Do you love reading about teacher hacks like I do? I mean I love those posts- whether it is shopping hacks, organizational hacks, or management hacks. I love them all!
Now, to be honest, when I moved to the STEM Specialist position I continued with a few organizational methods and management methods that I had used in the regular classroom. I also learned the hard way that I was going to need some STEM Teacher hacks right away!
After six years, boy do I have some things to share with you! Some are major, some are tiny, some are silly. Some will save you money and others will save you time.
We can all get on board with that!
Poking Holes in Things
Do you say ‘poking’ holes or making holes? I am from the south and down here we say poking! Anyway, I quickly discovered I was going to need to have some rules about making holes in materials and I was going to need a way to make these for students.
I know it is expected that students will construct their own devices, but 3rd-5th graders are not always conscious of how unsafe it is to stick something sharp into a water bottle. So, my rule is: Mark the spot where the hole needs to be and bring it to my safety table. I make the holes!
ABOVE: The compass is one of the ways I get a hole started. After the plastic is pierced then you can enlarge the hole with a small Phillips-head screwdriver or a pencil.
The large dowel and the large milkshake straw (also in the above photo) are at my safety table and you will never guess why! Have you ever worked with empty water bottles? They collapse when the kids squeeze them. So, the dowel stick or straw can be used to pop the plastic back out into the bottle shape. Just thread it into the open bottle and push!
Pens vs. Pencils
I see 350+ students daily. Just imagine how many pencils we go through. The pencils have to be sharpened. The erasers get used before the lead. Kids break them. One day, I was telling my son about all the pencils having no erasers and he said, “Go to Wal Mart and buy some cheap pens.”
BAM! Problem solved. A package of Bic pens is about $2. They last forever. They do not break. They do not need to be sharpened. Kids love it!
Okay, I know you have questions about this!
- Do they get ink all over everything? No. I have not seen a problem with the ink leaking or getting on the tables.
- How do you keep up with the tops of the pens? Our procedure learned at the beginning of using pens was to take the top off, place it on the other end of the pen, put it back at the end of class.
- Does this mean I never lose a top? Of course, we lose them. The pens still work.
- What if students make a mistake? Draw one line through the mistake and keep writing.
- Can they sketch designs with them? Yes, they can. That has not been a problem.
- Does this save money? Absolutely!
- What if a student really prefers a pencil? I have pencils on a central supply table and students can get what they need. However, the pencil might not have an eraser!
Bulletin Board Backgrounds
This is, by far, the greatest hack ever. Seriously.
I painted the cork background of my boards. I painted them black. I will never have to put up bulletin board paper again. Bright colors ‘pop’ on that black background. They look terrific.
Now, how did I do this? I bought a small can of flat black paint and a small roller. It took two coats of paint to cover the board. It does not peel off. Staples come right out without leaving a hole that you can see- like the holes in paper backgrounds). TIME SAVER!
Click on the images above to see these decor sets in my TpT store.
Yes, that is Lego in the hand sanitizer bottle. But, why?
I created that bottle a number of years ago because I saw an image on Pinterest and I thought it would be fun. I cannot tell you how many students have asked me about that Lego.
The most popular question I get is “How did you get it in there?” I opened the lid and stuffed it in the top! When the bottle gets low on sanitizer I add more. Kids also want to know if it harms the Lego. Well, no, Lego is plastic and doesn’t rust or disintegrate.
Do they use the hand sanitizer more often because of the Lego? I would say they do. Often someone will squirt from the container just because of the Lego. So, it’s all good (and makes me giggle).
Cheap Tape vs. Good Tape
If you are a STEM Specialist you are going to completely understand this! Masking tape flies out the window and a roll of the strongest tape is expensive.
The problem is that the least expensive tape is awful. It doesn’t stick, it won’t peel off the roller, and most of it is wasted because the kids have to use so much.
So, here is my favorite hack for tape. I purchase the expensive tape with my school money and we are very frugal with it. I purchase the awful rolls in a department store for ninety-seven cents a roll. When we are designing and building something that needs the better tape I measure about 3 feet and place the strip on the edge of each team’s work table. They cut off what they need and I usually do not give them any more.
If the project needs tape but the quality of the tape is not essential then I give each team a roll of the cheap stuff. The best example of this I can give you is our Roller Coaster challenge. Students tape foam tubes to their tables and to the floor. They need a lot of tape, but the inexpensive kind will work.
So, my tip is- have two kinds of tape. You might also need a roll of blue painter’s tape. I use it only when I am taping something to the floor. It is easier to remove!
Cut Materials in Half
The backstory of this hack is interesting. One day students had pipe cleaners in their materials bin. Pipe cleaners are a great material for connecting things. But, what I saw was a student using scissors to cut off the fuzz of the pipe cleaner. For no reason. He seriously was just doing it because… kids do silly things. Anyway, this was incredibly wasteful for me and I also noticed that most teams were cutting the pipe cleaners in half anyway. When teams returned gently used materials to me that day I found a lot of unused pieces.
So, why on earth was I giving them a whole pipe cleaner? Never again, I thought. Then I decided to try this with a lot of materials. Currently, I have several things I cut in half to place in materials bins (meaning students get half of whatever the item is). This includes pipe cleaners, construction paper, cardstock, poster board, cardboard, and foam sheets.
Do they notice? No, they do not! Honestly, no one has ever questioned getting half a piece of paper. If I do notice that a team has used their quantities and might need more I point them to the scrap box and allow them to get scraps to use. Most of the time this is for decorating purposes.
So, save some paper and other supplies- cut them in half!
You Need Plastic Shoeboxes
I say this in almost every post I write! You need these amazing perfect size containers.
I use them in so many ways:
- I place materials in the bins to pass out to students.
- Students use the bins to store projects that are not finished.
- At clean-up time students fill the bin with garbage and throw it away and then they place their gently used materials in the bin to recycle to my supply bins (which are also plastic shoeboxes.
- I use these bins for STEM bins. I like that these hold more than school boxes.
- I store the lids and can access them if we need to use them.
- They stack easily and don’t take up a lot of space.
TIP: Buy the Sterilite bins at Wal Mart. Dollar Tree has a plastic shoebox but the lids are sometimes a little wonky.
Storing Meter Sticks
Another interesting story! I bought those wire shoe racks (photo below) to hold our Math Workshop items. In my third-grade classroom, each student had a workshop bin with individual manipulatives in it. At math time they grabbed the bins when we needed them. The bins fit nicely on those racks (our bins were…plastic shoeboxes)! Then I moved to the STEM Lab. This shoe rack was just sitting there empty until one day I threaded all my meter sticks into the wire grids. The perfect answer for how to store all those sticks!
Students know to go to the corner where this is stored and grab a meter stick when one is needed. They also place them right back between those wires!
I know you have these already. We use them for everything! All of the items you see in the photo below are from Escape Rooms. I use zippered bags for materials that each team will need whenever they unlock a box. They just grab a bag and get started on the next task.
I also use bags for pennies that we use as weights when testing structures. When we complete an egg drop activity I place the egg in a bad before we drop it. If the egg breaks the mess is inside the bag.
TIP: The best zippered bag is the snack-sized one and we use those for a lot of things, too. Storing small items or saving things for later is sometimes a great idea. When I have a team that cannot finish a project I will toss them a zippered bag to put all their small things in to keep them from getting lost.