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Making the Most of Materials in STEM

This post about making the most of STEM materials came about because the number one, absolute, most-asked question I receive from my readers and those interested in STEM resources have the same topic.   MATERIALS!

Where do I get materials? How much will this cost? What if I do not have the right things? What if my kids ruin things? What if I do not have enough?  

Well, let me help you with this a little! (Or a lot) I mean, I don’t think you can become an expert on using STEM materials, but my experiences in a real STEM lab just might save you some time – and money!

STEM Materials - a post about making the most of your materials. This includes things to use and storage tips.

A Little Background

I started in a STEM Lab with a well-stocked array of cabinets. In fact, the cabinets were stuffed full of things. The classroom was built to be a science lab for the entire school and it had accumulated about 8 years of really neat stuff. And junk.  

For example, anything teachers did not know what to do with or where to store it- I found it on a shelf or in a cabinet. Old science kits, the hands-on items that were provided with our science textbooks, and more! (This is why I have 24 flashlights. Our hands-on kits had them and they all ended up in my room!)  

Also, when the school first opened out fabulous Parent Teacher Organization sent out a flyer asking for donations. So, I had drawers of things like foil, plastic wrap, garbage bags, string, scotch tape, batteries, light bulbs, and more! So, after a few years, we are still plugging along! I still have well-stocked cabinets, we use a ton of items (I have had anywhere from 15-27 different classes each week), and we have learned so much about taking care of our supplies and our space.

Let’s see if I can address the things that will help you the most:

  • How do you get materials?
  • Are there ways to save and reuse materials?
  • What are some procedures you can add to make your use of supplies efficient?
  • How do you store all of this stuff?
  • What are the essentials that are needed?

How to Get Materials

So, your biggest question is how to get more! Mine, too!   ASK. Ask everyone. Your PTA or PTO will help you out. Send home a newsletter or a school-wide email and list the things you need. If you mention that items are free (cardboard boxes or cardboard tubes) or can be purchased at the dollar store, you might have parents that will help you.  

Ask your Partner-in-Education. Our partner purchased a class set of microscopes for me!  Ask local hardware stores. Home Depot once gave me half a box of foam insulation tubes. A local vending company saves boxes for me.  If you are allowed to do it- add small things to school supply lists. We added straws to our third-grade list a few years back and I received thousands of straws!

STEM Materials - a post about using materials. This includes things saving gently used items to re-use another day.

Ways to SAVE

And, I don’t mean money. I mean save those materials and reuse them!  

We recycle items! At the end of class, we dismantle structures and add the materials to a sorting bin. Craft sticks, straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, string, and paper are all things I save and use again. Even just small pieces of straws are saved!  

STEM Materials - a post about making the most of your materials. This geodesic dome was built using straw pieces saved from another project.

The image above is our recycling bin that I will later sort or have students sort into individual bins for me.

To the left is a project we completed using pieces of straws that I had saved! We made Geodesic Domes from those straw pieces!

We reuse whole straws all the time and I save pieces in large zippered bags.

STEM Materials - a post about using materials. This includes ways to manage materials.

Here’s Another Idea for Making the Most of Materials:

Add procedures to your STEM class to make sure materials are used in the most efficient way possible with the least waste. Take a look at the photo to the left.

Ummmm, I am going to say that structure on the top is just all tape! Masking tape can be expensive! So here are some ideas for you:

Tips for you:

  • Buy the 97 cent tape from Wal Mart for projects where kids might need more. When we build roller coasters with foam tubes I give each group a roll of the inexpensive tape. 
  • For projects that need a good, strong, sticky tape I use the more expensive rolls. BUT I LIMIT how much the kids get. I tear of 2-3 feet of tape and they must use it wisely! 
STEM Materials - a post about using  materials. This includes tips for use of materials like cutting items in half.

Limit Amounts

This won’t sound like much- but when you have multiple classes it will be a great idea! Instead of giving groups whole pieces- try half pieces.

The two materials I use in half sizes the most are pipe cleaners and paper. One thing you might already know is that kids will use the whole pipe cleaner when a one-inch piece will work just as well. So, cut things in half before giving them out!

STEM Materials - a post about using materials. This includes storage bins that you need.

Can We Talk About Storage?

I don’t care how many cabinets you have in a STEM Lab, it will never be enough.  

We use plastic bins to store a lot of things, especially projects that are not completed. To the left you can see my materials bins lined up and ready for a class. I fill those bins with the allotted materials for a challenge ahead of class time and have them ready to pass out.

What Materials Do You Really Need?

This could be a huge list, but I am going to list only the essentials!


  • Plastic dishpans
  • Plastic shoeboxes with lids in small and large sizes
  • Larger baskets for bigger projects
  • Flat trays

CHALLENGES: Here is a list of things we use most often!

  • foam cups
  • straws
  • craft sticks in two sizes
  • foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper
  • pipe cleaners
  • 3-ounce paper and plastic cups
  • index cards, cardstock, construction paper

Links for Post you might enjoy:

STEM Materials - a post about making the most of your materials. This includes things to use and storage tips.

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