Category Archives: Fast Fixes

Fast Fix – Visualising Plant Cells

Use red onion when teaching students how to use a microscope.

Prepared slides are expensive and easily broken, particularly by excited year 7s. Before you teach your students how to mount a slide with iodine and cover slips, teach them how to focus a microscope using red onion.

Red onion:

  • Peels very easily;
  • Requires no staining;
  • Are much smaller than white onions (less wastage).

How do you teach microscopy?


Fast Fix – Attention Whistle

Use a whistle to get attention in noisy practical lessons

Practical lessons can be (should be?) noisy places. They are filled with discussion, roaring bunsens, crashing cars or squelching organs. A loud blast on a whistle is an instant, low effort and effective way of regaining attention.

If this isn’t for you, try using other non-verbal cues. You should never have to shout for attention in a class.  Your voice is your most important tool and you must look after it.


  • Whistle (really you will be surprised how well it works)
  • Raising your hand and counting down from five on your fingers
  • Clapping out a rhythm
  • A digital klaxon

How do you get attention in your practical lessons?

Fast Fix – Digital timers

Use digital timers (projected on your smartboard) to maintain pace in your practical lessons

A fullscreen, countdown timer helps focus your students on their work, and makes sure the teacher doesn’t let a practical drag on too long. Most smartboard software comes with integrated digital timers (my favourite was SMARTs Notebook software). If you can’t use these, there are plenty of free digital timers available online:

I usually ask my pupils which funny alarm they want used. Just remember to download one to your computer in case of internet black outs.

Fast Fix – Measured Doses

Ask your science technician to set out your practical equipment with pre-measured/weighed ‘doses’ of reagents. These can be laid out in separate containers which your equipment managers can collect and bring back to their group. This has a number of benefits:

  • Speeds up the practical – particularly where you have limited numbers of balances or measuring cylinders;
  • Prevents queuing, and the poor behaviour that goes with it;
  • Reduces the risk of spillages – this is particularly important with nastier chemicals
  • Massively reduces waste and cross-contamination – pupils often pour excess reagent down the drain;
  • Equipment is more easily tidied away.

It is important that your lab technician is given precise instructions, and given plenty of notice. This preparation takes time, but will benefit your lesson.

Measuring out chemical volumes/quantities is an important skill in science. Make sure that you give your students opportunities to learn accurate, safe and skilful measuring technique. But this can be a lesson (objective) all in itself, where you are not so worried about the results of an investigation

Fast Fix – Example Equipment

Use example equipment set ups for students to look at.

Students often struggle to translate scientific diagrams into a practical set up. By providing an example set up, you are giving the students a Rosetta Stone – an aid in translation. This prevents students asking you “is this right?” over and over, and prevents dangerous or wasteful set ups.

By having both the diagram and an example students will rapidly improve their scientific drawings and experimental set-ups.

Your role in checking equipment is now a quick glance followed by a “Go and check the example equipment”

Fast Fix – Equipment Numbers

Some practicals are dangerous, but necessary if we are to teach the syllabus thoroughly.

Dissections often cause palpatations among science teachers – there is a glut of things that can go wrong. Stolen equipment should never be one of these.

Mark all of your dangerous equipment (scalpels, micro-balances, syringes etc.) with a number in permanent ink. Have a corresponding numbered list. When you hand out a scalpel, make a single person responsible for it. They sign their name next to the number of the scalpel and it is not to leave their sight.

If the scalpel does go a-wandering, you know who to go to, and who has to frantically search for it while the rest of the class wait behind their seats.

Fast Fix – Managing Congestion

Control the movement of pupils in your lab to avoid congestion and prevent accidents.

In practical lessons, most accidents occur when collecting or returning equipment. There are lots of reasons for this but congestion is usually the culprit. Prevent this by:

  1. Assigning group roles to limit the numbers of pupils moving around the room;
  2. Spread the equipment out around the room at labelled equipment stations: eg. Glassware, Wet Chemicals, Dry Chemicals, Measuring Devices;
  3. Distributing plastic tubs at the end of practicals to each table for glassware to prevent glass breakages. These can be filled with disinfectant if required, or labelled with ‘Rinse First’;
  4. Plan specific ‘Tidy-time’ (more than 10mins before the end) to prevent students rushing to pack away before the bell.