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Science on the Cheap

Science Under the Microscope

width=300The phrase "in these current economic times" has become a bit of a cliche lately, but that doesn't change the fact that our lives as educators will be changed for some time to come.

As science teachers, we generally need larger budgets to purchase equipment for the various activities and experiments that we do with our classes. I know that my department will be faced with significant budget reductions, and this has forced us to rethink our priorities and the way we use supplies.

But there are some simple ways to reduce the financial burden of teaching science. Here are some examples:

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Dollar stores instead of Science stores

You may be surprised to learn that many so-called "All for a Dollar" stores carry plastic measuring cups, funnels, household cleaners, and other common supplies that can be used to conduct lots of experiments. Try small 3-oz. disposable cups for doling out pre-measured amounts of lab supplies (hint: measure by mass using a balance instead of by volume), or pick up an array of sunglasses and test their effectiveness using some UV-sensitive paper/cloth/beads. Next time you are ready to order from a big science supply house, swing by your local dollar store first.

Do more chemistry with less

If your curriculum requires students to learn about chemistry, whether as part of a Physical Science course or simply to illustrate changes in matter, consider using microchemistry techniques. By using tiny amounts of reactants in small containers or wellplates, and adding in magnification through the use of a document camera or even an overhead projector, you can use significantly less consumable chemicals. Since these are often the most expensive components of classroom activities, the potential cost savings is more "macro" than "micro". And don't forget that smaller reactions are safer!

It takes a village to stock a science lab

Consider contacting nearby companies that may have equipment or supplies that you can use. Is there a doctor's office that can donate latex/nitrile gloves? How about a pharmaceutical facility with plastic pipettes to share?

When teaching plant science, don't be afraid to ask local nurseries and gardening shops for donations of seeds or soil. Often these organizations have surplus materials from recent "downsizing" or simply want to improve their public image. Consider a small token of your students' appreciation like handwritten thank-you notes or a framed photo of the equipment in use.

These are just a few ideas, but let your imagination guide you, and be creative. There is not much that we can do to end this financial crisis, but we can try to mitigate its impact on our classrooms.

What are your classroom budget strategies? Share in the comments section!

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