Our parents’ association is giving mini-grants to each teacher. This is only my second year teaching at the elementary level, so I still need lots of stuff for my classroom. I’d like to spend the funds on science-related materials. Any suggestions on what I should buy?
—Darin, Savannah, Georgia
Although it’s tempting to use the funds for classroom supplies or posters and decorations, I’m glad you’re thinking about science! Some basic materials can go a long way in providing opportunities for young students to explore and investigate.
First of all, look at your school’s science curriculum for your grade level and your lesson plans from last year. Were there activities you couldn’t do because you didn’t have the materials? Refer to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for elementary students and consider how the performance expectations (and the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts they were developed from) could be addressed through student investigations. Materials for these activities could be a good start for your shopping list.
Do you have protective eyewear and other basic safety equipment? If not, put these on the list. Did you use science kits last year? You may need to replenish the consumable materials this year. Perhaps you and your colleagues could pool your mini-grants for larger-ticket items to share among your classrooms.
I have several colleagues who were elementary science specialists. Based on what I saw in their classrooms, you could begin to develop an inventory of simple materials used for a variety of activities:
- Building blocks in different sizes and shapes
- Hand lenses
- Metric rulers and plastic measuring cups
- Easy-to-read thermometers
- Science-related books at a variety of reading levels for your classroom library
- Maps of your state, the United States, and the world
- A class set of small white boards and markers for students to display their work
- Shallow trays
- Animal specimens sealed in clear plastic blocks (e.g., insects, worms, small skeletons)
Consider what you might need for student projects:
- Materials for investigating plant growth in a classroom garden (even a window ledge can be a garden): small pots, plants, potting soil, a grow light
- Binoculars and field guides to use on class field trips
- Science notebooks for student journaling, sketching, and recording data
- Materials for composting or recycling projects
- Weather stations
- A small aquarium
If you have access to tablets, their cameras can be turned into microscopes, or you could purchase apps that relate to your learning goals or enhance student creativity. Students could use a digital camera to document and share their activities.
Storage space is a concern in many classrooms. You could include containers for storing materials or trays and small boxes to organize materials for the lab groups.
Browse through the articles in Science & Children for more activities (and what you would need) that fit with your learning goals and students’ interests.
During the school year, share what you and your students are doing with the materials with the parents’ organization. They’ll appreciate seeing pictures or videos of students at work. You could also ask students to write thank-you notes or create presentations explaining what they’re learning in science as a result of their gift.
And once you’ve used these funds, start a list for next year!