Teachers are learning ways to teach kids science on an ever-shrinking budget at a camp this week at Lehigh University.
"My budget's been cut by -- it's less than a third of what it was three years ago," said science teacher Debbie Goodwin, who teaches the course.
"We have to change our mindset," said Upper Merion engineering teacher Tom Bueche. "We have to think a little bit differently."
Roughly 17 teachers, mostly from eastern Pennsylvania but some from as far away as Frederick, MD, are attending the week-long ASM Materials Camp. On Thursday, the teachers were making plastics, using everyday, inexpensive products.
"Teachers or parents can just go to the grocery store and get these supplies," said Helen Chan, chair of Lehigh's Materials Science and Engineering Department.
In one demo, students can mix two resins to make what, at first, looks like a snowcone -- a very stiff snowcone. You wouldn't exactly put it outside your house, but it's actually an inexpensive way to demonstrate making the plastic used in insulation or styrofoam coolers.
"They're also making some foams in there -- some polyurethane foams, that might be used in seat cushions or in the packaging you find when you buy computers," said Goodwin.
Teachers said they welcome any way to get kids interested in science without breaking the bank.
"Money was almost never a problem [before]. It was in plentiful supply," said Bueche. "And now, with the statewide crunch for public school funding, we have to rethink things and try to make some more prudent decisions."
The teachers' Materials Camp runs through Friday. A similar camp for high school students was held earlier this month.