Engaging Students Without Outraging Your Wallet

It is so rewarding to see a classroom of engaged students, discovering new things and creatively approaching activities, but this is often daunting… and expensive!

So how is a well-meaning teacher supposed to engage students on a budget? Because let’s face it, money isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when someone says teaching.

And I know that most of us would gladly spend our hard-earned money to create meaningful experiences for our students, but what if we didn’t have to?

In this blog, I want to present five methods for engaging students in the science classroom that won’t cost a kidney and a half to implement into our lessons.

1. Go Outside!

Cost: FREE!

This first resource isn’t exactly revolutionary, but as outside is where the nature is, it makes sense that a biology class might spend some time out there. Although I understand that some schools particularly in the city, might not have access to nature outside their doors, for schools that do have this access, spending the first couple minutes outside can be a great way for students to hone their observation skills and get their energy out.

And this is based in psychological research on child development. Kuo et al. 2018 suggest that students learn better outdoors; they are more engaged and focused on the task at hand. Peruse a summary of their findings here.

And even for those schools without access to the great outdoors, The Nature Conservatory offers free virtual field trips (which are relatively long but can be shortened) that can help students get into the mindset of discovery. Check it out here!

2. Following Scientific Advancements

Cost: FREE!

Another way to engage students is by relating science concepts to current events. Following ongoing scientific expeditions or discoveries can create connections between the classroom and outside world and can lead to students invested in the subject matter.

Just last February, about a year ago, we saw NASA’s Perseverance Rover touch down on Mars. In many of my college level classes, my professor would start by asking us if heard any of the news on the rover, which was an engaging way to start the class.

Watch this video to see the rover touching down on Mars!

Students could also follow natural disasters or Nobel prize winning discoveries that are happening real time. All of this could transition well into an Earth Science or Physics class.

3. Interactive Online Content

Cost: FREE! (I’m sure there are some programs you have to pay for, but the ones that I will mention are free.)

A really fun way to start off every class is by providing students the opportunity to play an online game or to interact in some other way with science related materials online.

One really cool way that my AP Biology class did this was through March Mammal Madness. Developed in 2013 by Dr. Katie Hinde at Arizona State University, it is like filling out a March Madness bracket with animals competing against each other. My class all made our predictions and then would watch every day as videos were uploaded with the winners of different rounds. Watch an example below!

Although kind of goofy, it can be really engaging and a great start to the class!

But these activities don’t have to be limited to one content area. Some online games aren’t related to any content but do require critical thinking, something very important to have in the science classroom. Check out Wordle and the Daily Set Puzzle for some games that warm up students’ ability to think deeply.

4. Simple Experiments or Demos

Cost: Inexpensive depending on what the experiment is.

While this engaging activity will cost you a little, it is a great way to grab students’ attention and focus it on a specific concept. When a demo is done right, it should involve students’ prior knowledge yet not give too much away. It is a great way to allow students to start processing their thoughts on a concept and questions about how it might work.

Demos can either be done only by the teacher or by each student in the class, depending on the level of safety required and the availability of materials.

Check out this blog to see some examples of cool demos you could use in the classroom for a variety of life science and physical science topics!

5. ScienceTok, Science Memes, etc.

Cost: FREE!

High schoolers spend so much time on social media. While this is definitely not healthy in many ways, it can offer a great way to engage students in the science classroom.

There are a lot of funny people on the Internet, and some of them happen to also know science concepts. Although I’m not on TikTok, I’ve been told that there is videos about everything, which includes science!

You can even have students find their own and send them to increase student buy-in even more. They can be as specific or general as id appropriate for the topic and can be a great introduction to a foreign or seemingly boring subject.

I’m sure there is much more niche subjects out there, but this provides a lot of different science subjects all at once.

Where to find other resources inexpensively!

But throughout our teaching careers, there is bound to be certain things that need to be bought, but where can we buy these extra things inexpensively?

Before even taking your wallet out, ask around first! You have no idea who in your community, in your church, in your friend group, or even in your parents’ friend group might have exactly what you need and be willing to help a teacher out.

Another great place to look is garage sales and thrift stores. They both feature much more than clothes oftentimes. Toys, Beanie Babies, puzzles, and pictures can all have a multitude of uses in the science classroom.

If you’re looking for something a little more specific, websites like Amazon and DonorsChoose let you ask for certain things on wish lists that can be generously provided by anyone who is looking to give to teachers.


That about wraps it up. Hopefully this blog has given you some ideas and assuaged some of your wealth worries.

Catch you later!

Mr. Larson


  1. Hi Ellie! I agree completely. Sure there are plenty of labs that require expensive equipment and specific devices, but that is not all of what science is about. A lot of scientific research is done in the field simply through observations, something I could instill in my students by taking them outside.

  2. Hi Grace! Thanks for your comment! I think that ecology is especially well suited for a trip outdoors, and I could imagine myself having students study the trophic interactions between producers and consumers outside. Although, the lesson could be as simple as collecting leaves that we could analyze while talking about photosynthesis.

  3. Hey Michael, I really like your idea of an extra credit assignment about science news. I think that would be a great way for students to develop scientific literacy and become familiar with current scientific advancements. I could even build it into a unit and also discuss how to find reputable sources.

  4. Hey Luke,
    This blog post is SO great! I really appreciate the way you organized your ideas, and it made them really easy to understand. I think it is really important to help students keep up with scientific advancements. Do you think you could make an assignment/extra credit option out of science news?
    Keep up the great work!

  5. Hi Luke!
    I really loved your first point about going outside, and thought it was great that you also included a resource for schools who are not in areas that have access to outdoor spaces. I remember at my high school the AP environmental science class would always get to go outside and I was so jealous! You also made a good point that going outside can help students get some energy out, and I think it would generally just be a nice break from the classroom walls and desks! As a future biology teacher, is there any lesson that you have in mind that you’d love to go outside for?

  6. Luke,

    I love your suggestions! I think sometimes it is really easy to get caught up in big ideas that we forget the resources we have right in front of us. Like going outside! When you only have certain resources it can give you the push you need to be creative. I did one lab in biology where we ran up and downstairs and cataloged our heart rate. All we needed was a timer on our phone!

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