Get ready for some shortcuts for your STEM projects. This includes ways to use materials, easy ways to facilitate measuring distances, saving materials for future projects, and more!
Simple shortcuts that you will love!
Seriously, who doesn’t love hearing new teacher hacks or ways to simplify our lives? Let’s focus on a few things for this post:
- Using fewer items
- Shopping for bargains
- Re-using materials
- Easy Measurement
- Use junk!
Which idea sounds the best to you? (I’m going with the bargains!)
Shortcut #1 – Use fewer items!
This seems like such a simple concept, but I was hesitant to offer students small amounts of materials. I mean could they build a realistic model or structure using much less than my original plan?
Well, take a look at the Eiffel Tower in the photo. That little tower is made of 12 straws.
That’s right. 12.
So, I played with this idea of giving students a really small amount of items and here is what we learned:
- You can build structures using 12 items or even less. It is challenging, however.
- Using those materials becomes a problem-solving activity all on its own. When students have an endless supply they tend to be wasteful or want to start over or want to decorate endlessly.
- Students make decisions based on the small amount but it is very strategic. Knowing they cannot have extra straws (or index cards or craft sticks) makes them THINK.
Ultimately, the goal of a STEM project is to create a collaborative effort that results in a design that follows the rules of the task. Even if that rule is that you only have a tiny amount of some of the building items.
TIP: I always limit tape in STEM projects.
Shortcut # 2- Bargains!
I am just like you, friends, I buy a lot of school materials using my own money. This means I have to be very wise in where I shop. The Dollar Tree turns out to be a place I can rely on for certain items.
I have a full blog post that I will link you to at the end of this post that will give you 20 ideas for items you can grab at the Dollar Tree.
TIP: Be careful, however. Some bargains at Dollar Tree are less expensive in other places or better quality. Example: Aluminum foil. I buy the foil sheets that are pre-cut and for most STEM challenges these are perfect. But if your project needs a substantial thickness you are better off buying the heavy-weight foil elsewhere.
The shortcut here is just a simple way to save money on things you use often.
Shortcut #3 – Re-use materials!
This is a shortcut that will save money and time! It is so easy to grab your scrap box and let students use it to decorate projects. They can pick out their own colors and get busy. Plus this shortcut means they are using materials that are just remnants!
So, what else do I save for future projects?
Besides construction paper, I also save straw pieces, cardboard pieces, cardboard tube pieces, and small things like pipe cleaners.
Some of these can be stored in large zippered bags that you can pull out easily and add to a project. The photo above is a geodesic dome made from already cut straw pieces that I saved! For cardboard pieces I have boxes that are labeled and we add pieces based on their size. For the cardboard tubes I have bins that are whole tubes, cut tubes, and tubes with holes. We just grab what we need!
TIP: Using pre-cut cardboard or tubes is a shortcut for students, too! It means they don’t have to cut it or make holes themselves!
Shortcut #4 – A simple way to measure!
We measure often. Which means we have to grab meter sticks or find the rulers.
But I have an easier way to measure! We use our floor tiles.
Each tile is 12 inches, so if your catapult launches a pom-pom the length of 6 tiles, it has traveled 72 inches.
Students grab a ruler from their supply drawer to measure the extra inches when the pom-pom lands in the center of a tile.
Why is this a shortcut? If a team launches a pom-pom and must measure the distance with a meter stick, they will have only one stick. So, it must be laid end-to-end to measure the whole distance. By counting the tiles and only measuring short distances it saves time!
Shortcut #5 – Use junk!
I am so serious about this. You do not need fancy materials. The car in the photo was literally created with materials I grabbed from cabinets and bins and displayed for students to use.
We built it from card stock, pipe cleaners, shish-ka-bob skewers, cardboard, and tape. I grabbed about 12 different items and left these out for students to choose for their design.
So, does this sound wasteful to you?
It does sound like too many items, and I have already mentioned in this post that fewer items is a good idea. So… my solution is to create a budget plan and students must purchase what they need for their design. It makes them think so much about the cost of items and purchasing only what they truly need! I have a blog post about this that I will link for you at the end!
Alright, friends, I hope you have latched on to some ideas for using shortcuts for STEM projects! What is your favorite teacher hack?
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