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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Lab Supplies in Tight Times

When budgets are tight a lot of the science equipment and supplies you may need to run labs cannot be purchased. That does not mean you cannot do many of those labs. It just requires a bit more creativity. Some lean times have led to my most creative lab experiences.

In the mid 80’s they were laying off teachers left and right. Budgets were becoming skin tight and there was no money for lab supplies. I turned to the best source for inspiration, my students. In my chemistry classes there were volunteers who said they would be happy to bring in some supplies or run bake sales to help the labs continue. One brilliant student began to make a list of needed items.  These ranged from lemons and baking soda to a digital scale and microscopes.

We divided the list into things that a parent would have in their cupboard to those more special items that would require someone with science connections. The parents came through with boxes of the easy supplies and one who worked at a local grocery store arranged for me to be able to get any kitchen chemicals available there whenever I needed them. A parent who worked at a local hospital arranged for my school to get their older microscopes when they replaced them. We received a wonderful set of scopes, test tubes, gloves, safety glasses, and a centrifuge. It was better than Christmas.

The most amazing donation was one from the local sheriff. They were up to their badges in busting meth labs and some minor drug rings. In their busts they not only confiscated the drugs and money but also scales and some science equipment. I opted to get the scales. On a warm October day a large smiling police officer walked into my room carrying a box with 6 of the most beautiful digital scales. I would recommend calling the sheriff or state police office and asking for a donation when the scales are no longer needed as evidence. You will be amazed.

You may wonder what is on my list for physical science. The list always includes vinegar, baking soda, lemons, mentos and diet coke (for the mentos experiment…there is a link below), soap for bubble experiments, salt, calcium chloride (ice melt), bleach, markers (chromatography), coffee filters, cups (usually donated by the case by a local fast food place), balloons, marbles, masking tape, tubing, lime (garden supplies), Ziploc bags, and aluminum foil. With just those items I can do about 45 different labs.

The great part about getting proactive about supplies is that your administration has to notice you are making an extraordinary effort and find ways to get you the more exotic chemicals that are not available at the grocery stores. I have a father from a hardware store this year and he has been exceptionally supportive with supplies. Often there are supplies at local stores that are great for labs and just the left over disposable materials for the store. Such was the case with some wonderful rubber tubing. The hardware dad gave me the end of a rather large roll. The tubing was not in long segments but there were lots of 3 foot pieces just right for a gas law lab.

Whether you are flush with cash or just squeaking by it is important to include labs in your science courses. Enlisting the parents and students in helping the cause not only adds to the creative mix, it gives folks some ownership of the program. Parents as partners are powerful. Who knew they love to be asked?
http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/experiment/original-mentos-diet-coke-geyser
http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n10/full/nm1007-1128a.html
http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content/science.shoestring.html

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