How much time do you spend setting up a lab?
If you are like me, you spend most of your time before and after school either setting up or taking down labs. Even more if you have more than one prep. So, when I began my mission to same time this is one of the first problems I tackled. How do I organize science equipment to make the process simpler? I tried several things and then it hit me…I shouldn’t be organizing to make it easier for me to set up labs, I should be organizing to make it simple for my STUDENTS to set up their own labs!!
Most of my equipment is stored in tan lab trays like these from Classroom furniture.com. They seem to be pretty standard in every science classroom but anything sturdy will work. I also tend to find a lot of cheap storage at the Dollar Store for smaller items like glass stirring rods or spoons.
The biggest hurdle is that students don’t know the names of a lot of the equipment. So you need to label everything with both the name AND the picture so that they can easily find what they need and learn the names in the process. Use a word processor or another program you are comfortable with to create labels by simply searching the internet for images that match your equipment and type in the names. Most of the images I used came from the suppliers websites. Flinn, Carolina, etc. Keep the font simple, you want students to be able to easily read your labels. Print out labels and tape onto the storage bins using packing tape. Make sure that the tape covers all of the label to give it some protection from wet hands! If you have multiple bins of different sized beakers or graduated cylinders make sure you put the volume on the label as well. This is an example of one of my labels.
This is what the bins look like when they are on the shelf. Notice that you can size the label according to the size of your bin.
Wherever you store your equipment bins you want the most used equipment to be near eye level and most easily accessible. You can see in the photo below that I have my beakers, tongs, evaporating dishes and crucibles in the middle because in my classroom, these are the equipment used most often. Your cabinet may be arranged differently depending on what you teach and what labs you do.
Now, if you have teenagers in your home, you know that they can be terrible at putting things away! If you don’t just look around your classroom. How many pairs of scissors are left on tables and not put away? How many pieces of paper do you pick up and throw out after every class? How many colored pencils do you find in the marker tub? (see my post “How to make sure students always return supplies” to solve this problem) Anyway, my point is that your beautifully organized cabinet could become less so in just one lab day if you do not properly instruct students. So take the time to explain that not only are they learning whatever content the lab covers but also lab techniques and equipment. The process of finding and setting up their own equipment is an important one and helps them take more ownership in the lab. Yes, it takes a bit more time at first but they get faster as they learn the names and location of equipment. I also post these rules on the doors inside the cabinet so that they can be reminded whenever the doors are open.
2. Put everything back exactly where your found it.
3. Put everything back as clean (or cleaner) than you found it.
4. Let me know if you find something out of place or dirty.
Download a free PDF of my Equipment Cupboard Rules to post in your classroom!
The BEST part
When you plan a lab you no longer have to make time to pull out all of the equipment that the students will need that day. Nor will you have to put it all away which, in my opinion, is the best part! This. Saves. So. Much. Time. Plus, students learn the names of equipment faster and even develop some cleaning skills. You’re welcome, Mom and Dad! What will you do with all the extra time??