Several Tips on Running a Cost-Effective Classroom

Copyright 1999 by James P. Riser

Over my 30+ years of teaching I have seen quite a bit of waste and needless expense in education. Being a business owner (and tax payer), as well as, an underpaid educator, this bothered me. In our schools we are constantly asked to do more with less. Below I have described several ways to cut costs in the classroom without sacrificing the quality of your programs.
Please remember that I have developed these cost saving measures from the viewpoint of a science and technology teacher. Some of them you might have to adapt to your specific teaching situation.

Saving time reexplaining the lesson/activity:

In my classes I like to tell the students in advance that I shall explain things only once. They may take notes and ask any questions during this explanation. Once they start the activity, they must rely upon their notes or on a large sheet of butcher paper hanging in the room. This paper lists all steps of the activity in order. Such an arrangement frees me up to work with individual students or teams who really need help. I leave these large sheets up for over a week so that students who might have been absent may easily get caught up with class activities. In addition, faster learners are not held back by others in the classroom.

Another way to save time is to have students go right to work on their labs when they enter the classroom. You can take roll as they are working. This will save at least 5 minutes per period or 25 minutes per day (for 5 periods) or 125 minutes (over 2
hours!) per week. It really adds up if you are not careful.

Saving money on lab equipment:

If the classroom or lab is setup so that there is an assortment of lab stations/activities through which the students rotate, the purchase of multiple sets of apparatus can be avoided. By not wasting money on duplicate pieces of lab equipment, a more varied selection of labs may be offered to the students. This allows teaching more skills, concepts, etc. for the same amount of money. Larger expensive items which might be needed in several labs might be located at a central location where they can be used as needed by the students.

Saving money on paper:

I have always tried to avoid photocopying everything for my students. There really is nothing wrong with students writing things down on their own paper. After all, we are supposed to be teaching them note taking, record keeping, and writing skills. When necessary, I prefer to have a class set of instructions made which will be used by every period. Instead of
making say 150 copies of perhaps multiple page lab instructions, you could get by with a lab station copy and a couple spares. That can save a ream of paper for each lab activity. In my lab I might have as many as 30 different lab stations available to the students at any point in time. We are talking 30 reams of paper here! So this becomes a quite sizable savings in paper/copying costs.

Saving money on lab consumables:

On activities like my Stealth Activity (which is fully explained on another set of web pages), I expect the students to bring in the cardboard and coverings for their models. There is no reason for me to use very limited school money on such items. This
assures that only those who really want to participate in the activity are the ones doing it. For the poverty level students I supply what might be needed. When doing labs such as growing crystals and comparing crystalline structures, I make up sets of dropper bottles with the needed solutions. The crystals are grown under a microscope. This saves both time and money yet allows the students the experience of growing an assortment of crystals and comparing them (the point of the
activity). When my students make video recordings, I expect each team to provide their own videotape. I have several for the poorer students. It has been my experience that students often leave their tapes behind. This means more tapes to lend out the
following year!


These are just a sampling of meaningful ways to cut classroom expenses without cutting programs. Done on a school or district wide basis, the savings would really be significant. I hope this list of suggestions will help others to continue to present a good variety of activities for their students as budget cuts continue.