Reviewed by Geraldine (Gerry) Waller
Middle School Teacher
Inquiring Safely: A Guide for Middle School Teachers should be required reading for pre-service science educators, those new to the profession, and experienced teachers, too. Although increased concern about safety and litigation has made many teachers nervous about conducting laboratory experiments, middle school students need to experience science directly. Using a narrative style, Inquiring Safely presents invaluable strategies for achieving a safe environment for teaching and learning science.
The book is written with the particular needs of middle level students in mind. The authors remind us that “middle school students are more daring and less inhibited” than younger students, and “where one or two are gathered together, silliness often occurs.” These accurate observations testify to the extensive middle school experiences of authors Terry Kwan and Juliana Texley. Teacher tips, charts, and anecdotes contribute to the wealth of information in this easily read text directed to the central treatise that "...everything we do in our middle school science classroom must recognize the development level of our young scientists and their penchant for risk-taking...”
As a longtime science educator, I know this book could have saved me hours of worry as well as time spend developing lab exercises to safely meet the needs of heterogeneous groupings that included special needs students. But it is gratifying to learn that many of the techniques I incorporate, based in part on a large dose of common sense, are similar to those suggested in the book. A chart comparing practices that were common in the past and suggesting better alternatives for today’s middle school students will be of special interest to educators who have experienced the changes in the way science is taught.
The roles of administrators and parents in establishing a safe science classroom are described, but it is the teacher who has the ultimate responsibility. This responsibility cannot be taken lightly, but is made easier by practical suggestions such as “less is better”--less noise, less movement, fewer supplies, and less talk allow students to focus on the assignment. Safety must become a habit for students as well as for instructors, who should plan lessons that are developmentally appropriate.
Individual chapters are devoted to the sciences that are traditionally a part of the middle school curriculum, including life science, chemistry, physical science, and Earth and space science. The physical size of the classroom, furniture, storage, lighting, and electrical outlets are all addressed, as is the importance of materials safety data sheets (MSDS). The conclusion provides a quick overview of each chapter, and the index is very comprehensive. In addition, SciLinks allow teachers to find relevant Internet connections. One of the appendixes lists chemicals that should no longer be part of a middle school supply cabinet. This will be welcome information for teachers who may have inherited supplies or who are uncertain of what is currently considered too hazardous for storage or classroom use.
Inquiring Safely is an excellent blueprint for incorporating safe, hands-on learning at the middle school level as well as creating student understanding that safety is important to whatever they do in their daily lives.
Review posted on 4/18/2003