STEM Supplies: Ultimate Shopping List for your School

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As a classroom teacher, choosing to purposefully integrate STEM into your daily curriculum is only the first step in preparing students for STEM literacy.  The next big question will address engagement:  How do you make STEM fun?

The answer is:  STEM classroom supplies!

Students sit at tables in a classroom. There are numbered bins on some tables, and clear plastic bins on others. The bins are full of different types of STEM supplies. We can see styrofoam balls and colored cylinders in some of the bins.

Image by Holly Dornak from Pixabay

Create an action-packed, hands-on, age-appropriate arsenal of lessons in science, math, and engineering activities that integrate supplies kids want to tinker with.  While software, computers, robots, and 3-D printers are some of the more expensive STEM education supplies, there are tons of inexpensive or free STEM supplies for teachers.

At the end of the day, “must-have STEM supplies” are really just the things your students will need to accomplish the goals you set for them.  This could be something as simple as popsicle sticks and plastic cups, or more advanced STEM education supplies.

We’ve decided to create this guide to help teachers get started on making an “Ultimate STEM shopping list” for your classroom.  (Amazon told us you all really like shopping.)

STEM Supplies:  Loose Parts

What are STEM supplies?  We can classify STEM supplies as anything from cotton balls and toilet paper tubes to circuits and Arduino boards.  You can create your own STEM kits, STEM trays, STEM bins, or interchange your loose parts between multiple projects.  STEM supplies are the materials we use to get the job done.

Loose parts are must-have STEM supplies.  They aren’t necessarily part of a specific kit but are extra supplies we keep handy for spur of the moment activities or spare parts.  They can often be basic STEM classroom supplies that are sourced as donations from parents and students.

Cardboard tubes are great STEM classroom supplies.

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

Hosting a STEM Supply Drive in the spring is a great way to gather a brand new stock of loose parts to supply your classroom with STEM education supplies for the next year.  (Spring is when everyone gets rid of everything in their house. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all!)  Your STEM Supply Drive can ask classroom parents to donate some of the following items:

  • Toilet paper tubes or cardboard tubes

  • Old CD’s

  • LEGO’s students have outgrown

  • Foil, cardboard, or posterboard

  • Cotton balls

  • Tape

  • Straws

  • Tongue depressors or popsicle sticks

  • Playing cards

  • Glue

  • Bread ties

  • Tubing or pipes

  • Empty water bottles

Wait, were we making a list of STEM supplies? That sounds like a list of the stuff parents cleaned out of their teenager’s messy bedrooms?  Trash or not, these loose parts are all great materials for students to build structures, Rube Goldberg machines, or suspension bridges using inexpensive items.

STEM Supplies:  STEM Kits

STEM Kits for kids are one of the most popular resources for the classroom or lab.  Teachers provide comprehensive kits to serve the purpose of supplying students with all they will need to complete a particular STEM challenge or project.  As a teacher, you can prepare these kits yourself by compiling must have stem supplies in organized bins or boxes for each unit or project.

The kit pictured has all of the components and instructions for creating and coding a wifi robot.

All-inclusive STEM kits prepared by experts like Thimble are also available for classroom use.  Our kits are reusable and interchangeable and do not need to be RE-purchased year after year.  They are complete with all the STEM supplies necessary for coding and robotics projects that will make kids feel like true computer programmers and engineers.

How many STEM Kits does one classroom need?

The answer to that question varies based on your STEM learning plans.  Kits can be made or purchased per child, per group, or per classroom.  If you plan on running your STEM learning time in “stations”, you may only need one STEM kit per station.

Three excited children open an orange Thimble box to check out the creator kit.

Younger students tend to thrive with “stations” supplied with different projects, STEM toys, and hands-on investigations to keep their creativity at peak levels.  Their attention spans are shorter than middle and high school students and they need high activity levels to stave off boredom.

Those students in higher grades work well in more involved investigations that require critical thinking and collaboration.  Their STEM kits can be more complicated – think coding robots, grade level engineering projects, and exploration into electronics or chemistry.

What supplies should be in a STEM Kit?

A STEM kit’s purpose is the driving factor behind its contents.  If you’re looking to build and code a robot, you’ll want that STEM kit to have every board, motor, and wiring component necessary to get the job done.  If you’re looking to have students do a self-led discovery of building a LEGO structure that holds a minimum amount of weight, you’re going to want each kit to have all of the LEGOs and the weights.

Another clutch STEM education supply to include in your kits are laminated cards that provide students with instructions, tips, and hints to guide them through the project.  These instruction cards lead them toward the discovery you ultimately want them to make with that activity.

A boy in a blue sweatshirt and safety glasses sits at a table. He has a tablet that is open to the Thimble learning module as he builds a robotics project. An orange open Thimble box also sits on the table.

STEM Kits:  Why Do They Matter?

Stem kits provide a few benefits to your classroom.  The most obvious one is the level of organization they offer.  Keeping all the supplies necessary for a project in one centralized location cuts your prep time down significantly, and keeps your classroom from looking like the hot mess you’re picturing as we made the previous list of STEM supplies (that looks suspiciously like a list of garbage).

Just imagine a well-organized cart of labeled bins filled with STEM projects, ready to ignite a passion for problem-solving. *sigh*

We love it too.

STEM kits for kids do more than satisfy the type A organizer deep inside all of us.  STEM kits provide thematic, critical thinking opportunities.  They come off like a toy but are actually a chance for students to play and learn at the same time.

STEM Supplies:  STEM Books

STEM books are definitely a must-have STEM supply.  Books, both fiction and non-fiction, are an excellent way to reach verbal learners in your classroom.  STEM books are available for children in Pre-K and Kindergarten, as well as in high school.

A young girl reads a book about paper oragami.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Books can bring important science concepts, vocabulary, and information that can’t be conveyed with hands-on projects.  For example, an independent and inspiring exploration of minority contributions in STEM, science, and industry is better explored through biographies and books as opposed to STEM projects.

Students can use your classroom book collection to dive into different STEM concepts that you aren’t covering in your planned curriculum.  They will be able to familiarize themselves with vocabulary and terminology that might not be covered in classroom textbooks or activities.

STEM books and STEM supplies go hand in hand to provide your class with opportunities to learn visually, kinesthetically, logically, and verbally.  Collaborative STEM activities help social and interpersonal learners.  All of these pieces of your STEM puzzle create broad learning opportunities for all types of learners.

Download this quick list of 20 great STEM books for all grade levels compiled by Thimble!

STEM Supplies: STEM Program

Another must-have STEM supply is the actual program you’ll use to get technology into your student’s hands.  Introductory tech concepts such as coding and programming can be taught with pre-designed programs available online.  Though a program isn’t a tangible building material, we’re still considering it a STEM classroom supply.

Multiple STEM programming providers can help guide you through developing a STEM curriculum.  If this is the route you are headed, be sure to choose a quality STEM program for your classroom.  Here are a few of our favorite STEM programs:

A completed wifi robot kit sits on a table next to an open lap top.

Thimble.io has developed a curriculum aligned with Next Generation Science Standards that introduces middle and high school students to robotics and coding, as well as simple engineering concepts with comprehensive hands-on kits, live classes, and online learning modules.

LevelUpVillage offers STEAM courses for students K-9 that connect them with other STEAM students and classrooms from across the world to collaborate on projects.  Their mission is to globalize the classroom through STEAM enrichment courses.

STMath offers math programming for students K-6 by making use of the brain’s spatial reasoning.  Puzzles and non-traditional problem-solving methods coupled with visual math help students grasp different mathematical concepts.

Free STEM Supplies for Teachers: 5 STEM Supplies that are ALREADY in Your Classroom

Multicolored, square wooden blocks.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

How many times have you had to stop a place value or base ten math lesson because little Johnny was building the Eiffel Tower with his blocks instead of placing them in the hundred’s, ten’s, and one’s place?  We’ve all been there.  Though the timing is inappropriate, the passion for building should be appreciated and encouraged.  What else do you have in your classroom that your students want to make, tinker, and build with?

  1. Why not set up times and activities where Johnny and the rest of the class can use their math manipulatives to build structures?  They already want to. Boom! FREE STEM supplies. (Though math manipulatives are technically already STEM teaching tools – why not repurpose?)

  1. Can your students have the unused plates, utensils, and cups from your class Halloween party to build a haunted house with windows and doors that really open?  Boom! FREE STEM supplies.  The creative nature of a project like this lends itself to any STEAM curriculum.

  2. Let your students build a suspension bridge with the hodgepodge of pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks spilling out of your craft drawers.  Boom!  FREE STEM supplies.

  1. Rubber bands can power a catapult.  How many of those do you have laying around?  Boom! FREE STEM Supplies.

  1. Leftover party balloons can power cars and cover water bottles full of baking soda and vinegar.  Boom! FREE STEM Supplies

Those dominoes? That deck of cards that’s missing a few?  Do you see where we’re going with this? Free STEM supplies for teachers are all around you.  So much of the junk you have lying around in your classroom can be used for hands-on STEM activities and free-builds! Take stock of what free STEM classroom supplies you have lying around, and how you can use those things during your next project.

Bonus: Low-Cost STEM Supply Ideas

Boxes of loose parts and vacuum tubes sit on a table as a young man searches through them.

Photo by Paul Povoroznuk on Unsplash

STEM supplies might not be on-hand, but also don’t need to break your budget. Some ideas for frugally obtaining your classroom’s must-have STEM supplies:

  •  Basic building supplies such as LEGOS, Magnatiles, K’nex, and wooden blocks can be purchased second hand at summer garage sales.

  • Take advantage of sales and coupons. Clearance aisles at craft stores are a treasure trove of foam, fabric, balsa wood, and crafting materials that can be versatile additions to your STEM classroom supplies.

  • Teachers Pay Teachers is an excellent resource for supplemental worksheets, activities, and add-ons for your STEM lesson.

  • Thrift stores will have second-hand building sets and craft supplies.

How To Set Up A STEM Lab And How Can STEM Kits Make Your Job Easier

Setting up a STEM lab or STEM classroom will look different in every district depending on your goals and more importantly – your budget.  Check out our blog post on Effective STEM Classroom Design, and use that as a starting point.

Web access and devices (computers or iPads) for research, coding, planning, and videos will be one of the most beneficial tools your STEM lab or classroom can have.

Storage for all of your STEM supplies, building materials, and loose parts is essential.  Make sure you have organized, stable shelving or closet space to keep all of your STEM supplies easily accessible.  Your stressed mid-class self will also thank your past-self for thorough labeling.

A small group of students engage in a conversation with their teacher. One hand is raised, the teacher and some of the children are smiling. There is a bulletin board in the background with the word literacy on it.

Image by 14995841 from Pixabay

STEM Kits can make your job easier by providing storage space for every component necessary for a specific project.  Each student or group can work with their own STEM kit without ever leaving their station.  All the supplies are provided, the lesson is created, the concepts are explained, and your job switches from teacher to facilitator.  Don’t be fooled by inexpensive, one-time use STEM kits for kids that will need to be repurchased each year.

Choose a kit that is sturdy, stable, and can be used by students year after year.  Thimble STEM Kits include all the components you’ll need for a complete project, as well as step by step illustrated instructions.  Our Creator Set is a perfect starting point and is capable of creating multiple projects.

Be Wise With Your STEM Supplies

Be wise with your STEM supplies. (Look at us rhyming.  We did that on purpose.)  Reuse and recycle as much as possible to keep costs low.  Don’t wait until the last minute to gather must-have STEM supplies for your upcoming projects.  And for the love of all things STEM, be flexible and fun.

Consider investing in Thimble STEM kits to stay organized.  Our kits provide all the sturdy classroom stem supplies and support you need to give your students the best use of the quality time that you have with them.

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