Spend a little, gain a lot

Ted Koehn with his arsenal of inexpensive/free materials


Last year in New Orleans, I attended the session Sixty Labs You Can Do with Little or No Budget (see related posts below). Last year, so many people were there that some had to stand and some of us had to sit on the floor. I decided to go again this year because I was curious: Who would come this time? How many, given the late time slot of 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon? What would I learn that I missed last time?
Ted literally describes his 60 high school physics and chemistry activities in a fast-paced, one-hour session. All of the materials he uses are either free or very inexpensive, and he even will tell you the exact amount–to the penny–he spent to acquire them (“at least in Lincoln,” Nebraska—his hometown—he adds). He provides each audience member with a packet containing guides for doing each of the labs, and the hour was filled with the sounds of pages turning as the teachers followed along.
He covered chemistry labs on moles, acids and bases, the periodic table, solubility curve… (the clock was ticking: 1 lab…10 labs…15 labs…)
…using gumdrops and toothpicks to create models of molecules…buying 100 chromatography strips for $3…10 vials of pH paper for $10…using eyedroppers as titration tubes…(20 labs…30 labs…)
Then came the physics labs. How to construct four inclined planes using inexpensive plywood…getting free ball bearings (from a truck repair shop) that students can roll down the inclined planes…checking garage sales for bargain supplies…propping a curtain rod on some books to create another inclined plane…(35 labs…40 labs)
…getting softballs from the PE department to use to teach projectile motion…”Ohaus gave out free spring balances in the Exhibition Hall; did you get one?”…having students use old film canisters and loading them with different amounts of pennies to see whether they would sink or float in water…(50 labs…60 labs! Hooray!) The audience applauded enthusiastically!

As you can see, the 5:00 start time did not deter science teachers from showing up for Sixty Labs. One teacher commented, “He’s amazing. I’m exhausted—but it was great!” (You can find Ted’s e-mail address online in the Saturday/Sunday program.)
Longtime readers of NSTA Reports, NSTA’s monthly newspaper, may recall the headline of this post was once the name of a popular column in the paper. (And hello to the former Reports editors reading the blog, who will remember the fun we had coming up with the names for the newspaper’s columns.)

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About Debra Shapiro

Associate Editor of member newspaper, NSTA Reports (www.nsta.org/publications/nstareports.aspx). Editor of Freebies for Science Teachers (www.nsta.org/publications/freebies.aspx) and NSTA Calendar (www.nsta.org/publications/calendar) pages. Follow me on Twitter: @Debra_NSTA
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1 Response to Spend a little, gain a lot

  1. Ann Wild says:

    Thanks for remembering those of us who revamped entirely NSTA Reports years ago. We were simply given the mandate to “make it better,” and we did. You, Debra, and Cara and I all with desks smashed together on the lower level of the old NSTA building. I recall that time with fondness.

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