Re: doing experiments in class

From: Eileen Bendixsen <>
Subject: Re: doing experiments in class
Date: Wed, 31 Dec 1997 11:15:56 -0501 (EST)

At 10:40 AM 12/31/97 -0500, you wrote:
>Hello Marc,
>I just read your description of the third grade classroom visit. I can tell
>you, as a third grade teacher using this same curriculum, that the
>vocabulary and discussion of these topics leaves much time for experiment
>but little direction as to how to include experiment without this
>"excitement" becoming chaos. 


Actually as you do more experiments it doesn't become so unusual and the
kids have a tendency to settle down.  It takes a great deal of organization
and work to pull it off, but the kids learn a great deal more than simply
reading and discussing.  You have to get used to the noise in your room and
the fact that they are not all sitting in their seats.  Most of all you
have the power of the threat.  I teach seventh graders and most of our
class periods are spent doing lab work or projects.  When some of my
classes start having a tendency to get out of control I simply remind them
that if they do not settle down there is always plan B.  We never really
explain what plan B is, but they KNOW they don't want it.  I explain at the
beginning of the year that they have choices and if they choose to not
participate correctly then they choose to learn in a different way than the
rest of the class.  My first year teaching science in this school (five
years ago) I had a student remove silly putty from my classroom and
distribute it to his friends.  I got his mother to agree that he could not
participate in labs for two weeks (this was not his first infraction).  He
had to sit in the classroom for the entire two weeks learning the same
information, but using the book.  Fortunately for me it was two weeks of
the best labs we would be doing all year including several food labs (their
favorites).  I use this student as an example every year as I discuss their
choices.  It was really interesting the year I had his younger sister.  I
never mention the student's name, but she went home that day and told her
brother that I mentioned him in class that day.

I believe that another problem with the lack of labs in the elementary
classrooms is training.  Since the emphasis is on the basics (Although I
feel science should be one of the basics.) teachers often have a limited
background in science and certainly have not been taught how to teach
science.  Also many of the textbooks have labs where the materials are too
expensive, where the labs are unsafe or inappropriate for the grade level,
or not enough labs.  When I first started the lab program I was teaching
three different sciences a day, thus three different labs a day.  I
couldn't possibly try all of them the night before.  We often would be in
the middle of a lab only to realize it wasn't going to work, but I had the
nicest group of students that year who understood what I was trying to do.
This was their first experience with labs and they really worked with us to
get the program together.  I often think of those kids and wonder if I
would be doing what I doing today in my classroom if it wasn't for their

Good Luck,