By Ken Roy
Posted on 2021-01-07
Based on research, students learn science most effectively by doing science, including asking questions, conducting investigations, and drawing conclusions. To have these experiences remotely, outside of the science laboratory, teachers, supervisors, and administrators need to address safety issues and essential components of these activities.
In response to this need, the NSTA Safety Advisory Board (SAB) wrote a new safety white paper, “Safer Remote Instructional Guide for Science Grade Levels 6–12.” The paper contains important guidelines for safer online/at-home instruction for administrators, teachers, parents/guardians, and students for grades 6–12. The recommendations are based on legal safety standards and better professional safety practices that support duty or standard of care teachers must address. It also notes that the document was developed as a guide. Teachers and administrators should also check their school’s policies, in addition to policies of their school district, local municipality, state and federal governments, and professional associations.
Given the major stakeholders in remote learning are administrators, teachers, parents/guardians, and students, the SAB has provided a list of specific areas of responsibility for each group. The following is a sample of those areas for each group.
• Administrators should meet with their departments to discuss any at-home investigations to be assigned, the equipment needed, and the procedures that students will be expected to perform.
• Administrators should work with their department to brainstorm potential problems with the at-home investigations so they can warn students and parents about them before any investigation takes place.
• Administrators should require teachers to do a thorough hazard analysis and risk assessment, reviewing all procedures and equipment needed prior to assigning any investigation for students to do at home. If any safety hazard with potential resulting risk is foreseen that cannot be addressed through safety actions (e.g., engineering controls, operating procedures, and/or personal protective equipment [PPE]), the investigation should not be done outside the school building.
• Administrators should ensure that students are always given alternative assignments that they can do without penalty or embarrassment if carrying out an investigation is impossible.
• Teachers must provide an at-home science safety agreement for students/parents to sign and return. No investigations should be done until the safety agreement has been signed and returned.
• Teachers should create and use a disclaimer form, which also must be signed by parents and students. NSTA has a sample Disclaimer Form titled COVID-19 Pandemic Safer Science/STEM Online and Face-to-Face Learning Environments Instruction Disclaimer Statement.
• Teachers should develop a standard safety acknowledgement form to create a home science safety agreement and ask parents and students to sign and return the document. This can be done using a platform such as Google Forms, which will allow the forms to be stored electronically and printed, if necessary. For reference: safety acknowledgement form for grades 9–12 and safety acknowledgement form for grades 6–8.
• In their lesson plan, teachers should include the standards to be addressed and any investigations or projects that will take place.
• Parents should read and sign the appropriate safety acknowledgement form based on the grade level provided (safety acknowledgement form for grades 9–12 and safety acknowledgement form for grades 6–8) and the disclaimer statement before their child begins any at-home investigations.
• Parents/guardians should view the entire video that the teacher provides of the setup of an investigation to ensure that they thoroughly understand what their child is being asked to do.
• Parents/guardians who are uncomfortable with or unable to perform the investigation should notify the teacher and request an alternative assignment.
• Parents/guardians should discuss any disabilities their child has with the teacher so the teacher will be aware of modifications needed to allow the student to gain the most benefit from the assignment.
• Students must read and sign the appropriate safety acknowledgement form based on the grade level (safety acknowledgement form for grades 9–12 and safety acknowledgement form for grades 6–8) and disclaimer form provided by the teacher.
• Students must read carefully any written instructions provided by their teacher before they begin the investigation.
• Students should only perform the investigation assigned by the teacher.
• Students should not begin any investigation without supervision by an adult.
This paper is very important for administrators and teachers to review and implement to help provide for a safer remote learning hands-on science experience. Read the paper.
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
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