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The Well Stocked Elementary Science Classroom

My Father wanted a new chair and being a Depression Era baby he wanted to get one for a very low price. So, I scheduled a little garage sale shopping in my week. This got me thinking about an old course I used to teach for elementary teachers where we stocked science classrooms with thrift store finds. That course has some real meaning in these budget crunchy times.

The course was centered around the then emerging NRC Standards.
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=4962

The teachers came in and we experienced science by doing lots of connected rich activities that led to deeper understanding of one or more of the standards. I kept the equipment simple. We were in a budget crunch then too. To help teachers have the same equipment we would spend our afternoon thrift store shopping. I called each thrift store in the city and gave them a list of what to save for us. Each teacher only spent $20 and came home with a fully stocked science room.

The list of equipment included aquariums (pumps and filters too), measuring cups, old glasses (great lenses), magnifying glasses, cups, buckets, trays, marbles, different kinds of metals, magnets, old large coffee pots, unbreakable bowls and cups/glasses, old toasters, wire, pots for plants, tubing and a few dozen other brainstormed ideas. When we got to each thrift store there was a treasure trove of items from our list and other gems (stickers, construction paper, notebooks, pencils, pens, bulletin boards, wheels, bells, etc.). Each participant came away with a set of science lab stations and a more standards based and teacher friendly set of lessons.
The point of bringing this up again is that I found more in one day of garage sale shopping that I could have imagined. I picked up some hot plates, animal cages, aquariums, books, toys (for teaching the science behind toys) and lenses. When I explained what I was doing the garage sale merchants loaded more stuff into my already full boxes of goodies. It was a very productive day.

I called two local elementary schools and explained who I am and what I was willing to do. Then, yesterday I headed out and dropped off my stockpile and helped 6 very happy elementary teachers set up 5 science stations. The aquariums are pumping and waiting for fish. A few hamsters have new cages. The science of light unit has new lenses, light bulbs, wires and even some fiber optic materials that are going to generate some high interest.

There are a few toys that move and can be used to calculate speed, change the variable of friction or drag and recalculate speed. That should produce a bit of learning about variables. There are 15 new books on animals and plants and a box of books that the teacher’s can use as give away science books for contests. There are a couple of desk lamps we set up to teach about light and shadows (we added a few cut outs from manila folders). But, my favorite is a creativity box. In that magical tub is a conglomeration of wire, tubes, ramps, pulleys, clamps, clips, levers, spirals and colorful blocks. The challenge with that box will be to make something that explains a scientific principle. I cannot wait for these teachers to send me photos in the fall from that station.

So, as you regroup this summer and contemplate how to do more with less funding you may want to visit a thrift store or a garage sale. For a few dollars and a bit of imagination you can create a classroom full of thinking opportunities. If you want some ideas for the objects you find just drop me a comment and I will send you an activity. We did find a chair for my Dad. It is a recliner and that too is science.

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