Creating Treasures From Trash

Ah, the holiday season is here. It’s so hard to believe that Thanksgiving is over, and Winter Break is a little more than a week away. This time of year can certainly be exciting and exhausting at the same time. Because of this, I always try to plan something for my students that is a little bit different, knowing that they very well may be sidetracked and not as focused as I would ideally like them to be. I want to ensure we are making the most of our time together, and I find that hands-on projects are a great way to hold their interest and excitement as well as reinforce content. The plan actually provides me with the opportunity to have formative assessment time to see what is sticking, really liked, and may need to be reinforced or challenged further in the new year.

I am excited to share with you a project my students will be working on during the days prior to Winter Break. The class will be completing a project-based culminating activity for the workshop Think Big. As of today, my students have moved into the second portion of this workshop and will be doing the end-unit assessment on the Tuesday prior to our break. This leaves me three days to devote to the development of a patent (Lesson 1.23). The added step that I’m adding in is the building of their original invention. I did this last year, and I cannot wait to see what this year’s students create. The skills that I have the opportunity to observe include cooperation, communication, and teamwork. My students absolutely loved having the opportunity to be creative and make a mess!

Last year was the first time I did this, and I was so amazed at the creativity and inventiveness my students demonstrated. Many of my students had completed the computer segment “King of Cardboard” and wanted to create games from trash like Caine does. They planned out their invention using pages 68 and 69 of their ReaL Book and shared their work on these pages with me to get project building approval.  

I had reached out to parents and staff to donate recyclable materials and old craft supplies for our use. I ended up with piles of stuff for kids to use to create their inventions. The students made a huge mess, had a ton of fun, and ultimately learned a lot about inventing, patents, problem solving, teamwork, and creative thinking. Before I share these photos, I’ll admit it took a lot for me to allow my classroom to look like this, but in the end, it was totally worth it!

Once the building was completed, my students invited their classmates and homeroom teachers to come in and see what they had created and to play their games. It was such a huge success that a year later, I still have kids coming up to me today asking me if I remember when they did this project!

This basketball game includes a ball rack!

This project was fun, super easy to plan (thanks to the outline on page 68 & 69 of the ReaL Book), cost me no money, and the kids had an absolute blast. As teachers, I know we like to maintain a certain level of control over our environment. For three days, my classroom was a disaster area, and though the chaos of having stuff everywhere was a bit overwhelming for me, it was so worth it to see the students so engaged and working together so well. I was witnessing creativity in action, and it was amazing to see students make the connection to what they had learned as they created their projects! The students were also excited about making something so great out of trash, and learned the value of using imagination and creativity. 

Keeping kids focused and on task can be difficult this time of year, so a project like this seems like the perfect way to get kids thinking about the content, having fun, and doing something a little bit different. One of the things I love most about the READ180 curriculum is that it provides opportunities like this for kids to use creative thinking and do different things than they do in their homeroom classes. I am excited to do this project with my students again this year, and I can’t wait to see what they invent. 

What activities do you have planned for these days before Winter Break?


Jessica Button is a fourth generation teacher, having been preceded in teaching by a great grandmother, both grandmothers, and her mother. She earned her B.A. in Education in 2006, and her Masters in Reading Education in 2010, both from Arizona State University (Go Sun Devils!). She has been teaching at her current school since 2007, and has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. She was hired as her school’s Reading Specialist in 2016, and currently teaches READ 180 Universal Stage A to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students. Jessica strives to help others achieve their dreams of becoming teachers, working as an Associate Professor for Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, and also serving as a mentor to Teacher Candidates. She is passionate about building relationships with students, and greatly enjoys helping them unearth their strengths and learn to find reading fun! In her spare time, she loves to read, hike, cook, and spending time with her family and friends.

  • Great post. I QuickBooks support https://getinfos.org/