To be honest, the first time I heard the words “STEM Lab” I had to do a google search to find out what it meant.
But now…WOW! My teaching job is as a STEM Lab Teacher. Ah-MAY-zing! Join me in this four-part series to learn more about STEM and why you just might need to make it part of your classroom!
Let’s start this summer STEM series off with a look at a topic that is always on the minds of STEM teachers. Today’s topic is STEM supplies!
It’s a rather daunting aspect of STEM and I do sometimes look at projects and know the cost will be prohibitive. Even if I were teaching a self-contained class and only needed supplies for 20-30 students it can still be overwhelming!
And when you have 15-17 classes each week you really have to scratch your head about gathering the materials inexpensively.
So, what to do? Keep it simple.
I am telling you that supplies can be dollar store items or just the junk you pull out of the cabinets. Here’s a list of the items I use most often: straws, aluminum foil, craft sticks, masking tape, string, paper, foam pieces, toothpicks, modeling dough, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, and pennies. Really!
Let me show you a few things we have done and the simple supplies used.
Students use spaghetti, masking tape, string, and one marshmallow.
I buy the largest box of generic brand spaghetti Wal Mart has, masking tape from Wal Mart that is 97 cents a roll, one bag of jumbo MM’s (also the generic brand), and the roll of string I have had for a long time.
We have tried many variations of this amazing challenge and my resource includes them all.
For this one you need TWO supplies- toothpicks and cans of modeling dough.
Toothpicks are easily purchased in large quantities and you can even ask parents to donate these. The modeling dough I use is found at The Dollar Tree. It comes in sets of four cans for $1 and I get enough so every group has one can. Kids love this challenge! And, I will add, that it is more challenging than you would expect!
Y’all I am not kidding. Every group of students I have used the Boat Challenge with has LOVED it and they want to repeat it a lot! The “junk” I use for boats is straws, sfoam cups, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, tape, and foam sheets. All of those supplies come from the Dollar Tree. In fact, just a small secret I will tell you: ALWAYS buy straws at the Dollar Tree. They are longer than the Wal Mart brand. You also need dish pans! And you need pennies to use for weights!
This is also a challenge I have varied many times. I have occasionally limited the materials and I also use a budget and have students “buy” their materials. This keeps them from wasting items!
Two supplies: foil and tape.
Yes, I know aluminum foil costs a lot, but I found this spectacular thing at The Dollar Tree! Aluminum foil Sheets! Yes, sheets.
They come in a pack of 30 and it’s sheets that are about 12 inches square and they are already torn. It’s not great quality foil, but it works perfectly. Tape is also limited in this challenge which helps on the cost, too!
This is THE MOST Spectacular challenge and it uses two things- paper and tape. I mean copy paper- something you already have tons of and if you do STEM challenges at all you will have masking tape!
Students are building a prototype for a gravity-fed pipeline. It must transport a ping-pong ball through turns. This resource includes the backstory of communities that use this type of pipeline in Panama.
See, I told you it was simple!
I promise, cross my heart, the day I invented the Boat Challenge I literally just started opening cabinets and dumping out weird things I found. When the kids came in I said, “Here you go! Build a boat!” They loved it! They had no clue it was just junk from the cabinets!
Need ideas for getting materials? Get parents involved. Send home a newsletter and ask for supplies. Be specific. Tell parents you want the aluminum foil sheets from the dollar store or the straws or cans of modeling dough. Ask for donations if parents don’t want to go shopping! Get your PTA involved and always ask your principal for help with getting things. This year I got enough microscopes for a class set just by mentioning it to my boss one day!
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