Organize Your Science Supplies

Updated: Aug 21, 2019


When setting up your classroom space and routines, I think it’s helpful to think of this process as crafting a schema—a buzzword we used in the museum field. It means your audience has to have an idea of the structure of how something works before they can engage with the content. 


Can you remember the first time you went to a cafeteria with a scatter design? Perhaps it took a while to realize that you didn’t have to stand in line, or rather, that there wasn’t just one line. Now, this type of restaurant is common, but when they first arrived into the museum world, they confused the visitors no end. They felt like fast food restaurants, but not exactly since soups were here and salads were there and why wasn’t pizza with the entrees?


You’ve probably been to enough different restaurants to know that there are a variety of types so when you go to a new one you think, oh, this is like a diner… they seat me and give me a menu, but afterward, I pay at the cash register. 


It can be helpful to do this in your classroom: figure out the underlying structure for your class and then teach it to the students. That way they can more easily engage with the materials as units come and go. 


How does your classroom operate? Do you prefer that students ask permission to access supplies or do you have a more independent model? Do the students know what items they need to ask permission for and which they are welcome to access on their own? In my classroom, I liked it when the students solved their own problems… if the stapler was empty, they knew that rather than ask me, they could just head to our supply cabinet and take care of it. 


As science teachers, we collect a lot of stuff. I’m going to consider three different areas of stuff and address each separately over the new few weeks.


Today, let’s look at supplies. These might be office supplies or science supplies. In general, they’re smallish items that we might use with a variety of topics or units. Let’s consider the items we’ll use each day separately from those we use less frequently.


For things we use most every day, typical office supplies such as staplers, tape, scissors, rulers, etc., I like to find a place where these are easily accessible without being in the way. It’s a tradeoff, though—the more accessible something is, the more likely it will become a distraction. So look for a place that works as well as possible under the circumstances! 


If your class size is large, you might choose to have more than one location where students can access these items. If you have table groups or pods, you might consider having a station for each table. Conversely, you might make students personally responsible for certain items. Whatever you choose, it needs to work for you and your students. I think my favorite place was up under our mobile AV cart; it was central and close at hand, but I could put it out of the way if needed.


Once you decide what items you’re going to stock and where you’re going to keep them, I think it helps to think through how will you restock them. When the staplers or tape runs out who will restock these and where will they find refills? These are definitely jobs that students can do. I liked when this happened seamlessly, and sometimes it did; a student would see that we were out and go to the cabinet for the refill. More typically, we’d have class cleanup times during which this was something I’d have them take care of. 


In our classroom, all of the refills (tape, staples, paperclips, etc.) lived in plastic boxes in a cupboard. I had three sizes of boxes, small, medium, and large. Items are stored according to how big they were and how many I had of each. Like-sized boxed are grouped and arranged alphabetically within each size. It’s not perfect, but it worked for us.


Also in this cupboard are a series of all types of small scientific supplies. Typically these are items that were used in more than one unit, but anything small that was likely to get lost in a unit bin is stored here. 


This list includes scientific items like magnets, weights, and magnifiers and more ordinary things like balloons, straws, and food coloring. If you’re interested in a document to use for labels, you can find one by clicking here.


Students are welcomed and encouraged to help themselves as long as they don’t abuse this privilege. I sometimes remind them that these items are for science only and not for homework or other classes’ needs. As students work through labs, they’ll often think of an extension that they’d like to try that requires a battery or an item that connects to a lab from a previous unit. I love to support these types of self-generated extensions, and that’s easy to do once the classroom is set up with accessible supplies.


If you’re interested in setting up your supplies like this, you can find a sheet of editable labels by clicking here! 


The next blog post discusses how to organize and store equipment needed for each of your units. To read that article, check it out here.