Recycled Science

What You Need


  • Classroom copies of Recycled Science by Tammy Enz and Jodi Wheeler-Toppen
  • Hot glue gun
  • Box cutters
  • Recycled materials for student projects 
  • Twine 
  • Pipe cleaners
Recycled Science


To explore how common household items can be re-used to make something new, the science behind constructing these new items, and the impact of waste on the environment.


This lesson uses a book called Recycled Science by Tammy Enz and Jodi Wheeler-Toppen. This book was a finalist in the hands-on science category of the 2017 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. SB&F, Science Books & Films, is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In this lesson, students explore how many different items that are considered trash can be reused to create something new.

In Recycled Science, chapters are divided based on the common household item being repurposed, which are craft sticks, snack packs, plastic bottles, and cardboard tubes. In each chapter, students are shown how to make many different items from the recycled materials. For example, they could learn how to make a lava lamp from a plastic bottle, or an underwater spyglass from an old Pringles jar! The book touches upon the science behind how these cool crafts work.

Students might not realize how many ways used materials can be repurposed. In the Motivation, encourage them to discuss their thoughts before and after watching a video about reusing materials, and if they changed. Students also may not be aware of the environmental cost of continuously producing trash. If so, engage students in a discussion on where they think their trash goes after they throw it away. You also may need to discuss how some materials are not biodegradable and explain that while certain materials like wood or food waste will dissolve back into the earth, others will not and will simply contaminate it. 

In this lesson, students have the opportunity to make one of the projects from the book themselves and further research how and why it works. To extend the ideas discussed in this lesson, students also explore the benefits of recycling and the potential repercussions of continuously producing massive amounts of waste.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
    Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.7
    Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation

Planning Ahead

Have classroom copies of Recycled Science available for the groups to use to prepare their demonstrations. 

In addition to the supplies that students bring for their own projects, have on hand the following kinds of objects, particularly if you teach at a school where students might have a difficult time accessing these materials themselves:

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Milk jugs
  • 2-liter bottles
  • Wooden tubes
  • Sticks

Keep hot glue and box cutters in the classroom. Be prepared to cut the plastic materials for students. For simpler cutting, students may use scissors.

Look through the book ahead of time and choose a list of 7-9 approved crafts for the students to build for their demonstrations in the Development portion of this lesson. Prior to providing students with the approved list, complete the projects independently in order to identify any problem areas or unanticipated complications that might arise and to determine roughly how long each craft will take students to complete. This will ensure that you assign crafts that will fit into your curriculum.


To introduce the idea of using recycled material to create new items, students should use the Re-Used Goods student esheet to watch 35+ Best Decor Ideas from Old Things. Prior to playing the video, explain that they will see various items that were made using repurposed materials. As students are watching the video, they should follow along and answer questions on the Re-Used Goods student sheet. You may need to play the video twice. Allow students a few minutes following the video to complete their work. 

After students have completed the student sheet, have them discuss their answers in pairs. Encourage them to discuss with their partner why they liked their favorite object and what they might add or change to make it more personalized. 

As a class, discuss these questions:

  • Have you ever made something from old materials? If so, what?
  • What do you think is the benefit of repurposing old materials to create new objects?
  • Where do you think materials go if they are not reused or recycled?
*Teacher note: The above video contains a soap dispenser made from a Jack Daniels bottle. If you would prefer, you may use this alternate video


In this part of the lesson, students have the opportunity to demonstrate one of the many constructions explained in the book. This part of the lesson may be completed over several days. 

On Day 1, students should get into groups of 3 or 4 students. Provide students with the list of the 7-9 approved projects that they could build. Students should choose the project they will work on. Then, as a group, they should decide what materials they will need in order to complete their project, and who will bring in what recycled material from home. They also should consider what they might need help with from you. They can use the Recycled Science Group Project student sheet to help them plan and work on this project.

On Day 2, students can prepare their project. They may bring in their supplies and test out building their craft to ensure everything works. You can provide them with the Recycled Science Demonstration Peer Review student sheet ahead of time so they know how their peers will rate their presentations. Check in on the groups and ensure that they have access to the materials they need. Some groups might require your assistance using hot glue or box cutters while constructing their projects. If this is the case, you should also assist them during their demonstration. Provide feedback and suggestions for how they could improve their projects and their demonstrations.  

On Day 3, each group should come to class prepared to give a demonstration on how to construct the design. Students who are not presenting should use the Recycled Science Peer Review sheet and fill one out for every presentation. Time should be given after each presentation for peers to ask each other questions. The peer reviews can remain anonymous and should be returned to you after each presentation. You may use them as a guideline for grading each presentation. Note: depending on how long each presentation lasts, presentations might take two or three days. 

After all groups have presented, discuss these questions as a class:

  • What did you find easy about completing these constructions from recycled objects? What did you find challenging?
  • What surprised you as you were completing your projects?
  • As you were completing your own project or observing someone else’s, did you think of a different item that could be constructed using the same materials? If so, what? 
On Day 4 (or the day after students have given their demonstrations), students should complete the Assessment portion of the lesson. 


This portion of the lesson is to assess students’ understanding of the science behind the project they completed. The groups should research how and why the object they created works the way it does. They should then create a PowerPoint presentation or a poster that explains this information to the class. Students should use the science branch and concept identified in Recycled Science as a jumping-off point for their presentation. They can use other books or online resources to expand on their research.

Distribute the Recycled Science Explanation Presentation student sheet that students may use as a guide to create their PowerPoints or posters. 

Consider developing a detailed rubric for assessment of the presentations. You can provide this rubric to students as they work on their presentations so they know what you are looking for in the presentaions.

There are several resources on the Internet that describe the use of rubrics in the K-12 classroom, a few of which are highlighted here.

To learn more about rubrics in general, see Make Room for Rubrics on the Scholastic site.

For specific examples of rubrics, more information, and links to other resources, check out these sites:

Finally, you can go to Teacher Rubric Makers on the Teach-nology.com website to create your own rubrics. At this site you can fill out forms to create rubrics suitable for your particular students, and then print them instantly from your computer.


As an extension of this lesson, students can explore the harmful effects of excess waste on the environment. Show this short video to the class. Following the video, as a class, explore in depth this question:

  • What do you think is the benefit of repurposing old materials to create new objects?

Students may also want to organize a garbage cleanup in their community. This could be completed independently or as a class field trip.

As an extension to this lesson, go through the Garbage Dreams lesson and watch a film about garbage and its effect on the environment.

Funder Info
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards