Buy or Scrounge? Collecting Materials for the Science Classroom

I grew up on an island… We had two grocery stores and little else in the way of shopping. Needless to say we became pretty adept and making do and doing without. When my brother and I found this abandoned colorful electrical wire we knew we had a prize. We used it to hang pictures, make jewelry, and jury-rig broken appliances. When it came time for our family to move, it moved with us—eight times by my last count, crossing oceans and state borders in the process. Now it’s time for my folks to move again and they’re deciding whether or not to take it…

When I returned to the classroom after being home with my kids, I came with this mindset. I’m a self-confessed scrounger. I think I convince myself that I’m saving money and this is in large part what drives me. What I don’t see, until long after an event, is the full cost of this behavior—the time spent running around finding or borrowing the perfect free stuff.

I had the (crazy) idea that I wanted to do a lab every day. I'm not sure what possessed me to do that other than the knowledge that I’d be sharing my classroom with a bunch of middle schoolers. Keeping them busy seemed like a good idea and having a bunch of labs seemed like a good way to do that. The process was a journey and that journey is a story for another day, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. While our class had plenty of discussions, tests, and lab report writing, the labs provided the framework on which everything hangs—without them, our class wouldn’t feel like science.

It took a few years, but I slowly collected all of the equipment for our many science units. I finally stopped begging and borrowing and turned my talents to curating what we really needed. I taught eight units per year and each had 20 labs so that added up to a fair bit of stuff. But once I had all the stuff in hand I could pull out the bins and be ready to go in a minimum amount of time. Also, this strategy required very few consumables and nearly no photocopying so I could concentrate my energies on teaching ;)  I realize that most folks don’t teach like this. Most science curricula are driven more by information and less by experience. Most science curricula view the labs as the supporting and not the starring cast. 

Do you do a lot of labs in your classroom? Is something holding you back? Is the thought of collecting (storing or organizing) the equipment daunting? Chime in. Don’t be shy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.