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Websites Pair Teachers in Need with Donors to Fund STEM Classrooms

Photo Credit: Clipart.com.

As a survey reported a year ago, teachers nationwide spend $1.6 billion of their own money on classroom supplies and resources. While the percentage of teachers putting their own money into their classrooms has inched higher over the years, that number has risen dramatically over the past decade, particularly for those purchasing instructional materials. Now nearly 100% of teachers invest some of their personal money in their classroom. The average teacher spends almost $500 a year, while 10% of teachers allocate more than $1,000 of their own money to educational supplies and resources.

To help with this problem, more and more teachers have turned to crowdsourcing from members of the public to fund classroom project needs. Crowdsourcing websites vary in management, but all try to connect donors and teachers to provide funds for resources teachers say they need, rather than donors attempting to guess what might be most useful. Some sites offer a great deal of oversight, vetting projects and teachers for various eligibility requirements (such as being at a public school) and ordering funded supplies to be shipped to the teacher. Other sites send teachers the funds directly, either for immediate use or to act as a savings account for when supplies are needed at a future date. 

The most popular of these sites is Donors Choose, which has funded nearly one million projects in more than 75,000 public, charter, and Head Start schools around the country over the past 17 years. Teachers post a specific project they'd like to fund, such as covering the costs of a field trip, technology, or supplies and equipment for their classroom. Donors can search by subject area, grade range, region, amount being requested, and request type, among other criteria. There are currently nearly 20,000 STEM requests on the site, ranging from white boards, microscopes, and 3D printers to math workbooks, science books, and bus rental fees for field trips. Donors can also opt to donate money to funds set up for teachers in schools affected by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Adopt A Classroom has donated $30 million to 4.25 million students and their more than 216,000 teachers. Teachers and school administrators at Pre-K–12 schools in the U.S. can register a classroom. Donors can send funds to specific teachers or donate to a variety of funds, including ones specifically for STEM teachers and those affected by recent disasters. You can search by teacher name, city and state, grade, and subject matter. Teachers and school administrators who receive donations have one calendar year from the date of each donation to use those funds for the purchase of classroom supplies. STEM teachers are currently looking to fund everything from lab aprons and electronic balances to graphing paper and 3D printers.

Digital Wish works to solve technology shortfalls in schools by matching teachers with donors. Since August 2009, Digital Wish has delivered technology products totaling more than $12 million, filling more than 31,000 classroom technology requests at 11,000 schools and counting across the nation. Teachers at nonprofit educational institutes serving K-12 or higher education students can participate, and donors can search by state, county, and town; the gender of the students being taught; grade (pre-K–12); and subject matter. Donors can either fulfill specific technology needs via the site's store or donate money to a teacher, who can use the funds immediately or to fill a future need through the store.

Teacher Wish List is a bare-bones site that organizes teachers' requests by state and town or offers donors a random, "wild card" option. There is no way to search by subject matter or age. Donors will need to contact the teacher, using the link provided, to ask about how they'd like to receive donations and are responsible for handling the purchasing and shipping themselves. Organizers of the site do not verify either donors or teachers.

Particularly in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Science NetLinks wants to do its part by connecting its users with sites that pair teachers and donors so students can return to learning as soon as possible. These are just a few of the crowdsourcing sites being used. Feel free to share additional ones in the comments section.

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