7.17.2014

upcycling with teens at the library

My summer youth programs have been going really well. Attendance has increased with each program - first 7, then 13, then 15 - and yesterday we hit the jackpot with 23 teens. We actually had to turn away three kids without tickets, as our program room was so packed with people and materials.

I wasn't planning on blogging about individual programs, but there seems to be some interest. Plus, since I regularly Google for ideas for programs and displays, I'm happy to give back by adding to the ideas out there.

Upcycling was a huge hit! For those not familiar with the term, upcycling is an expression for taking an item that would normally be thrown in the trash or in the recycling bin and creating something useful or decorative from it - moving it "up," figuratively, in the lifecycle of the product.

I like to begin programs with a bit of context, and to immediately get the teens engaged. This is not difficult to do: I structure a brief introduction in the form of questions.

First, I asked if someone could explain what "upcycling" means. I got exactly the definition I wrote above.

Next, I said that I could think of two ways that upcycling is good for the environment and for the earth. Can someone tell me one way? One of the teens said, "It removes something from the waste stream, so all the energy that it would take to recycle the item - to break it down and re-form it - isn't used. Or if the thing is not recyclable, it keeps it out of landfill." Exactly!

And lastly, I asked if anyone could think of another way upcycling is good for the environment. A third teen said, "It helps us consume less. Instead of buying something new, we re-use something we already have." Smart kids, eh?

So after that little intro, we showed some samples made by an artistic colleague of mine who worked on this program with me: a milk carton change pouch, tin-can caddies, and pen or pencil holders made from plastic tubes. (The tubes are the rollers inside the paper that library slips are printed on. We generate zillions of them.)

I had a few YouTube videos and some Pinterest pages cued up on the projector, and we watched some of the ideas in action. I told the teens that I found all these ideas online, I didn't think of them myself.

I also tell them that I'm not very artistic or crafty. I just like to try new things and to create something. I always emphasize that whatever they make today doesn't have to win a prize or look like something you would see in a store, because the only way to learn how to do something is to fool around and learn what works.

Then I give a few ground rules, something like... If you haven't done a DIY program with me before, here's how it works. There are lots and lots of different materials at various stations around the room. Help yourselves to anything you see, and if you think of something you could use that you don't see, ask us, we might be able to get it for you from our craft supplies. You are free to create anything you wish, using any combination of materials. The samples are examples - you can re-create those, or add to them, or do something entirely different. I say a few words about safety - wear gloves when using hot-glue guns, no more than two people at a glue gun station at a time - and we're off.

It was a huge success. We practically had to kick them out of the room to clean up. Here's how I know for sure that it worked: several teens asked if there were other programs like this, and could they come back for more.

Here are some pics of the kinds of things we made.







6 comments:

Amy said...

What smart kids! I am impressed that they were so thoughtful. I forget how deep teenagers really can be when we put aside all the bad press and the media images we are surrounded by all the time.

I love those change purses! Very clever.

Thanks for sharing the projects. It gives me a much better idea of what upcycling can produce.

And what a great job you are doing!!

laura k said...

Teens are scapegoats for everything that's wrong with our society, it seems. Whenever I hear people say, "Young people today are so ______" - apathetic, materialistic, irresponsible, whatever - I always say, "As are so many adults."

In my experience, teens are much more idealistic, optimistic, engaged, and caring that many many of their adult counterparts.

Plus these teens are either immigrants or first-generation Canadians with close family members still in India, China, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc. They have a global perspective that many of their US-born or Canadian-born peers lack.

Anyway... thanks for your interest, as always, Amy!

Amy said...

I agree. I am one of the few parents I know who say that I loved when my kids turned eleven and started thinking about the world around them. Yes, they were annoying and fresh and self-involved, but they were also interesting, challenging and fun. I find adolescents fascinating, and I wish I had more opportunities to talk to them.

johngoldfine said...

I loved setting up self-teaching work stations in classrooms when I taught 7th and 8th graders, stations where, as you say, trying stuff and messing around was the way to learn how something worked. It's a wonderful feeling when you realize you are not required to play cop because the students are so intensely involved in their projects.

johngoldfine said...

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kim-marshall/law-and-order-in-grade-6-e-a-story-of-chaos-and/

I found this book hugely useful 40 years ago in thinking about my role as a teacher and how best to teach--sadly, it seems to be out of print.

laura k said...

Thanks, John!