Classroom Science: Finding the Right Balance Between Supervision and Curious Experimentation

A recent Huffington Post article (Kiera Wilmot, 16, Arrested And Expelled For Explosive ‘Science Experiment’) has drawn quite a bit of attention from our readers. And it certainly got our attention as well. The National Science Teachers Association promotes excellence and innovation in science teaching for all, and we value the need for supervision and safety. But we also want to encourage curiosity and experimentation. Bloggers have been weighing, for example We would like to hear from science teachers—is this an isolated incident or do you worry about students being criminally charged, and does it put a damper on your science program? Do your students express concern about exploring for themselves? Please join the conversation! And please use the safety resources below should you need guidance in this area.
Science Safety Resources

  • The Integral Role of Laboratory Investigations in Science Instruction (NSTA Position Statement)
  • NSTA’s Safety Portal, with guidelines and links to a wealth of safety resources, including guidelines from NSTA’s safety advisory board and safety resource lists by grade level. These links are collated from NSTA’s safety advisory board, various states’ departments of education, NSTA affiliates, news publications, and industry leaders. Please note that this resource compilation DOES NOT SUPERCEDE SCHOOL, SCHOOL SYSTEMS, LOCAL, STATE, OR FEDERAL LAWS, REGULATIONS, CODES, AND PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the science teachers and school administrators to use appropriate legal standards and best professional practices under duty of care to make it safer in the science laboratory.
  • Farewell MSDSs; Welcome SDSs! (NSTA Reports; November 2012)
    Revisions to the Hazard Communication Standard by Occupational Safety & Health Administration published in May 2012 impact teachers, schools, and their chemical suppliers. The author notes the changes under the revisions and the training educators will be required to have.

Should your district require in-depth training in the subject, please contact Zipporah Miller (
The NSTA Learning Center contains a wealth of resources, which can be searched by grade level, discipline,and so forth. A sampling is below.
Exploring Safely book coverSetting the Scene
A chapter from Exploring Safely: A Guide for Elementary Teachers
Investigative science provides the opportunity for students to learn new skills. But it also means more work and responsibility for everyone. An active science program requires the distribution, use, and care of much more material and equipment than a textbook/workbook program. Classroom management is the first key to a safe learning environment—and to satisfaction for the teacher. This free selection includes the Table of Contents and Preface.
Imaginative Inventions
A chapter from More Picture-Perfect SCIENCE Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, K–4
Learners explore the invention process by learning about inventions throughout history and how inventions fill needs or wants, by improving existing inventions, and by keeping a toy invention journal. They further their understandings of the risks and benefits of inventions by testing toys and comparing the fun rating and the safety rating of each toy. This free selection includes the Table of Contents, Foreword, Preface, sections About the Authors and About the Picture-Perfect
Program, and reproducible instructional materials.
Middle Level
Inquiring Safely book coverSetting the Scene: Basic Rules for a Safer Science Classroom
A chapter from Inquiring Safely: A Guide for Middle School Teachers
Six classes, six teachers—just navigating middle school is a voyage of discovery for early adolescents. Students are offered a confusing array of choices, many in science. Sometimes it seems teachers spend too much science class time teaching organization, caution, and control. But these skills—critical to making science experiences exciting and safe—are also important science processes. These years offer wonderful opportunities to capture students’ energy and channel it toward the excitement of scientific exploration. But everything teachers do in middle school science classrooms must recognize the developmental level of our young scientists and their penchant for risk-taking that we must temper sufficiently to promote safety. This free selection includes the Table of Contents, Foreword, Introduction, and References.
High School
Safer Science book coverIntroduction to Safety in Science
A chapter from The NSTA Ready-Reference Guide to Safer Science, Volume 3
This chapter provides an overview of general safety practices for the classroom. Topics discussed are Making Adjustments for Mobility- Impaired Students, Laboratory Safety: Welcome Aboard!, Good-Bye MSDS, Hello SDS! Yes, NSTA’s Portal Into the Safety Zone, and Getting Students in the Safety Zone.
Safer Science: Personal Protective Equipment—It’s the Law!
Article from The Science Teacher
In addition to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) personal protective equipment (PPE) standard—OSHA Laboratory Standard 29CFR 1910.132—and other professional prudent practices, many states have protective eye devise statutes. PPE is third in the hierarchy approach to dealing with safety. In this priority list, the employer must first evaluate the feasibility of engineering controls and administrative procedures before considering the use of PPE. This month’s Safer Science column includes components that reflect the body of the PPE assessment that should be addressed by teachers, students, and supervisors in science laboratories or field experiences.
Science Safety book coverSetting the Scene: Safer Science in a Drive-Through Learning Community
A chapter from Science Safety in the Community College
Developing a responsible and safe introductory community college laboratory science program is a challenge. The subject matter is complex, requiring cerebral, technical, and mechanical skills. The prior knowledge and experiences of students are diverse—they range from retired professionals returning for intellectual stimulation to high school dropouts who have discovered the need for education and just passed their General Educational Development exams. The authors hope this book provides some of that guidance and that, more important, it reminds all involved that specific attention must be paid to safety for all laboratory science instruction. This free selection includes the Table of Contents and an Introduction.

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1 Response to Classroom Science: Finding the Right Balance Between Supervision and Curious Experimentation

  1. Michael says:

    Health and safety in UK schools is an issue that should never be taken lightly due to all of the HSE regulations. The consequences for schools that fail to meet all current safety standards can be catastrophic to the say the least. The governments HSE website is a very helpful site when it comes to health and safety regulations and should be referred to often.

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