We all like bargains and saving money. And that is the reason for the larger bundles of items you can purchase at Teachers Pay Teachers. So, getting a resource that saves money is important- but also making sure sure your money is well spent. “Getting your money’s worth” is the point!
Before we get into that I need to give you a little bit of background… You may already know this story – if you have been reading my blog for a while. But this story is what led me to start creating resources for teachers (including bundles).
One day my principal announced we would have a STEM Lab the following school year and I knew I wanted the job. I love teaching science and I’m a pretty good engineer #problemsolver So, I applied for the job, interviewed for it, and snagged it. Yay! Well, except for the part of discovering I had no resources. ZERO. A local hands-on science program lent me some idea books, but they were all way too complicated for elementary students and 45-minute class sessions.
So, I started searching for ideas. I found a source that claimed to have 50 STEM Challenges in it. Sounded great to me so I purchased it. And it did have 50+ challenges, but many of them were just variations of the same challenge and the most dismaying part- there were no directions.
Y’all I am a directions reader. I need the basics of how to do things and as a new STEM teacher, I will freely admit that I had no clue what I was doing. How could I take a basic list of materials and a one-sentence directive and teach a class? Well, I couldn’t, so I started developing my own resources. The things I include are the things I needed when I first started my STEM journey:
- Details, details, details, and directions for how to do things!
- Photos and samples
- Tips for what works and what does not work
- The Engineering Design Process
The Engineering Design Process
As I started to develop my first STEM lessons I quickly found that many of the tiny resources I was looking at mentioned the Engineering Design Process (EDP). As I read more about that I realized this was super important and I made sure my initial lessons used all the EDP components. And, all my resources still do that! Each step of the process is included, explained, and clearly marked in my teacher’s guides and the student lab sheets.
TIP: If you are considering a purchase of any STEM resource, look for the EDP. If you are not seeing the steps of the process, I would look for something that does include these important steps.
Think about it. Every curriculum you use in your classroom has a Teacher’s Guide. It’s usually a big, bulky book with many pages of directions and alternatives for you. It’s a basic explanation of how to use the curriculum. Do you need that? I sure do.
I need a step-by-step procedure. And preferably an illustrated one! The images above are sharing one of my STEM resources. This one just happens to have six pages of teacher’s directions. Are these directions telling you exactly what to do or say? Not really. STEM leaves the door open for you to add your own style and this will depend on the age level of your students.
My directions are meant to guide you through setting up the challenge, when to hand out materials, how to have your students complete the Planning step of the EDP, what it means to Improve, and how to end the event with a Sharing time. If you need this guidance it is provided. If you are comfortable with STEM, then just take a look at the extra tips I include!
Embedded within my teacher’s guides are photos of some of the work, hints about the challenge, and samples from student lab sheets. I use a small font and type a ton of information. I want you to be successful and I want you to be able to set up the challenge – knowing what to expect. I even provide scenarios you can use as the purpose of the challenge!
TIP: Check the previews of items before you make a purchase. Are you seeing teacher directions or just a page that tells you what materials are needed?
Another small page that I include in some of my resources will be an information page, like the one to the left. This is from a STEM Challenge about Cargo Drops. I included a full page of extra information to explain what we talked about with our cargo drop event. It includes examples of cargo drops and where you can find more information, including videos if you need that.
But, there is more!
Okay, so far in this one challenge example, I have shown you six pages of the teacher’s guide and an extra information page. I also include a Background page and the Materials and Prep page which is so detailed.
It’s not just a list of items. It’s a list of exactly what you need and where to buy it and even what you can substitute for those items. (Look at the image below.) The preparation steps tell you exactly what to prepare ahead of class and may include tips for all of it. I sometimes include photos of the way my materials look when I set up the display for the class.
TIP: There is no guesswork with my challenges. Remember, that purchase I made with 50 challenges? That resource would list things like craft sticks, but I had no idea how many. Details about how many for each group will always be on my prep page so you will know exactly what to set up. And, of course, you are free to alter those materials as needed.
What else is included in all my STEM resources? These two pages are showing you a scoring rubric and the constraints of the task. These are both editable! Tweak the wording to suit your age level or your own rules for the task. Since the constraints are editable you can make the task easier or harder.
The scoring rubric is an option you can try. These are not generic forms. Each one has been designed for the particular task in the resource!
TIP: Look at my previews! You can see every part of the resource.
Oh my, I include photos in all my resources. There are many reasons for this!
- All of my resources have been tested- multiple times. You are seeing the actual student work.
- You are not seeing just the pretty models. I share the failures, too. This gives you a glimpse of what to expect (because failures do happen)!
- If needed, your students can see the photos. Some people will say this is “cheating”, but I personally don’t feel this way. I do sometimes share pictures with struggling groups to give them some encouragement.
- I have 2-5 pages of photos in my resources. As you can see in the image below I also may include a lot of written information with the photo page.
This is a question I am often asked. What are the standards covered in the challenge? In fact, that resource I initially purchased (with 50 challenges) was labeled in large letters and claimed to be “Aligned with NGSS Standards”.
ahem……Just a note for you: The NGSS Standards include an Engineering component. This means most STEM Challenges will likely follow the NGSS Standards. The specific numbers for those NGSS Engineering Standards are 3-5 ETS 1-1, 3-5 ETS 1-2, and 3-5 ETS 1-3. Note: Not every challenge uses all of these standards.
TIP: Look for the Engineering Design Process in the challenges you are thinking about purchasing. The standards are already covered and there may be even more NGSS standards possible. But, is the EDP being used? That is important!
Should you try a large, expensive bundle? Especially if you are new to STEM… I have so many variations of bundles in my shop! I have 3-packs, 6-packs, grade level bundles, a seasonal bundle, and a mega bundle. What should you do?
TIP: Try one of my single challenges. (The Cargo Drop challenge is a good place to start.) I think you will be pleased with the level of help I provide and the content of the resource.
TIP: Take a look at many STEM resources. I am listing some at the end of this post. Also, I have some very good STEM friends that all create excellent resources. They all follow the EDP and provide detailed directions for you. I am listing a link for the collaborative blog for you to take a look at.
TIP: How do you decide how much money to spend on resources?
- Try a free challenge. I have some. They are not nearly as detailed as the paid ones. But, those challenges will provide you with a format using the EDP, lab sheets, rubrics, and more!
- Purchase a single challenge. I have about 100. My friends have even more!
- If you decide to purchase a large bundle I can help you decide which is right for you! Just send me a message.
- Definitely, check the previews of resources. Can you see all of the pages? Are the pages filled with type? Does it look like you are getting a lot of information? Can you see evidence that the EDP is utilized?
- And, consider this: Your purchase is an investment. Invest your money well!
- Ways to Prove What STEM is Not
- Best Practices for STEM
- Cargo Drops
- Free Challenge Mystery Build
- Free Challenge Rules
- Free Challenge Foosball
- Free Poster Set of Engineering Design Process
- STEM Activities for Kids (Blog and information about STEM teachers I recommend)
Susan K. says
Thank you for this post. I bought a very popular STEM bundle (from another very well known TPT-er), and I have never used it! What a waste of my money! I'm glad you're taking the time and care to make your bundles more user friendly.
Carol Davis says
Oh, I feel your pain! I don't like guessing what I am supposed to do with anything- I need directions. I am glad you liked this post!