A well-equipped science classroom is the foundation for engaging and impactful scientific exploration. There have been three times in my career when I was gifted an empty classroom and told to make it into a science lab for middle schoolers. An empty classroom is like a blank canvas. The great thing about it is that the possibilities are endless. The scary thing about it is that the possibilities are endless. I made some mistakes but also learned a great deal about how to set up a new science classroom.
- Fire extinguishers – Depending on local code or law, your classroom may be required to have one or two fire extinguishers. They should be permanently mounted in a location determined by your local fire department and should be easily accessible to adults or students in the room. Be careful not to block access with furniture or supplies!
- Safety goggles – Place your goggle cabinet in a location near an electric outlet to ensure that they can be sanitized.
- Lab coats or aprons – It’s much easier to hang lab aprons in a location that’s convenient for students, but you might find that keeping them folded in a drawer is more attractive.
- First Aid Kit – Your first aid kit should include bandages, antiseptic solutions, gauze, and gloves. It should be easily accessible and its location should be marked so that everyone can identify it.
- Eyewash and safety shower – These should be prominently identified and easily accessible.
Equipment and Supplies
In general, all science teachers will need glassware. Stock a few extra of everything to allow for a full class set even if there’s breakage! A good amount to start with is:
- 50 mL graduated cylinders (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- 20 mL graduated cylinders (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- 10 mL graduated cylinders (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- 250 mL beakers (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- 500 mL beakers (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- 1000 mL beakers (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- 500 mL flasks (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- test tubes (5 per pair of students or per lab group)
- test tube racks (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
You’ll also need general lab equipment and supplies such as:
- electronic scales (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- meter sticks (1 per pair of students or per lab group)
- disposable pipettes (I buy a case of 1000)
- popsicle sticks
- zipper baggies (I buy a case of sandwich size and a case of gallon sized)
- glue sticks (holy smokes – you’ll never believe how many glue sticks you need! Plan on 1 per student per month if you’re using interactive notebooks)
- colored pencils (get the biggest case you can!)
- scissors (1 per student)
- metric rulers (1 per student)
- dish soap
The equipment and supplies you will need for your middle school science classroom will depend on your curriculum. Go through the labs you plan to do this year and make lists of supplies to purchase!
Storage and Organization
Like my kitchen, my classroom never has enough storage. There are three different types of storage necessary in a science classroom:
- storage of supplies students use regularly – scissors, glue sticks, rulers, colored pencils, etc.
- storage of equipment – microscopes, beakers, scales, test tubes, etc.
- storage of chemicals – ethanol, acetic acid, etc.
Equipment and chemicals should have permanent storage cabinets. Some classrooms have built in storage cabinets or shelves appropriate for equipment. If your classroom has a prep room attached to it, the prep room likely has storage cabinets suitable for beakers and microscopes.
Use dedicated chemical storage cabinets or shelves that are specifically designed for chemical storage. These cabinets should be well-ventilated, fire-resistant, and have secure closures. Ensure that cabinets are clearly labeled for easy identification of contents. Chemicals should be stored according to their hazard classes and compatibility. Keep incompatible chemicals away from each other to prevent reactions or accidental mixing. Refer to safety data sheets (SDS) for guidance on storage requirements and compatibility.
Daily supplies can be kept in a central location in portable drawers. You might find it easier to stash a small supply of supplies in baskets on each lab table.
Likely you will have little input into the furniture in your classroom. Science labs often have permanent furniture and lab desks and there’s not too much you can do with them. Depending on the set up of your sinks and lab desks, you have many choices.
- Groups or alone – Do you want your students facing forward in rows or sitting in tables or groups? There might even be times when you want them sitting in a circle for a discussion. For whatever flexibility you have, different parts of a unit will lend themselves to group work more than others.
Accessibility and Inclusion
Consider the needs of students with disabilities and create an inclusive learning environment. Ensure that the classroom design, furniture, and equipment accommodate diverse learners.
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