We hope that your school year is off to an exciting and enjoyable start as you approach the 2-month mark with your newest group of students. Whether you’re in an early elementary classroom, middle school, or even high school, we’re well aware of how hard teachers work to make the school year both fun and beneficial for each and every student. And, we’re sure you’re doing a great job. So, let’s start thinking about next year.
Wait, really? Yes, that was not a typo. As it gets more and more crucial that students are provided with every opportunity to prepare for the real world, teachers need as much planning time as possible to create that perfect curriculum, research the newest technologies, and find a way to come up with the money to cover it. If STEM tools are not already a fairly significant part of your budget plans or at least making some sort of an appearance, next year is probably the time to start. That means starting to plan it out now.
Every classroom is different and we will be the first ones to tell you that, so while one teacher may benefit from having something bigger, like a 3D printer, this is probably not the case for every teacher. Maybe, however, you know you’re going to be tasked with starting or revamping the school’s makerspace in 2018. Then, perhaps you do want to take a look at the affordable 3D printing options or explore some of the robotics kits or coding tools that will be on the horizon. In any case, it’s important to start formulating these ideas now.
This could be a long process, so there’s no need to feel pressure to have it completed before Thanksgiving or anything like that, but it’s time to start hashing out your ideas. What would you tell your students in this situation? That’s right – it’s a great idea to start with an outline. First, figure out how much money you’re going to have to work with for the next school year. If it’s not 100 percent clear yet, feel free to ballpark this figure.
Then, start breaking your budget down into categories. We won’t tell you what your categories should be since this is unique for almost every educator, but you may need to consider the costs of classroom staples, like tissues, hand sanitizer, pencils, pens, paper, and all those fun things. Once you have some money set aside for those materials (and any others you commonly stock up on to start the year), hopefully that will leave you with about 85 percent of your original budget.
Sure, 85 percent may seem like a lot, but if the size of your budget was not very big to begin with, it’s important to keep maximizing your spending in mind. After you consider the little things that every classroom needs, you can move on to the fun stuff – the wonderful world of STEM tools. Depending on your financial situation, and each financial situation will be different, there are some technologies that you should be trying to add and others you might want to avoid (for now).
To help figure out what you can and cannot afford or what will work in your particular classroom or makerspace, you should really reach out to the EdTech experts at Eduporium. They offer totally free consultation during the EdTech research and acquisition processes and can almost immediately find some tools that fit your teaching style and your budget. And, they offer an Educator Discount on most of the STEM tools they sell, which is a pretty great perk to help you stretch your spending dollars even further.
So, let’s just say, for instance, that you have a relatively sizable budget with which to work and want to explore bringing in some of the most cutting-edge technologies to your classroom. What are some of the top technologies you should be looking at? One of the first that comes to mind is 3D printing. Whether they’re going to be used in a makerspace or in a traditional classroom setting, 3D printers provide students with the chance to combine a number of different and important STEM skills into one engaging endeavor.
They’re able to take on the role of designer, engineer, architect, and innovator while working with a very innovative technology. The entire design process is hands-on and gives students access to a powerful form of technology. They can collaborate with their classmates and observe how 3D printers provide them with the chance to create custom solutions to actual problems that they or other members of their community are facing.
If you can set aside 20 or 30 percent of your remaining STEM budget to invest in one or two affordable 3D printers for your students, it would be worth it. At Eduporium, they recommend spending about 20 percent of your remaining budget on the printer itself and then setting aside another 10 percent for filaments. Some of the top options for printers include the MakerBot Mini for powerful performance or the MOD-t 3D Printer if you want to get the best bang for your buck.
So, at this point, you’ve got about 45 percent of next year’s budget figured out. What other innovative technologies could make the cut and help you fill out the remaining amount? You could consider exploring virtual reality since this technology is poised to make a huge splash in education. Some of the systems that are available right now, like the Oculus Rift, are incredible for increasing student engagement and literally taking them places they otherwise would not be able to explore.
The complete Oculus system is pretty expensive, however, coming in at around $2,200 for the optimal experience. And, you want to know a secret? Over the next few years, this price is going to come down dramatically, so it might be worth holding off for a year or two if you’re like most teachers and don’t have a surplus of available funds. If you or your students really want to explore VR next year, however, there are more affordable options (which are much more scaled down), including the Samsung Gear VR and even Google Cardboard.
So, now that we’ve gotten a bit off track with a recommendation of what to avoid, let’s right this ship. If you ask us, the remaining 45 percent of your budget should be dedicated to tools and kits that kids can use to learn about robotics and coding. If you were paying attention before, you might remember that we have only accounted for 45 percent of the budget to this point, so spending 45 percent here only adds up to 90 percent. There will be more on this later.
With this remaining 45 percent, we’re comfortable with recommending spending it all on robotics and coding tools. That’s because coding is 100 percent a skill almost every student will need to be familiar with in the future. Seriously, it’s that important. And, robotics are a great way for them to start building coding expertise in any grade. There are incredibly simple robots that break coding down into the simplest of sciences for kids in kindergarten or even Pre-K and more complex bots that offer what seems like an unlimited number of ways to program various movements and outcomes. Two that come to mind are Cubetto for the youngest students and EZ-Robot for the older kids.
There are also plenty of bots that fall in between with the Ozobot being a perennial favorite among students and teachers in all grade levels. If you’re a STEM or robotics teacher and have yet to use the Ozobot, you really need to try to work it into next year’s budget. It introduces programming as a very simple concept by leveraging color codes and then allows students to progress to more complex forms of programming using a block-based Web program. Honestly, the Ozobot can be used anywhere from Grade 1 to probably Grade 8. Some other top-notch robotics options recommended by Eduporium (and TeacherCast) include Dash, Dot, and now CUE, the Edison Robot (another crowd favorite), Sphero, Cubelets, and mBot. Some of these robots can be used without a paired device, but some do require a tablet or laptop to be used to their full potential.
Each of the robots mentioned above teaches students coding and programming in one way or another. There are, however, tools for teaching coding that do not involve robotics and Eduporium knows exactly where to find those ones, too. Coding can be weaved into engineering as well, as evidenced by the littleBits Code Kit, another tool you should try to get into the classroom next year. With this kit, students can construct circuits they can then control over the Internet based on simple programs they create. Just remember, that you would need to have a desktop computer or laptop to use this kit as well and, if you don’t have one, you can find pretty much any one you would like on Eduporium’s site.
If you’ve already tried these suggestions or want to hold off, there are some other ways to bring coding into the classroom and here are a few final suggestions from Eduporium. Most of them are even quite affordable: Thames & Kosmos CodeGamer, Let’s Start Coding kits, Bloxels, Raspberry Pi’s (for older students), Monk Makes electronics kits, and SAM Lab’s various STEAM kits.
The wide variety of STEM products on the Eduporium site is great for teachers who are open to a lot of options or have a lot of different disciplines they would like to cover. More importantly, since we are talking about budgets here, Eduporium does offer that Educator Discount option as well, which could give you up to 20 percent off your purchase! Now, that’s a great way to stretch your budget!
So, now you’ve accounted for (roughly) 90 percent of next year’s STEM budget and we hope you are excited about these suggestions. So, what are you doing with that remaining 10 percent we told you to save? Nothing. Keeping a little bit of the budget available for things that come up during the next school year is a wise thing to do. Sometimes, things break and need to be replaced. Or, students love 3D printing so much that you need to order more filaments sooner than you anticipated. Or, it’s something else that nobody could have seen coming. Whatever the case may be, it’s helpful to have some money in the reserves if anything goes awry.
Who can help me?
Prioritizing your classroom needs can be tricky, especially when you’re starting almost a year in advance. Hopefully this post can serve as a guide and help reduce stress and the amount of time you spend on researching the best ways to spend your budget before you start really getting into crunch time. To reach out to Eduporium with STEM and EdTech questions, we encourage you to visit their website at www.eduporium.com, give them a call at 1 (877) 252-0001, or follow them on social media @Eduporium on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.