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July 1, 2020

Lesson plan: Inventing beyond recycling

You can do this assignment on your own or with other people in your home or neighborhood!

Overview

Is this recyclable? A question you most likely have asked yourself A LOT! What to recycle (or what not to recycle) can be a tricky problem. However, with more people staying at home, ordering takeout or going to grocery stores which forbid customers from bringing reusable bags with them, there has been a sudden spike in the amount of items that either need to be recycled or thrown away.

In this lesson, you will watch the PBS news story “Why it will take more than just recycling to cut back on plastic” and explore how new ideas or inventions come about to make the world a cleaner, safer, happier place. Then, you will invent your own designs that incorporate recyclable or non-recyclable items.

Materials

  • Various recyclable and non-recyclable items
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Notebook

Grades

6-12

Subjects

Science, engineering, technology, CTE, social studies, English

Essential question

Why are new inventions that go beyond recycling necessary to protect local environments?

Warm up activity: Which items go where?

  1. Predict: In your notebook, write down:
    • Three items you think ARE recyclable and why.
    • Three items you think are NOT recyclable and why.
    • Three items you’re unsure about and why.
  2. Research: Use the internet to see if your local waste company has directions regarding recycling in your area.
    • First, find the name of your local recycling or waste management company. Helpful key words are “waste management in (fill in the name of your city)” or “recycling in (fill in the name of your city).”
    • Determine the recyclability of the items you wrote in your notebook and record the results. For example, I predicted my plastic takeout containers would be recyclable because they had the little recycling symbol on them, and I was wrong.
  3. Answer the following questions in your notebook:
    • Describe how recycling works in your city. What company is in charge? Is there curbside pick-up? If there is curbside pick-up, what are the rules/directions for what to recycle?
    • Why aren’t all things recyclable that are labeled with the little recycling symbol?
    • Are there other places to recycle specific items in your city? List the places and what they recycle.
    • Where are plastic bags recycled in your city?
  4. Take action! Go through your recycling bin and make sure everything is correctly sorted. Separate out the non-recyclable items. (BUT don’t throw them out yet!)

Main activities

A. Watch the PBS NewsHour video about recycling. Then, answer the questions below in your notebook.

  1. What are some problems with current recycling methods?
  2. Why does Roland Geyer believe that recycling might be part of the plastic problem?
  3. Do you agree with Geyer? Why or why not?
  4. Describe at least three solutions for the plastic problem that were discussed in the video.
  5. What impact do you think those solutions will have?

If you would like more background on the “plastic problem,” check out this NewsHour documentary:

 

B.  Short writing activity during coronavirus pandemic:

Brainstorm a list of challenges in your notebook that you’ve heard about or you yourself are facing in working, socializing, exercising, shopping and otherwise living day-to-day life. Below, you will try to address some of these issues along with packaging waste at the same time.

C. Action: Pick one non-recyclable item

  1. In your notebook, describe a way someone could Rethink, Refuse, Reduce and/or Reuse to prevent that item from ending up in recycling.
  2. Look at the collection of non-recyclable items you sorted out. How could these items be repurposed, reused and/or modified to solve one of the problems you or others are currently facing during the COVID-19 outbreak? In your notebook be sure to record your thoughts and process:
    • What problem are you trying to solve?
    • Describe your solution in detail.
    • What items are you using from the non-recyclable pile? For each item, describe how you’re going to modify, change or repurpose it.

Feeling stuck? This video might provide some ideas!

 

  1. Get out those scissors! Get out the tape! You’re working with materials that were destined for the trash anyway—how can you give them a second chance?
    • Start with a prototype—the materials might not be the ones you want, but work with what you’ve got on hand.
  2. Once you’ve made your prototype, test it out. Have the other people you’re living with give you feedback. In your notebook, record the feedback:
      • What works well about your solution?
      • What needs improvement?
      • How could you improve on your solution?
      • What other materials do you need to make next steps?
  3. Make those changes, if possible.
  4. Share your item with PBS NewsHour Extra (@NewsHourExtra) via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Use #PBSInvention as your hashtag.

D. Action: Pick one recyclable item

***Before you think, I just did this,” read this note! This time you’re going to be working with RECYCLABLE items. Sometimes we “reuse” recyclable items and they then become trash because we add tape or other plastics, or we modify their shape so they are no longer recyclable. So we want to be sure to avoid this from happening if we want to ultimately recycle those materials.***

  1. In your notebook, describe a way someone could Rethink, Refuse, Reduce or Reuse to prevent that item from ending up in recycling.
  2. Look at the collection of recyclable items you sorted out. How could these items be repurposed, reused and/or modified to solve one of the problems you or others are currently facing during the COVID-19 outbreak? In your notebook be sure to record your thoughts and process:
    • What problem are you trying to solve?
    • Describe your solution in detail.
    • What items are you using from the recyclable pile? For each item, describe how you’re going to modify, change or repurpose it.
  3. Use your scissors and tape carefully this time. You want to make sure the items you’re using are still recyclable in their next form as well.
    • Start with a prototype—the materials might not be the ones you want, but work with what you’ve got on hand.
  4. Once you’ve made your prototype, test it out! Have the other people you’re living with give you feedback. In your notebook, record the feedback:
    • What works well about your solution?
    • What needs improvement?—How could you improve on your solution?
    • What other materials do you need to make next steps?
  5. Make those changes, if possible.
  6. Share your item with us! Share your item with PBS NewsHour Extra (@NewsHourExtra) via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Use #PBSInvention as your hashtag.

Reflection:

Do you know this lesson was based on the steps that inventors use when designing a new invention? We refer to this as the invention process. Inventors may focus on certain steps or phases more than others depending on their goal. 

Directions: Go through each phase of the invention process based on Lemelson-MIT’s formula. How many steps of the invention process did you complete in this lesson? 

Invention process: 

    • Concept phase: Identify a problem, conduct research and brainstorm solutions.
    • Design phase: Create a plan, calculate costs, select the best solution and determine necessary resources.
    • Build phase: Sketch, model or build a prototype. For the invention lesson here, a sketch of the invention is sufficient.
    • Review and redesign phase: Review the invention for strengths and weaknesses. Redesign to improve weaknesses.

Share phase: Present the invention to your classmates then share photos of your invention using #PBSInvention via NewsHour Extra’s Twitter or enter your invention in one of the contests here or here. Email newshourextra@gmail.com with any questions or feedback.

Extension activity:

  1. During the coronavirus pandemic, people have been returning to letter writing as a way of staying connected. You can make envelopes from old calendars or just about any paper. Unfold a pre-made envelope as your template.
  2. What are other useful paper products that you could make using recycled paper? 

Bethany Taft has been teaching high school science for nine years and is currently teaching biology and horticulture at Oregon City Service Learning Academy, an alternative charter high school in Oregon City. She coordinates the school’s Service Learning Program, which combines career exploration and community service. Every Friday, all the 9th and 10th graders spend the morning participating in JV InvenTeams, a program funded by Lemelson and MIT in which students practice engineering, inventing and other STEM skills. She also runs the community garden, where students conduct experiments and design solutions using their JV InvenTeams knowledge as they pursue getting the garden’s produce into school lunches and sold at the farmer’s market.


PBS NewsHour Extra is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you completed part or all of this lesson, we’d greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.

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