Prepare a Successful High School Chemistry Lab

Planning is the key to a successful high school chemistry lab. Read the laboratory procedure and determine the reagents and equipment needed. Gather distilled water, reagents, test tubes, beakers, and equipment onto a rolling cart. Protective clothing such as lab aprons or lab coats, safety splash proof goggles, and gloves should be available in designated areas in the laboratory. Mix required concentrations of reagents before the laboratory is scheduled to begin. Decant reagents into separate small containers; this will ensure that the original stock solutions do not become contaminated during the laboratory exercise. Several small containers also allow the laboratory exercise to progress efficiently. Horse play and accidents are more likely to happen if students are standing around waiting to get to supplies. Plan sufficient reagent quantities for student groups of 2-4. Smaller student groups allow everyone to be an active participant.

Experience shows that if a kit is available for a high school chemistry lab from Wards or Carolina Supply, it is more expediant to purchase it. Solutions are premixed and all necessary supplies are provided in a single box. The kit usually provides enough materials for a class of 32 students. The kit saves teacher time and minimizes storage space needed; chemical replacement kits are also available. The kits also allow for separation of incompatible chemicals in the storage closet.

Choose an activity that can be completed in the class time allotted. Very few chemistry labs can be completed in 45 minutes, the standard high school class length. If the high school is on a block schedule, most chemistry labs can be completed in 90 to 100 minutes time slots.

Discuss safety concerns and the required protective clothing with students the day before the chemistry lab. Begin the laboratory with a demonstration of new techniques or show a short video demonstrating the proper procedure and any color changes or physical changes to be expected. An amazing number of such demonstration videos are available free on You Tube. Remind students to clean up 5-10 minutes before the end of the class period otherwise they will leave a mess behind for others to clean up. Require students to return all materials to the rolling cart. Count all items before dismissing the class to ensure that items attractive to those synthesizing drugs at home stay at school.

Some laboratory simulations can be done as a table top exercise. In this case a xerox copy of laboratory data or electronic spectrum or gas chromatography readouts should be available for each group of students.