Why are we talking about this? It is important to engage students in some sort of activity to get their gears turning before further exploring a concept in the classroom. Students should develop a “need to know”, a curiosity about the topic, to deepen the learning that they will do. The learning that takes place will be more meaningful, and they will have a better understanding of the content than they would if the topic was introduced through a traditional lecture or textbook reading.
Engaging students in a science classroom is easier said than done, especially on a teacher’s budget! Teachers often have to request funding far in advance for certain things, but much of what goes on in a science classroom is funded by the teacher. These bills build up and can be a real burden on teachers. So how do we find ways to keep our students engaged in the classroom without breaking the bank?! Below I have several resources for activities, experiments, and materials!
Free and Low Budget Engagement Options!
There are a couple of options here!
- You could find a parent or other community member working in the science field to come in and talk to students about a specific portion of their job. This could be used to introduce a topic in the classroom while keeping the students engaged by listening to a guest speaker, giving them a chance to ask questions, and create the curiosity to make learning happen!
- A field trip! Take the students to some place in the community, perhaps a museum, nature center, or even a small stream to begin a project. I realize transportation may be an issue here, but I think that even if it is unavailable, doing some kind of project on school grounds can be an exciting change for students to get them engaged and excited to learn!
Demos and Experiments!
Demos and experiments can sometimes be costly, but they can also be fairly low budget. There are hundreds of experiments that can be done with easily accessible, household items! Many of these items can be purchased at a dollar store or local grocery store, and might even be in your classroom already!
Some examples of these simple, yet effective experiments are:
- Elephant toothpaste! The materials are: dishwashing liquid, a plastic water bottle, 3% hydrogen peroxide, packet of active yeast, and warm water! This experiment can be done with very little money and is a great way to catch students’ attention.
- Strawberry DNA extraction! The materials are: plastic bags, strawberries, dishwashing liquid, water, plastic cups, coffee filter, and rubbing alcohol. Again, this could be done with very little money (the most expensive ingredient is the strawberries!) and students absolutely love it!
- Rock candy crystals! The materials are sugar, water, skewers, a jar or glass, a saucepan and clothespins. The glass jars can be pricey, but these are materials that can be reused until they break! They can also be used for other experiments, and I think they would definitely be worth the money.
This link contains 55 science experiments that utilize materials that are likely on hand, and if they’re not, they’re almost all budget friendly!
There are millions of YouTube videos that catch students’ attention and get them excited about science, AND they don’t break the bank! YouTube is a free resource, and there are videos of all kinds that can be used to supplement material in any stage of the learning process.
I personally think that demonstrations and experiments are better done where the students can be active and hands-on, but if purchasing the materials isn’t possible, showing a video is another decent option.
YouTube videos can be paused and replayed, students can make observations and hypothesize on what is happening in the experiments being shown to them, and they can dive into the why of the experiment, or the process behind whatever reaction or change that is happening on their own or with a group!
The next video (below) is a more in depth video about endothermic and exothermic reactions. The instructor in the video is performing the experiment and then describes what endothermic and exothermic means. Videos like this one can help to introduce a concept before exploring further.
I was thinking that this video could be used to show the difference in temperatures as a result of the different salts mixing with and dissolving in the water. Students would only see the small portion of the video, and their curiosity would be piqued!
After watching the video, students would be able to discuss their observations and create a hypothesis about what is happening in the two reactions. Students could then investigate the reaction by mixing different salts with water to continue their observations and exploration of the difference between endothermic and exothermic reactions. Students might not understand the terms, but they will be able to explain the phenomenon in their own words before moving on with the content!
Flippity is a free website that utilizes spreadsheet templates to create games, flashcards, scavenger hunts, and so much more! I think it would be really awesome and engaging to introduce a topic in the classroom using a flippity scavenger hunt! Students can race to find certain information in a book, or online on their own or in groups.
Flippity has endless opportunities for games that can be used to introduce a topic, or even to practice for a quiz or test. I personally am excited to use flippity in my classroom because students can use it as well, and while they do, they get experience using Excel!
Here is a link to flippity!
Brain teasers are proven to improve concentration and sharpen the thinking process, and they are great ways to get students warmed up and thinking before diving into fun science learning!
Here are several sites that are full of fun brain teasers for all ages!
- Riddle Logic (high school students)
- Riddles and Answers (high school students)
- Readers’ Digest (teens)
- Riddles and Answers (middle school students)
- Fatherly (elementary school students)
- Bored Teachers (everyone!)
Okay, so we covered plenty of engaging options that are either free or incredibly budget friendly. Remember, there are SO many more!
We may be able to find easy and cheap experiments, and fun games online, but what about other materials? Teachers spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on their students and on their classrooms. These materials might be used to make bulletin boards, general school supplies, classroom decorations, and some of the materials that are used in the activities above.
Decorations like the one above make a classroom more welcoming for students, and can really make a difference in their education experience! While beautiful, this was likely not cheap to make. Below are a few options for general teacher supplies that might be more affordable than a typical craft store!
Thrift stores are a great resource for teachers! You never know what you might find when you walk into a thrift store. You might find suitable glassware for the rock candy experiment instead of purchasing mason jars, or even just a tub full of supplies to make bulletin boards that another teacher donated!
Garage sales are another place where you simply never know what you’ll find. They might have organizational tools that can make your classroom more efficient, or maybe the homeowner is a retiring teacher and is selling alternative seating, or again, giant totes worth of supplies that you can use for years!
Share supplies with other teachers! Maybe they have leftover decorations, or took down a bulletin board that you’d like to recreate! Experienced teachers have a plethora of supplies and ideas, and maybe it was something you had never seen or thought of before.
Teachers spend far too much of their own money, while there are the resources discussed above that can help them to continue to change the lives of their students through engaging activities in the classroom.
That is all for now, see you next time! – McKenna Miller
I really enjoyed your post, you had a lot of great ideas. I really liked how you suggested having community involvement as one of your engaging strategies. I think having a speaker from the community in a relevant field is a great idea. I also loved your idea of going to thrift stores to look for inexpensive glassware. What other materials do you think you could find at thrift stores or garage sales that may be helpful for teachers?
Hi Nathan! I truly think that it could be super easy to find something for any experiment or activity when thrift shopping or shopping at garage sales. It will of course take some creativity, but I think it can be done! Things that might come to mind are pieces of fabric, perhaps for bulletin boards or even building supplies depending on the activity. I also think that garage sales and thrift stores can be great for organizational tools and decorations. Costumes for different projects, things like that!
I thought your blog post was great! I really liked all of your engaging resources that you mentioned, and I also thought it was important that you started by explaining why it is so important to engage students. I think it is such a good idea to involve parents and community members in your classroom. This can not only provide students with a real life science experience but also can be a way to gain buy in from the community on why these students’ education is so important. I had never heard of Flippity, but it sounds like a great resource that can be utilized in many different ways. I have a question about your suggestion of field trips. Can you think of a way to engage students in the city in science content with a field trip, when there might be more constraints on where you could find nature?
Hi Luke! I think that it could definitely be more difficult to encourage community involvement in the form of field trips in a city environment. Depending on the area, there may be a local park that the kids could explore. I do think that safety would be a bigger concern in a city environment though, so this would also need to factor into the experience. I was also thinking about testing water quality in a city environment, and maybe comparing water found somewhere (anywhere!) in the city to the tap water and to filtered water. Other places students could go on a field trip could be something like a zoo, a nearby metro park, etc. Those might not be as budget friendly, though, and there are virtual options (though they may be slightly less engaging). National Geographic has tons of nature series, there are virtual tours of zoos, and things like the Hidden World of National Parks (https://artsandculture.google.com/project/national-park-service)!