Tips for Teachers

Tip 1: Make Science Activities a Hit in Your Classroom
Here are some strategies you can use to make science both a fun-filled adventure for students and the easiest and most organized period of your day.

  • Know the Experiment.
    Read each experiment completely before starting, and practice doing the experiment prior to class time. A better understanding of the topic and familiarity with procedures and materials will make it easier for you to give instructions, answer questions, and expound on the topic.
  • Collect and Organize Supplies in Advance.
    You will be less frustrated and more successful if you have all the necessary materials for the experiments ready for instant use. Decide whether the students will be doing the experiment individually or in groups, and calculate from that how much of each material you will need for the class. Designate a table in the classroom for the supplies and put each type of material in its own box or area of the table. Trays or boxes for students make it easier for them to carry the materials to their work area. Students can also help gather and organize supplies for the supply table.
  • Set Up Collaborative Groupings.
    Teams of four are ideal but smaller or larger groups are also acceptable. For example, very young children may work better in groups of two. Each team collects and analyzes data and prepares a written or oral report of the results. Collaboration not only enhances student learning, but reduces the number of supplies needed. ( See teacher tip on "Organization" for hints on how to organize groups and assign job functions.)
  • Supervise the Experimentation.
    Instruct your students to read through each experiment before beginning. Emphasize that safety is of the utmost importance, so instructions should be followed exactly and steps should not be skipped or added. You may want to demonstrate all or part of the procedure beforehand. You might stop short of showing the final step so that the students experience seeing the results for the first time themselves.

Tip 2: Organization...Makes Science Activities Easy
Here are some helpful hints on how to organize student groups and define job functions so that more time is spent on actually doing fun-filled science activities!

  • Job Assignments.
    Assign, or let the group assign each group member a job. This will make science time both a fun-filled adventure for the students and a time that you look forward to as one of the easiest and most organized periods of the day. Lab aprons make the activities cleaner and feel more scientific, and help get kids excited about being scientists. Different colored aprons for each job make it easy to identify each student's responsibility.
  • Suggested Job Titles and Duties:
    • Director - leads the activity and determines what part of the activity each group member performs. Let the director select a group name.
    • Supply Manager- picks up supplies for the activity. The Supply Managers can assemble at the supply table to learn about the materials and receive any specific instructions.
    • Recorder- draws and/or writes the groups observations, and collects and turns in any group work.
    • Waste Manager- puts all used material in its proper place and ensures the work area is clan and ready for the next activity.
  • Changing Jobs Assignments.
    Rotating job assignments weekly works well. The Supply Manager can be to pick up the new job assignment sheet for his/her group. Gently remind the students who nay have forgotten (or redefined) the job description of their duties.

Tip 3: How to Make Outdoor Science Activities a Success
Here are some helpful hints on how to organize helpers, materials and students to make an outdoor activity easy for you and a hit with your students!

  • Pave the Way:
    Discuss your plans with your curriculum supervisor and the custodial director. Your curriculum director may have ideas that you had not considered and the custodial supervisor controls the schedule for lawn mowing. You may or may not want the grass mowed in the selected work area but, you certainly do not want mowers in the area during the activity.
  • Enlist Helpers:
    If preparation of the outdoor area is necessary before the experiment, solicit the aid of an adult assistant, such as a parent. You will be more likely to get a positive response if the assistant knows exactly what he or she is expected to do.
  • Students are always willing helpers.
    Choose student helpers to be responsible for carrying out and bringing in specific supplies.
  • Organize Materials:
    It is critical that all supplies be available. Problems are more likely to occur if students have to wait while you look for missing supplies. Prior to the activity, mentally picture each step of the activity, make a list of necessary materials, place the materials in appropriate containers, then check the materials against your list, twice.
  • Prepare Students:
    Discuss the objective and procedure of the activity. If possible, take students outdoors to the work before the activity. This allows them to develop a better mental picture of how they will conduct the activity.
  • Just In Case...
    Have an alternate plan for a fun indoor classroom activity, just in case the weather is bad!

Tip 4: Materials

  • Many experiments call for water.
    If you don't have a sink in your classroom, you can supply water in a beverage dispenser with a push-button spout. This kind of container keeps water handy and helps; minimize spills. Place the container on the edge of the supply table and put a small plastic wastebasket on the floor under the spigot to catch overflows.
  • If an experiment involves cooling and you do not have access to a refrigerator, you can use an ice chest holding a few sacks of ice or ice packs.
  • To save time, you can precut some of the materials (except string, see below), either to the exact size needed or to a slightly larger size if measuring is going to be part of the activity.
  • Do not cut string in advance because cut string generally gets twisted and is difficult to separate. Have the students measure and cut the needed lengths of string.
  • For a class of younger students (or if you have a only a short time to complete the experiment), prepare boxes containing all t he needed materials to complete one experiment for each student or group of students. Most materials will fit in just a shoe box. If you have many classes that will be doing the same experiment, you may wish to check the boxes in and out.
  • You may also want to keep labeled shoe boxes filled with basic supplies that are used in many experiments, such as scissors, tape, markers, and so forth.

Tip 5: Safety Tips

  • Without the approval of an adult supervisor, students should never skip or add procedural steps to the experiments.
  • Give students cautions and instructions on how to carry and use any sharp objects.
  • Students should never put any of the materials in their mouths unless they have been given specific instructions to do so (as when a tasting experiment is being performed).
  • Tasting experiments should be done in a special area that will contain only the food materials. The area should be covered with clean butcher paper. Paper plates and cups and plastic forks or toothpicks should be used to hold food, and then discarded after each use.
  • Supplies or experiment results should not be removed from the classroom unless special permission has been given.
  • Caution students not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with their hands while working with chemicals. Keep soap, water, and paper towels handy for washing hands before and after experiments.
  • When using straws, balloons or other materials that are placed in the mouth, be sure each student has his or her own and they do not share. Dispose of all such materials after each experiment is finished.
  • Use safety goggles and aprons as described by your science supervisor.

Tip 6: Getting Parents Involved

  • While all the supplies needed for the experiments in the Janice VanCleave books are inexpensive and readily available, it can't hurt to get some help in obtaining them. Here's one area where parents can get involved. With administrative permission, you may wish to send home a list of general supplies that will be needed during the school year or just supplies needed for a specific project. Be sure to make the request optional and not to ask for too many supplies, or parents might think you are asking too much of them.
  • You may wish to involve parent in the science activities themselves. Invite parents to sign up for a specific date to help with a science experiment in class. Give parents a copy of the experiment you are going to do before the class date so that they can review the materials and try out the experiment on their own. Then, in class time each parent could supervise a group, helping students if they get stuck and answering any questions they might have.
  • You might assign each student a homework project of explaining to their family what they learned from doing an experiment in the class. They may even want to direct their family in performing the experiment at home.