Vernier Science Education - June  2024


Forums / Elementary Science / Classroom Management during Experimenting

Elementary Science

Classroom Management during Experimenting

Author Post
Courtney Stokes Courtney Stokes 205 Points

Hi everyone!

My name is Courtney Stokes and I am a pre-service teacher!  I am currently in a Science Methods class and I have been wondering how teachers manage their classroom during science experiments.  Does anybody struggle with this?  Do you let students pick their lab partners when the experiment involves one or do you pick for them?  How do you make sure they are engaged but behaving the way they need to be?  I know it is expected for things to be a little crazy during this time but I want to make sure my students stay on task as well!

Thank you!

Dr.Sue Cottingham Sue Cottingham 4093 Points

Hi Courtney


There are many ways to help you with behavior in science labs. I now teach middle school but I have taught elementary. These techniques work well for both. Find some 'solo' cups in red, yellow, and green. Put them on the table on top of each other with red on the bottom, yellow and then green on top. If you have issues with a group being off task, take the green cup and put it on your desk. That shows them they are in 'caution' mode. Explain the inappropriate behavior and if you have to take another cup for any reason, they will get an alternative assignment. Be prepared with that assigment! You have to follow through. After you get a group or two to red, and you follow through, the class will get the point very quickly. You can also do this with scrunchies. Choose a team leader and have them put 3 scrunchies on their wrist. Ask for one back everytime they break a rule. When they have none left, they stop the lab.  If you need more ideas, feel free to contact me. I have 28 years experience and I teach preservice, masters, and specialist level courses in science education.

Dr. Sue Cottingham

Jennifer Standlee Jennifer Standlee 680 Points

The cups are a great idea! The less you have to argue and negotiate with the kids, the better. I train mine at the first of the year to get quiet and focus their attention on me by "giving me 5" and I begin counting to 5 aloud. That gives them time to get to a quick stopping spit, complete a sentence, and make sure their whole team is listening so I can give them instructions during a lab or other noisy activity.  Those that don't will wait before beginning the lab again . Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

Cindy Hoisington Cynthia Hoisington 360 Points

As an Early childhood science educator who also has many years of teaching behind me (and has never used a behavior system of any kind), i have to say i am very distressed that a genuine question about how to manage kids during science activities was immediately answered with a suggestion to use a reward/punishment system for controlling children's behavior. Why do we keep using these methods when there are so many positive guidance strategies available to us that promote kids' positive self-concepts, support active collaboration rather than passive compliance, reinforce their natural desire for social acceptance, and motivate them to do and learn--many available on the NAEYC website: these are aimed at kids from 0-8 but also applicable to older kids.

It is especially important to use positive rather than negative discipline strategies in science because our primary goal must be to maintain and nurture children's love of science, and the research is clear that many kids-- particularly Black, Latinx, and girl children--lose their motivation to do and learn science by middle-school. Black and Latinx children are-- not surprisingly--also more likely to be monitored and called out by teachers for bad behavior-- I don't believe that is a coincidence. And never ever muddle up a child's behavior with the science activity. If you punish kids by making them repeat a science lab they already did or by pulling them out of a science activity, you are actually making the science the punishment.

That being said here are a few ideas:

The most important thing you can do is make sure you are planning and introducing activities/explorations/'labs' in ways that are meaningful to kids and that engage them in investigating phenomena directly. There is nothing that begs for bad behavior more than a boring lesson. The second best thing you can do is have all the materials ready and waiting so kids are not waiting for you to prepare or get stuff together.

Think of your job as creating the structure for the activity; and within that structure embed opportunities for children to have choices.

Create a set of simple and positive rules -- along with children-- about the behaviors that will be expected of everyone. What rules do they think are most important and why? Share with them which ones are most important to you and why.

Begin the activity by drawing out their prior experience/knowledge/thinking related to the topic. What questions do they have? What are they wondering? Accept and acknowledge all their answers--this is what they are thinking and there will be misconceptions. Chart these for display and reference 'what we think'

Introduce the activity, being sure that it is clear to them what they are being asked to do and to record.

And yes, it is a great idea to pre-assign kids to groups intentionally based on balancing their strengths, needs, language abilities....don't use moving kids after the fact as a punishment though!

During the direct investigation, circulate among groups talking with kids about what they are doing, noticing, recording, and thinking about. If difficult behaviors arise, deal witht hese individually not publically! There is no reason ever to shame or embarrass a child in front of their peers!

After the direct investigation pull kids together for a conversation about what they did, what they observed, and what they think now. Have their ideas changed? How/how not? What interesting questions have emerged? How could they investigate more closely?

Most important of all, always communicte the assumption that kids want to and will behave well and don't mistake excitement about the investigation for negative behavior. I saw a first grader reprimanded last week (sit down now or i will clip you down on your chart!) because she was so excited when her partner's mealworm crawled off the plate that she jumped up and called out...look, they can jump!!

For many teachers, this approach involves a shift in thinking-- from a role that is about 'training' kids to a role that is about facilitating children's learning (including their social-emotional learning) -- my hope is that as this approach becomes the norm in pre-service programs, it will become more typical in classrooms as well. Good luck to you Jennifer!!


Cindy Hoisington




Julienne Buendia Julienne Buendia 535 Points

Before having any experiments in the classroom, it's always important to set classroom expectations at the beginning of the year. I think it is essential to building a relationship with your students based on understanding and respect. I believe that positive reinforcement is a key component of any classroom management.

I teach second grade, and whenever I have any experiments, I explain the concepts first. We go over the 'Do and Don't' in the classroom when the materials are out. I usually go over the instructions and hand out the materials after. I have given the material beforehand, and the students tend to play around with it. It's always important to plan!

However, I genuinely believe that you must set the expectations from the very beginning before doing any activities or experiments. 

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