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5 Fabulous (and Practical) Ways to Use STEM Time Wisely

It’s Part 3 of my Summer Series about STEM!
This week I am focusing on the ways I am challenged by time constraints and some little things I do to help with this! I hope you find a tip or two to use- especially if you teach multiple classes like I do!
Tips for specialists that have many classes! The use of time and being prepared is paramount and this post has some tips and hints that may help you!

Bins for Materials

One of the first things I discovered as a teacher of multiple classes is that giving out materials was going to be a problem!

Lab class: Giving out materials is a huge process! Do you know how long it takes for kids to count out 10 straws, 12 paper clips, 50 toothpicks, and six cups? Too long- check this blog post for some tips about this topic!

This was a surprise to me. I thought laying everything out in large bins and having kids come to a supply station to get their own things was the way to go.
uhhhh….. no
Do you know how long it takes for kids to count out 10 straws, 12 paper clips, 50 toothpicks, and six cups? About an hour and a half. Not really, but it takes TOO long. By the time seven groups have collected their items half our time is gone.
So, here’s how I solve this dilemma: I use plastic shoe boxes and load the materials into them myself. It takes me less than 5 minutes to count everything into the bins in an assembly line style and then I deliver those bins to each lab table. The materials are ready to use and those plastic bins serve other purposes, too! 
TIP: Don’t buy those plastic shoe boxes from the dollar tree. They are $1, but at Wal-Mart, the better quality bins are about 90 cents.

Cleanup Time

Cleaning up at the end of the class time is another thing I didn’t adequately prepare for when I started my specialist job!
After STEM class clean is easy because of something we started doing a long time ago! Check this blog post for some clean up tips!
So, after about a month I went to the dollar store and bought eight tiny garbage cans and 8 broom/dustpan combos. Now, every lab table has its own garbage can and sweeping tools. When we finish our building and sharing time every table gets out its cleaning tools and gets to work. Learning how to do this is part of the beginning of the year procedure learning (more about this below).
Every student takes part in this process- some are disassembling structures and recycling materials, others are sweeping, others are collecting garbage, and others are wiping down the tables. I also keep a bin of washcloths in my sink area and a laundry basket. I have found that washing things in the school washers/dryers works better than purchasing wet wipes!
TIP: Work on the cleanup routine and practice it. We do this in the first month even if we have not made a mess. We still sweep, wipe down the tables, and pretend to throw away garbage!

Routines and Procedures!

Classroom management is an essential ingredient to using time wisely. This was true with my regular classroom and, oh so true with a STEM class!
Here's why kids don't do all those things we tell them on the first day of school: They only hear about the first seven words you say on the first day of school. After that they are thinking about PE and lunch and recess and snack time. I learned the hard way to actually teach routines and procedures just like a lesson. And now I do that with STEM. Check this post for more tips about time management!
I still remember those days when I stood before a group of kids on the first day of school and told them everything. EVERYTHING. Then when they didn’t do any of the things I told them, like sharpening two pencils before class or how to check out my classroom books, I wondered why.
Here’s why. They only heard about the first seven words I said on the first day of school. After that, they were thinking about PE and lunch and recess and snack time.
I learned the hard way to actually teach routines and procedures just like a math or language lesson. And now I do that with STEM. On the first day of class in August they line up at my door, I talk for a few seconds and then we go outside or down the hall and approach the lab again, but with my procedure for it. Then we go into the lab. I explain how they will find their seats. We go back out and repeat the whole thing. And so on….
You get it. I know you do this same thing in your classroom. And that investment of time at the beginning of the year is richly rewarded later when the kids automatically do things. 
TIP #1: Do you have a routine for getting pencils? Check this vintage blog post of mine for a way to take care of your pencil problems forever. Pencils and More Ideas Post
TIP #2: Dealing with pencils in my lab is even more perplexing because so many students use them. This coming year I am trying something new. We are going to use Bic pens. Yep! They cost very little, don’t smear, last a long time, and are almost indestructible. I will let you know how it goes!

Recycle, Reuse, Don’t throw it away! 

This is good for the earth, but excellent on my budget for a busy classroom of STEM projects!
Materials for STEM class are fun and easy and best of all most can be reused! At the end of class I tell kids to sort their unused materials or gently used materials into bins and then I add those things back to our main supply. We reuse everything.
So, remember when I mentioned way back up at #1 that those plastic bins had other uses. Well, here you go… I place about 5 or so of these on my main work table. At the end of class, I tell kids to sort their unused materials or gently used materials into those bins and then I add those things back to my main supply. We reuse everything.
Kids take apart structures when we can and they know what I mean by gently used. (Because this is one of the procedures we work on back in August- see #3 above!) We reuse straws, craft sticks, cardboard, toothpicks, paper clips, or just about anything that can be used again. I also have a scrap box for pieces of cardstock or construction paper that was cut or slightly used. (Like most of them have a hole cut right out of the center…)
Why is this a time saver? The kids are part of this process and it’s all part of our clean-up procedure. It saves a lot of work for me!
TIP: This year I even saved pieces of straws for no real reason except I hated to throw away the colorful pieces and then, bam, I had a group use those pieces to decorate a bird feeder. So, if you can store things – do it. I use large zip lock bags for pieces and plastic bins for larger things.


The one major thing that helps me is to prepare for storing. I have a plan for storing materials and for storing projects that are not completed!
Do you teach multiple classes? This is something to prepare for. Where will you place unfinished work? It will save you oodles of time to have an idea about this before it happens! Check this blog post for some ideas!
This is another one of those things I had no clue was going to happen. The first day I had a STEM class working on a project, I was scrambling at the end of class about what to do with their unfinished projects. I learned VERY quickly I needed to be ready for this every single time a class comes in. You never know what is going to happen to delay us- can you say “Fire Drill”?
Anyway, I have a ton of plastic dishpans that I have ready to fill. Kids grab one and load it up with their folders and partially completed projects and their materials not used yet. We store these pans in our large lab tables. If you don’t have lab tables to store pans in, then this is something to prepare for. Where will you place this unfinished work? It will save you oodles of time to have an idea about this before it happens!
Okay, friends, that’s a list of tips and hints and funny things to get you to think about ways to manage time best. 
Tips and ideas for saving time in a busy multi-grade classroom! Check this blog post !


  1. I love the idea about each table having their own garbage can and broom/dustpan!

  2. Great tips! I had to learn the hard way to build in time for clean up. And I love using materials bins for each table group. It's so much faster to set it all up ahead of time than to try to pass it all out when we start the lesson.

  3. I also love the clean up ideas! My kiddos love to help clean (their parents never believe me! lol) and I only have one dust pan.. time to stock up on some more! Also love the idea of using wash cloths, we go through so many clorox wipes it's crazy!

  4. The wash cloths have save me so much money! When I discovered I had access to the custodian's washer and dryer it changed everything! I bought the least expensive wash cloths Wal Mart had and the kids know where these are. About once a week I tote a tub of laundry to the washer! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice weekend!

  5. Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful experience. I loved how you took your kiddos outside and walked back in with routines in hand. Great idea! I must say… I've done this with my Kinders ocassionally.

  6. These are great tips! You're so right – it takes kids F.O.R.E.V.E.R to count out materials.

  7. Sometimes we take it fro granted that kids know how to do things or will do them! The time it takes in the beginning is time well spent to teach procedures! Thanks for visiting!

  8. Truth! I have a fabulous STEM challenge that involves measuring ingredients and kids know how to do it! But, it takes so much time that I just pre-measure everything for them! That way we can get to the heart of the lesson! Thanks for visiting!

  9. This. Is. Perfect!!!!!
    I just accepted a STEM specialist position for next year and was going to email you to ask you for some tips/ideas that will save my life… And bam! Here it is! Thanks, this gives me things to think about.

  10. I am so glad you found my blog! Go through the side bar section that lists post titles and I think you will find lots of advice. Contact me if you have more questions!

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