Money for lab supplies - ethics

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by theBTMANIAC, Feb 3, 2013.

  1. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    Feb 3, 2013

    Greetings fellow educators,

    I have an ethical and logistical question for you. I teach high school chemistry at a rather prestigious school. The administration is great, but we're strangled financially. Chemistry, much like art, requires a huge investment in perishable resources. We also have equipment that is lost or broken every semester due to accidents. This has already taken a toll on my paychecks. I'm spending upwards of $150 a week just to maintain my class.

    I'm thinking about addressing this situation next year by having a class-wide fundraiser. Students would receive bonus points for bringing in cash that would then be utilized for lab supplies.

    I'm a very "hands-on" teacher. About 70% of my class time is spent as an observer and mentor. I have my students synthesize aspirin, create soda-mentos rockets, determine blood-alcohol level in a pending DUI case, distill purified water for a survival situation, etc. I also have them work in Kagan activities. The rest of the time is spent on lectures, quizzes, and exams. It sounds all wonderful, and indeed I've seen drastic results since incorporating this approach, but it's a huge financial burden for myself.

    My department originally wanted to include $10 on the supplies list, but our administration shot the proposal down almost immediately. The district is still processing my proposal about tying extra credit to fundraising. I proposed that we would sell student-made ice cream outside of school hours. I would then put all of the money in a separate bank account. I've also been writing down ideas about how to turn the account into a lesson on personal finance. I would distribute copies of the monthly statements.

    My question is: do you think my approach is ethical? That seems to be the hang-up that led to the dismissal of our first proposal.
     
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  3. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    The students in all of our science classes pay a $5-$10 lab fee, depending on the class. (Chem 2 and Bio 2 have more involved labs, so they pay more money.) We are also lucky to have an academic foundation that is well-funded by our parents and community and gives teachers money to fund classroom needs not provided by the district. On top of that, the district pays for many of the things we need. If a teacher wants to do a fundraiser, there is a particular for he fills out. Then the money goes into an account, the teacher fills out a purchase order and buys materials. Usually individual teachers don't raise money for their classrooms, though. Those are usually done by extracurriculars. I don't see anything unethical about asking students to contribute to the extras involved in their own education.

    If you are turned down, you may need to dial back the awesome a little bit.
     
  4. Missy

    Missy Aficionado

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    To answer your question, I do not believe it is ethical to give extra credit for donating money.

    If your school cannot provide the supplies, the classes need to be altered. How can you possibly afford $600. per month to supplement supplies???
     
  5. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    I'm single and have a reserve of money. I interned as an engineer technician throughout college, and my health/dental cost only about $100 a month. That said, I'm done spending my own money because it's evaporating too quickly. If I had each student donate only $10, all of the equipment and supplies would be covered.

    I was going to offer two options for extra credit, limited one choice per student:
    1.) donating at least $20.
    2.) assisting 2 science or robot club events on the weekend.

    Outside of safety equipment, we get $70 a year for supplies, which is supposed to include chemicals and containers. I restocked acetone and lost half of that cash in a single purchase. Then one of my students dropped a Erlenmeyer flask and all of my money was gone for the year.

    I either need this money from the families or I have to completely rework my lessons to just be lectures for an hour. I'm willing to cut out some concepts, but this is my last chance to acquire funds. My labs require only basic chemicals and supplies (beakers, test tubes), etc. Nothing elaborate. But five chemistry teachers are sharing one lab room! I've basically started to turn my own room into an alternative lab.
     
  6. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    I don't like the 'bonus points for cash' approach at all.
     
  7. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    I think you should stay away from offering extra credit for donating money. I do like the idea of selling ice cream from money to cover labs though. You could offer extra credit for helping to make and sell the ice cream.

    Another idea might be to start using donors choose. Maybe even offer extra credit for students willing to help write the proposal and help put together the thank you package.

    Another idea might be to have a website where you could post a wish list of things you need and parents could sign up to buy things or send in money to help cover costs. Not sure how many of your supplies are things parents could easily find.
     
  8. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    mopar has a lot of good ideas. Offering extra credit for bringing in money and supplies makes it hard for some students who can't afford the money or are too busy on weekends to help.
     
  9. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    I pitched to the principal the idea that the classes make and sell ice cream. She said that seemed like the most reasonable approach. It would have to be after school or during the weekends, though. We can't compete against the cafeteria vendor due to a long-lasting contract with them. We'd be limited to selling ice cream for one period.

    At this point the district and state have failed us. I only operate about 2 labs a week that require use of chemicals. When I was hired last year, I was told students need to be doing lab activities at least 40% of the time. Over the summer I built up a curriculum that gets praise by my bosses, peers, and students - only to have its funding cut down.

    My co-workers (who helped me survive that first semester) told me it's simply not possible. The backdoor advice was to do labs 40% of the time you're observed. I think they're right.
     
  10. mrachelle87

    mrachelle87 Fanatic

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    Contact local science type businesses and ask for supplies. Many will give you supplies if they know you need them. I get cups from fast food place, paper from a printing place vinyl from a sign shop, and food items from a grocery store. It doesn't hurt to ask and it helps your budget.
     
  11. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    Good idea. I started to pick up used equipment at my my old university.

    I may just work part-time over the summer and devote that money to the supplies for next year. I really noticed a huge difference in performance last semester. I had kids come up to me and say they wanted to major in chemistry and chemical engineering. It was a heart-stopper.
     
  12. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    I Agree! :thumb::thumb:

    This is basically allowing students to buy grades, just in a reduced version. This is clearly unethical.

    I would suggest:

    1. A fundraiser or two. Selling ice cream sounds good.
    2. Asking for a science lab fee of $10
    3. Ask parents to bring in some of the items. I find that many parents will even though you won't ever get 100%. It does reduce costs.
    4. Look at changing a few labs that have high cost items. Is there a way to do it cheaper or another lab to replace it? $150/week is too much.

    Glad you are so dedicated to hands-on science labs. I do agree they are important.
     
  13. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    District policy bars teachers from charging a lab fee. At our recent department meeting a few teachers basically just quit participating after being told they couldn't charge students for labs but still needed to get kids to run labs 40% of the day. We were basically being told to purchase everything and shut up.

    It's just all very frustrating. My mentors are refusing to run labs anymore, but I don't have the legal protection they do.

    So do you think I should make this a homework assignment? Like I said, I can reduce the costs, especially since I purchased most of the equipment already, but I need wide-scale participation.
     
  14. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    Definitely ask businesses in the community for donations. Try DonorsChoose. I had missed the part about you giving extra credit for bringing in donations. I would definitely not do that. That is absolutely unethical. There are other ways to get the money.
     
  15. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    $150/week is an insane amount. I understand you want to do lots of labs but you need to think of ways to cut those costs. If your school doesn't have it to give I think it would be nearly impossible to raise that amount of money.

    Have you thought about substituting some virtual labs? My school doesn't have any lab equipment and I did lots of virtual labs. It's not as great as hands-on, but it's better than just reading about it in a book. Some are really great and interactive.

    Also, look for more home made lab experiments. I know it's fun to do the big fancy ones, but if you don't have the funds it's hard. There's plenty of cool things you can do with household projects that will be way cheaper than large scale expensive experiments.
     
  16. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    Most of those insane costs originated from buying my own equipment. Like I said, we were all sharing one room. I just ponied up and purchased 7 beakers, 7 graduated cylinders, a bunch of test tubes, etc. I bought one hot plate per month.

    I'd really only need about $100 a month to replenish common chemicals like acetone, ethanol, and some acids. I will say that in my safety contract it now says that if a student breaks equipment, he or she is responsible for replacing it - even if it is a $200 distillation apparatus.

    Yeah, I already incorporate virtual labs (and quizzes). In fact, my website won an award for the best designed and organized school website, haha. I have a small trophy on my desk.
     
  17. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I think you should be very careful about spending your own money, even if it's for the good of the students. I know every teacher does it, I do it way too often as well, but we need to be careful. Someone told me when I was telling them that I was worried about affording the materials for a certain lab was: "Well I guess you can't do that lab then." And she was right. If you have to pay for it out of your own paycheck you probably shouldn't do it.

    What we do in our science department is send home donation letters to the parents asking for donations from the parents for their students science education and make it very clear that the amount of funding we receive is directly correlated to the number of hands on labs we do in the classroom.

    We actually get a fairly good amount of donations and this is a mildly impoverished to middle class community. This year I got about 500 dollars.

    What I like to do, which may not work for you since you're a high school teacher, but I do labs which require mostly only cheap materials that students and parents can find in their homes. Mostly I've been buying the items myself because it's my first year and I don't really know what I'm doing yet until right before I do it, but next year I think I might be able to ask parents and students to bring in this materials ahead of time. And this might be something that you could offer extra credit for maybe, for instance if they brought in recycled bottles for mentos bottle rockets, or they brought in different fluids for a density column, or borax or glue for gack, or cornstarch for oobleck, or red cabbage for pH labs and such, or baking soda for many purposes, or maybe vinegar, batteries, and pennies for an electroplating lab.

    There are all kinds of really cool labs that you can do with everyday materials and I find that students really connect to the labs and demos more when you use substances they are familiar with than chemicals with complex names.
     
  18. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I hate the idea of extra credit for supplies. Hate, hate, hate. I've shared here before how my little brother went from failing to an A or B (I forget) bringing in pencils for chemistry which is insane.

    I would do a fundraiser. Can you do good ol' candy bars? (Reeses, Skittles, etc.) Those are always very successful and virtually no work on your part.
     
  19. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    Thank you.

    I think I gave the wrong impression in my initial post that all I do are large labs. While I have an emphasis on distillation and synthesis, I do small activities all of the time. For example, with pH I brought in a bunch of chemicals and then at the end had the students mix it all together (as long as there wasn't bleach and ammonia, ha) to test the final pH/pOH. I could very well get the students to bring in ingredients next time for other labs. I'm actually doing that right now: I have a bunch of left-over baking soda, sugar, hydrogen peroxide, methanol, etc. It's already saving me money.

    My kids love my lesson over urinalysis and synthesizing aspirin, though. I really don't want to eliminate some of these large labs.
     
  20. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    A friend of mine opened an account at the local bank and had a link to it on her webpage. She would post her receipts so people could see what she was buying. She isn't a science teacher but an after club sponsor but she was having the same problem.

    I think extra credit for money is an extremely bad idea, but donations for materials is fine.
     
  21. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    That is rather unfair. Personally I never do it, but I do know a lot of teachers who do. Students in my class ONLY get extra credit if they complete what I call 'independent projects', which are essentially extra work but they get to choose what they want to work on, i.e. art projects about science, creative writing about science, science fair projects etc. and the points are awarded purely on how much effort they put into it.
     
  22. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Ew. Urine. :lol:

    It's really up to you. One of the reasons I think that so many classes are becoming less well funded is because administrators are beginning to expect teacher to pay for their own classroom supplies, and take advantage of the good will of teachers towards their own students.

    I don't know if this is a good idea or not, but maybe outlining the types of labs you want to do, put it into writing, and show it to the administration telling them that you really want to do this lab for your students. Outline the effect it will have on their learning, but tell them that you won't be able to do it without funding, and if they could please find some funding for the materials needed.

    If the admin cares enough, they'll pay for it, or find someone who will. If they say they can't pay for it, then they probably don't mind that you're not doing it, so don't do it that year. Maybe do this for a lot of my major labs and after the years end keep all the documentation showing how many labs you were or weren't able to do because of funding issues, and show this to your admin. This might be a real eye-opener for them if they're continuously denying you funding.
     
  23. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    I don't know if this is unethical or not, but I always tell my kids I'll give them extra credit for things and just don't do it. Like "whoever sweeps the floor gets 3 pts extra credit!" They all run to do it and I never give out the points. I give them so many extra points in other ways that I don't feel like I have to give them points every time I promise them.
     
  24. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Surely they know the points aren't real...that they're really brownie points and they're okay with that. :)
     
  25. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    Urinalysis is to chemistry as dissection is to biology and catapults to physics. The kids seriously talk about it all semester. "When are we going to play with urine?" :lol:

    I suppose I'll just cut down my major labs to five and seek funding for them:

    - Urinalysis
    - Synthesis of aspirin
    - Mentos rockets
    - Forensics investigation
    - Combustion in a working engine

    It's a shame because regular chemistry gets the short end of the stick. These kids had maybe TWO real labs in biology. I'll make the lab fee voluntary on my syllabus and see where things fall.
     
  26. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    I have put a change collector in my classroom for the time being. :)
     
  27. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    I don't know if your school has something like this or not, but we have a carnival during Homecoming week and various clubs/organizations have booths to raise money. You know, soccer sells cotton candy, basketball sells popcorn, etc. It's a relatively easy way to earn a lot of money in a short time (I clear around $300 each time just selling sodas for two hours).

    I would do two things. One, set up on Donor's Choose. I'm pretty sure that lab supplies would be a huge deal to some of the corporations on there. I would also send home a Wish List at the beginning of the year next year - with a list of supplies needed or asking for a $5 or $10 dollar contribution.
     
  28. Poodlepal

    Poodlepal New Member

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    I teach chemistry in a desperate Catholic School (so far, 9 new freshmen for next year, if there is a next year). I inherited a closet full of supplies from when times were better, but now I cannot get a single order approved. I hear ya. However, I still manage to do a lab a week. I do spend my own money, but mostly at the 99 cent store.

    I don't think those labs you are doing are considered "standard" labs. They are not in any of the books I use. I did not distill anything until college, and I never made any sort of an engine, or asked anyone to touch urine.

    There are many good labs that can be done fairly cheaply. You can do much with baking soda, vinegar, epsom salts, borax and various other household products. You may have to pay for them yourself, but they cost less than $150 a week.

    I don't like the idea of kids getting extra credit for donating money, and I don't like they idea of teachers bankrupting themselves to show how much they "care." You sound like a great teacher, and I'm sure you do care, but when teachers do that, it's not fair to their colleagues. My first year of teaching was made very difficult by students who compared me to another new teacher that year. She had left advertising (we were in a Catholic school, making under 20K), and bought expensive stuffed animals for the kids and took them on a free field trip. I became the bad guy because I didn't do that. On the other hand, I've also had co-workers who would stop doing all labs altogether rather than buy a bottle of nail polish remover or baking soda from the .99 cent store.
     
  29. microbe

    microbe Comrade

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    I realize this may be a somewhat callous question, but are there any consequences for breaking equipment? Is it possible students are being careless with lab equipment because they won't be held accountable for lab stuff that they break or damage? A hot plate a month seems a bit excessive.
     
  30. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    I have my students work with distillation because it's an essential part of chemistry. I realize a lot of my labs aren't even seen in undergraduate programs, but I'm proud of that fact. My students love chemistry. They recommend my class to their friends instead of blow-off science alternatives, and I haven't had a single kid fail a state test yet.

    I realize it might not be 'fair' to my colleagues, but I offer all left-overs and ideas to them. It's an amiable relationship. I also teach using whole brain learning - no other teacher in my school does that. I don't think I should just stop because it's 'too hard' to maintain.
     
  31. HeatherY

    HeatherY Habitué

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    At our school kids are constantly doing fundraisers for something or other. They do candy grams for every holiday, sell breakfast burritos, several teachers stock snacks and have a "store" during nutrition break. I think it is entirely reasonable to do fundraising, but not donating money for extra credit. Maybe each kid has to sell during lunch for one day a month or something to get the extra credit.
     
  32. MissApple

    MissApple Companion

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    Please try for Donor's Choose. I got a $300 order of new books in about a month by using it. Right now if people enter the code HEART when they donate, Donor's Choose will match their donation. Post on Facebook, e-mail friends and family etc about your plight and ask that they donate even as little as $5.

    Talk to local schools and businesses so see if they can donate either money or supplies. You never know what stock they may have sitting taking up space. It may be worth it for them to get the charitable donation. Even offer to let parents know which company donated to their child's education, if that's permitted by admin.

    Be careful about making students responsible for paying for broken equipment. Sometimes accidents happen and it's no ones fault. If a group breaks a $200 distiller and you didn't see it happen, which kid is responsible to pay? What if a student breaks it but can't afford the cost? Perhaps put a limit on how much the student would be responsible for. You can't assume the families of your students have the same financial freedom as yourself.


    Lastly, and I know others have said this: NO EXTRA CREDIT FOR CASH OR ANY OTHER DONATIONS. It's allowing students to buy grades, and it's discriminating against students who cannot afford to donate. You can accept donations without extra credit. Or offer a whole class reward based on donations. Such as a homework pass to each kid (regardless of if they donated) if the class collects $100, a pizza or ice cream party for $500 or whatever limits will work best for you.
     
  33. PCdiva

    PCdiva Connoisseur

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    Can the PTA help you out?
     
  34. Imperious

    Imperious New Member

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    I completely agree with this, I think you should implement something like this, it would work in my opinion.
    Make sure the parents don't backlash though, try to make it sound like a donation (as it is).
    Good luck and I hope you are able to keep your labs going! They sound fun and awesome, this year I have had only 3 labs in my Science class. I remember like 4 years ago when we had labs almost every week.
     
  35. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    $150 per week for labs...$600 per month....$6000 per year...:eek: that's A LOT of personal cash youre investing in your classroom...and cant all be deducted. I'm not understanding how you recommend that level of expenditure on one hand and then say you don't like the idea of teachers 'bankrupting' themselves on the other.
     
  36. theBTMANIAC

    theBTMANIAC Rookie

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    I recognize that accidents happen, but for most lab supplies you'd have to be doing something incredibly wrong to break it. Most of our glassware has rubber bumpers on the necks. We barely have any chemistry glassware left because of budget cuts, so if a kid breaks it and I know he or she fooled around, I have no qualms charging the family. It would come out of my pocket otherwise in my district since my labs are already 4-5 people to a station and there's no excess supplies. The district has moved to both a review system and partial merit pay, and one of the things I'm graded on is not having more than 5 people per lab. But I'm already overbooked (the counselor had the audacity to show up unannounced four weeks into the semester with two desks and three students and just crammed them into my classroom) so if one flask breaks, I'd have to buy it just to keep my job.

    I'm willing to budge on a lot, but I'd be willing to bet that student will learn a life lesson on finance if he or she returns home with a bill and a note explaining how Billy Bob tried to use a test tube as a condom. Yeah, a kid from a different class did that one year.

    I'm not at all sympathetic to students that fool around in labs and put not only themselves at risk but my safety and the safety of others. I'm clear on that point. I've worked in labs for major corporations prior to becoming a teacher, and any infraction of conduct meant you were gone. I expect about the same resolve.

    And I had parents sign on the syllabus that they would be responsible for any damage their child incurs.
     
  37. muinteoir

    muinteoir Companion

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    I agree with those who don't like the extra credit part of the equation. It smacks too much of buying grades.

    I don't think fund raisers are a bad idea though. That seems to be a pretty practical solution to the problem. Just don't associate grades with it.
     
  38. skeptic

    skeptic Rookie

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    Mar 14, 2013

    In my state we have science and math collaberatives. This is a great way to network, learn new labs, and in the process acquire equipment. Our collaberative also loans out equipment which definitely saves you money. If there is not one available in your state, have you tried writing a grant?

    Back in the early days of my being a science teacher, we raised money for materials by having a science fair and charging an entry fee. We also acquired sponsors (local businesses) and money not used for the fair and prizes was to be used on classroom supplies for the science class.

    I also wrote to a number of large, corporate businesses (cold turkey) asking for their financial support in obtaining equipment for the lab. Amazingly we did get some money this way. :)

    Another avenue is to have the wish list on your class website. You never know,you may have some parents that are involved in the science world and will be able to donate money, donate equipment or provide you with other sources. Donor choose is also helpful in this same way.


    Like in all things...be sure that your admin is okay with which ever way you choose to go. Then spend the money wisely. :thumb:
     

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