Professional Learning

Classroom management during an inquiry activity or lab

Hello! I teach 8th grade science and need some thoughts, ideas and practice advice on classroom management during these type of lessons; particularly with regards to safety.  Noise and activity do not bother me and my classes can get loud at times when they are working in groups.  What expectations can I reasonably establish that wil be proactive for my students who are unsafe during these activities?  I have a few who run around, yell, horseplay and generally disrupt my labs.  The other teacher is having the same issues. I have ways of responding to these situations-pull child out, give them an alternative assignment that provides written content covering the same topic we are covering with the lab or inquiry activity. I want to head this off at the beginning of the year and restructure my first few weeks activities to prevent or control as much of this disruption before it happens. I want the labs and inquiry activities to be looked forward to and for the students to enjoy that form of learning, however I also want them to be safe.  I completed the Flinn safety training, and use their monthly Safety emails to keep myself and the other 8th grade teacher up to date. I teach a week on safety, show several safety videos, go through  electrical, glassware, thermal and chemical safety.  I stress I am preparing them for high school so that they can really enjoy and learn a great deal from the labs there and feel secure they can participate properly and safely.  we don't have much lab equipment or glassware beyond what I have scrounged, begged for or found at Goodwill but we have the basics.  No sinks, chemical storage, chemicals or bunsen burners. I use kitchen chemicals and candles or hotplates. I am writing grants to get science equipment and glassware, a goggle sterilizer, and a small chemical storage cabinet. I taught high school level science prior to moving to middle school and I know I had many kids struggling in my labs there and whose behavior was not acceptable.   I want to be able to be clear on what behavior and participation I expect, the consequences for violating a safety rule and what I can reasonably expect for student behavior.  What do you all expect?  What behavior is not acceptable and how do you teach them how to act and behave?  How do you prepare them and what equipment do you expect 8th graders to be able to handle properly? inquiry is a major portion of our Grade Level Expectations and next year we are supposed to start using our state's version of NGSS so now is a good time to get my labs and inquiry activities better prepared for.  I have them read through the Flinn safety contract with me and then they take it home and get parents signature, they sign it and return.  My classroom management plan included my no tolerance approach to safety violations or creating an unsafe situation.  Any ideas or guidance would be greatly appreciated.  I have an excellent partner teacher, we split the 8th grade students between us.  Our rooms are pretty much the same except she has half desks and real lab tables and I have just desks.  She is a fantastic teacher and on the same page as I am with these issues.  I am not complaining about my school and I have a very supportive administration, I just want to know how other teachers at the grade level are handling these situations so I can improve my practice and get ideas. Thank you!  Anne

Anne Kilbourn
Anne Kilbourn
440 Activity Points

Hi Anne! I hope your students appreciate the amount of effort you put in to provide them with hands-on lab activities! I guess the first step to answering your question about expectations is what do YOU expect of their behavior? I primarily 7th graders but frequently also 8th graders. It's difficult enough to prep and to get the kids through the procedure, but to do so on top of disruptions or other "nonsense" can be deflating. I'm similar in that I'm not opposed to noise and talking as they work in groups, as long as it's related to the activity. My expectations for labs is similar to those for my classroom, but horseplay of any kind is even less tolerated because of the potential for accidents, harmful or otherwise. I lay this out at the beginning of the year with all group activities, and I conduct early activities by guiding them step by step before allowing more independence. I tell them that every activity is their opportunity to show me that they should do more hands-on activities instead of fewer. I don't hesitate to have them throw away lab materials or stop them mid-lab if they don't follow directions (after a warning) or are being careless or disruptive. I've taken lab work away from classes but made it possible for them to "earn" it back by consistently "good behavior." I try to put some of the onus on them to help monitor each other's behavior for the benefit of the greater good. Certainly, as you mentioned, individuals who consistently or severely cause problems are given alternative assignments. In terms of lab skills and equipment, we frequently use glass beakers and mostly household chemicals and other materials. My biggest concern is always their ability to follow directions. If they do that, then I worry less about what skill or equipment they're using. Since your classroom management plan includes a zero-tolerance policy for safety violations, then perhaps consider spelling these out from the very beginning and modeling it until meeting your expectations becomes automatic for the students (with perhaps even them managing each other). It sounds like we're doing similar things, but perhaps consider spelling out your expectations from the very beginning and being firm whenever and with whatever consequences are earned. Don't know if this helps, but thank you for sharing! - Sylvia

Sylvia Tseng
Sylvia Tseng
1525 Activity Points

I completely agree with Sylvia about the importance of teaching expectations. Labs are inherently dangerous places: fire,acids/bases, solvents, glass, liquid nitrogen, etc. Lab is the one place where the teacher must have absolute compliance. I would spend as much time as possible teaching and re-teaching lab safety expectations. I would dry-run everything in the classroom and make sure that everyone is on board. I would make an example of the first student who breaks a safety rule. Again, the lab can be a scary place when you consider the potential physical dangers and of coarse liability. If an accident occurs the teacher can be found legally negligent. Because the teacher is the considered “In Loco Parentis" or taking the place of the parents, supreme caution must always be exercised in potentially dangerous situations, like a lab environment. In summary, teach and re-teach lab expectations, don't be afraid to punish safety violations, and lastly, err on the side of caution. James Hancock

James Hancock
James Hancock
350 Activity Points

Hello! That is all great advise for 8th grade. If it were in Elementary, what kind of different advise can I receive about classroom management during an inquiry lab/activity? Would the management be the same? How are they different (besides the age group)? Zeina Moubayed

Zeina Moubayed
Zeina Moubayed
810 Activity Points

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