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!

1 comment:

  1. I am a 7th grade science teacher in South Carolina and I just got done teaching lab safety. Our school district has created curriculum maps for each grade level, which indicate how long we have to teach each unit. We taught lab safety and the scientific method for the first week and a half of school. I completely agree that lab safety is reviewed every year. I had students tell me that the activity we were doing they had done last year. Students know and can explain lab safety rules, so it is our job to make challenging and fun activities for them to demonstrate their lab safety knowledge. We completed several problem solving labs. The overall favorite of students was called Save Fred. It involves a gummy worm (Fred), a life saver gummy candy (life preserver), a plastic cup (the boat), and two paperclips. The problem is that Fred was sailing along on his boat and a strong wind came along and flipped his boat upside down. Fred ended up on top of the boat while his life preserver was trapped under the boat. Fred needs to get into his life preserver without falling into the ocean. The tricky part is that students can only touch the two paperclips and nothing else. They cannot stab Fred, the life preserver, or the boat but they are allowed to un-bend the paperclips. Students easily figure out how to rescue the life preserver but the challenging part occurs when they realize that Fred is too big to fit into the life preserver. So the students have to work together with their lab partner to stretch the life preserver and fit it onto Fred. We also spend time reading a SpongeBob lab safety situation and highlighting all of the lab safety rules SpongeBob and his pals broke on the SMART board.

    Your CSI lab safety lesson is a great way to start off the year. I love CSI and any show involving cops trying to solve crimes and so do the majority of my students. This is a great way of showing students science in a real-world context. It gives students a chance to work in groups and try to figure out what happened to Billy Bob. I liked how you incorporated technology into this lesson by playing the recording of the 911 call Billy Bob made before he died. That made the lesson even more authentic and made students really want to figure out what happened to Billy Bob. Another way you could incorporate technology is by having each group digital record their group’s CSI re-enactment to what they think happened to Billy Bob. This way the entire class could see what the other groups thought happened to Billy Bob. After watching all the recordings the class could vote on the group’s
    re-enactment that was most plausible. Do you tell the students what really happened to Billy Bob or do you leave them wondering the rest of the year? I look forward to viewing your blog throughout the school year to see what other creative lessons you incorporate into your classroom.