K-12 science teachers are resourceful, by design.
One of the biggest take-aways from our Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) webinar “The New Science Teacher” on June 14 was for teachers to be organized and skilled at classroom management. But one of the shrewdest lessons that kept coming through rather steadily was that K-12 science teachers need to be resourceful—and oh-so-clever about getting what they need, when they need it.
“Nobody is going to tell you that teaching science really is rocket science, basically,” muses Dr. Charles Pearson, Coordinator of the MAT Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment program. Teaching the subject of science is complex and challenging. Half the battle is won by taking it upon yourself to get what you need to teach effectively, so that your students will get what they need to learn. Be assertive!
When his urban middle school classroom had no sink for necessary lab work, Dr. Pearson details how he made one out of a couple of five-gallon restaurant buckets that smelled like pickles! It got the job done. One bucket was for waste, and one was for clean water supply. He appointed student helpers to empty and fill the buckets in the custodial closet, and they were no worse for the lack of plumbing.
For low budget ways to complement a lesson, enlist the help of family and friends who are in the know about a related science field to help in the classroom, write a letter to the class, or record a video like this one on acid rain from the UK. The video is low budget, but its educational value is off the charts.
It’s these kinds of things that really separate the newbies from the pros!
If you are doing an earth science unit and there’s no budget for soils and rocks, head to the nearest parking lot. Don’t be shy—just grab what you need. Lumber yards and landscaping supply outlets may give teachers a price break, or even offer free materials, if you ask nicely!
Don’t forget that many expensive chemicals can be purchased as their household equivalents at a fraction of the cost at the drug store. Magnesium sulfate? Try Epsom salts. Oxalic acid? Use a non-chlorine bleach cleanser like Bar Keepers Friend.
Another resourceful science teacher, Haley E. Hart, from Southeastern High School in Detroit, recommends that teachers with limited budgets look into Donors Choose- an online philanthropic website where public school teachers submit proposals for things they need, and donors choose to fund them. For example, a third grade teacher from Toledo, OH is requesting three millipedes for students to learn about decomposition, and the life cycle. Three authentic millipedes for about 20 bucks can make all the difference in the world to her project, and to her students. It’s worth doing.
One last tip that really will separate you from the rest is how you handle guest teachers or substitutes. Subs are naturally hesitant to take on a big, messy lab experiment, and are ill-prepared to step in on an ongoing science project. Take the initiative (and the time) to leave explicit instructions for your guests. It helps if you have a bullet-proof procedure in place that all students are aware of when you are absent, so that they can continue to work seamlessly while you’re away. Even the youngest students can be prepared to help a substitute teacher with procedures and tasks. Students will enjoy the independence as you groom them to take ownership of their classroom and their work.
If you missed these helpful tips, download our webinar, The New Science Teacher here. Stay tuned for more information on our Cutting Edge Science webinar on July 18 that prepares teachers for the Next Generation Science Standards—there’s limited seating—hurry and reserve yours!