Recycled Junk Art: Robots


Age 6-11 | Three 60 min Sessions

This is one of my most successful projects to date. I haven’t quite figured out why, but it just is! I have taught this project a few times and each time is better than the last. This works as an individual project or as a group project.
For the last few weeks my students have been bringing in various recyclable materials from egg cartons to cereal boxes and so much more. The idea here is to connect planning ideas to implementing and building them. Going from 2D to 3D.

What You’ll Need:
Recyclable household materials
Paper for planning
Pens & Pencils
Newspaper for paper mache (optional)
Paper mache paste
Glue sticks
Hot Glue & glue sticks (optional)
Masking tape
Tin foil (optional)
Creativity (essential)
Ear plugs (optional – for teachers sanity)

Individual Robots
If you have a regular art class where you teach a small number of kids, you can offer more one on one time and help them with more things like hot gluing, planning, building etc. Individual projects are useful to introverted students that might work better alone, or have trouble communicating. As well designing something successful as an individual it will undoubtably emit a sense of pride.

Collaborative Robots
If you are in a school, you’ll most likely have 25+ kids in your class. Having one on one time with every students may be ideal but extremely unrealistic, so it’s great when they can just help each other. Also you’ll have to think about storing all these 25+ junk robots somewhere in your classroom, so it’s obviously a lot better if you can just need to think about storing 6 or 7 robots instead. Another perk to collabs is that the kids really get into it! Warning: the room gets loud. Collaborations are extremely effective in developing teamwork skills, sharing, and building new friendships. The focus here is collaboration so the decoration part sometimes isn’t necessary. I’ll often stop the project once the robots have been built, so that we can move onto sharing them with the rest of the class.


Discuss with your class the question “What is a robot?”
Hear their different answers and offer real world examples of robot machinery.
We talked about the 3 rules of robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure or harm a human being (or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.)
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by humans (except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.)
  3. A robot must protect its own existence (as long as this protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.)

We talk about whether or not machines classify as robots, and I got them to name a few examples ie. cars, microwave, washing machine etc.
Next we discussed how a robot doesn’t have to resemble a human for instance, having 2 arms and legs, eyes and a mouth etc. Maybe their robot has wheels, maybe it can fly or hover, maybe it have one eye or a camera for an eye. Get their brains going by offering alternatives to what they already consider as a ‘robot’.
Ask your class, what it is their robot is made for, what is it supposed to do? My students had to build robots that helped them, their families or the world. This part is essential when it comes to planning.


Planning on Paper

Have your students draw their robots on paper. Colour them in. You could also have them show their robots functions by drawing out a simple diagram.
For the younger kids of a smaller class, I would scribe for them as they told me what their robot was supposed to do and if it had a special name.

Picking Materials

Individuals: With their robot plans students got to choose items that closely resembled the shapes they used in their drawings. This is where I really saw their creativity shining!

Collaborations: I turned choosing materials into a sort of challenge. I emptied all the collected recyclable onto the floor in the large space in the classroom. Since the groups were formed by their already existing table groups, I told each student to give themselves a letter from A-F (or how ever many kids you have at a table. I have 6 kids per table so A-F worked for us). I called all the A’s from each table to come and select 1 item from the pile. Then the B’s, then the C’s etc. I gave each table one bonus item. After they had all their recyclables, they discussed as a group which 2 items they wanted to swap for another. They would have a total 7 recyclable materials to work with.
This presented the challenge of having to tweak or alter their plans to use the materials they had available.
It was fun to watch them grab their materials in a mad rush to get the best boxes and tubes.

Building The Robot

Now for the fun part – construction. They built their robots with the help of tape and glue sticks. For the collaborative projects, every few minutes I would walk around the classroom offering a new material that may help them enhance their creations. First I offered string, then tin foil, and lastly split pins. This was a great way to physically remind them of how in history people had to use what they had available to create their inventions. If enough time went by, the discovery or invention of  a new material or tool could greatly enhance their product.


Paper Mache / Tin Foil

After their robot is constructed and secured, they covered it in paper mache. (I only did this when I had my small art class of about 10 kids. My school class of 30 did not paper mache anything, we covered them tin foil instead.)

Decorate + Final Touches

Once the Paper mache has dried the kids painted their robots using the same colours they used in their plans. In that classroom we had a big bin of old metal bits and bobs like watch faces, springs, and broken computer chips. I helped them hot glue these things on to their robots. This is where they could really see their ideas come to life! For the class that used tin foil, we decorated it with coloured paper, and various crafty bits and bobs like pipe cleaners and buttons.

Show and Tell

After the robots are dried and complete, each student or group had the opportunity to show it off and talk about it with the rest of the class.

If you like this idea, or have a similar project, leave a comment and let me know!
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