Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Use Less by Makedo-ing More

Photo credit http://makedo.com.au/creatures/ retrieved 4/27/11, © Makedo and Paul Justin

We're now starting a multi-part unit on green engineering and STEM concepts that is similar to the Sugru challenge (see posts from Febr.). We've got eco-things to learn and a large-scale project to design, all tied into the science and technology surrounding the environment. Now, before your eyes begin to glaze over at the thought of an environmental lecture and guilt-trip into recycling, give me just a minute. I am just like anyone out there. I recycle when it's convenient, try to reuse things, watch what I throw down the drain but definitely could do a better job of being eco-friendly.

What I find over and over again with my students, though, is that inspiring them to take hold of concepts through fun activities is much more effective than trying to grind subject matter into them. I'm taking a cue from them right now as I've recently been very moved to think differently about the materials I use and then discard. Learning doesn't always have to taste like fish oil. Sometimes it can taste like popcorn.

Our new partner in this effort is the awesome Australian company Makedo. Makedo describes themselves as "inspiring social change through playful creativity". They make a set of universal connectors and hinges that can transform a pile of paper into a toy, bird or a car (my own kids love their gallery of creations). Makedo is especially fond of cool designs and collaboration. We've got enough of their universal connectors and tools for all thirty engineering students and any others who are interested in making something BIG and FUN out of materials that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Makedo and STEM concepts came together in yesterday's lesson:

Students learned facts about the size and scale of human trash production, like how humans generate more than four pounds per person per day. We also ran through the complete life cycle of cardboard: beginning with fast-growing pine trees trunks, wood pulp is shredded, "digested" by sodium hydroxide to break up wood fibers and then pressed, rolled and dried into sheets or shapes. Once used, cardboard can be stuck back into digesters with fresh wood pulp and reused (as long as it doesn't have plastic coating on it). We named and discussed local recyclers like Van der Linde that offer single-stream recycling.

Finally, they practiced the design cycle using Makedo connectors and reusable materials from my home, which were cardboard, plastic bottles, caps and grocery paper bags. Their goal was to make a pet or creature in only 15 minutes using only Makedo and the recyclables.

If you want to explore more, see these links:

Common recycling facts

How corrugated cardboard is made

Recycling cardboard

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