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Student Lab Cleanup: How to Improve It!


Students will help...
... IF they know what to do!

All science teachers know the struggles we face when we take the students to the lab.  There are many!  But the one I want to address here is lab cleanup.  We have precious few minutes between one class leaving the lab and the next class entering the lab.  It is imperative that our students in one class leave a clean and orderly lab station for the students in the next class. 
 
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My personal experience is that students do not “see” the mess they leave behind.  My students, for the most part, are good citizens, and they will try to carry out my instructions.  As the class nears the end of the period, they hear me say, “We are almost out of time…. Start cleaning up your lab area.”  But if I am not more specific in my directions, this lab class will not end well.

In the frenzy of the last few minutes before the bell, my students make an honest attempt at cleaning their lab station, but their idea of clean, and my idea of clean are not the same!  I want all of the paper towels in the garbage.  I want the lab station clean and dry.  I want the supplies to be in a certain order.  Etc!!

What I have discovered in my many years of teaching is that students need very specific instructions.  When I tell my class that “it is time to clean up”, the instruction is too vague.  The student wonders, “What does she want me to do?”  They look at their lab station and they think it looks fine. This is the nature of the teen age brain.  They have the wonderful ability to see only what they want to see!


My solution is The Student Cleanup Checklist.  I have made a set of task cards that have a specific instruction on each.  For each lab, I select the cards that are applicable for the particular lab.  The cards go on a ring, and a set of cleanup instructions is left at every lab station.  As the class period ends, I have trained my students to flip through the cards on the ring, and carry out all instructions.  This has been a lifesaver for me.  These are still kids, and they are still going to miss a piece of paper on the floor, but with my specific instruction cards, life around my lab is much improved.  The students do a much better job cleaning their area, and I have less stress as the next class is entering the room.



A few tips:
  • Make sure that you laminate the instruction cards.  The lab is a wet place, and the cards will not last long if they are not laminated.
  • Once laminated, the cards will last for years.
  • Punch a hole in the corner of each card and place the cards on a ring.  I purchase packages of rings at my local Office Depot.
  • Select cards that are appropriate for the lab of the day, then place the cards at each lab station.
  • You can also post the appropriate cleanup cards on the board or other prominent spot in the lab.  Always post them in the same spot so that students will learn the procedure.

I hope the Student Cleanup Checklist will help improve your life in the lab.  Have fun teaching!

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