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My #1 Way to Simplify Future Lab Days [Episode 74]


Click below to hear how to simplify lab days:



We are kicking off our Summer Podcast PD with a topic I get asked about most – LABS! There is so much to cover when it comes to labs and how to simplify them.  But let’s be honest, you likely aren’t in the headspace at this point of the school year to strategize about how to simplify your lab days. So today, I am sharing the one thing you can do NOW to help simplify every future lab day. 

We all want to simplify those hectic and stressful lab days but as we are nearing the end of the year, it may not be the best time to start planning and strategizing for next year. You may not even know what you are teaching or where you’ll be teaching next year. But even without knowing all the details, you can simplify your future lab days by auditing your existing labs! In today’s episode, I am walking you through, step by step, how to audit your current labs so you have all the information you need to improve your labs and ensure you are doing the right labs! Be sure to grab the FREE lab audit sheet to help you audit your labs.  

Do you know a secondary science teacher friend who you want to join you in the FREE Podcast PD! Get your teacher friends together, hold each other accountable, and take action on these bite sized PD episodes all summer!

Topics Discussed:

  • Why we aren’t covering labs in depth in the summer Podcast PD and when to expect the labs series
  • Why you need to audit your current labs 
  • A step by step guide for filling out the lab audit sheet
  • How to decide if you should trash or replace, tweak, or keep your current labs based on your lab audit

Resources Mentioned:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

You’re listening to episode number 74 of the secondary science simplified podcast. A few months ago, I sent out a survey to y’all asking what you needed help with the most. By and large, the number one request was for help with lab. This time of year, you may just be so done. You aren’t in the headspace to strategize about how to simplify overcomplicated lab days and I get it. So instead, we’re going to talk about one small thing you can do now to simplify every lab day you have in the future. Plus, I made a free resource just for you to help you do exactly this. Are you excited? Let’s dive in.

This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week.

Are you ready to rock the time spent in your classroom? And actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

Well, first and foremost, let me be the first one to say welcome to our summer podcast PDE series. If you missed last week’s episode, I shared that this year, I am not going to be offering the secondary science simplified virtual professional development course. I’ve done it the last two summers, I love it so much. But it is incredibly time consuming mainly with the Facebook group and keeping that community going, as well as with the weekly live coaching calls, and just being meaning to be really available for DMS and questions and all of that. And as many of you may, no, I am currently writing a chemistry curriculum.

And so that’s kind of been my number one focus this year and 2023, that and this podcast. And so just to make sure that I can really get that curriculum where it needs to be for back to school season, I’m not going to be offering the secondary science simplified PD course. But I didn’t want to leave y’all hanging this summer without PD. So instead, I decided, hey, let’s treat the podcast like free PD. And all summer long, we are going to do that I have a whole list of topics, I sent out a survey to you guys, like I mentioned at the top of this episode, asking you a bunch of questions. And that’s kind of guiding the curriculum, if you will, for what this series will look like.

So if you have not joined yet, if you’re on my email list, you would have gotten this information already. But if you are not, you can become part of this podcast PD series, by heading to It’s not rocket science, classroom.com/podcast PD, and you’re gonna get a calendar that kind of will give you a heads up as to what’s going to be coming for this pD over the next couple of months. And you’ll also get this summary sheet that you can have, there’s a digital version and a printable version. And that way you can really treat each podcast episode this summer, like it’s PD and take some notes and take an action step at the end of each episode. And so I really hope that this will serve you all, even though we won’t be having the course. And if you are super bummed about the course not being open, I am considering opening it in November, maybe December when I’m hopefully going to be done with chemistry. I’ve never done it in the middle of the year. But I thought you know what, you can always try. So if there is interest, I will open it up when I’m done with chemistry. And so if you are interested in that you can go to It’s not rocket science, classroom.com/sss waitlist, and I will link all of these things in the show notes. But now let’s get back to Labs, which is how we’re going to kick off this series. And when I sent that survey, like I said, I’m not kidding. 50% of the questions were about labs. And I loved hearing them, although part of me was like, kind of bummed because almost all of the questions are answered in my PD course. But again, I just don’t have the capacity to run it this year. But I again, I’m not going to leave y’all hanging. So I was like, we got to do an episode on this. And so when I started outlining this episode of trying to answer your questions, it was literally so much that it’s now become this entire series that I’m going to do dedicated to labs, and that is going to come out later this year. So here’s the deal. You may be thinking, Oh, hey, Rebecca, this is kind of annoying. We have a lot of lab questions. You won’t give us the secondary signs of a five PD course. And now you’re saying you’re not going to give us the lab series that we want. Okay, well, here’s the deal. I think it is too much this time of year, when y’all are doing end of year tests, you’re running prom, you know you’re planning final exams, you’re cleaning out your classrooms so that your floors can be waxed this summer. Okay, and this podcast is called secondary science simplified. I don’t want you to ever listen to this podcast and leave it feeling overwhelmed. I want you to listen to this podcast and feel equipped. And so this just didn’t feel like the right time to hit you. With a five week series doing a deep dive in the labs, when you just have so many other things on your plate, I thought you know what I’m going to give them one really helpful, simple action item that they can do today, to serve feature then. And then we’ll get into a lot more of the details later this year and do a deep dive into labs. So I hope that sounds good to you. Now, you also may be thinking, Well, why not just do a bunch of this lab stuff this summer, like as we get out of school, and it’s June and it’s July, or whatever, all that stuff? Well, here’s the deal. As I’ve been writing and outlining the episodes about labs, I realized, in order for it to be effective, you’re really going to need to be in your classroom space. And you really need to be knowing what you’re teaching, in order to be able to apply the lab content. So for it to be the most effective for the most listeners, I really need to hold the lab content and all of this series until we’re actually into the school year next year. So that you know for sure what your teaching environment is, are you in a lab classroom? Are you not? Are you floating? Are you teaching a bunch of quantitative sciences? Are you teaching some elective sciences, you know, you really need to know to be able to apply it. Whereas the rest of the content that we’ll be covering in this podcast PD this summer, you could do this content this summer, regardless of knowing where you’re teaching what you’re teaching all of that. And so I really, again, I wanted this summer podcast PD to feel really manageable while you’re listening from your house, even if you don’t know where you’re teaching next year. And so the labs have just felt very heavy and like a lot. And so we’re saving it for later, we’re going to break it down in bite sized chunks later on. I promise, promise, promise you it’s coming, and it will be worth the weight. Now, with all that being said, today, instead of hitting you with all the answers to 1000 questions y’all had, and making this an hour long episode with 25 action steps for you to do after listening. And instead of requiring you to plan through a bunch of hypothetical situations, since you may not know what or where you’re going to be teaching next year yet, and where you’ll even be doing labs in the first place. I’m going to hit you with the one thing you should do right now to simplify Future Lab days, regardless of where and what you teach. And that is, I need you to audit your existing labs. Y’all lean in to your speakers for this, I swear, I got hundreds of responses to the survey I sent out. And I swear reading them, I just kept thinking, These people aren’t doing the right labs, this problem and that problem would be solved. If they were doing the right labs. Here is what I think happens for most of us, you get a new lab from a coworker, they come to you and they say hey, I want to do this lab, they hand it to you. And you just go ahead and you dive right in and check it out. Or you’re in the NGSS biology Facebook group and someone posts a picture of some lab they did and you’re like, Oh, that looks awesome. Can I get that Google Doc, and then you’re trying it or, and you run in to it and you do your students and you have all these questions, or it just felt really chaotic, or It felt awesome and flashy. But you’re like their test scores still were not great, or it had way more prep than you anticipated. And it was exhausting getting it going. Or maybe think of it this way, maybe it’s next September, and you get to your cells unit and you get to that lab that you dread doing every year that you always say you’re going to replace but then you just never do because you always have 8000 Other things to do than think of a replacement for the catalase lab. Okay, so you just keep doing the same things over and over or you just keep pulling things from all these different sources and Facebook groups, and they’re not proving to be effective and the way you want them to be effective. And so you’re just exhausted. And I know that a lot of you are doing the wrong labs because you are so exhausted by lab days. If you were doing the right labs, you wouldn’t be okay so here’s something I want to shout from the rooftops Do you know more labs just for the sake of doing labs? Please for the love if you hear one thing from me today, I want you to hear me say that. I think so many times we get caught in this ideal that I’m assigned It’s teacher. And science means I’m doing labs every single day or every other day or twice a week, or however you’ve defined it in your brain. And so you’re doing labs on labs that are exhausting you and aren’t actually serving your students, or you have in your syllabus or your district manual that you’re a lab science core, so you need to be spending 40% of the time in the lab. And so then you have this, again, this idea in your head of what that should look like. And I’m here to try to help you through that. So that you can actually enjoy lab days again, because you’re going to be doing the right labs. Okay, so here’s what we are going to do, you’re gonna pause this, you’re gonna go get yourself a cup of coffee, or maybe a McDonald’s fountain Diet Coke, I hear that the best kind of Diet Coke for my friends that love the DC, as they say, I’m not a Diet Coke drinker, but they love that. And you’re gonna go to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/labs. And you’re going to get this lab audit that I made for you. It’s also linked in the show notes. Okay, and you’re going to make a copy to your drive. And then you’re going to come back to this episode, and listen through how we’re going to do this together. Okay, we’re going to audit your lab, it’s a Google Doc that you’re going to get. So you have to make the copy so that then you can edit it. And we’re going to start by just picking one of your preps, you’re a sit down, you got your Bevy, you’ve got your Google Doc, and you’ve got your lesson plans from this past year. Okay, whether they’re scribbled in a notebook, or you’ve got them digitally, somewhere, or whatever. And you’re going to list every single lab that you did this year, okay, each lab is going to be its own row. Okay, and so you’ll have to like right click to insert rows, I think I started you off with 10 rows for 10 Labs. But you may have done more than that. So you’ll need to add rows as needed. And then you’re going to walk through this sheet. So you’ll write the name of the lab that’s in the second column. And in the first column, you’ll put what unit it’s from. So try to go in order of your school year like, I would be like unit for biology, I’d say unit one biology basics, and then write my first lab down and go through it that way. And also, you can change that part of the top my example says biology labs, you can change that when you make a copy. It’s all fully editable once you make a copy. And so I want you to go through and list every lab. Once they’re all listed out, then we’re going to go through row by row and really zoom in on each lab. And so the first thing you’re going to do for each one is lists how many days you really actually need for this lab. Okay, confession. I’m the queen. If you have any my curriculum, I’m the queen of saying that lab stations of any sort, are going to last like one to 1.5 class periods. And in reality, they always last me two to two and a half class periods. But in my head, ideally, I would love I get those done in one to 1.5 class periods, but it just doesn’t happen. So I want you to put me here, how much time do you really need to do this lab in a way that’s not stressful for you. And I think personally that most labs, if you are on a 50 minute class period, you’re going to need two to three class periods for it. Typically, when I’m trying to pace out a lab for my students, I’m blocking off 15 minutes at the end of one class period to introduce them to the lab and prep them on it. Then the next day is a full day of data collection. And then they get a whole nother day. That’s a full day of data analysis, graphing, writing conclusions, answering your reflection questions, whatever. So I like to think of it as like 2.25 class periods. Okay. That, to me, is what most of my labs really require. And so I want you to put the actual time you really need they’re not what you’ve been doing, but what you really should need. So put the number of days there that you need and days is whatever it means to you could be a 50 minute class period, it could be 90, because it just depends for you. So maybe you can make yourself a little key. So you can remember next time, but put that in there too. The next thing you’re going to do is I want you to put in a list of the materials you need. I have an example there in the first row of a lab that I used to do the catalase enzyme lab, a lot of you biology teachers may have done something like this, I did it when I was in high school biology. I did it in college when I was student teaching, I did it when I first started teaching until I finally got rid of it, okay, but you’re gonna list all the materials you need. And I think one way you can make this materials list even more helpful for you is if you want to color code, so you can highlight and use the little thing that looks like a pen or just click the A and change the color and Google Docs and color coded and say okay, like everything that’s red comes from the chemical supply closet. Everything that’s blue is a consumable, like Q tips, paper towels, and then maybe everything in green is a non consumable, like I need hot plates on a test tube, that kind of thing. So you could color code this to make this even more effective for you. But you’re going to have the materials you need there. That way this is your one stop reference sheet. Every year for your labs as to what you need, and you can kind of look ahead and see what you need to where you need to get it and where you need to check for it. And something like this is so helpful to for that. I feel like it’s always the most random time of year when your department chair comes to you, and is like, Okay, guys, we got a grant, we’ve got $200, what do we need, and you’re like, I don’t know what I need. Now, you’ll know because you’ll have it and you’ll have a color coded. So if he says it has to be non consumables, you know what non consumables you need, or if he says it can be consumables, you can pick which ones you need. Okay, so you’re gonna list the materials. And then the next column is arguably the most important. This is what you have to do in advance to prep for this lab. So one of my most labor intensive labs that I do that is still so worth it, to me, is this ecosystem in a bottle investigation that I do in biology, I do it at the end of the year. And it legitimately requires the day that they set up the lab, I have to the night before block off my calendar, so that I can go to the pet store and get the goldfish get the aquatic plant, I can come back to the school I can set up the bucket dechlorinate the water like it is my most labor intensive lab. And so make a list there you can see my example from the enzyme catalase lab. When I was teaching in a non lab space, this was a hard lab for me because I had to go down to the cafeteria to get the ice for the ice bath, I had to go to another teacher’s classroom to get hot plates that I could use for the hot water bath and the warm water bath. I had a hard time setting these up in advance also, because I had five preps and I was in a non lab space. So there wasn’t a lot of area to store get to pre set things up. So I had to be so strategic with how I did it. And so going ahead and walking through what you need to do in advance to prep is really, really helpful. So jot those things down in that column. Okay, next, you’re going to really reflect what are the benefits of this lab? Why do you do this year after year? What are they really getting out of it? Okay, listen to those things there. I felt like with that enzyme, catalase lab with the potatoes and stuff, that it really was like a very clear visual of the effects of pH and temperature on an enzymes ability to react, you know, and how it was affecting the rate of reaction. It was very, very clear, that was a benefit of it. Then though, in the next column, you’re going to walk through what are the challenges? What makes this lab hard for your students? Where do they get caught up? Where do they get frustrated? Where are they asking you want 100 questions. And then also the what makes it hard for you making a water bath or an ice bath and a hot water bath aren’t hard, they’re not hard to pass if you have like a lab space that I didn’t. So it was a lot of like walking around the building, collecting all this stuff. I didn’t have like, necessarily always have like a planning period right before I taught the biology class, I needed to do it. And so it was hard for me to get it all set up. When I had a tiny space and no rooms, it was hard for me in that capacity. And so I want you to list those challenges. Now, the very last column on the far right, we are going to skip for now. Okay, and you’re going to repeat what you just did for every single lab. Okay, so you’re writing out number of days materials, what your advanced prep benefits challenges. Okay? Now, when you are completely done, here’s what you’re going to do, you’re going to look at the entire spreadsheet. And here’s what I want you to do, we’re going to organize everything into by the last column is going to be a keep tweak, replace, or trash. Okay, those are going to your four options. And now No, I’m kind of color coding these and I already started that. So keep, I’m going to keep white tweak is yellow, replace is hot pink and trash is dark gray where you like highlight and you can press that paint button, and it will change that will change the entire row color if you want to do that. Or you can click the button that looks like a little highlighter and highlight the text whichever you prefer. But we’re going to color code this now by typing in there. So these are the questions I want you to ask yourself. First, we’re going to go immediately through our list and mark every lab that has maximum benefits and minimum challenges. So when you’re looking at this, you’re like, wow, I wrote a lot of benefits here and not very much in the challenges for this section, then you should keep that. So type keep in that far right column. Okay. And then I would leave it white because it’s staying here forever in this spreadsheet. Okay. So do that first. Now go through and look at all of the ones that have the least amount in the benefits column, and the most in the challenges column. Okay, so now we’re going to zoom in on those you have a lot of challenges, not a lot of benefits. And the first thing I want you to ask yourself is, is this worth tweaking to keep or are you do you need to try should replace this, just trash it if you have plenty in this unit already. So that’s the reason why we’re marking what unit it’s in. Sometimes I see teachers doing like four labs in one unit and they’re exhausted, but one of them they like hate. So if you’re already doing another lab or two in this unit, like trash it, you should probably just get rid of it. Now, let’s say this is the only lab you’ve got for this unit, you probably need to replace it or at the very least tweak it. Now, if you think you could just make some small edits to make this run a lot smoother, then mark it as tweak. Maybe it’s something as simple as this is a good lab, but the procedures are just like not written, right? So I’m constantly having to answer 5500 questions. And so what you need to do is you need to mark it as tweak and then just put a little note need to rewrite the procedures. Or maybe it’s like this a great lab, but we’re always rushed. So you just need to say tweak the lock out times to the amount that I normally do for this because it’s going to take longer, but it’s worth it for maybe it’s a good lab, but the reflection question is just got nothing for you. They don’t bring it back home, the students don’t see how what they’re learning actually applies to anything you’ve done in class. So maybe you just need to tweak the reflection questions they’re doing at the end. Okay, so make a note of what needs to be changed, so that you can minimize those challenges that you have with it. And here’s a side note, if you have the capacity, I would go ahead and make those edits. If not, at the very least write your ideas down so that when you’re referencing this in the fall, you already know what you need to change on it. While it’s all fresh in your mind from having just taught it. And again, I recommend color coding this. So pick one color for your tweaks, and color code those rows and then you can really easily see like oh, all the yellow things just need a little bit of tweak all of the gray things I’m deleting next year, all the hot pink or bright green or whatever, I just need to replace the different lab. Okay, and so then we’re going to narrow it down to the trickiest ones are the things that are in the middle. So these are the ones that seemingly have equal amounts of benefits and challenges. And if you kind of look at my example, with the catalase enzyme lab, I’ve kind of have equal amounts of benefits and challenges like they seem even though I wrote more for challenges, it seems pretty equal, like this kind of can balance out each other. So then I would ask myself the following questions. First, do I already have a good lab for this unit? If yes, trash that lab, then get rid of it. No labs for the sake of doing labs remember? Okay, second thing I would ask myself, are there unique skills that are practicing in this lab that they don’t have any other time? Okay. So for example, this catalase enzyme lab, they’re getting to use like a lot of different lab equipment, they’re getting to use some different chemicals. Like if I’m not doing that any other time of year, this could be a great lab to keep to make sure they’re getting some of those lab practical skills. But I have other labs where they’re getting those. So it’s not necessarily worth keeping it just for that. Okay. Another question I would ask myself is this just a fun brain break, and we just need one at this point in the year or in the unit, I always thought the like DNA extraction lab where you get the DNA from the strawberry, and biology, I just don’t love that lot. To me, the challenges outweigh the benefit. And my students, it doesn’t really help my students understand anything in our genetics unit better. But it’s a fun brain break. So for me, I don’t keep that in my regular list of what I’m doing in my curriculum. But if we’ve got a random weird day before winter break, that’s a great one for me to pull out. Okay, so you can keep something just because it’s fun. I think that’s okay. Like, you just want to keep a lab because it’s fun. Even if it doesn’t help that much. That’s fine, as long as you’re not stressed level midnight, because of the challenges of it. But this is where you’re going to ask yourself these tough questions. And then the last question I would ask myself is, what is the motive behind why I’m doing this lab? If I’m just doing it, because I’ve always done it, or because everyone in my department does it or whatever, you might just need to trash this or replace it. I just think so many labs we do, because we feel like we have to, and there might be something better out there. Or we might be able to come up with something better out there. That’s how I feel about my photos. And this is really activity. You know, the original idea came from something that my department kind of put together and then I ran with it to develop this activity for my students. That is so much more effective than any other thing I’ve ever done for photosynthesis. You know, same with the enzyme simulation activity I have that eventually replaced this catalase enzyme lab. They’re still analyzing data. They’re still doing a bunch of things, but it’s more of like an in person simulation that’s representing something and they just their test scores went up because I replaced this lab. And so that’s where I really want you to think about this. Like they may understand something so much better if you get rid of it. So don’t feel guilty. I think sometimes we don’t want to trash a lab, because it just makes us tired. So you feel bad. You’re like I’m being selfish if I get rid of This slide just because I don’t like it. Well think about it, are your students really learning from it? Are their test scores improving, because they’ve done this lab? If so, then yeah, maybe you do just kind of need to suck it up for one or two labs of the year that you don’t like, but they’re really good for your students, you’re gonna make it happen anyway. But it might benefit your students more if you dropped the lab and tried to find something else to replace it with. Okay, so I want you to walk through this process, I think it’ll be so helpful for you and make a copy, make several copies of this so that you can do it for each class you have. And then you can refer back to this every year, this first year is going to take the bulk of your time because you’ve never done this before. But then after this year, you can go back and you can add to this, tweak it etc. Look back at your notes, see what works, you can print this out and you know, put it on your desk. So when you come back in August, you remember it or save it somewhere in your drive and set a reminder in your phone August 8, when you’re back for your PD days, as faculty set an alarm be like, hey, when I have free time this day, look at that lab audit that I did back in May. Okay, keep this reuse, this is the resource you can use for life. Y’all I know this may seem like something you don’t want to spend your time doing. But I’m telling you right now, auditing your labs will be guaranteed to simplify your Future Lab days, I promise you this. Okay, that’s all you need to do is you’re really just thinking through the labs you’ve done, and asking yourself questions about them. And you just typed them into this document that I already made through you for you do a little color coding and then look at it and make some decisions. Do you need to find all the replacement labs right? The second? No, you don’t you have time for that. But it kind of helps you to and this will help you to if you do love those teacher Facebook groups, that when you’re seeing a bunch of ideas of things to do, you can kind of filter through those and be like, Oh, that looks cool. But I don’t need that. Instead, I need something for evolution or whatever topic it is that you’re trying to replace. And you can really sort through them that way and not be overwhelmed by all these things that all these other teachers are doing that you feel like you’re not doing and you should be.

Okay now, if you are doing the podcast PD reflection sheet, which can be found at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/podcast PD, this is your one action item for this episode is to make a copy of that lab audit sheet and get started. If you’re on my email list, this is already in your inbox. And if not, you can grab it. It’s not rocket science. classroom.com/labs. And as always, all of these links can be found in today’s show notes. It’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 74. And y’all please share this episode with a teacher friend who needs to do this with you or who you want to do it with you. This would be a great way to have someone help hold you accountable to be like let’s both do this. I think this is a great time to start rallying your friends or your co workers to engage in some podcast PD with you and with me all summer long. It’s so much more fun to do things with someone else than it is to do them alone. So they can jump in. And you can jump in again at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/podcast PD would love to see you there. And stay tuned for next week for another episode in this series that I think you’re gonna really like and found super helpful. All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be cheering you on, teacher friend!

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