Engage Your Science Students Without Engaging
In an ideal world, all teachers would have access to all the supplies that their lessons require and a budget that allows for the school to supply the teacher with any requested materials. Unfortunately, this is not the case for far too many teachers in the country.
Why do teachers need excess supplies?
A study depicted that “38 percent of teachers reported that they abandoned more than two projects over the course of the school year because of lack of funds.”
“When teachers are able to provide their students—particularly those from low-income backgrounds—with adequate supplies, their learning experience is transformed.”
A teacher reports, “When I am able to give them opportunities through different supplies, they see that they are not limited,” they said. “They see that they can do more and be more. It gives them a lot of self-assurance.”
Are there alternatives to purchasing supplies for every lesson?
YES. Depending on the lesson or activity, there can be alternatives that allow the teacher to spend NO money, or very little of their own money. I have a few suggestions of low-budget activities that showcase how lessons can be altered by teachers and adjusted to have less money come out of their pockets. Here are a few examples:
Low-budget STEM Activities
#1: “Magic Milk”
Intro: An introductory activity to showcase the concept of surface tension by having students observe the thought-provoking mechanism that causes the colors to disperse.
Supplies: Packs of disposable paper bowls ($3)
1 gallon of milk ($2)
Box of food coloring ($2)
Dish liquid (not antibacterial) ($1)
Bag of q-tips ($1)
Total cost: $10
#2: “Rainbow Tower”
Intro: An engaging activity that clearly showcases the aspects of varying densities but allows students to observe and make predictions (weight, thickness, etc.) as to why the liquids “stack” instead of mix.
Supplies: 1 tall glass vase or recycled empty water bottle ($0-$3)
1 box of food coloring ($1)
Liquids at home with varying densities (water, soap, oil, syrup) ($0-$5)
Objects at home that sink to densities (soda cap, blueberry, penny) ($0)
Total cost: $1-$9
#3: “Water Lens Trick”
Intro: A simple, cost-efficient, and time saving demonstration that introduces the idea of light refraction through glass vs. water with an image or symbol of the teachers’ choosing.
Supplies: 1 Piece of paper ($0)
1 pen/marker ($0)
Large glass of water ($0)
Total cost: FREE
#4: “Vacuum” Brain Teaser
The question: A man in a restaurant asked a waiter for a juice glass, a dinner plate, water, a match, and a lemon wedge. The man poured enough water onto the plate to cover it.
“If you can get the water on the plate into this glass without touching or moving this plate, I will give you $100,” the man said. “You can use the match and lemon to do this.”
A few minutes later, the waiter walked away with $100 in his pocket. How did the waiter get the water into the glass?
The Hint: The glass will be upside down when the water is in it
The Answer: First, the waiter stuck the match into the lemon wedge, so that it would stand straight. Then he lit the match, and put it in the middle of the plate with the lemon. Then, he placed the glass upside-down over the match. As the flame used up the oxygen in the glass, it created a small vacuum, which sucked in the water through the space between the glass and the plate. Thus, the waiter got the water into the glass without touching or moving the plate.
You can try this experiment at home with appropriate supervision.
Total cost: FREE
#5: “Phases of Matter”
Intro: Whether the students each have access to their own computer, can share in groups, or complete as a class on the projector, PhET simulations are amazing engaging and exploratory activities that students can use to be introduced to concepts, such as particle behavior in phase changes!
Total cost: FREE
*Tip* The dollar store will be your best bet for the lowest cost on many supplies!
While the first few engage activities required physical supplies, teachers nowadays have access to online versions of many simulations and videos if the supplies would not be available/affordable to you. Some concepts will not be able to be turned into an activity, so online resources are very adequate for engaging students (such as the planetary example in activity #5).
The important takeaway is that you don’t need to be spending hundreds of dollars out of your own paycheck each year!
Engage, budget, adapt, opportunity, not limited, experience, learning, STEM