A hint of smoke and sulfur lingered in the school hallway. I heard the question "What's that smell?" from a staff member or two, but assured them it had only been my middle grade science students. With matches. Last year after reading Sara Zaske's book Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children, I specifically set aside time in class for students to get hands-on practice with matches, candles, and fire. In Zaske's case, it was an experience with her seven-year-old daughter in Germany's school system (see the Chicago Tribune article "Letting kids light matches and 9 other seemingly scary things that German parents do" for a brief description). I did it again a couple weeks ago with a new group of students. Lighting a match (or something like using a striker on a Bunsen burner) seems a simple thing to me. To many of the students it was not—it was viewed with fear and trepidation.
The article Assessing College Students' Risk Perceptions of Hazards in Chemistry Laboratories (available to JCE subscribers, or ACS or AACT members)* in the October 2019 Journal of Chemical Education gave me something to chew on about the experience. The authors designed a questionnaire "to evaluate students' perceptions of risk conditions in university laboratories" related to the areas of laboratory work, chemical splashes and spills, and inhaling chemicals. The questionnaire had "nine questions related to dimensions of risk perception: 1. personal knowledge; 2. expert knowledge; 3. dread; 4. vulnerability; 5. severity of consequences; 6. avoidability; 7. controllability; 8. catastrophic potential; 9. immediacy." They describe their goal: "Gaining an understanding about what undergraduate students do and do not perceive as hazardous is a valuable input to develop risk management and communication strategies with the potential to influence students' decision-making process that can result in safer behaviors." Although the research was done with undergraduate students, I would be interested to see similar work done with high school students, middle school students, and even homeschool students and their families.
I'm not even close to fully digesting the article. Part of it is my unfamiliarity with the terms of chemical education research and plowing through those portions of the reading. Part of it is relating it to other things that have come to mind and jumping over to take a look at those. For example, pulling out my copy of the American Chemical Society's Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools to re-read parts about the science safety culture and RAMP acronym. Or to notice the safety section in Chem13 News's September 2017 activity Edible candle and its follow-up October 2017 article Lab safety & common sense—not mutually exclusive. What does it all mean to us as teachers? What does it mean to students and how they perceive hazards and risks in laboratory experiences? There is no pat blog post wrap-up. I'm still thinking about what it all means.
More from the October 2019 Issue
National Chemistry Week (NCW) 2019 is nearly here. Take a look at Mary Saecker's JCE 96.10 October 2019 Issue Highlights and its connections to the NCW theme "Marvelous Metals." Of particular interest to me were Don Wink's editorial Would We Have Chemistry Without Marvelous Metals?(available to all) and the explanation to my "What is that!?" question after seeing the October cover.