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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds SPEAKER: If you do have enough equipment, it is best to work with twos and threes so that everyone has a role to do during the practical and nobody’s just sat there and letting everyone else do the work. So it’s often useful to work out your student numbers based on the amount of equipment you have. You want to organise the students so that they’re spread out around the rooms, they’ve got space to work, and they understand how much equipment they need to collect. You need to get them to think about the equipment they’re collecting, and try and organise them so that one person goes to collect the equipment.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds They don’t read the instruction, and then three people go and collect that same piece of equipment. So it’s often useful to talk through the practical, and discuss, maybe one person goes to fetch this, one person goes to fetch something else, so it’s worthwhile having that discussion with them at the very start for practical so you manage the movement around the room and don’t let everyone just mill around without a real purpose to it.

Allowing choice of equipment

We’ve already considered some of the issues to do with movement around the class where students collect their own equipment from a single collection point. However, choice of equipment, as we’ll explore next week, is an important part of practical learning to develop.

If part of the learning is to justify the use of a particular piece of apparatus based on its precision or technique, students need access to a variety of equipment in order to make this selection.

In the video above, Nadia talks through her decisions about grouping students and how this is informed by the amount of equipment available. She also makes the point that where students do need to move around the room, for example to collect equipment or use specific pieces of laboratory apparatus, this should be planned and potentially discussed within the group. This becomes all the more important where students need to make decisions about what equipment to use themselves.

The diagram below illustrates some of the possible movement around the room when students are allowed to select and collect their own equipment from storage cupboards.

Lab layout showing many paths crossing representing students from five benches moving around the room to collect equipment from multiple storage points and back to their benches.


Suggest in the comments below three simple approaches that you have planned for within practical lessons to control movement around the laboratory environment.

If you are not sure, think about the possible hazards and risks involved with many students moving around your teaching space, and what actions you take to minimise those risks. This may include how you’ve designed the practical activity or how you’ve laid out equipment in your room.

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This video is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre