What can these scraps reveal?


by Erin Riley -

Twice a week I coach an Odyssey of the Mind team.  All week I collect scraps, recyclables and cast away objects to bring to meetings for them to peruse.  The process of searching through these materials inspires the gadgets they create, the props they invent, and costumes they fashion.  Through the practice of re-purposing and upcycling, the team engineers through both limits and possibilities.  The raw material is limited; what they would normally use to solve a problem is not always available. However, the possibilities are endless; what they can creatively envision can be pulled from the materials.  

Similarly, when I was teaching in New York City, the start of the year was marked with a trip to the Materials for the Arts. The things we picked up were not only of material value, but treasured for what they offer the imagination.  A box of slide mounts become a three-dimensional construction set, wall paper samples make their way into sketchbooks and bolts of fabric become the raw material for forts.  

Process can be informed by what is available and as a result unfolds in different ways.  Sometimes you have an idea and a plan and your process moves forward in a way you predetermine.  It might look like this: decide what you are going to make-> decide what material-> make it.  Starting the design process from the material can provide opportunities for a different kind of creativity and ingenuity. Instead it looks like this: discarded material-> what can you make?-> decide what you are going to make-> make it.

At Greenwich Academy’s Engineering and Design Lab we are generating all sorts of interesting scraps.  This past month fifth grade girls have been using lab scraps for their inventions for the annual Invention Convention and this week we have been busy generating more.  E+D students used the laser cutter to make Omni-Animals, an excellent project designed by FabLearn’s Brogan Miller.  My colleague, Mary Stanghoener cut out whale tails on the ShopBot with her sixth grade science class. Whether your design process has you pulling a new sheet of wood or from the scrap pile, everything is the raw material for something else.    



Mark Schreiber's picture

Thanks Erin.  I also have seen a lot of great ideas come out of kids that were constrained by the materials.  I actually see even more creativity from students when they are boxed in a bit with the limitation of materials.  It also teaches them a real-world skill of using what is avaliable and even resonable to use.  I would love all of my camping gear to be made out of titanium but that really isn't reasonable when you start to look at all of the economics of it all.  Low-tech and reused isn't only good for the environment but it's also a great way to help students grow in thier creativity. 


Andrew Katz's picture

Another great post from Erin!