Safety in the Science Classroom, Lab and Field Papers and Presentations


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Cathy Ezrailson
added 8 research items
Standard 9 of the National Science Teachers Association Standards for Science Teacher Preparation is designed to ensure that science teacher preparation programs provide preservice science teachers with the knowledge and skills to understand and successfully engage students in a safe and ethical manner. This standard contains four components describing science teachers’ legal and ethical responsibilities, appropriate use of instructional materials (chemicals in particular), emergency procedures and safety equipment, and guidelines for proper use of living organisms in the classroom. In this article, we describe the requirements of Standard 9 and provide guidance on assessments that can be used to present evidence for preservice teachers’ competence in each of the four components.
Science safety in is a vital issue in 2008 because: 1) it is tested on many state science content tests, 2) pre-service teachers take the Praxis test which also requires knowledge of safe science practice, 3) teachers are being trained in alternative ways that may omit safe science methods, 4) science content standards in many states emphasize doing science without specific safety guidelines, especially for middle and elementary classrooms and 5) science methods curricula have not always included planning for and conducting experiments safely. National Science Education Standards (NSES) encourage active science learning with"bestpractices" promoting inquiry-based and hands-on instruction at all instructional levels. Teachers who teach science are using equipment that may or may not be developmentally appropriate for their students (using open flames in K-2nd grade, for example). Accidents occur and go unreported. Based on a survey of practice in South Dakota schools, a national survey of science teaching practice K-12 is proposed.
The National Safety Council has estimated that 5000 safety-related accidents occur in American schools each year, at least ten per cent of these are science classroom related (Stroud 2009). Moreover, state safety data extracted from research studies spanning 75 years establish school lab safety as a national problem. Clearly, teachers and students, if trained in safe lab procedures, would decrease the risk of injury and death resulting from accidents. Legal standards of care are prescribed to schools with costly consequences for non-observance of these standards. Even so, few school districts implement or monitor OSHA recommendations. According to the Next Generation Science Standards (released in April 2012) and AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy (first released in 1993), science courses must provide firsthand hands-on science experiences for students. With these increased number of hands-on experiences, especially in the primary grades, the risk of injury increases. As part of a study to ascertain the science safety readiness of South Dakota schools, in 2009 and 2012, science safety surveys were disseminated to science teachers. Among questions posed were: Is science taught safely through recommended hands-on inquiry methods and which factors determine if science is being taught safely? In an earlier South Dakota pilot study of classroom teachers statewide, 18% were found not to be specifically certified in science and 85% indicated that they never had formal science safety instruction. These data are typical of results from similar studies in other states that document the severity of the school science safety problem. The purpose of this paper is to examine science lab safety in South Dakota and support a strong recommendation (as OSHA has) that pre-service science teachers (as well as all science teachers already in classrooms) be trained and certified explicitly in safe science procedures before conducting science experiments with students.