Conservation

How risky is it?

Discover how to assess the risks in a science experiment.

Activity Image
NEW
Grade
9
Duration
30 mins
Type
Thought starter

Overview

In this activity, your students will develop and learn how to use criteria for assessing the safety, ethical, cultural, and environmental risks of science investigation methods. Designed to nurture aspects of the evaluating and planning and conducting curricular competencies, this activity can be easily applied to many science situations.

Instructions

What you'll need

  • "How risky is this experiment?" handout, at least one copy for each group
  • "Assessing my ability to assess risks" rubric, one copy for each student

  1. Begin the activity by organizing your students into small groups and providing each group with a copy of the "How risky is this experiment" handout. Invite students to make an initial decision: How risky was this experiment? Prompt groups to use the scale for their rating, and to note reasons for their rating.  
  2. Invite groups to share their ratings with the class. As they share, encourage groups to suggest what effects or hazards might happen in the experiment. Guide students in categorizing the effects or hazards. Possible categories of risk include:
  • Safety: an effect or hazard that might cause bodily or property damage. 
  • Ethical: an effect or hazard that goes against morals or values
  • Cultural: an effect or hazard that negatively impacts language, beliefs, identities, or ways of life 
  • Environmental: an effect or hazard that negatively impacts any part of the environment (e.g., land, water, air)
  1. Next, invite groups to decide which possible hazards or effects of the experiment might be the greatest risks in each category. Encourage students to share their decisions and thinking with the class. As they share, use their thinking to present or co-develop the criteria for assessing risk. The criteria could include: 
  • Likelihood of an effect or hazard occurring: What are the chances of this occurring? Would it happen every time or very infrequently? 
  • Impact of the effect or hazard: What impacts might the effect or hazard have? Impact can be measured by examining the breadth (how many people or areas of life?), depth (how noticeable or profound?), and duration (how long-lasting?) of any effect or hazard.
  1. Invite groups to rate the overall risk of the experiment using the scale at the bottom of the handout. Invite groups to share their ratings and thinking with the class. 
  2. Prompt students to revisit their initial ratings of the experiment: What changed? What stayed the same? 
  3. To conclude the activity, discuss why it might be important to think about the risks before conducting any science experiment. Are there any situations where risk would be acceptable? Are there any risks that are unacceptable?
  4. Encourage your students to use the blank version of the handout whenever they need to think about or evaluate the risks of a science experiment. 

Modify or extend this activity

Extension

Students can assess the risk of other experiments in science (e.g., famous experiments, school-based experiments). 

Modifications

Use a variety of learning styles within the activity (e.g., auditory through the discussion that happens, visual through drawing an image of the science experiment, reading/writing through recording their thoughts on paper, kinesthetic through hands-on activities).

Curriculum Fit

Curricular competencies

Planning and conducting

  • Assess risks and address ethical, cultural and/or environmental issues associated with their proposed methods and those of others
  • Ensure that safety and ethical guidelines are followed in their investigations

Evaluating

  • Consider social, ethical, and environmental implications of the findings from their own and others’ investigations

Teaching Notes

The experiment described in the handout was the “blue eyes—brown eyes experiment” conducted by a teacher in 1968. More information on the experiment can be found here: Lesson of a lifetime.  

Assessment

Invite each student to complete a copy of the "Assessing my ability to assess risks" rubric. 

Evaluate students’ ability to:

  • Use criteria to identify ethical, cultural and/or environmental issues associated with their proposed methods and those of others 

Related activities

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