Below the surface of every knowledgeable teacher is a well-organized project for students to follow. Hands-on learning is best linked with step-to-step project-based lessons. We also know that projects can be a hassle to organize and time manage in a classroom setting. Though teachers may have the desire to throw in a couple projects throughout a semester, why can’t there be more? It’s difficult to throw together a well-constructed assignment for a large group. But really teaching is a piece of cake.

Just like a box of birthday cake mix, having a pre-made item or kit is obviously the easier route to go. You don’t have to grab the flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. Instead there is only two to three additionally ingredients needed. Those additionally ingredients when dealing with pre-made kits include the student and maybe their handy-dandy pencil. I find that when being in a classroom with teachers that are prepared with pre-made kits, class seems to go a lot smoother. Organization is something that can be easily lost through the process of large classroom assignments. Many times I’ve been given a sheet of paper and go step-by-step through a list of duties with items that seem to have been forgotten when setting up, which just slows down the process. If everything was already given and teachers were 100% certain all material was there, the result would be a faster paced lab for students.

Science kits aren’t just for the students to have a better understanding of subject material. Easily said, you can find your fellow coworker teachers learning more by working step-by-step through the kits before students do it. It wouldn’t surprise me if, when opening and testing through procedures, educators end up going through the assignment more than once. Not only would this provide a chance to know what additionally items (ingredients) are needed but can better understand the material as well or enhance knowledge of what ever lesson is being discussed. It’s a straightforward way to become a student again but in a way that teachers can see exactly where a problem may lay in the classroom with misinterpretation or misunderstanding of instructions. Back to my boxed cake example, this step is very similar to reading the instructions on the box and beginning to test the waters. Let’s be honest, no one wants an inexperienced cake baker just like no student wants an inexperienced teacher when dealing with difficult subjects to understand.

What can fly without wings? Time. Time is of the essence with any requirement deadlines (aka curriculum) but especially classroom settings. Have you ever been a student in a classroom where everything seems to be flying left and right, up and down and then you sit there lost? The lost child in this scenario usually results from a class moving too quickly to play catch up or from one assignment being narrowed to how much time was initially expected to take on a project. But sometimes project or hands-on learning assignments can be tricky to judge when discussing time. There’s always going to be a couple stragglers who just need or like to pay more attention to detail. But the time given is more of a guesstimate in a sense.

Time allocated to an assignment can vary on what the teacher may think is a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately, this is not including a major factor. A lot of the time students don’t truly understand the topic as much as the teacher themselves, because the kits and hands-on learning are used to support and teach through personal experience. That’s where the pre-made kits come into play and how easy it is to be prepared through a set of student eyes. Kit’s are designed to be done through a certain time frame. Many of instances, kits now have the time frame already mapped out with how much time to allocate for each assignment. Which now means, no more need for guesstimates! It’s no longer a shot in the dark. Now let’s talk back to the delicious boxed cake example. Yes, it is possible to sit by the oven and patiently wait to see if it’s finished. Now let’s think, who would actually want to do that when on the box it clearly states how long your cake should take to bake.

All of the knick knacks involved with hands-on assignments can not only be tedious to find with store to store searching or hours of catalog flipping but can sky rocket with prices unexpectedly. That is why I find classrooms step away from hands-on learning, regardless of how beneficial it is for learning, the price associated with projects can be a hard pill to swallow. In the beginning you could be only spending $100 for a classroom of 30 students, but the bill racks up to over $250. Cost of supplies varies seasonally, and demand can drive these prices up even more. When buying a kit, it’s an all-inclusive package deal. Literally. Everything you could possibly need to complete an assignment is organized into a box at one set price. There’s no searching around for store bought items and not knowing the cost until the register totals up the last cotton swab.

Pre-made kits just make teaching easier. There’s less to stress about and more time to focus on making sure students know exactly what their learning. When it comes down to it, everything revolves around time. It’s the only thing that keeps moving forward and we will never be able to get back. So why waste it where it could be better spent else-where? To close on baking our cake, that is why box cakes exist. Though there is an option to create one from scratch, you know everything you need to make the perfect cake can be found in a Sara Lee devils food cake box on Walmart’s shelf. There are no surprises, just exactly what you want, a cake, or in the STEM world, an easier and more efficient way to teach some of tomorrows amazing workforce.

-Stephanie Rogner