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


Baker’s Half Dozen (31/01/14)

In this regular feature, I list my 6 favourite practical science links from the past fortnight. Only five really got me excited this fortnight! If you have used or seen a great practical resource, let me know by commenting or by tweeting me @TFScientist

A cheap and easy biology practical (Image courtesy of BioMed Central, CC-BY)

  • Subject: Biology (Orange Juice Challenge)
  • Log in?: No
  • Source: Twitter via BioMed Central (@BioMedCentral)
  • Author: BioMed Central Blog
  • Details: Cheap and easy biology practicals are surprisingly difficult to find. This is a great investigation into how our eyes can fool our taste buds. All you need is some juice, food colouring and the protocol from the bottom of the link.


  • Subject: Chemistry (Demonstrations only)
  • Log in?: No
  • Source: Twitter via National STEM Centre (@NtlSTEMCentre)
  • Author: Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Details: This is a real chemistry treasure trove! This site contains 100 demonstrations that GCSE pupils are not able to perform themselves. Remember that a demonstration should have a clear purpose, and not be included just to waste a few minutes of lesson time.

iPad screen-capture

  • Subject: Practical Science
  • Price?: Free (from iTunes or the Apple App store. Not on Android)
  • Source/author: Science House Foundation (@sciencehousefdn)
  • Details: Over 80 videos of science experiments and demonstrations. A great collection that even shows you how to make your own versions of expensive equipment, for a fraction of the cost. Well worth having on your iPhone or iPad.

Using pipe cleaners and pony beads to make DNA (Image courtesy of Hayley Thompson)

  • Subject: Biology (DNA Modelling and Replication)
  • Log in?: Yes (Free)
  • Source and Author: Twitter via Hayley Thompson (@HThompson1982)
  • Details:A simple way to model the structure of DNA. Even better, you then use these models to teach DNA replication – the students must figure out how this structure might replicate. A great independent learning idea that is simple and attractive. Perfect! Resource comes with a video, instructions on how to make the model and a fantastic accompanying powerpoint presentation.

  • Subject: Science Numeracy
  • Log in?: No
  • Author: Rob Butler (@cleverfiend)
  • Details: Not strictly a practical resource, but a resource useful for practicals. Last Monday, ASEchat (every monday from 8pm!) focussed on numeracy in science. Practical science is a great way of teaching numeracy, particularly with skills such as serial dilutions, graphing, lines of best fit and scaling. Rob provides his take on the chat, with a full transcript available at the bottom of the page

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”

“The work of science is to substitute facts for appearances, and demonstrations for impressions.”

John Ruskin

(Although nothing makes an impression like a good demonstration!)

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.