Encouraging Independent Living Skills in the Science Lab

Many thanks to Haley Moberg and Cheryl Austin, who are both teachers at TSBVI, for their wisdom and collaboration on this blog.

Clean up, Clean up, Everybody Everywhere...  

The familiar ditty is heard  when it is time to clean up a playroom.  But do we expect the same participation of our students with visual impairment in the lab during clean up as  we do of general education students?   Students with visual impairment have often not been required to participate in cleaning up the lab to the same degree as other students, but this is a valuable learning experience which will carry over to their home lives.  Incorporating indepdendent living skills (ILS) into the routine of the science lab also helps to address an important part of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) in the classroom on a regular basis.

Establish Expectations for Participation of All Students in Cleaning Up

The instructions for breaking down the lab and cleaning up are usually simple and more important than the efficiency with which students clean up.  The expectation should be that the student with a visual impairment will be involved (as they are throughout all of the lab) to as great a degree as possible in the clean up as well.  I have found that the majority of my students need to be prompted in order to wash equipment that was used and to wipe down the lab table.  This is not out of laziness usually, but habit.  

There are several independent living skills which should be encouraged in the science lab.  These include breaking down the lab (and cleaning up) and safely using a hot plate, with assistance as necessary.  Practicing these independent living skills in the science lab will naturally encourage students with visual impairment to do so in their own kitchens as well. 

Tips to Facilitate Inclusion Cleaning Up In Lab

As  I have had minimal experience working with students in a general education science classroom, I sought the wisdom of Haley Moberg, the TVI at TSBVI who works with students who attend middle school and high school classes at our local middle school and high school.

  1. Encourage student with visual impairment to participate in clean up.

Her recommendation was to gently encourage the lab group to allow the student with a visual impairment to be involved in the clean-up.   This should be done prior to the end of the lab, so that they will be prepared to include the student with a visual impairment in this way.  As you collaborate with the general education teacher at the beginning of the school year, include the topic of lab clean up in your conversation.  

  1. TVIs should attend all labs, if possible.

Haley noted that it takes some work to ensure that sighted students and their lab partners with visual impairment work together collaboratively and that the students with visual impairment are included both in the lab procedure and in clean-up.  

  1. Assign clean-up tasks to all students, including to those with visual impairments.

The approach that has worked best for her is to facilitate inclusion by essentially assigning tasks to both the student with VI and the sighted students.  This allows the sighted students to better understand that the student with visual impairment is truly able to participate, as well as assist with clean-up.  

  1. Speak to the general education science teacher about the routine at the beginning of the year.

Haley also recommends that the TVI speak with the science teacher in the beginning of the year about the importance of the student with a visual impairment playing an active role in all aspects of the lab.  When possible, she adds, keep the student with visual impairment with a lab group that is working together well and including him or her.  


Promote Hot Plate Safety

hot plateOne other area of ILS that will crossover with lab work (particularly chemistry) is the use of a hot plate and the use of a stove.  A colleague recently shared with me that while leading a short class on kitchen skills she had asked a group of students what they knew about cooking.  An overwhelming majority of the answers were what NOT to do rather than what to do. DO NOT touch the stove!  DO NOT touch a knife! etc., etc.  It is no wonder that so many students with visual impairment are afraid to even step in the kitchen.  We MUST teach careful use of equipment, but it is important not to instill fear in our students. 

Introduce the hot plate to your student(s) at the beginning of the school year before it is needed for a lab to lessen concern about using it. 

Hot Plate Intro:

  • Begin with the hot plate turned off. 
  • Ask the students how we can be sure that it is turned off. (The cord will be unplugged.)
  • Show the students that the cord is unplugged.
  • Have the students observe the hot plate tactually and visually (as appropriate) as you describe the features of the hot plate.  This will depend on which type of hot plate you use. Observe the portion of the hot plate which gets hot, the cord, and the controls.  Use hand-under-hand technique to show the student the parts of the hot plate to alleviate any fears he/she may have.
  • You will likely not have the opportunity to choose a hot plate, but, if you do, please take a look at at review of a hot plate sold by Flinn Scientific.  Though I have not used this hot plate, It has a similar structure to a stove top and would likely be ideal for purposes of maximizing Independent Living Skills attainment:  Hot Plate, Single Stovetop Burner
  • Have students turn on the hot plate to medium heat.
  • While the hot plate heats up, show the students an oven mitt.  Move a safe distance from the hot plate to put the mitt on.  Describe how to use it.  See review at Reizen Flame Resistant Oven Mitt.
  • After the hot plate has heated up, assure the student that you will not allow him/her to be injured.  Carefully help the student to extend a hand slowly out at chest height, insuring that he knows to keep his other hand back. Ask him if he can feel the heat. Discuss.
  • Have the student put on the oven mitt. Carefully help  the student to extend a hand slowly out at chest height again. Discuss the difference in heat that he/she feels and the value of wearing the oven mitt. 
  • Attend all labs which require use of the hot plate in order to better facilitate participation for your student. 

As TVIs, we would all likely agree that there are SO many skills we would like for our students to master and SO little time to work with them.  By encouraging students to use their independent living skills in the science lab, we are providing them with the opportunity to exercise independence and supporting skills that they will use beyond the science lab.