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Flipping the Safety Discussion and the Lab Work

Jennifer Maze
Science Teacher, Vista Ridge High School,
Colorado Springs, CO

One of the ideas that stuck with me after my first Flipped conference was that anything teachers repeat is something worth recording—say it once, say it well, and archive it so you don’t become a broken record in class.

Since I usually teach at least 3 sections of high school chemistry in a day, I could immediately apply this concept. My first hour class is like a practice class. By the time I get to the last hour of the day, I often feel like the classes have run together. My mind gets muddled. Did I remember to mention this or that? I also begin to lose my patience. It’s not a seventh hour student’s fault that 35 other kids have asked me the same question that day, but they’re the ones who may suffer when I cringe on the inside, wondering how many times I have to say the same thing. Of course it’s always important to keep my cool and make sure every student gets my best explanation. It’s especially important during the pre-lab safety discussion.

Considering video

When I taught a traditional class, I would do a quick overview of the lab equipment and safety considerations before allowing students to move forward with the experiment. Then as I moved from group to group, I’d review the same points with each group of students. I’d answer the same question repeatedly, sometimes stopping the lab to make an adjustment or give another safety admonition: “Goggles go over your eyes!”

So when I heard at the Flipped conference that I could consider recording a video for anything I found myself repeating, I immediately thought of the lab safety discussion. Now that I was implementing the mastery model and flipping my class, not all students were doing the same lab at the same time. I could either do a quick pre-lab talk with every group that was ready for the lab, or I could require them to interact with a video and prove their understanding of the procedure and lab safety precautions. I decided to maximize my time and flip the safety discussion. Then I had students demonstrate their understanding of what to do before I let them perform the lab.

Assessing student readiness with safety symbol drawings

One option is to have students sketch safety icons to summarize the safety risks that they need to be aware of.

Creating flow charts

Another way to check for understanding is to have students create a flow chart of the lab procedure.

Figure 1  Simple flow chart sketch

Photo by Cheri Smith, Yale Secondary School

Some students sketch simple charts while others make detailed drawings, but all students demonstrate that they have considered what the lab procedure means and how the work is to be accomplished.  Whether used for an inquiry lab or a more traditional lab, both the flow chart and safety icons provide evidence that students have a solid grasp of how to perform the lab.

Figure 2  Detailed flow chart sketch

Photo by Cheri Smith, Yale Secondary School

Recording lab instructions

You can use any video recording device to record what you would normally tell students before beginning the lab. At Falcon High School, I created and compiled the following pre-lab instructions, lab procedures and safety tips, and post-lab instructions:

Chemistry Podcast 1.5 Water Purification Prelab Info
Work with other teachers to create your video. Plan ahead to develop a script and decide who will say what.

Chemistry Podcast 1.6 Copper Chloride Prelab
Learn what not to do. Make sure you have all of your props with you before you start recording!

Penny Lab Safety Discussion
Have students help record the video and add captions for enhanced effectiveness.

Quarter Pounder Calories
Show students a real-world application of the units of measure we use in a lab.

Moles Mini-Lab Calculations
See an example of a post-lab discussion.

Flipped class methods helped me simplify my chemistry labs. They also helped me become a happier, more effective teacher. Now I don’t have to repeat myself all day long! It’s fun to get a question about the lab and hear a chorus of responses from the other students in class who have already seen the video. They either chime in with the answer or offer advice: “Dude, watch the video before you come to class. We don’t want to get blown up because you don’t know what to do!”

Now I’m available to have more meaningful discussions with my students about connections between the lab and the concepts we’re studying, real-life applications, and analysis of errors and measurement discrepancies. That’s the power of the flipped class: maximizing class time and the face-to-face moments we have with our students.