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Safety in the middle school or high school art classroom poses challenges that differ from the elementary art classroom because older students are capable of and enthusiastic about tackling a wider range of projects that utilize more sophisticated supplies and materials.
Art teachers must take care to purchase materials that have labels clearly describing the presence of hazardous ingredients, their potential health effects, and instructions for safe use. In addition, the art teacher must ensure that the art room is properly ventilated, and if it is not, he or she must press the issue with the school principal. Finally, middle and high school art teachers need to be aware of safety issues posed by particular art forms and processes, some of which are described here.
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Different forms of printmaking involve a variety of safety concerns. Woodcut printmaking, for example, involves the use of sharp tools to carve slabs of wood or linoleum. Students should be instructed on the proper use of these tools, such as cutting away from oneself and placing one hand on the wood or linoleum to ensure it does not slip during the carving process. This hand must be placed behind the cutting hand, rather than in front of it. Despite the best efforts of the instructor and the best intentions of the students, there will inevitably be at least one student who cuts him or herself; therefore, the instructor must always have a well-stocked safety kit at hand.
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As with students in the elementary grades, students should not be exposed to dry paints and glazes, and the teacher should premix these materials prior to the students’ use. If there is a kiln in the art room, students should also not be permitted to load or unload the kiln, no matter how responsible they may be.
Whenever possible, the instructor should make sure to run the kiln after school and overnight, when students are not present. If students are present when the kiln is running, the instructor must place a large, easily seen caution barrier in front of the kiln so students understand they must avoid the area.
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Some graphic design projects (as well as photography projects) involve the use of exact-o knives, which can be quite dangerous if not used properly. Students must be instructed in the proper use of these knives, as well as supervised very carefully. The instructor may consider having only a few students at a time use these knives, depending on the size of the class, and may also consider setting up a system in which each student who wants to use a knife must sign them out, and then sign them in when they are finished using them. In addition to exact-o knives, another potential danger is the use of fixative. The instructor should be the one to use fixative, rather than the students. However, if students are permitted to use fixative, they must be required to use it only outdoors.
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Mosaics and Stained Glass Windows
The creation of mosaics and stained glass windows may involve the breaking of ceramic or glass segments into smaller shards and pieces. Students who undertake projects of this sort must be instructed to sandwich the ceramic or glass pieces in between several sheets of newspaper, hammer the pieces just enough so that the pieces break (as opposed to smashing the pieces as hard as they can), and to wear goggles at all times. Students who do not follow these procedures must lose their project privileges and be instructed to work on something else.
Keeping Middle and High School Students Safe in the Art Classroom
This article series covers the safety considerations K-12 art educators need to make in order to ensure their classroom environment is safe and hazard-free.