In keeping with the philosophy of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for elementary grades, students are encouraged to design and perform hands-on activities. Efforts to create safer science learning experiences when students are at home and not under the direct supervision of their teacher warrant concern due to the inherent risks associated with any investigation.
In response to this need, the NSTA Safety Advisory Board (SAB) wrote a new white paper on safety, Safer Remote Instructional Guide for Elementary School Science. The paper contains important guidelines for safer online/at-home instruction for grades K–5 for administrators, teachers, parents/guardians, and students. 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.
Stakeholders in Remote Learning
Because 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. Below is a sample of those areas for each group.
- Administrators should hold individual or departmental meetings with teachers to clearly define any and all at-home science investigations during remote learning situations.
- Administrators should establish procedures for having teachers develop weekly detailed lesson plans, including safety precautions, and have them made available to be reviewed to ensure appropriate science standards are met. (When alternative or modified investigations are needed—reasoning includes but is not limited to these situations: The student is unable to obtain the proper materials, unable to have adult supervision, or unable to obtain or properly wear the necessary Personal Protective Equipment [PPE]—a revised lesson plan should be requested and reviewed.)
- Administrators can request to review the hazard analysis, risk assessment, and safety actions to be taken, supplied by each teacher, and review any procedures that include biological, chemical, or physical hazards.
- Administrators can request to review any safety agreements revised to include remote instruction.
- 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 should prepare a weekly detailed lesson plan in case administration requires its preapproval. It should clearly demonstrate that it meets appropriate science standards that include but are not limited to detailed instructions for activities or investigations or projects and a detailed list of materials required for investigations.
- To better align with and address NGSS, students are often asked to design their own investigations or make models. Student-designed procedures should be approved by the teacher before the actual activity is performed. Students and parents/guardians should be made aware of this requirement.
- Teachers should refer to Safety in Elementary Science for guidance on safety when planning lessons and activities/investigations to be performed in school or at home.
- Teachers must prepare a comprehensive hazard analysis, risk assessment, and list of safety actions to be taken for each relevant at-home activity/investigation.
- Parents/Guardians should view any video supplied by the teacher in its entirety to confirm that it is age appropriate and that they fully understand the task required.
- Parents/Guardians must read, sign, and return the safety agreement provided by the teacher.
- Parents/Guardians should be present during the at-home activity/investigation or project or can confirm that adult supervision has been secured.
- Parents/Guardians should notify the teacher if they are uncomfortable or unable to perform the at-home activity/investigation or project and request an alternative assignment.
- Students must read, sign, and return the safety agreement provided by the teacher. Students must read, sign, and return any virtual classroom rules/behavior agreement before beginning the activity/investigation.
- Students must accurately follow the written instructions provided by the teacher.
- Students should only perform at-home activities/investigations as instructed by the teacher and with adult supervision.
It is very important for administrators and teachers to review this paper and implement its recommendations 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.