At the start of every year, I start collecting students' and friends' old electronics with the sole purpose of taking things apart. You could talk about all of the things that students learn from taking apart electronics, from the elements of design and engineering, to teamwork, to tool use, but I don't want to sully the experience by talking about such things. Taking things apart is cool. Playing with screwdrivers is fun, and there are lots of neat things inside. The circuit boards look like cities!
Anyway, it takes a while, but by mid-year, we usually have a computer or two, some VCRs, a toaster, or a TV. Maybe more, maybe less. I keep my eye out on trash day, too. It's better if things don't work anymore, because they sure aren't when we get done with them! This year, I got all high minded. I made a cool booklet, My Robot Journal, that had a spot for kids to write before they did anything. It had spots that covered several modes of writing. I was so proud of my work. There was only one problem with it. It was teacher designed based on teacher desires. And it killed it. The kids who like to write were gonna get to have fun, and the ones who are overwhelmed by writing were going to be frustrated. That's not what I wanted this lesson to be like.
So today, I decided to take down the pay wall, and put the trust in the hands of my students. I told them they should still hang on to the robot journal. I'd left them with lots of valuable tools that they could use in constructing blog posts and stories from this project. Then I told them, the journals are YOURS, use them how you like. I distributed a limited number of screwdrivers, and said they would need to share with their partners, or bring some in from home. And then magic happened.
The kids were - no surprise here - totally engaged in their work. I had boys taking apart a refrigerator, girls dismantling a VCR, kids taking apart phones, computers, and peripherals. It was awesome! They were cooperative, they were working safely, and they were thrumming with excitement. As I circled around the room, I heard kids saying things like, "I'm gonna use this wire for hair", "These will be cool eyes!", and "Oh good, there's a fan in here for each of us!"
When it was time to clean up, they were disappointed but cooperative. I asked them as we were on our way to lunch, "You had a good time, right?" Yeses, smiles, and nods. "Is it fair to ask you to make it worth my time by writing some great blog posts about taking apart your tech?" More smiling nods. "Do you think you can come up with 200 words based on what you did today?" More affirmatives!
On future Wednesdays, we'll be designing robots with our tech parts, we'll assemble them, photograph them, 'shop them into pictures, and write stories about them. I love doing this project with my students, but I have to say, even if it was just today, it was worth it to have the kids taking things apart to find out what's inside.