The image shows pens, scissors, paper, hole puncher, and tape. The text reads "Must-Have STEM Supplies (that aren't really STEM supplies)."

9 Must-Have STEM supplies

Over the course of my 15 years in STEM education, I’ve created a list of STEM supplies (that aren’t really STEM supplies) that I keep on my back-to-school shopping list to help the day-to-day run smoother. Check out the list below!

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1. Storage containers

This image shows plastic storage containers for STEM supplies

First, STEM teachers need allllll the storage containers. I use these more than anything else in my STEM lab. Seriously. ⁠

I use them to organize STEM supplies for each project. They are perfect for quick clean-up and storage of ongoing projects (just have the kids label it with a piece of masking tape and it’s good to go!). I also use them for organizing all the things in all my cabinets (for this purpose clear is best). ⁠

You can find these types of bins at the dollar store, or ask for them on your back-to-school supply lists! If you have 20 or 30 kids bring in a clear shoe-size container, I promise you, you won’t regret it! ⁠

2. “Good” paper towels

This image shows paper towels as part of a STEM supplies list

I love having a cupboard full of real paper towels available when we need them. We have real messes that need quick clean-up. Swishing spills around with the crinkly brown paper isn’t effective or enjoyable for anyone. ⁠

This is another easy supply you can put on a back-to-school supply list or ask to be donated to your lab space. It will truly make your day-to-day better!⁠

3. Plastic utensils

This image shows plastic utensils on a table.

Plastic utensils are so handy in STEM. I pull mine out for all sorts of different things. These probably get the second most use of all my materials behind only the plastic storage bins.⁠ My students have used them to build, scoop, stir, cut, measure… all the things.⁠ Then rinse off and repeat.

I know buying plastic can feel icky… but for this purpose, you can buy one set and wash and reuse it for years.⁠

4. Tap-and-dot glue caps

This image shows glue caps on a wooden table.

I just discovered these amazing things last school year. We go through a lot of glue between building challenges and notebooking, but it also causes me a lot of stress… 

I used to avoid having kids use glue (“How about some tape instead?”). But these tops have changed my attitude. No more big globs of never-drying glue. No more hands covered in glue, so students can peel it off for entertainment. These are the real deal.⁠ You gently press down on the paper and lift and get a small, perfect glue dot left behind.

5. Electric cardboard cutter

This image shows a stack of corrugated cardboard.

Ok, I don’t know why it took me so long to learn about electric cardboard cutting tools, but they are life-changing. ⁠ The days of aching hands struggling to cut cardboard shapes with scissors are gone. This tool makes short order of any cardboard you feed it. 

I’m sorry to all my former students who didn’t get to experience the magic of this tool right here. I hope your hands are OK.⁠

6. Tool box

This image shows a tools on a white background.

I’ve collected a variety of tools through the years and keep them inside my desk for when the need arises. I’ve used them to repair chairs, remove cupboard doors from lab tables (to prevent kids from leaving trash inside LOL), fix microscopes, replace batteries, and the list goes on!⁠

My STEM lab toolbox includes a screwdriver with like 10 different attachments, hex keys of various sizes, a hammer, a hole punch, a box cutter, an electric cardboard cutter, pliers, and wire cutters.

7. Colorful Tape Masking Tape

This image shows colorful rolls of tape.

Washi tape, masking tape, painter’s tape, I’m not sure what the difference is between these but I always need to have some version of it on hand… anything that you can use to easily apply, label, and later peel off is so helpful! 

I use it to label ongoing projects and containers of stuff that I store between classes. I use it to label notebooks so I can identify which class bucket any stray notebook belongs in at a quick glance. And the kids like using the colorful tape in their design challenges too! I like to give them a pre-measured amount and have them wrap it around their supply bin to tear from as they work.

8. Clear packing tape

This image shows a roll of clear packing tape.

Clear packing tape is what STEM dreams are made of… You can use it for sooo many things. I always stock up at the beginning of the year and use it for everything.

Its durable nature makes it great for taping labels and information to student desks, notebooks, and supplies, keeping stuff up on the wall (sometimes, depending on what your classroom walls are made of), and even fake laminating things in a pinch.

Because it is a bit stronger than other tapes, it’s also great for cardboard design challenges!

9. Cups

This image shows white cups on a blue background.

Cups of all different shapes, sizes, and materials are great to have on hand. I use larger cups for team building and cup-stacking challenges. Smaller cups for quickly prepping and distributing materials. Cups of all sizes for STEM challenges. Sometimes cups are even used for popcorn during a STEM movie day!

This is another material I often find by sourcing Buy Nothing groups and neighborhood listservs. People cleaning out their cupboards and basement are more than happy to donate some cups to a classroom in need!

Stock your lab!

If you don’t already have these STEM supplies, consider adding them to your list. Most of the items you could source through thrifting, donations, or student school supply lists! I put together a FREE STEM supplies guide that lists materials that are great to have on hand for any STEM challenge. This resource also includes letters you can use to request donations from families and community members.

What must-have STEM supplies did I miss?

Are there other supplies you consider must-have in STEM? What are they? Leave a comment below!

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