Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2011 20:09:05 -0500
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From: "Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety"

Subject: Re: Chemical Safety headlines from Google (13 articles)
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From: "Baker, Charles" 
Subject: RE: [DCHAS-L] Chemical Safety headlines from Google (13 articles)
Date: December 14, 2011 3:29:28 PM EST
First: Please note that my comments are not intended to be critical of the DCHAS-L summary or editor collecting and reporting these headline notes. Thank you for these!

As a HS science teacher, I was most interested in drawing attention to high school/public school lab accidents and safety from two recent Minnesota summaries.

Second: After a second and third read, I think that a little more research might reveal the two lab articles are Œstories‚ from two different TV-news outlets and may have originated from the same classroom „explosion‰ somewhere in Minnesota. By stories, I intend that both reports show a lack of understanding and general science background. Whether these stories are also confused by the actual journalism, or at least by the twist that any news communication can suffer to fit a TV-news/entertainment format ∑ I suspect some of the misunderstandable presentation is further confused by the choice of sensational descriptors, rather than clear, direct reporting. I am sure both were confusing for our editor to excerpt.

Third: The issue is safety, and safety is mentioned in the article excerpts and quotations from HS instructors, though it is unclear if it is the same instructor(s) implicated in the newsworthy demonstration. I began teaching twenty years ago, and the first seminar, early on, emphasized the „prudent [hu]man‰ as the model against which I would be pitched in court if I were ever to have a demonstration or lab result in classroom danger. To some extent, many or most school science activities can be of danger (given the inventiveness of teenagers), but our determination is to exercise our skill and training to make this appear and actually be „prudent‰ for the benefit of education.

I don‚t know whether we as elder instructors or the younger teachers, whom we can doubt the same soundness of thought that age has earned, are the worse for temptations to „WOW‰ the HS students with hope of turning them to a life of science.

My experience has been that the older of us more often have the Œpet‚ demo or two that we have performed Œsafely‚ all our career, such as: bubbling propane, tubed from the gas jets through dish-detergent water, producing a foam. Carrying the suds up above the sink, ignition will make an impressive flame all around the arms as the suds run down hands and bare arms ˆ as if advertising a preferred dish-detergent. Of course, it is almost as impressive lighting your home faucet in a fracking zone, but many of us fail in having a clear educational or instructional, „prudent‰ purpose. [No, it‚s not mine; yes, I was astonished of even suggesting such an idea to teens. ∑ and yes, I wonder what demos I do that astonish „prudent‰ others?]

I am sure all such events, even those demonstrating important instructional principles, run well, year after year, until they don‚t  ∑ just once. Then we all hear about it in such headlines, and all are responsible to second guess whether we‚ll become the news headlines one day, appearing so obviously im-prudent, no matter how our reason and rationalizing had until that moment convinced us. Sorry to get carried on with this; ever in the back of the science instructor‚s mind.

Charlie Baker, Quilcene High School - Sciences

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