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Teacher Resources

Steps You Can Take to Prove You're a "Responsible" Science Teacher

Student X had a bad accident involving a chemical he obtained at school. As a senior in high school chemistry, the student was able to obtain a sizeable piece of elemental potassium from the stockroom. He wrapped the potassium in a paper towel and placed it inside his front pants pocket. Soon after, he walked home and by the time he was inside his house, the potassium spontaneously ignited and caught his pants on fire. The student sustained third-degree burns to his leg and abdomen and required skin grafting.

All science teachers dread the thought of having this type of "event" occur at their school. Who's responsible? The teacher? Student? School? A good definition for "who is responsible" is: "If you can reasonably foresee the consequences of what you're about to do, or are not about to do, you will be held responsible."

Today's science teachers must not only act responsibly, they must also be prepared to prove to others how they acted responsibly. Below are a few inexpensive ideas you can use in your classroom to document that you are a responsible science teacher.

Safety Contracts

On the first day of school, you need to establish a contractual relationship with your students. A student safety contract is a detailed listing of all of the rules of the laboratory. Review the safety contract with your students and have them sign and date it. Students should then take the contract home so their parents or guardians can review and sign the contract as well. As a responsible science teacher, you think safety is so important that you want the parents to be involved the very first day of school. If the student, or parent, does not sign the contract, the student will not be allowed to participate in any laboratory activity and will be given a failing grade for each day missed.

Does the safety contract have any legal weight? No, it does not. However, it does tell the students and parents that you are very serious about safety. Signed safety contracts will also go a long way in establishing that you are a responsible science teacher. Signed safety contracts document that the rules of the laboratory have been reviewed by all of the students in your class and you have their signatures to prove it.

If you don't wish to prepare your own safety contract, Flinn Scientific has developed a safety contract based on teachers' input. A free sample of the Flinn Safety Contract is available on the Flinn website.

The Flinn Safety Contract is also available in pads of 50 contracts (AP4236) for purchase.

Lesson Plans

Your lesson plan book is a very valuable document to have should you ever have to prove to someone that you are a responsible science teacher. Your lesson plan book is your personal journal or diary that documents all of the activities you have done in class for the entire school year. Your lesson plan book is also a great place to document all the safety discussions you have with your students.

Every time you discuss safety in class, jot down in your lesson plan book what you talked about. For instance, the day you discuss the safety contract, your lesson plan book should note that the safety contract was reviewed and discussed. Every time a lab or demonstration is done, select one of the rules from the safety contract, remind the students of the rule, and make note in your lesson plan book accordingly. Responsible science teachers constantly reinforce safety rules every day and get in the habit of writing in their lesson plan book what was discussed.

Safety Posters

Your students are visually oriented. Bright, colorful safety posters throughout the classroom/laboratory will help remind students that safety is important. While we would love for you to order our Flinn Scientific Safety Posters, we urge you to have students make their own. The next time you are absent from school and a substitute teacher watches the class, make that day a "safety day!" Provide the students with crayons, poster board, paper, and markers and have them make safety posters based on the safety contract. Decorate the walls with their homemade posters. Of course, your lesson plan book will clearly show that you think science safety is so important that your students spent the entire day making safety posters. What would normally have been a video day or worksheet day has now become an important safety day!

Firm Goggle Policy

A responsible science teacher must adopt a firm goggle policy. The policy we hope your school will adopt is "Any time chemicals, glassware, or heat is used, you must wear your laboratory goggles. No exceptions!"

Chemical Terms

When discussing laboratory safety the first couple weeks of school, you will be using terms like corrosive, flammable, oxidizer, etc. Do your students understand the meaning of these terms? Probably not! Try to explain and demonstrate to students what these terms mean. We have a wonderful demonstration to illustrate the concept of corrosion using cow eyes. If you would like a copy of this demonstration, please write to: Cow Eye Demonstration, Flinn Scientific, Inc., P.O. Box 219, Batavia, IL 60510, call us at 800-452-1261, or email flinn@flinnsci.com.

Safety Tickets

If a student violates a rule in your laboratory, shouldn't that student be given a ticket? The safety ticket can be prepared on two-part carbonless paper. Have a space for the student's name, date, class period, a checklist of the three most common rule violations, a space for you to write in the violation if it has not been previously listed, and spaces where the student and teacher can sign the ticket. Every time a lab rule is broken, the student will write himself a ticket. The student gets a copy and you get a copy.

Three tickets and the student will be required to take a safety test based on ... you guessed it, the safety contract. Five tickets and the student gets detention. Seven tickets and the parents are called and you make every effort to kick the student out of class. Anyone who has seven tickets is not only a safety risk to themselves but to every person in that laboratory.

A package of 100 tickets are available for purchase. Please refer to Flinn Catalog No. AP1557.


"If you can reasonably foresee the consequences of what you are about to do, or are not about to do, you will be held responsible." Begin to implement some of the ideas we have suggested. Safety contracts, lesson plans, safety posters, a firm goggle policy, definition of terms, and safety tickets will all go a long way in helping to prove you are a responsible science teacher.

P.O. Box 219, Batavia, IL60510



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