Sunday, September 15, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Does a Lab

Instead of the traditional lab safety discussion I have done year in and year out (which I have always dreaded and is indeed as boring as it sounds), I decided to make this year's emphasis on lab safety take a decidedly different form.

I read Scaredy Squirrel to them on the second day of school, promising he would make another appearance later.  Then, on Tuesday, I introduced the project, placing a different Scaredy Squirrel book on each group's table.  The objective was to demonstrate their understanding of lab safety and the proper use of lab safety equipment using Scaredy Squirrel as inspiration.  I told them that they could create any "artifact" that would help them demonstrate their understanding.  My suggestions included a video, comic strip, keynote, children's book, or infographic.  Colby and I had even purchased two stuffed Scaredy Squirrel puppets that I allowed students to use if they wanted.  To make the assignment a little more well-rounded, I also included a component that required the students to include the proper names and uses of at least 3 pieces of laboratory equipment.  

On Tuesday, with roughly 20 minutes of class remaining, I asked students to form groups of 1, 2, or 3.  Then, they drew from a beaker for the 3 pieces of lab equipment and the 4 safety rules they had to demonstrate.  The rest of this time was designated for brainstorming.

Then, on Wednesday (an early release day), I gave them the entire class hour to work on their artifacts (approximately 48 minutes).  This was a super-fun day:

  • The fire blanket came out of its container for the first time in my career, because I allowed students to start small (safe, contained) fires on their lab benches to demonstrate its proper use. 

  • There were baking soda and vinegar volcanoes to show -- well, nearly everything; from the proper use of various pieces of equipment, to safety guidelines, to the "what not to do".

  • The safety shower was pulled and the eye wash triggered -- repeatedly.   This is another thing I've never done, worrying about the mess.  It was definitely messy, but it was worth it to see the students so into it.  The Scaredy puppet even used the eye wash and the safety shower...which was pretty entertaining.

The project went better than I ever could have imagined.  I loved seeing the students engaged, working hard and being creative.  

On Friday, I designed a "showcase" for students to display their artifacts.  Each group's work was displayed at a different table in the room, and I allowed them to rotate about the room, observing the work of others.

There were some really incredible artifacts, including some amazing children's books, some very cool audio/video "books" made using the "Show Me" app, Keynote presentations, comics made using "Comic Life", and iMovies.  There were even a couple of live skits.  I hope to post some examples of student work later this week.  In the meantime, here is a tiny example of one group's presentation, in which they used an app to graphically "enhance" an existing image of Scaredy:

I am so blowing this up to poster size and hanging it in my room.

I loved that I took a risk and tried this project.  Not only do I think it was more fun that what I have done in the past, but I know the students got a lot more out of it and will be more likely to remember it throughout the year.


  1. This is fantastic! I can't wait to share it with some of my secondary teacher friends.

  2. Alaina,
    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing this. As a former chemistry teacher, these are the kinds of ideas I would have snatched up in a second. As an edtech person, I love your last paragraph - thanks for taking risks and being willing to share this. Any chance we can see some of the student work?


  3. so cool. I wish i had you for chemistry.

  4. Love this idea! Must look up this squirrel book/puppet. Love the recent blog regarding the speech! His awesome!