March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Teaching STEM with Little to No Budget

Posted: Monday, November 4th, 2013

by Jeanine Wulfenstein

Have you found yourself being asked to implement STEM practices into your curriculum with little to no funding?  Are you confused about what STEM is, or what teaching STEM really means?  You are not alone!  Many teachers across California and the nation are being asked to teach STEM without much background, support, training, or funding.  

I would argue that the most important part of STEM is the “S” for “science.”  After all, the science is the conduit for which the technology, engineering, and math are incorporated.  As science teachers we should embrace STEM education and promote best teaching practices that go along with it.  Many scientific principles are best taught through authentic experiences.  STEM is a great way to accomplish this!

Students building a table out of chipboard and newspaper.

Students building a table out of chipboard and newspaper.

Many teachers unfortunately find themselves being asked to teach STEM with little to no funding. Most of us know that there are an abundance of grants out there focused on STEM education. However, grant writing is an art in and of itself, and can be a time consuming process. So, what is a teacher to do in the meantime?  A teacher must get creative!

I have found myself in this exact situation: without funding to afford expensive kits, robotics components, and consumable supplies, I have been forced to try a different approach to teaching STEM.   From my experience, I recommend using recycled materials to turn our discards into a learning experience for all.  Many principles used in science and building can be recreated using recycled materials.  Students in my classroom have launched rockets, designed and built catapults, cars, and created helmets to more effectively protect the head.  All of these were created out of recycled items like newspaper, chipboard from cereal boxes, egg crates, etc.  We have also used recycled materials to build tables, taking into account the forces of compression, tension, gravity, torque, etc.   The possibilities for teaching science are endless when we think differently about what is required to bring these concepts to life for students.

There are many free resources available to help us use recycled materials to teach STEM.  The PBS series, “Design Squad,“ has a website devoted to supporting teachers in using recycled materials to teach principles of science, engineering and design.   All of the resources on their site are free to use and are easy to implement.  To access these materials go to http://pbskids.org/designsquad/.

Additional free resources range from flight design with NASA at http://futureflight.arc.nasa.gov/  to the National Institutes of Health http://science.education.nih.gov/customers.nsf/WebPages/CSHome.  If you are looking to infuse your current curriculum with additional STEM activities, I encourage you to review these, collect recycled supplies, and jump in to incorporate STEM experiences appropriate to your content area.  You will be amazed by the robust conversations your students will have, what your students will produce, and the learning your students will demonstrate!

Written by Jeanine Wulfenstein

Jeanine Wulfenstein

Jeanine Wulfenstein teaches science at Gardner Middle School and is the CSTA Treasurer. You can reach her by emailing jwulfenstein@tvusd.k12.ca.us.

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For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.