Don’t forget the three R’s

By Vincent Goeddeke, February 22, 2009

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

90 to 135 minutes of classroom activities


One of my kindergarten students noticed that there was recyclable paper in the garbage can. as opposed to the recycling can, and he wanted to do something about it so that people would remember to recycle. Could the design of a recycling bin or garbage can encourage more recycling? As a society we are constantly faced with how our actions impact us in the future. This exercise will help to illustrate how design could help to influence our habits in positive ways.  The students will conduct a survey that will ask their fellow students how they remember to recycle.  They will use the responses to help shape their design of a garbage can or recycling bin.  The created bins will then be tested out in several places around the school to see if the designs work to encourage recycling.   

National Standards

Standard 14. Level Pre-K. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
1. Knows how people affect the environment in negative (e.g., litter, pollution) and positive (e.g., recycling, picking up litter) ways

Standard 2. Level I. Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health
1. Knows sources and causes of pollution (e.g., air, ground, noise, water, food) in the community

Language Arts
Standard 4. Level I. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
1. Generates questions about topics of personal interest
2. Uses a variety of sources to gather information (e.g., informational books, pictures, charts, indexes, videos, television programs, guest speakers, Internet, own observation)

Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 4. Level I. Understands and applies basic principles of hypothesis testing and scientific inquiry
1. Understands that changing one thing sometimes causes changes in something else and that changing the same thing in the same way usually has the same result
Standard 5. Level I. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
1. Identifies simple problems and possible solutions (e.g., ways to make something work better)

Standard 4. Levels Pre-K and I. Understands the nature of technological design
1. Knows that materials and equipment can be combined in different ways to make something new (e.g., building a tent using a sheet around a table, using molding clay to make pretend food)
2. Knows ways to communicate design ideas (e.g., pictures, models)
3. Knows that some things are natural and others are human made
1. Knows that both objects and systems occur in nature (e.g., stars and the solar system), but people can also design and make objects and systems (e.g., telephones and communication systems) to solve a problem and to improve the quality of life
2. Knows that tools have specific functions, such as to observe, measure, make things, and do things better or more easily; selecting the right tool makes the task easier
3. Knows that people are always inventing new ways to solve problems and accomplish work (e.g., a computer is a machine that helps people work and play)
4. Knows that planning is an important part of the design process
5. Knows that new objects can be created out of physical materials (e.g., paper, cloth)
6. Knows that because there may be multiple solutions to a design problem, each appropriate to different situations, many creative ideas can be useful




The students will:
  • see how design can be used to solve a problem
  • begin to understand the design process 


images of recycling bins from the internet

books about recycling


  • garbage bins and/or recycling bins from several classrooms
  • chart paper
  • art supplies
  • scrounged/recycled materials from classroom/home




  • recycle/recycling: processing used materials into new products in order to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from landfilling)
  • garbage: any matter that is no longer wanted or needed; trash




1. The teacher will pose the design challenge, "How could you redesign a recycling bin or garbage can that would remind you to recycle?" The teacher will show the students the two types of bins that they will redesign.
2. The teacher will record the students’ responses on chart paper/sentence strips.
3. Together the class can sort through the ideas and group similar ideas.
4. The teacher will explain that in order to redesign a garbage can that would remind the students to recycle, the students should ask some other students, "How do you remember how to recycle?"
5. Send several teams of students to the Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade classes to ask the question.
6.  Gather the data to see if there are any common themes that emerged about how students remember to recycle and post any of the major ideas.
7. Send home a note explaining the project to the students’ families and asking that, together with their child, could they please scrounge around their house and search for materials that could be used in the student’s designs, and send the materials into school with their child.

Design and Creation:
1. The next lesson (after the students have brought back their materials) put students into groups of two, and ask them to use the materials they’ve brought in, as well as classroom materials, to "Build to Think" as they redesign their garbage/recycling bin.   (Note: The classroom materials and collected materials will be available for all the students to use during this work time.)
2. Each student pair will pick one of the main ideas that emerged from the question research to guide their design.
3. After the students redesign their bin they should place it back in the classroom that it came from.

Testing the redesigned bins:
1. For three days after the bins have been put back in their original classrooms, go at the end of each day to see if the redesigned recycling cans have any paper in them.
2. Record the findings to see if the bins are working to help students remember to recycle.
3. After the three days gather the students together to see if they thought their designs had any impact on helping students remember to recycle and why they think what they do.   Record the student responses.   





  • Anecdotal records and photos throughout the lessons and work times to record the students’ ideas and understanding.
  • Looking at the bins that each student team builds to assess how they are making connections between form and function.
  • Recording anecdotally how the students evaluate their own and classmates' bins.


Enrichment Extension Activities

Continue to monitor classrooms with the redesigned bins.  

Monitor classrooms without the redesigned bins to see if there are any differences from the classrooms with the redesigned bins.

If the designs work to encourage recycling, find a way to fabricate the bins for the whole school.

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