I know I have said this many times, but the number 1 topic of conversation for me about STEM
is always about the materials!
I hear this from other teachers a lot: The materials are too expensive, the materials are hard to gather, I don’t have the right supplies, and so on.
Well, let me just tell you that this post is going to help you a lot if you believe any of those things!
So, what are the materials you really need?
- Masking Tape
- Craft Sticks
Keep reading and find some tips for these materials and some amazing resources they can be used for!
Easy and Free! It’s Cardboard!
Let’s start with the free material that is the easiest to gather and very versatile!
Cardboard! Believe it or not, we use boxes and cardboard pieces all the time. We use the boxes for many challenges because we need a box (like the Baked Potato Company challenge or Build a Bird Feeder Challenge).
In the Food Delivery Company, students need boxes to use as the delivery containers. They decorate them, write and perform a commercial, cook and test the food, and it is fabulous!
For the bird feeder challenge, students need boxes to use for the feeder or pieces of cardboard to make parts of it!
I also take boxes and cut them into pieces to be used for many things- bridges need cardboard!
Another cardboard piece that you will use a LOT- tubes. Yep, good old toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Here’s a vintage post about one of the ways we used cardboard tubes: Marble Runs!
So, how is this FREE?
Easy-peasy- ask parents to send all of this stuff. When you mention that it is a free material they can send, I promise you will get tons. I have so many cardboard tubes I may never need another one! Here’s another idea- ask a local hardware store (like Home Depot) to save boxes for you. They will also save the industrial size tubes for you!
Tin Foil, AKA Aluminum Foil
This material is another that is so versatile and we use it all the time! ALUMINUM FOIL!
That’s right- just foil. I get boxes of foil at our Dollar Tree in packages of 30 pre-cut sheets. You would not think that matters, but it is extremely helpful to have the pre-cut sheets. Trust me on this.
We use this for so many things…..boats, towers, platforms, slides, the food delivery company, and more. Take a look:
In the water slide challenge, students used foil as a waterproof covering for their slides. The team in the photo learned the hard way that the foil needs to be on the inside of the cardboard tube (see we used those tubes again)!
So grab some foil or, better yet, mention this one in a newsletter that you send home. Dollar store shopping moms will pick up a box of the sheets for you!
You cannot have too much tape!
This material is a must-have, gotta have it, you won’t make anything without it supply.
It’s MASKING TAPE!
I promise cross-my-heart we have used enough masking tape in the last three years to circle the globe. Really.
We use it every day and for almost every single project.
Sometimes we use too much…..
The team in the above photo went a little overboard with their use of tape!
But, I know a secret about using masking tape that will help you with this problem.
Are you ready? Limit the amount! Duh, right?
So, here’s the secret part: How do you limit it and how do you measure it? ( Because that seems time-consuming) Here’s how- for most challenges, I limit the students to 1- 3 feet of tape. I tear off the amount and stick it to the edge of our lab tables. To measure it I use the floor tiles which are 1-foot tiles. I just eyeball the length by using those tiles as a guide. The kids actually have a person in their group that is the “Tape Manager” and that student cuts the tiniest amounts possible in order not to run out of tape. They are expert tape managers.
(By the way, did you notice the cardboard in that photo. Yep, more cardboard…)
You can build anything with straws!
Now, let me tell you the story about straws……
About a year ago I decided that since we use straws quite often (like daily) maybe we should add this item to our school supply lists.
Which led to having 4000+ straws. That’s how many straws the parents sent in.
So many projects in the photo above! Pretty incredible, I know.
If you need the absolute best straw you can get- try the Dollar Tree. A pack of 150-180 is only a dollar and they are longer than the cheap ones from Wal-Mart. You can also add them to your school supply lists- if you have lots of storage space…..
Got Craft Sticks?
And, last but not least, is the ever-popular Popsicle stick, craft stick, tongue depressor.
This is another material we use quite often. Not every day, but often. It can be the main building material or support for a structure. You can paint it, glue it, color on it, and kids will even ask you to poke a hole in it. (Which you cannot do!)
We have used them for catapults, towers, Newton’s Cradles, bird feeders, platforms, and many kinds of bridges. The best part is they are relatively inexpensive. A box of 1000 from Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart is less than $5. That’s the narrow version, the fatter ones cost a little more.
The Suspension Bridge project is one of my fifth graders love doing every year! We use craft sticks for all parts of it… and cardboard!
Here’s a link to a blog post I did about just craft sticks if you need more proof: Craft Sticks
Great tip about the aluminum foil! I always do an activity with straws the first week and it never occured to me to ask for them on the supply list!