One Teacher’s Trash is Another Teacher’s Treasure
-Uses for Things Found-
We have all heard the phrase, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” No group of people are more wiling to take and use anything than classroom teachers. And science teachers must be the worst. But this is not something to be looked upon as negative, because it actually speaks to the basic core of science and science teaching. Science is everywhere. Science needs to be taught using hands on inquiry based lessons. Science requires simple models to teach complex concepts. So objects, found or received, are always welcome in the science classroom. My school district received a large donation of materials from refurbishment center that went out of business. The men on our loading dock said to me, as they were unloading the shipment, “I don’t think these boxes are worth anything, they are just a bunch of Styrofoam balls, bottles of vegetable oil, bottles of shampoo and bags of sponges used in the kitchen.” My reply: great science equipment! Don’t throw any of these things out. Here are some of my suggestions for things we found in the donated materials. CARDBOARD SHEETS (cut into 8 x 17 inch rectangles) Trash to you, but to me, these sheets of cardboard represent boards to press a push pin into to demonstrate the construction of a circle and an ellipse. When teaching about the orbits of the planets in astronomy, I would cut up old boxes with an Exacto knife to get pieces of cardboard. What a terribly time consuming job that was! SPONGES Something to wash the dishes with? Well yes, but not to me! A sponge is a substrate to germinate seeds. One sponge can be cut into four pieces (cut when dry) and students can place seeds on the sponge to see germination. KIDNEY BEAN SEEDS, EXPIRATION DATE PASSED Do not toss these beans. Usually they will still germinate, despite the expiration dates. Test a few to be sure. But if they do not germinate, they still can be used. Use the beans to demonstrate diffusion. Trace the bean on a sheet of paper in your science notebook. The soak the bean overnight. Dry the bean. Trace the bean 24 hours later. Observe the size difference. Or, after soaking over night, dissect the bean seed. You will see the seed coat, the embryo, and the two cotelydons. VEGETABLE OIL The concept of density is one that requires numerous explanations and demonstrations. Vegetable oil, combined water, vinegar, soap detergent and other liquids can be used to make a density column in a graduated cylinder. SHAMPOO I worked in an urban school district and getting soap that lathered up was sometimes a challenge. If you should come across bottles of liquid soap, do not discard them. Put them in empty soap containers with the plunger thing and pretend they are brand new. In addition to being used as soap to wash hands, many experiments can be done with liquid soap. I was required to teach about viscosity when we studied lava that comes out of volcanoes when they erupt. I used various liquids, thick and thin, placed on a tilted board to observe their flow. Students can use stop watches or timers to calculate rate of flow of various liquids and relate these to various types of lava (Aa lava etc) Cash Register Tape I have seen activities with cash register tape to teach about the Geological Time Scale. Another use can be a way to demonstrate distances in space. Pepper Pepper can be used to teach about static electricity, or used as an example of separating two compounds by physical means. Large Coffee Pots This was one of the best finds of them all. Many teachers tell me they do not have running water in their room, so they shy away from hands on activities. I see a large 42 cup coffee pot as the answer! Fill the pot with water and use the spigot to draw out water when you need it for labs. Stop at every yard sale you see and get a few for your classroom. The next time you think about throwing something out, think of a teacher first. Science requires simple models to teach complex concepts. So objects, found or received, are always welcome in the science classroom.