if students disobey safety rules. I had always been a CSI fan so I first tried this activity a few years ago with great success. The original article called for an adult (principal, aide, parent, etc.) to lay down and pretend they were dead. I wasn't ready to go that far, nor do I want some poor sap to lie on my floor all day, so I use my team mascots, which are stuffed animals we have won through magazine drives.

Billy Bob is dead!
Students walk into my room to see my mascot lying dead on the floor with fake blood and vomit (Ritz crackers and water works well!) all over the place. The phone is off the hook, and there are numerous beakers, cylinders, hot plates, and food and drink on the lab table. The students must process the scene and determine all of the safety violations "Billy Bob" broke that led to his demise. They then work in CSI groups to determine what happened based on their observations of the evidence.

Students are very engaged and usually come up with elaborate theories of murder, and I am often considered a prime suspect. The crime scene gets more detailed every year. I even created a an audio recording of Billy Bob calling 9-1-1 to report that he accidentally drank chemicals because he confused it with the water he was drinking. You can listen to the audio recording below!