From Trash to Treasure Part 2: Inspiration to Reality

Learning, Learning Theory, MAET Year 1, Maker Movement, Repurposing, Squishy Circuits

I recently shared my Thrifting experience and design plans for a Don Quijote inspired Spanish windmill. I had thought ahead a bit and designed my invention to be a “test run” of sorts for my potential lesson plan.

Again, the maker kit that my group and I had was “Squishy Circuits”. This kit is an awesome tool for younger students to more actively participate in the circuitry experience safely and creatively.

My third and fourth grade Spanish students focus their cultural learning on Central American countries. My goal for this particular lesson including “Squishy Circuits” is to have them contribute to their understanding of Culture through the Products and Perspectives Standard, which requires that students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied.

It would be easy to assign students to create a poster or a PowerPoint packed to the brim with information about a certain landmark from a country and present it to the class to demonstrate their understanding. However, this is a topic that students really struggle to assign meaning to. How without actually physically traveling to these landmarks am I able to get my students to achieve a deeper understanding and make connections? Regurgitating memorized information is not going to create that deeper connection.

My idea is that earlier in the year, we would have covered the basic geography of Central America and done a bit of background about each country. We would have explored Nicaragua deeply in fourth grade through a service-learning project and Guatemala deeply in third through a holiday related project.

Bringing in the idea that “…learning is enhanced…when teachers pay attention to the knowledge and beliefs that learners bring to a learning task, use this knowledge as a starting point for new instruction, and monitor students’ changing conceptions as instruction proceeds, ”(Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, p. 11) I would begin this lesson by introducing students to a specific Central American landmark and have them help me produce some basic background information about that landmark. This would ensure that my students are achieving meaningful learning by giving them the background knowledge to build their future knowledge upon.

In my experience, Vygotsky’s learning theories of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development are key in successful language teaching. I usually scaffold my learners through teacher or student modeling, which I would do in this lesson by having them walk through an example list of resources that I would probably post using the MentorMob learning playlist tool for the example landmark. As we walk through these resources, I would ask questions to have them describe their thinking about the landmark and encourage them to make connections from the resources we looked at and from using prior knowledge. I would then divide my students up in small groups and assign each group a landmark.

Some examples of landmarks:

Panama Canal (Panama)

Ometepe Island (Nicaragua)

Tikal Temple in Tikal National Park (Guatemala)

Catedral Metropolitana/ Catedral de Panamá (Panama)

Joya de Cerén (El Salvador)

Depending on my students’ background knowledge of circuitry, I might either go through just the tools included in the “Squishy Circuits” kit, give an actual demonstration or just hand it to them with no explanation via the constructivist theory (or the Craig McMichael method).

I would give my students the tools to get started on their creation of this landmark and then focus on supporting the participatory and hands-on learning portion that really creates the meaning for this particular topic. I think it is awesome to have the science part embedded within the culture through the “Squishy Circuits” kit. I will probably be able to kick start some students’ motivation on the sole fact it is science related. I consider myself a global educator who “…use(s) participatory learning activities such as simulations because they infuse their classrooms with complexity, unpredictability, and realism.” (Byrnes, 1997, p. 100) Students have to be able to feel like they can go out and apply these skills in the real world. Through my use of participatory learning, I can see that “…participatory learning helps students develop analytic and interpersonal skills” (Byrnes, 1997, p. 99) that they would not be developing just working individually on a PowerPoint.


Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Byrnes, R. S. (1997). Global education’s promise: reinvigorating classroom life in a changing, interconnected world. Theory Into Practice, 3695-101.

2 thoughts on “From Trash to Treasure Part 2: Inspiration to Reality

  1. This rocks! I love how you took something that would normally be considered a foreign thing in your classroom and re purposed it so that it flows in flawlessly!

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