A Science Odyssey Title 'Sending Messages' Title

Camp-In Curriculum: Everyday Technology

Activity -- Take Apart Shop

broken or obsolete machines
tools: screwdrivers of various types and sizes, pliers, scissors, tweezers, allen wrenches
goggles (optional)

Diagram of girl working with clock

Background for Instructors
This activity gives people permission to take something apart, see what's inside, and try to figure out how it works! Collect broken or obsolete appliances such as cameras, telephones, computer keyboards, printers and disk drives, tape recorders, hair dryers, anything which you can comfortably throw away when the activity is over. Expect that you'll need one machine for each group of 2-4 campers (although a larger machine can involve a larger group of people).

The Take Apart Shop is an ideal opportunity to involve practicing scientists and take advantage of their technical expertise. It provides a structure for interaction between students and scientists. People who work in technology companies may also be a good source for things to take apart.

This has been a popular and successful Camp-In activity at the Museum of Science, Boston, and other sites. A few organizations have had less positive experiences, and expressed concern about safety. These are legitimate concerns, and you must decide whether a Take Apart Shop is appropriate for your program. Here are some strategies we have used to make it work:

  • Provide plenty of adult supervision. Ideally each group of children has an adult chaperone, volunteer, or staff person. If this is not possible, one adult moves among groups, ready to step in and help if needed.
  • The activity is an opportunity to learn about tools and practice using them. Before starting, familiarize students with safe and proper procedures for handling tools.
  • We provide safety goggles and encourage campers to wear them. Other organizations require goggles.
  • Only offer tools that you want campers to use. We do not offer hammers or large wrenches. We do offer various small screwdrivers and allen wrenches. The "tool box" is supervised and groups take only two or three tools at a time.
  • Carefully select the machines that are available to take apart. Check to be sure there are no hazardous materials. Television screens and computer monitors may contain hazardous chemicals. Some small appliances that are made of molded plastic can be frustrating to investigate because there is no way to get inside them without smashing them (which isn't really the point).
  • Before offering machines to campers, remove the plugs.
  • Remind campers: Don't try this at home (at least not without permission).
  • examine inside everyday machines
  • try to identify the parts of machines, including components explored in other Camp-In activities, such as circuit boards and electromagnets
  • learn about and practice using tools


  • Have small groups of campers select a machine to take apart.
  • Select a few appropriate tools, such as two or three different screwdrivers and pliers.
  • Carefully take apart the machine. Try to take it apart one piece at a time (rather than just breaking it into bits).
  • Try to identify the parts. Where is the power supply? How does the machine turn on and off? Are there any moving parts? Does the machine have a circuit board? Follow any wires or belts to see which parts are connected. Compare the insides of two machines. How is a tape recorder like a radio?

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