A science lab for the twenty-first century
A science lab for the twenty-first century
Posted on 02/13/2019
A science lab for the twenty-first century

Students in Suzanne Smith’s biology class at Emerald Ridge High School understand the difference between endothermic and exothermic reactions. They learned this and much more during an ‘Energy in Matter’ experiment in the science lab.

At the same time in the lab, chemistry teacher Jennifer Thun’s class was learning to make a silver mirror on a glass surface using silver nitrate, ammonium hydroxide, and potassium hydroxide.

Science labIn fact, the science lab at Emerald Ridge has the capacity to accommodate four classes at one time, with each class working independently on their own lesson. Teachers find the lab setup an efficient, safe, and high-quality space for students to experiment and learn.

“We complete a variety of labs throughout the year, typically two to three per unit, for students to see science in action,” says Smith. A few examples of other labs for general biology include: working with microscopes (cellular biology/organelle identification), the role of homogenates in homeostasis, yeast respiration, and DNA extraction.

Tenth grade biology student Walter Ballard says he likes coming to the lab and the opportunity it provides to try new experiments. Sophomore Sara Linn says, “The chemical reactions are cool!”

The Emerald Ridge science lab was designed as a state-of-the-art learning facility for students when the school was built in 2000. The sweeping 4,000 square foot room boasts four color-coded areas where multiple classes can learn at the same time. Students enter and exit the lab through doors that lead directly to the area they are assigned for the period.

Emerald Ridge Science
The science lab is used for biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, marine biology classes, and the aviation program uses it for physics of flight.

In addition to the lab equipment, there are high tech sensors, small computers, periodic table calculators, blue tooth temperature probes, and graphing calculators. The data collected can be used to analyze the lab. Using these tools helps prepare students for post-secondary courses.

Cari Ake, director of instructional leadership, says, “It’s not just about a lot of stuff in a lab — it really is about students and providing equity for all students. Science is ‘doing.’ Our goal is to ensure all students learn the standards and have an opportunity to demonstrate them.” She says science education has changed through the years. Today the discussion about the experiment happens mostly after students have a chance to perform the experiment and use critical thinking skills to understand the results.

Lab technicians bring it all together
Each of the Puyallup high schools has a lab technician who plays a key role in the science program.

ER Lab TechnicianAt Emerald Ridge, Lab Technician Lisa Martin prepares and tests the lab assignments in advance. The materials and chemicals are neatly organized in a storage room adjacent to the lab. Any questions or issues are worked out before the class arrives. As the full-time lab technician, Martin maintains the lab schedule and makes sure the lab runs smoothly. “My role, simply put, is to provide assistance to staff and students in the lab and maintain a safe environment,” says Martin.

Not only does she set up and test labs, but she also manages every aspect of the lab. “There are so many details involved with maintaining the lab that traditionally fell on the teachers. This provides teachers with more time to focus on the teaching. It's a win-win — better for teachers and better for students. We are so lucky to have her!” says Smith.

Martin says the lab techs support one another. She has provided training for her peers and is a resource for the junior highs.

Bond Advisory Committee studies ER science lab
While each of the Puyallup high schools has a lab technician, Puyallup and Rogers do not have science labs. For example, at Puyallup High biology takes place in the pool building. There are three chemistry classrooms in three different buildings.

Technicians gather materials on carts and travel from classroom to classroom. Depending on other science lab needs around the school, the lab tech may not stay in the classroom during the lab. “With 35 sophomores in one general biology classroom, its really hard for teachers to do labs. The support of the lab tech helps phenomenally,” says Martin.

The Emerald Ridge science lab is unique in that it is a centralized lab where teachers schedule lab time and then just show up with their students. The lab is prepped and ready for them, and they don’t worry about having to spend time before or after school to prep. This allows teachers to do labs more frequently.

Safety procedures and OSHA regulations are followed in all lab environments, says Ake. “Although the environments are not the same, we make sure all have the same safety procedures and equipment such as vented hoods and goggles.” She added there are certain things that cannot be done at Puyallup and Rogers that can be done at Emerald Ridge due to the lab environment. For example, certain chemicals are not allowed in a classroom.

The Puyallup School District Bond Advisory Committee is currently studying the Emerald Ridge science lab with an eye to improve the efficiency of science labs at Puyallup and Rogers high schools. Emerald Ridge meets the district’s current educational specifications for a high school science lab.

Educational Specifications are the guiding standards used by educators and design professionals to describe an educational program and facility.

Nancy French
frenchnl@puyallup.k12.wa.us