Let’s Save the Planet!

What would you do if you were asked to make something 3D and amazing using at least 100 pieces of recycled materials? My students were asked this question, and as usual they blew me away with their amazing ideas.

As part of our bi-weekly social action program the students have learned about what it means to be good stewards of the earth. To get the ideas flowing I asked them to complete the following sentence: “I think we humans use way too much…..” We shared our answers and followed this with a class discussion. I asked, “could this be used to make a sculpture?” Obviously some things we humans use to much of are not easily recycled into sculptures like gas or electricity. One student suggested that candy wrappers were not recyclable, but they should be. So I asked the class to come up with ideas for a theoretical sculpture or work of art made with candy wrappers. Lots of great suggestion including a painting made with candy wrappers! (So really a collage, but it was an awesome idea, and one I will save for next Halloween.)

Each student was paired up with another girl in the class, and three weeks ahead of the start of this project they were asked to come up with a plan and begin collecting. Since finding 100 coke cans can be tough I wanted to allow them enough time to amass all of the materials for their sculpture.

After this I told them that we would be using this project, to spread awareness, and not just decorate the school. I suggested that they should be doing some research on why it is important to recycle their chosen material so that they could include a paragraph or two with their artwork, citing facts and explaining the importance of recycling. My goal was that each group would make an engaging work of art, that would spark curiosity, and that would then educate the viewer as well. We would be saving the planet one sculpture at a time!

To get inspired we looked at two very different 3D artists who are using reclaimed and recycled materials themselves. First we looked at the amazing Lisa Hoke, (who I will be hearing this March at the NAEA convention in New Orleans!) an instillation artist doing wonderful things with old packaging and color! Next, we learned about the artist Mike Rivamonte thanks to our apple TV and the PBS Sunday Arts program. He is an artist using recycled electronics from decades past to make nostalgic robots and toy-like sculptures.

After getting pumped to make amazing recycled sculptures we began to discuss construction techniques. I showed them ways that we could fit pieces of material together like puzzle pieces using slotting or tabs. I showed them the different tools I had like staple guns and hole punchers, and then, of course, I showed them the glue guns. Glue guns can be great, and they are definitely the most popular choice of teenage artists. However, they can be messy, and they do not always provide the most secure connections.

Finally I had them draw up proposals, they literally drew them, along with make materials lists and lists of possible display sites around the school. I was extremely happy, and proud of my student’s variety in their solutions. What would they make with 100 pieces of recycled materials? The answers ranged from a pineapple made out of candy wrappers, to a miniature model of our turf field made out of bottle caps. From a dress made out of old jewelry and used fabric, to a tree made out of soda cans and magazines. We even had a clock being made out of old buttons and a clock mechanism left over from my ceramics project last year.

The only downside to this project so far is the ever growing trash heap in my classroom, but I am positive the results will be worth it.


You can see the materials we’ve collected, waiting to become something new and amazing.


Recyclables being given a new life.



The Glue guns after they’ve cooled, empty.




Lady Gaga would go ga ga for this dress!






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