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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard


Updated: Oct 6, 2023

When you enter your classroom for the very first time, chances are you’re walking into a rectangle with four bare walls and a bunch of desks. You don’t want to spend a whole lot of money changing your empty room into a great learning environment. As a science teacher, I always had an inordinate amount of Stuff. I needed lots of containers to hold the Stuff. So I was always saving crazy things from paper towel cores to bread ties. You never know what you might need for the project you haven’t thought of yet.

Here are some ways teachers recycle.

· Containers are your friends. Take-out food containers are great for housing small items like paper clips, post-it note pads, erasers, staples, and all sorts of miscellany that populate classrooms.

· Cans live their second lives as holders for pencils, pens, markers, rulers, etc.

· Old game pieces, leftover craft pieces, discarded hardware, and virtually anything you might throw away are raw materials for student projects of all types.

· Old game boards can be painted over and used for student made games, display boards, or ramps for physical science activities.

· Go to garage sales! For dirt cheap you can get books, games, containers, building blocks, arts and crafts supplies, plastic crates, and all manner of things to decorate your classroom. Sometimes, if you tell them you’re a teacher, they’ll give it to you for even cheaper.

o True story. I was going to a backyard sale at a corner house. On the way to the gate, I told my daughter that I was looking for things I could use in my classroom. The owner of the house overheard me and met me at the gate with a big paper bag. He handed me the bag and said, “Teacher, you fill this bag with everything you can fit inside and it’s yours for $2.” I ended up with lots of books and several board games.

o Another true story. I went to a church rummage sale. I bought a big box of old wooden blocks. I mentioned that these would be great for my classroom. The woman took my $5, added another box of blocks, and sent two teenagers to carry everything to my car.

o What can you do with blocks in a classroom?

- The wedge shaped block served as a doorstop for years.

- They were used for STEM materials during building challenges.

- Kids loved them as free time activities. measurement, area, perimeter, surface area, mass, and circumference.

§ Kids loved them as free time activities.

· Save outgrown clothes from your own family. You never know when they can be:

o worn by a kid having a “wardrobe malfunction”

o used for costumes in a class play

o “borrowed” by a student who forgot/doesn’t have a winter coat or gloves

When you’re cleaning out your classroom closets and decide to get rid of an old math, science, or language arts kit, consider how the components can be reused.

· Spinners and dice can be used for student-created games.

· Shape tiles are good for tracing when students are working on posters or other projects.

· Small pieces of nearly anything can be used as game markers, counters, or project embellishments.

· Random flashcards can be grouped together to make new writing challenges.

· Cards with questions can be used for writing prompts, or end of class trivia contests.

There’s a limitless supply of “garbage” that can be given new life in a classroom. Every teacher knows that we use a great deal of Stuff. The biggest challenge is in organizing it all. Old laundry baskets, shoe boxes, and organizers of every type can be used to house our Stuff.

Here’s a partial (very partial!) list of odd things that kids of all ages can use as science, art, STEM, project, and math materials.

· cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towel rolls

· every kind of craft material left over from something else

· boxes of any shape or size

· plastic cups, plastic bowls, water bottles of any type, k-cups, pill bottles, detergent jugs, yogurt containers, lids, cans, shampoo bottles

· egg cartons

· old wrapping paper and greeting cards

The first step in repurposing “junk” for the classroom is to let the kids come up with a list of things they can reuse. That would make a great exercise in creativity and environmental awareness that they could apply not only in the classroom, but at home. For sure, they will come up with some great ideas.

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