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The Right Tool for the Job

The Right Tool for the Job
tool2My dad is a handy guy and can fix just about anything. He takes great pride in having a tool for every job and has been known to volunteer to help someone with a project just so he’ll have an excuse to buy a new tool. His garage is so full it’s difficult to navigate, but he somehow seems to know where everything is.
When I was a kid, he decided I needed my own toolbox. It was actually an old fishing tackle box of his dad’s and included some very well-used tools, including a rusty hammer, some screwdrivers, and a tape measure that didn’t always want to retract. When I got older, he gave my sister and me each a brand new tool kit that was labeled “Do It Herself.” I still have most of the pieces of that pink-handled tool kit, which my husband affectionately calls the “Let Her Do It” kit. Don’t tell him I told you, but he uses the pink-handled tools himself from time to time.
I like to think of myself as a handy gal. We’re working on some big home renovation projects and I’ve put in my share of insulation and hung many pieces of drywall. I must take after my dad because my favorite tool purchase has been a small air compressor that shoots nails and staples. There’s just something satisfying about the “kerchunk” when you pull the trigger. But I’ve also been in situations where I didn’t have my tools and had to improvise. I’ve hammered a nail with the heel of a shoe, a rock, and even a can of soup. (On a side note, a can of soup does not make a great hammer.) It’s nice to have the newest and highest quality tools for every job, but sometimes it’s possible to get the job done with other options. Let’s dig into our science equipment toolboxes and discover some strategies for getting the most out of what we have and purposeful plans for keeping tools available for teachers and students.
Take Inventory
It’s not very glamorous, but the first step is to take a look at what equipment is living in your schools’ storerooms right now. It might also mean making an “all call” to ask teachers to let you know what they keep in their individual classrooms. You will likely discover things you didn’t even know existed. I’m all for professional dress, but this might be a day that calls for jeans since you could be on ladders and on the floor looking in cabinets and on shelves. A list of what you find or even a collection of photos on your phone is a great place to start.
Make a Plan
The state standards list some of the suggested equipment for each grade level, but that is just a beginning. Talk to teachers to get a more comprehensive list of equipment needed to teach his or her course. Then ask them to prioritize what needs to be purchased as soon as possible and what can wait for the future. The priority items are what go on the purchase orders first with a list of other items to purchase each following year.
A Place for Everything
Make sure teachers know where to go to get the supplies they need. In an elementary school that might be one common place where teachers check out and return materials. You might even have a volunteer parent who is willing to keep it organized because it just seems to get more scattered as the school year progresses. In middle school and high school, teachers need to know which equipment is kept in which storeroom. It makes sense that microscopes would be handy for biology teachers, but they should be available to use by other teachers as well.
Stretch Your Budget
It’s a cold hard fact that science equipment is an investment. It pays off to purchase quality items from reputable vendors when money is available. But in the short term, there are some ways to keep equipment in students’ hands so labs can keep taking place. For some grade levels and some particular labs, a food scale from the grocery store aisle will be precise enough if there aren’t enough triple beam or electronic balances. A jeweler’s loupe or a lens to use with a phone camera could supplement a microscope lab if there are only enough scopes for a lab station or two.
Our job as science leaders is to remove as many barriers as possible so teachers can be amazing. So think outside the toolbox. Don’t let a lack of equipment keep you from making science a hands-on course. Your schools’ storerooms might be full of tools that are shiny and brand new or covered with a little rust and dust, but they all belong in the hands of our young scientists. We’ll just hope they grow up to keep their own tools a little more organized than my dad.
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