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Life After Trash



In this STEM activity the students are issued a challenge of creating a useful item out of an assortment of "trash" and recycled items provided by the teacher.  The activity is rendered more complex by the limited availability of bonding materials such as tape, hot glue and string. The students are encouraged to look at items that are thrown away in a new light and finding a new purpose for them. Students are further prompted to consider the problems with growing landfills, and efforts by engineers and others to reduce pollution, emissions, and trash production.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The resource teaches the students to calculate their ecological footprint.


This resource has the following strengths:

  • The activity is engaging and purposeful.
  • The materials are up to date with links that work.
  • There is a good quantity of background information.
  • There are suggestions for activity extensions, scaling for older/younger students and assessments are provided.


The resource has the following weaknesses:

  • The allocation of 90 minutes seems to be short.  This activity could easily take twice that much time with brainstorming, discussions, designing and building.  This would not include the teacher providing background information to set the stage for the activity.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This lesson would be a great wrap up activity for a unit of global warming and recycling.  It is best suited for students in upper elementary and middle school who can use their experiences to invent an idea for the recycled materials.

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

Air, Atmosphere & Climate (2)

  • Climate Change
  • Ozone Depletion

Citizenship (2)

  • Ecological Footprint
  • General Guide to Taking Action

Energy (1)

  • Energy Use

Waste Management (1)

  • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

The main focus of the resource in on the environmental aspect of the issue of trash and recycling.  Teachers using this resource will need to supplement the discussions with the aspects of economic and social issues that interplay with the amount of trash used by society and found in the landfills.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

In the material provided, there is a information that provides a good overview of the issue.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

This activity could be used as a springboard to initiate a club that looks for ways to use discarded school items in innovative ways around the school.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Satisfactory

Opportunities are provided for the students to share their ideas for design with the emphasis being on that there are no "silly ideas".  

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

This is not a focus of this particular resource.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Satisfactory

The resource suggests to lead the class in a discussion of the importance of reducing pollution due to global climate changes and how recycling efforts can help. 

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

As every community has a waste disposal system, this learning experience is easily made relevant to the lives of the learners with an effort on the teacher's part.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good

In the materials provided, clear descriptions of the problems are discussed and a positive vision as to what engineers are doing to help lessen the problem of waste is shared.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

The students are given the materials and encouraged to build something of their own design.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good
Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Satisfactory
Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Good
Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory
Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Good
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Good

There are pre-activity and post-activity assessment suggestions for the teacher.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

The students present their recycled item to their classmates.  It is emphasized that everyone share equally in the presentation.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Satisfactory

There is a link provided to the "PBS Trash to Treasure" competition where the students can learn about the project of one student who designed a "Home Dome" from recycled materials.  This dome could be used as a temporary housing shelter for the homeless.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good
Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.