I've just come off a period where I didn't have much use of an actual computer, so I've been following this feed and the one about using a spray bottle for the rainbow demo on my phone. I just saw the clip, and here are some reflections from K-12 education, where I spend most of my waking hours with children and their teachers.
First and foremost, I have NEVER met any reputable chemist who decided to study chemistry because of a show like this or for the purposes of "blowing stuff up." This is, as Monona put it, theatrics, not science. In terms of planning a science lesson, I tell teachers and administrators alike that the risk assessment begins with the lesson plan: measureable learning objectives, a clear expectation of what students are to do, and assessment of student work. Some science teachers are notorious for preparing "dog and pony show" science lessons for students or for observations. If those elements of the lesson plan are not evident (i.e. if the lesson is confusing "student engagement" with "student entertainment") it's a pretty good guess that the lesson isn't very safe, either.
As for the concern, "they may want to try their own ‘experiments'," believe it! We in education stress the importance of scientific reports being replicated. A disclaimer of "kids, don't try this at home!" is a joke. We have to be keenly aware of what our students are actually seeing. I sometimes hear, "oh don't worry, I only do this with my honors classes!" Guess what: your Honors students have friends and siblings who hear about this "really exciting demo" and try to re-create it…in the basement. Or the back yard. And like it or not, if injury occurs, the teacher still can be ruled as negligent through proximate cause!
I think the science education community needs to do a much better job of including safer practice as an integral part of science, not as an afterthought (or even worse, an assumption).
Edward J. McGrath
Supervisor of Science
Red Clay Consolidated School District
1502 Spruce Avenue
Wilmington, DE 19805
We did not inherit the Earth from our parents. We borrowed it from our children.
And they will be tempted to do similar "experiments" on their own.
Monona Rossol, M.S., M.F.A., Industrial Hygienist
Bam, nailed it.
I did an outreach at an elementary school years back and I said "Hi, my name's Rob and I'm a chemist. Does anyone know what a chemist does?" Many hands went up, and the kid that answered said "Blows things up."
That is precisely what we don't want kids to answer. Just like when I'm in a non-professional setting etc. and I say "Hi, my name's Rob and I'm a chemist" and I get the answer "Ooh, chemistry. I hated chemistry in high school/college." More on THAT challenge another time.
As much as I love doing the classic explosion/fire demos, I would NEVER EVER do them with an elementary audience for the reason Monona stated. You can do all sorts of great non-exploding/burning demonstrations at the elementary level that require students to pose hypotheses and then test them. And the students will have fun AND learn. From what I saw on the news report, we have a very enthusiastic and eager young scientist who believes that the former inspires the latter and has yet to grasp that they go hand-in-hand.
With a little mentorship, she could no doubt master that balance and achieve her stated goals much more effectively while simultaneously diminishing the probability of a copycat situation turning out wrong.
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