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How to Use STEM Materials Efficiently – A Few Tricks

I still remember the first few challenges we completed and the daunting task of assembling the materials. I tried laying things out so kids could collect their own items, but it took such a long time. 
Now, after a few years as the STEM lab teacher, I have learned so much about using materials and time better. Today’s post may give you some practical solutions to a few supply dilemmas!
Just a few Tips and Tricks about STEM Materials- Check this blog post for some fabulous ideas to help you stretch those materials and make them last!

Tape, tape, tape, and more tape!

STEM Class: The number one material used is masking tape. Check this blog posts for some tips and tricks about using this supply!

We use a lot of masking tape. I actually have two suggestions for you with masking tape. First, buy the least expensive kind you can find, but mark these so that you know it’s the cheap stuff. Use this tape when you want to give kids unlimited amounts or when they are creating something that tape will not be a determining factor in the structure. I keep a bin of the cheap tape and give teams the entire roll when I am not worried about how much they will use.
HOWEVER… sometimes they need the stronger, better tape and I limit how much they can have.
How do you do this? Easy, peasy. tear off a strip the length you are giving them and tape it to the edge of their work table! It still stays sticky enough to use and the kids will cut or tear off only what they need. They learn to be very frugal when the tape is limited.
So, here’s a trick: 
How do I measure how much they are getting? I use the floor tiles as a visual measuring device. Each tile is 12 inches and I “eyeball” the length by using the tiles as a guide!

Use materials more than once!

STEM Class: Here's a great tip fro this blog post- Collect gently used or unused materials and sort them for use in later challenges. Check the post for more ideas!
RECYCLE materials! Oh my, we are so gooooood at this! When it is clean up time I have kids take things apart and place gently used items in my recycle bin. Of course, anything they didn’t use is also placed in that bin. Later, I sort through those items and return them to their proper places in my lab to be used again another day. I even have a large zip lock bag full of pieces of straws. You never know when that might come in handy!

Here are a few more tricks!

STEM Class: Need a great trick about the materials of the challenge! Cut things in half. It will still be enough and will help on wastefulness! More tricks and tips on this blog post!
This trick one is just one I discovered the hard way. You know what kids do when you give them entire pieces of construction paper or card stock, right? They cut something out of the middle of the paper……
Ugh! So, whenever we use paper for any structure I just give them a half sheet. They still have enough for whatever we are building, but it becomes so much less wasteful! I do the same thing with pipe cleaners- cut them in half. Here’s one more trick- use the narrow craft sticks instead of the wider ones. They cost a lot less!

You need some plastic bins!

STEM: What one supply does your science or STEM class need the most? Plastic bins! Check this post for more great tricks about supplies!
Here’s my number one, most valuable, most used, and cannot live without TRICK!

Have tons of plastic bins. TONS. You cannot have too many.

We use those clear plastic shoe boxes all the time. ALL THE TIME! I organize materials for use in them. I pile them full of things for each group to use. The kids store their unfinished structures in them. Another thing you can grab (from the dollar store) is dish pans. Get a bunch of those. They also work great for holding materials or storing unfinished work. And, best of all, dishpans full of water are the most fun ever- The Build a Boat challenge is our absolute favorite!

You need to be able to substitute materials quickly!

STEM Challenges: Sometimes you just don't have the right materials, so what can you substitute? Check this post for a few ideas!
Last, but not least, I know you are just like me….you plan an activity, only to discover you forgot to get one of the materials you needed…..
So, learn to improvise (and I know you already know this).
Here are my favorite substitutions:
Instead of pipettes- use straws
Instead of Pom-poms- use cotton balls
Instead of Paper clips- use pipe cleaners
Instead of cardstock – use construction paper scraps
Instead of dowel sticks- use straws
Instead of dowel sticks- use pencils (unsharpened ones)
Instead of 1-ounce cups (which cost more) – use 3-ounce cups that are cut in half
Instead of graduated cylinders- use 3-ounce cups with measures marked on the side
Thanks for stopping by! If you need more about STEM Materials try these posts:


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