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Trends in STEM

3 Exciting STEM Activities That Explore Upcycling

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we are big believers in the practice of upcycling, or recycling an object to create something of greater value. Not only is incorporating this practice in hands-on learning great for promoting sustainability and caring for the environment, but it also encourages students to be resourceful and use readily available household materials to create invention prototypes.

Common upcycling items found in most homes include:

  • Balls and sporting goods
  • Bubble wrap
  • Canisters and containers
  • Cups and lids
  • Miscellaneous paper (construction, magazines, newspapers, etc.)
  • Paper towel tubes
  • Rubber bands
  • Small or medium boxes
  • Springs
  • Unwanted toys (building blocks, car/train tracks, game parts, pinwheels, plastic figurines, toy vehicles, etc.)


Check Out These Free STEM Activities That Emphasize Upcycling

The NIHF education team is constantly developing accessible STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities that can be enjoyed in a classroom or at-home setting. Below are just a few fun activities incorporating upcycled materials that can be implemented for your students today!


1. STEM Activity: Creating Classic Toys on Yo-Yo Day

In this activity, children create their very own paddleball and spinning top using common materials found around the house, including cardboard, rubber bands, small plastic caps and toothpicks. They also have the opportunity to think like inventors as they brainstorm ways to improve their creations through testing and prototyping different designs. In this way, your students can develop an Innovation Mindset that will aid them throughout their lives.


2. STEM Activity: Sea-ing Your Way Across

Set sail with this hands-on STEM activity that invites children to invent creative ways to navigate the ocean and explore its mysteries. Using accessible materials like craft paper, recyclables and plastic bags, children first create ocean animals and plants using crafting supplies. Next, they use plastic bags to create waterproof shoes and roll a die to determine the type of movement they will need to use to travel across water.  Each time students cross the sea, they can roll again and try taking a new path!


3. STEM Activity: Duct Tape Millionaire

Students embrace their inner entrepreneur as they are challenged to create an innovative speaker the world has never seen before. With just a tissue box, small cup and duct tape, children create a portable speaker they can modify over time. They also explore principles of sound by covering the speaker’s opening with different materials, using different sized cups and experimenting with placing sound-making devices inside the cup. Once they’ve finished inventing, students pitch their creation and business plan to their friends and classmates.


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