Today is a little peek inside how I organize materials and store things for STEM class! It is rather daunting to think about putting all these materials away- and then being able to find things again or quickly!
Let me assure that I am not claiming any mystical powers for organizing and my ways may not work for you. But, on the other hand, these tips may help you or get you started!
So, let’s get going!
First, and foremost, think about storing your materials in a logical format.
Let me explain.
The lab I use has two entire 30-foot walls covered with cabinets- like a really big kitchen. When I took over the lab all the cabinets and drawer spaces were full. They were full of a huge amount of things, but all of it had been put away in no specific way. Like, a drawer might have latex gloves, foil, and string in it. And a cabinet might have microscopes, balloons, and measuring tapes. Get it? No order whatsoever! Given the number of materials and storage spaces, I knew I was going to need to place things more carefully. So, first I emptied every cabinet and drawer and laid everything out on big tables — in categories.
Then I started to put it all away carefully- in logical categories. Take a look at that photo above. That’s my measurement cabinet. Everything in it concerns some form of measurement- measuring tapes and reels, thermometers, scales of all kinds, rulers, timers, calculators, and more. It makes so much sense! And it makes everything easy to find.
Unless you have ten tons of cabinets….which brings me to #2! Keep reading!
Tip 2 is to keep a written inventory!
At some point when I was putting things away, even though the storage was logical, I knew I had too much stuff! I knew I would never remember where all of it was. So, I started an inventory notebook.
It will seem extreme to you as you read this, but I promise, cross my heart, I have used this notebook repeatedly in the last few years and it has saved me so much time.
First, I labeled all the cabinets, and you can read about that in the next section. Then I listed the contents of every cabinet and drawer in my notebook- by the cabinet or drawer number. But, it occurred to me that this might not help. What if I needed something specific, like a needle. Where would that be? So, I also made an alphabetical listing. So, if I need a needle, I look at the N page and it tells me the number of the drawer where these are stored.
Oodles of time saved and a bonus of this is that I can also check to see how much of something I have before I purchase new things. It was time-consuming to set up, but now it’s a lifesaver.
So, is tip #3. Keep reading!
Label, Label, Label!
Tip 3 is to have a system for storage so you can find things quickly. All of my cabinets are numbered and the drawers are labeled.
This way I can find things so quickly. I can also tell kids- get an extension cord and they know how to locate this easily. Without the numbers and labels your organization or inventory list would be a tad useless or hard to use. Again, I arranged all of these logically. Number 1 starts at one corner and the numbers just travel down one wall and then on to the other wall of cabinets. Drawers are numbered and labeled in case I later change what is inside them. So, have a number or labeling system to help you find things and I know you already know this and do it. The amount of materials in a STEM class makes it a necessity! And storing all of this is next up!
Tip #4 You cannot have enough storage bins.
Seriously, every teacher already knows this, but let me tell you how I came to rely on plastic shoe boxes and dishpans so much. The very first STEM challenge we completed was a real learning experience for me! I never in a million years was prepared for us to NOT complete the activity in one class session. So, here I was at the end of class with half completed structures and used materials and somehow I needed a quick plan for what to do. So, I grabbed those blue dishpans and gave each group one. The kids stored their lab folders in the bins and their partially finished things and then the bins were stored on the shelves of their lab tables. The next week the teams just retrieved their bins and kept working. Try the Dollar Tree for dish pans, but if you need plastic shoe boxes they are better quality and less expensive at Wal-Mart. And you will need these! Trust me on this!
(On a side note, one of the storage drawers in my lab has about 20 hot glue guns in it and you will need these, too! For a while, I stored these in a large zip lock bag, but now I have too many for that!)
Tip #5 is about storing student work folders!
Whether you use folders, composition notebooks, or something else, you are going to need a place to keep these! I have a large metal shelf unit that holds all of our folders in plastic bins. Most of these bins came from the Dollar Tree. I have one for each teacher and the bin holds an entire class set of folders. We use folders because they take up less space than a composition notebook!
Alright, STEM friends, there are some organization tips for you!