This post originally appeared on the blog Teach Outside the Box.
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“I’m finished! What do I do now?”
How many times during our teaching day do we hear these words from our students? Oftentimes, it is much too often, and students are provided a handful of the same options to keep them busy until our next transition. Sometimes students are instructed to read, sometimes to write in journals, and others are given yet another worksheet to complete. Lately, I’ve been considering a way to change up our game, and I’ve thought to myself:
Instead of giving our kids more work, let’s give them more meaningful work.
For elementary students, meaningful work should be hands-on, engaging, and open ended. Why?! Because children have a natural drive to play, explore, and engineer whenever possible.
Enter STEM BINS!
What are STEM Bins?
STEM Bins are plastic school boxes filled with an engineering manipulative of your choice, such as Legos, pattern blocks, base ten blocks, unifix cubes, toothpicks and playdough, or popsicle sticks with velcro on the ends. The boxes also contain small sets of task cards on metal rings that picture a variety of basic engineering structures. STEM Bins can be placed on an easily accessible shelf in the classroom or inside a classroom MakerSpace area. When students’ regular classwork is complete, they can take one STEM Bin at a time, either to their seat or a more quiet carpet area so as not to distract other students who are working, and get a quiet moment to engineer. They use the materials in the box to construct as many different structures on the cards as they can. And instead of being just “busy,” students are engaged in creative, complex tasks and are encouraged to think like inventors. Kinesthetic learners, spatial learners, and logical learners will love exploring the different possibilities for the building materials as they try to construct more challenging structures.
Even better? The prep and management on the teacher’s part is minimal! The task cards are interchangeable with any building material and include real world photos to encourage students to visualize more realistic structures.
STEM Bins for Upper Grades
Upper Grade teachers, STEM Bins will even work for you! So many third through fifth grade students and teachers are loving the hands-on engagement that STEM Bins provide. I’ve added task cards with no photo cues and written response sheets that are just right for big kids:
Most of the suggested materials for STEM Bins are math manipulatives or inexpensive crafting materials that you likely already have in your classroom or can pick up at the Dollar Store. I’m always on the hunt for anything and everything that my students can build with so I can add it to my STEM Bins!
I store my STEM Bins in standard size plastic school boxes, but any plastic container will do. Many teachers use plastic school boxes or even food storage containers.
Customizing STEM Bins
Since every classroom has a variety of manipulatives already on hand, I’ve also included editable box covers and task cards so you can customize them to your needs. Some of my favorite places to find engineering materials are Target Dollar Spot and the Dollar Store.
When to Use STEM Bins
STEM Bins aren’t just ideal for early finishers! Here are some ways you can use them elsewhere during your day:
Adding Literacy to STEM Bins
You can also take students’ engineering a step further by adding a written component. The youngest students in Pre-K and Kinder can can draw pictures of their different structures. First through fifth graders can “Build, Draw, and Write” with descriptive sentences or imaginative stories about their structures. If you’d like to save copies, simply place any of the templates inside plastic page protectors and students can use dry erase markers to write and wipe drawings and responses.
Keeping STEM Bins Fresh
Looking to keep your STEM Bins fresh and exciting throughout the year? Check out the post below:
I hope you will consider giving your students a hands-on alternative to busy work with STEM Bins in your classroom!
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Brooke Brown is a Gifted and Talented teacher for Kindergarten through Second Grade in Oklahoma. Specializing in STEM and Literacy, she has a passion for creating classroom resources that enrich. motivate, and simplify. Brooke is a STEM presenter for SDE I Teach 1st and Get Your Teach On. You can find her TpT store at Brooke Brown – Teach Outside the Box and her website is Teach Outside the Box.