As we approach Earth Day in April, it’s often a time when we talk about the benefits of recycling and caring for our planet.  And while recycling is good, upcycling may be even better.

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is the process of taking something old (aka: junk) that can’t be recycled and making it into something with a new purpose.  Think old computer circuit boards, machine parts and other things that are labeled “non-recyclable“. These are all items that have the potential to the upcycled into something new.  It just takes a little time, thoughtful problem-solving and a design process!

In today’s lesson, we’re highlighting connections between high school engineering and visual arts standards to help take these old parts and turn them into wearable jewelry.  Much of this engineering STEAM lesson plan is inspired by the artwork of Yuma Fujimaki and her design process.



What to Notice

It’s important to note that you’ll need to collect a variety of materials that can be upcycled.  I’d definitely recommend using this engineering activity for high school students as an opportunity to connect with your career and technology department.  They are a fantastic resource for not only the materials, but also how to build and adhere the materials together.  This could easily lead to a meaningful integrated STEAM lesson plan or unit as your students work on their pieces.

You’ll also want to be mindful that the process of building these items may be completely new to students.  Using power tools and building materials isn’t something that all students have had an opportunity to do before.  So stay patient during this engineering activity for high school students and try to provide as much background support in this area as possible.

Don’t Stop There!

This engineering STEAM lesson plan is a great way to get started in Upcycling, but it’s just the beginning.  From here, the sky is the limit.  You can create an upcycled makerspace, where students design the learning space and build it completely out of upcycled materials from the school or community.  You could have students investigate a problem or issue in your local community and design an upcycled solution.  There are so many opportunities with this!

Here’s a list of other resources that you may find helpful in your upcycling journey:

The Creative Educator Upcycle Units

Upcycling and the Low-Tech Maker Space from Edutopia

Free Upcycling Curriculum from FabLearn

EducationCloset Integrated CurriculumNeed an Arts Integration and STEAM Curriculum?

Fully-developed lessons, assessments, student handouts, powerpoints and warm-ups are all waiting for you.