Spark That Natural Curiosity

Engaging your students doesn’t have to break the bank. 5 ways to engage your students on a budget.

As teachers, we are always scrambling to find ways in which we can engage our students and create excitement from the moment they step into the classroom. Engaging activities don’t have to break the bank, and they don’t have to be a whole production that leaves you exhausted. This post will walk through a few creative ways in which you can take steps to engage your students in small and big ways.

1. Demos

Everyone loves a good engaging demo to get a unit or a day started. Demos can be incredibly flexible and can be easily done with many at-home ingredients. By having students interact with a demo, they can start engaging in the lesson and begin sparking their curiosity.

One demo I have also loved is working with oobleck and slime when talking about the states of matter or to inctroduce chemical reactions. Oobleck is simply made of water and cornstarch, and to have some fun you can add some food coloring, but this is not needed. This demo can be presented by the teacher or the students can make their own smaller sets of oobleck depending on ages and abilities.

To grow the simple engagement of oobleck there are many types of slimes that can be made using simple ingredients such as glue, borax, shaving cream, and water. This can be a great way to engage students and get them ready to experiment with different substances and mixtures.

2. Simulations

Simulations are a great way to engage students that limit mess and materials needed. I grew up using gizmos which is a platform often times paid for by the school district that allows students to engage with concepts in real life scenarios. Gizmos often work in conjunction with a packet that students work through that allows them to engage with the concepts to create their own conceptual understanding. As a former student who used gizmos my one suggestion to teachers is to use the guided packet to make your own lesson and engagement activity that better fits you and your students.

Another great and FREE alternative to gizmos is PhET simulations. I used these all throughout grade school and they were amazing for visually applying many principals we use. They can be used to engage students before or during a lesson.

3. Observation Station

A great engaging and affordable activity for students is observations! You don’t have to live in a beautiful natural landscape to learn a lot about the world and environment around you. Any green space can be the catalyst to great inquiry and engagement. School grounds walks are a great way to have students begin to ask questions.

The GLOBE Observer is an incredible tool that I just discovered and plan to use with my own students. They have a phone app that allows you to log observations in the world around you that is actually used for data and research! What a great way to engage your students in science research! The website also offers tons of information, data, and various other resources that you can use in your classroom.

4. Wildlife Live Cam

A great free resource to engage students of all ages is live wildlife cams. This can be a great thing to put up as students are entering the class or something that students follow throughout the year. Students can write down observations, questions, curiosities, etc as they observe. There are numerous cams to select from, so there is always something for everyone!

5. Class Pet Tracker

Class pets are a great classroom additition for numerous engagement activities and opportunities; however, they are costly and sometimes not practical. Fahlo gives a great alternative to a class pet. For17 dollars you are able to purchase a bracelet or for 30 dollars recieve a plush of an animal that is the same as a real animal being tracked in the wild. There are regular updates about where the animal has traveled. This is great for curious learners. Students can record observations, questions, thoughts in regards to the animals movement and the whys to the movement.


  1. Hi Melinda! Great post. It is so important as a teacher to have these resources ready to go in case the opportunity arises. I really am interested in your wildlife camera resource that you could one day use in your class! I did not think about that when writing my post. I was wondering if you have any specific animal species you might plan on observing when implementing this awesome tool in your class. If so, what is a possible lesson that could go alongside it and that specific animal?

    • Hi Maddie! I had honestly forgotten about the wildlife cameras until I was thinking of ideas for this post. I remember in grade school we had a family of bald eagles we would watch in the morning while everyone got to school. It was so fun to watch them throughout the year! I was thinking that for a biology or environmental science class, this could be a great way to engage students over a long-term project that connects what they are learning in class to the real world. For environmental class, students could track the weather in the area and then make connections between what is happening in the environment to the behaviors of the animals they are observing.

  2. Melinda, I really liked some of your ideas in this post. The idea of using green space as an engager or even using a wildlife camera really appeals to me and is something I could definitely see myself using in real life. Those are great thoughts! I also like the inclusion of simulations, I had a similar idea in my post. I did have a question about your using simulations though. I am curious what techniques you might use to assess students learning from simulations without boring them too much. Often I feel that guided notes accompany the simulations, which I feel may do more to disengage students at times. Do you have any alternative ideas?

    • Hi Max, I completely agree that the guided notes end up disengaging. From my own experience I hated seeing the dreaded gizmo packet. I felt that I was not able to explore and make connections at my natural rate and pace, but was instead forced into a set of instructions. I think to help mitigate this, I would use simulations in more of an end goal design. I want my students to accomplish x, y, z and they must explore and work with the simulation to find the solution. I believe this will allow students the flexibility to work at their speed and to uncover understanding in a way that works for them.

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