Science and Technology/Engineering
Facilities, Safety Practices, and Legal Issues
Realizing the vision of science and technology/engineering presented in this framework will take time, resources, collaborative planning, and commitment. Some issues of particular relevance to science and technology/engineering education are presented here, including the need for appropriate facilities and materials, attention to safe practices, curriculum coordination, and legal responsibilities.
Facilities and materials
Districts should work toward ensuring that students have the facilities and materials needed to undertake scientific and technological investigations in elementary, middle, and high schools. The facilities should include sinks, outlets, storage space for equipment and supplies, tables or other large surfaces where students can work, and ample areas where students can keep their projects for continued use over a number of classes. It is essential that students have appropriate quantities of materials and equipment in order to do hands-on, inquiry-based science, technology, and engineering.
Planning and providing adequate facilities is essential in the teaching and learning of science and technology/engineering. The Board of Education's Regulations on School Construction (603 CMR 38.00) set a standard of 1000-1200 square feet of space in science laboratories and up to 100 square feet per student in a technology/engineering facility for facility construction or renovation to qualify for state aid under the School Building Assistance Program. In addition to adequate floor space, proper ventilation and storage space are also needed. The Regulations on School Construction are available on the Department's website.
Safe practices in working with tools, materials, equipment, and living organisms
Safety is a critical issue and an integral part of the teaching and learning of science and technology/engineering at all levels. It is the responsibility of each district to provide safety information and training, and the responsibility of each teacher to understand and implement safe laboratory practices. Many teachers ask their students to read and sign a safety contract, which helps ensure that students appreciate the risks of working in a laboratory.
There are many aspects to safe lab practices, including having appropriate protective equipment available, keeping the area clean and equipment in good working order, having appropriate disposal containers, providing sufficient accessible workspace, using proper storage and labeling, and having first-aid kits readily accessible. Proper use of and care for tools is a crucial part of learning science and technology/engineering, and teachers should be conscious that their own behavior and use of the equipment will be modeled by students. Particular precautions should be taken in the handling of any living or nonliving organisms brought into the classroom. Organisms should come only from a reputable supplier. Teachers should be aware of and strictly observe safety measures in labeling, storing, and disposing of chemicals used the laboratory. Many schools are making efforts to minimize or entirely eliminate the use of mercury in the laboratory. Some traditional uses for mercury, e.g., making thermometers, can be done as effectively with water or other substances. When mercury is needed, you may wish to place a very small layer of water on top of the exposed mercury to prevent the mercury from vaporizing. The water will evaporate and you will have to replenish it. In experiments calling for balloons, be aware that latex balloons are a choking hazard for young children and that students of any age may have allergic reactions to latex.
There are many resources where teachers and administrators can learn more about safety in the classroom and in the lab. The Council of State Science Supervisors' informative brochure Science & Safety: Making the Connection. Flinn Scientific and the Laboratory Safety Institute (www.labsafety.org) also present comprehensive and useful material on many facets of laboratory safety.
It is critically important to make students aware of the hazards of working with chemicals and open flame in the laboratory and other settings, and to make every effort to protect students, in particular, to protect their eyes. As stated in Massachusetts G.L. Chapter 71, 55C:
Each teacher and pupil of any school, public or private, shall, while attending school classes in industrial art or vocational shops or laboratories in which caustic or explosive chemicals, hot liquids or solids, hot molten metals, or explosives are used or in which welding of any type, repair or servicing of vehicles, heat treatment or tempering of metals, or the milling, sawing, stamping or cutting of solid materials, or any similar dangerous process is taught, exposure to which may be a source of danger to the eyes, wear an industrial quality eye protective device, approved by the department of public safety. Each visitor to any such classroom or laboratory shall also be required to wear such protective device.
Administrators and teachers should know the Massachusetts laws that are relevant to science and technology/engineering education. These include regulations regarding safety, use and care of animals, storage of chemicals, and disposal of hazardous waste.
Biology teachers consider dissection to be an important educational tool. But dissection should be used with care. When animal dissection is considered, teachers should recognize that there are other experiences (e.g., computer programs) for students who do not choose to participate in actual dissections.
Further, as described in Massachusetts G.L. Chapter 272, 80G, dissection should be confined to the classroom: "Dissection of dead animals or any portions thereof in . . . schools shall be confined to the classroom and to the presence of pupils engaged in the study to be promoted thereby and shall in no case be for the purpose of exhibition." This law covers treatment of animals in school settings (not just dissection).