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Time Crunch Tips for STEM

Are you in a time crunch with your STEM classes? To be honest this was something I never thought about- until I started prepping for my first class and then making a transition from one class to the next. I ran around like crazy trying to get everything ready and then between classes… whew!

It was hard. I learned a lot of things the hard way and I have some fabulous tips for you. If this is your first year as a STEM teacher let me help with your time crunch!

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes storage ideas, cardboard ideas, and more!

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So, what is a time crunch?

Mind you, this is my definition… a time crunch is when you have too much to do and not enough time to do it and you still have to do it anyway. If that sounds familiar then this post is for you!

Time Crunch Tip 1

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes ideas about preparing student's materials.

Prepping Student Materials

The STEM challenges we use all have a list of specific materials students will need. I started (the first year) by placing materials on a central supply table and teams send their Materials Manager to get all they needed. This took time to create little signs that told them how much to get.

It also took more time than I expected for students to gather their items. The counting of craft sticks or straws and getting the exact pieces they wanted took so long!

TIP: Assemble the materials bins yourself! I arrange plastic shoeboxes on my supply table and get out the larger bins of each item. Then I load the smaller bins in an assembly line style. The shoeboxes will stack and I place the stack on the countertop and load the bins for the next class. This takes me about 5 minutes per class (or less). As a new class arrives I just grab the stack of bins already made for them and we can get started much more quickly.

Time Crunch Tip 2

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes ideas about materials.

Large Materials Bins

Let’s first take a look at how I started…

After loading the student bins I would place all the materials back inside my cabinets. This keep the room from getting cluttered and untidy. (I thought that was important and decided quickly that it is not. A cluttered untidy STEM lab is a sign we are learning.)

So, why was my first method not a good idea? Well, I quickly learned that a team might need an additional item that was broken or ruined in some way. This sent me scrambling to find the spare materials and deliver them. Which I did not have time for!

TIP: At the beginning of the week I now make a master list of materials I will need for the three grade levels I have. I take out larger bins of each of those from their cabinets. So, I might have a large box of craft sticks, a bin of straws, a bin of craft foam sheets, and rolls of foil. I line those items up on my countertop and use them to load the student bins. And I leave those large bins out on the counter all week. Yes, it’s messy, but the bins are easily accessible for everyone. And this comes in handy later at clean-up time. More about that below!

Time Crunch Tip 3

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes ideas about cardboard.

Cardboard Cutting

We use a lot of cardboard. The first time we needed pieces I discovered that our school scissors made cutting cardboard very difficult. So, I had students mark the size they needed and they brought the large piece to my cutting board where I used a boxcutter knife to cut the pieces.

This meant I was distracted during the work time and I do not like that!

TIP: Now I cut apart large boxes into strips and then cut them down to pieces we normally use. I keep big bins of many sizes- from tiny to 4×4 inches and longer strips too. When it is time to prepare materials I sometimes give each team the same size piece and sometimes I let teams choose the size their design needs.

TIP: Where do I get cardboard? I ask parents to send in boxes. You would be so surprised how many Amazon boxes I get!

Time Crunch Tip 4

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes ideas about using towels.

Real Towels

Now, I know you are wondering how this could possibly be something that will help in a time crunch? Bear with me…

The very first time we tried something that involved water I handed out those brown paper towels that only schools have.

These are not absorbent. They just move water.

TIP: I went through my towels at home and picked out the old raggedy towels and brought them to school. Now, each table gets a real towel. When it is time to wipe down tables those towels do a great job. The real towels soak up and clean and it keeps the students from having to wipe and wipe and wipe. Between classes, I lay them over the counters to dry (for the next class that needs them) and at the end of the week, I wash them in the custodian’s room.

Time Crunch Tip 5

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes ideas about clean-up time.

Clean-Up Time

In the first weeks of my STEM Lab I did a lot of the cleaning. Not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t allow time for the cleaning during class.

Big mistake! So, I went shopping.

TIP: I purchased a whisk broom and dustpan and a small garbage can for every lab table. I found these at Dollar Tree. Then we learned the clean-up procedure.

  • We stop our sharing or building time with enough time left in class to clean up. I usually leave 7-8 minutes for this.
  • Every team member has a job. One job is sweeping. Sweep behind and in front of the lab table.
  • One job is taking apart the structure we have built and recycling the materials. Or, placing the structure at our display countertop.
  • One job is garbage. We use the small garbage can to collect any materials that cannot be re-used. The small garbage can is dumped into our large cans.
  • One job is to put away any of the items used- pencils, scissors, calculators, etc. Put them away and clear off the lab table.
  • Recycle! (More about that below!)

I also have large brooms that we use when the mess is excessive. In a matter of minutes, we can put the room back together! By the way, my custodian loves me.

Time Crunch Tip 6

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes ideas about recycling materials.


Another thing I learned quickly is just how much stuff we use in the STEM Lab. It became important to re-use as much as we could!

At the end of class, we always recycle.

Students load their original materials bin with anything that can be re-used.

TIP: After loading their small bins students bring the bin to my countertop and they go through the materials in their small container. They place those items back into the larger bins. I also have bins for gently used items- bent or misshapen straws, straw pieces, used cardboard, etc. My scrap paper box is always out and students put all those smaller pieces of paper in the scrap box. You definitely need a scrap box.

TIP: I have bins for all sorts of things- used cardboard rolls, folded or rolled index cards, cardboard pieces with holes in them, smaller pieces of foil, or craft foam. Save everything is my motto!

I hope you found some tips that will help you through your own time crunches. You might also enjoy the posts below:

6 Simple Tips for managing your time in the STEM Lab- includes storage ideas, cardboard ideas, and more!
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