Last week at the Duxbury Student Union, Lee Pulis and I held a workshop on using trash to learn about electricity, design and mechanical devices. We used CD drives from old computers. Inside the drives we found motors, gears, switches, and lots of interesting looking stuff. The main tools were small phillips head screwdrivers and pliers. We had some copper tape on hand, some batteries and electrical tape. Other tan the new batteries, everything we used for supplies and tools was either from the dump or a local discount store for cheap.

What started out as two boxes of computer parts was soon spread out over tables and laps in various states of disassembly. Our intention was to show that there are lots of interesting things inside the castoffs of our modern society, and from this junk, we can find the ideas, inspiration and supplies for many projects. Participants were aged from 5th to 9th grade, and everybody seemed to have a nice time.

We used some AA batteries for power, mostly just one battery per motor. There was a lot more that we could have gotten to, like wiring batteries in series to increase voltage, controlling the circuit with a switch, lighting LEDs and a lot more. Two and a half hours went pretty quickly. Several youth had devices that were pretty close to the Vibrobot from the cover of Make 10 by closing time.

Check out the photos

Have you tried teaching with junk? What does working with castoff parts show you about design, history of technology, circuit design, the way kids think?

If you are in a school, how do other teachers, administrators or students think about projects like this? Does it matter that not everybody is going to end up with similar or exactly alike outcomes? Where can a project like this lead to? How do projects like this encourage learning, exploration and inquiry? Post up in the comments with your thoughts and opinions!