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Great STEM ideas don't have to break the bank

By Team ISTE
November 10, 2015
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Great teachers always have great ideas for engaging students. Unfortunately, great ideas don’t always fit not-so-great budgets. In that case, you have to make the budget fit the ideas.

At The Foote School in New Haven, Connecticut, a change in school hours meant extra instructional time for elementary students. Science teacher Leslie Long thought it would be a great idea to fill those hours with STEM-related projects. So she partnered with Julianne Ross-Kleinmann, lower school technology coordinator, to come up with a curriculum.

The concern, not surprisingly, was funding for the new program. “We had money to buy robots, but that doesn’t last an entire year,” said Ross-Kleinmann. To engage the students for an entire school year – and to move beyond robots – Ross-Kleinmann had to get creative and come up with STEM ideas on the cheap.

In her recorded ISTE webinar, “STEM on a Shoestring,” Ross-Kleinmann will discuss six student-tested projects teachers can take back to their classrooms and immediately adapt, such as the Marshmallow Challenge. All the ideas come from the Boston Museum of Science Engineering Design Process, which uses spaghetti, index cards, lifesavers, pipe cleaners, shoeboxes and other household items to tackle collaborative and independent design challenges.

Stretch your STEM dollars

Ross-Kleinmann offers these tips for finding low-cost ways to teach STEM lessons:

Beg, borrow and scrounge. One person’s trash is another person’s classroom supplies. Students, parents, community members are usually willing to collect office supplies, such as index cards to build structures that can endure blow-dryer “winds,” shoe boxes or Dollar Store bulk items. Ross-Kleinmann asked staff to donate empty boxes so her students could build a Caine’s Arcade.

Take advantage of free online resources. Use a free app, like Angry Birds, to teach kids about basic physics, then have them build their own catapults and pendulums with donated household items.

Remember that STEM projects should focus on the scientific process so kids learn how and why they need to take each step. It’s great if there is a successful end product, but that shouldn’t be the main goal, Ross-Kleinmann said.

It is all about getting them excited about what they are learning, which you can accomplish with nothing more than a few marshmallows and dry spaghetti.

Ready to try some affordable STEM projects? Join the webinar to find out:

  • How to incorporate basic STEM projects into your curriculum.
  • How to bolster a project by adding your own ideas to create something new.
  • Where to turn for STEM curriculum resources.
  • How to make STEM affordable.

ISTE members can watch a recording of the webinar “STEM on a Shoestring.” Not an ISTE member? Join today!