Crowdsourcing a middle-school science lab

Reddit poster mdrabz is a middle school science teacher who just got a $5500 state grant to set up a lab for his 7th and 8th grade students in the Mississippi Delta. How do you choose what to buy with that money? Mdrabz turned to the Internet for suggestions.

Answers range from the inevitable Breaking Bad jokes (which begin, amusingly, with advice to "Cook meth, obtain more currency") to some really great suggestions for basic necessities of a science lab, ideas for actual experiments, and other posters waxing eloquent about the lab experiments they loved when they were in school. It's inspirational, and some great advice for anyone looking to get young minds hooked on science.

I can't wait to find out what mdrabz actually puts together. My memories of science in school are inevitably tied up with my memories of hands-on projects: From the basic electric circuits my 4th/5th grade teacher had us build, to rocket cars in middle school, to fetal pig dissections in high school. Even the hands-on work I HATED (*cough*CAD module*cough*) has a bigger place in my memory than half the stuff we only read about.

With that in mind, I'd throw out a suggestion to spend some of that money on art materials that the kids could use for building models and dioramas. I understood chemistry better when I had to connect marshmallows and toothpicks to build molecules, I remember the parts of a cell better because of the dioramas we made. For my money, you get a hell of a lot of bang for the buck out of giving kids access to a way to learn the material that's a bit more visceral than books and video.

Thanks for the tip-off, Dean!


  1. As a middle school teacher, I’m not convinced that good equipment makes a good classroom.  The master teachers I’ve seen do amazing work with scratch paper and masking tape.  My two-bits – put the money toward teacher training.  At very least, all teachers of science (K-college) should read  “Teaching High School Science Through Inquiry” by Douglas Llewllyn and understand the new “Framework for K-12 Education” which can be downloaded free here:

  2. Looks like an interesting project.  I like your (Maggie’s) comment “spend some of that money on art materials “.   I am a strong proponent for renaming the rather drab STEM (Science Tech Engr Math) push to STEAM (add ART) …

    I passed the link along to some local folks looking to do science lab stuff for middle schoolers.

  3. That’s…that’s it?  Two science teachers and someone asking for book review? I’ve been carefully watching this post all afternoon.  Surely some more science teachers must weigh in via BoingBoing.  For $5,500, what does a middle-school science classroom need to have?

  4. I would bet there’s no discussion here because most of us (well, I teach college chem labs, so maybe I don’t count) are going to the Reddit thread to post, since that’s where the actual discussion is taking place.  Centralization and all that. . .

    Though I will address the STEAM comment:  speaking as a STEM instructor, I don’t see marshmallow molecules and cell dioramas as “art,” it’s just science without buying 60 $100 model kits.  There’s been a big push the last five years to do labs with home products, both for the sense of connection a student gets, and to drastically reduce the cost of labs.  Plus, anything we work out at the college level usually migrates to the secondary education level within a few years, reducing cost and hopefully increasing interest there.

  5. I made an attempt to synthesize a single list, with some additions of my own.  Obviously it is a list of suggestions and some of them are quite clearly *bad* suggestions.  I also took the liberty of skipping the obviously unrealistic suggestions (NMR machine, electron microscope, etc.) and those made as jokes.  I was skimming the posts, so I probably missed some people’s ideas as well.

    Sadly, were I in his position, I’d spend a good chunk of money on tables.  Because apparently tables are sophisticated science equipment that we need to write a grant to buy, in today’s American public schools.

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