Recycling Science for Kids
Several dozen kids rummage through popsicle sticks, zip ties and toothbrushes in a Boise classroom. They’ve already claimed glue guns and mini motors. They’ll need both to turn the pile of random, finger-length accessories into a robotic bug.
“We show kids how to make a robot that scurries across tabletops like a bug,” says Steve Rodoletz, Reuseum Educational Inc.’s executive director. “The kids don’t just sit and watch someone do it. They make the robot.”
Reuseum’s educational department (educate.reuseum.org) doesn’t offer traditional craft classes or science lectures. Instead, its small staff of five combines hands-on creativity with teaching underprivileged kids the real-life value of science, technology, engineering and math.
“We felt there was a grave gap in the knowledge of children as young as 3 when it comes to science and math,” Rodoletz says. “Girls think it’s for boys and boys think it’s only for the brightest boys. This is false. Science and math is for all of us.”
The reason Reuseum’s educational department has a future is the organization’s retail store in Boise. That’s where donors drop off used electronics. The parts are recycled into other machines and then resold in the store.
“Not every kid and every school has what other kids and other schools have,” he says. “We build 3-D printers and sell them to schools for under $2,000 with recycled components. Normally, a new printer with 3-D specifications and performance costs up to $5,000.”
Money collected from the sale of recycled devices like 3-D printers covers classroom expenses. Low-income students get a STEM learning opportunity for less than $10 per class with some classes so well-funded, they’re free.
“Our goal is to introduce STEM into these children’s lives so they are unaffected by bias toward science,” Rodoletz says. “We hope they will consider a career in every aspect of science, technology, engineering and math.”
Momentum for a program funded by electronic recyclables is gaining speed as fast as newly constructed super bristlebots scurry across classroom tables. The excitement is displayed in smiling laughter, clapping hands and repeat visitors.
“When you have 300 people waiting on a list for a chance to build a tiny robot, you know you’re doing something right,” Rodoletz says. “We’ve had children building them year after year and they never tire of it. Meanwhile, they’re learning about motion and electrical forces.”
Nearly 8,000 students learned the Reuseum way in 2017. The organization’s goal is 10,000 in 2018. With a class schedule growing from two a month in 2011 to five a week this year, that’s within reach.
“It’s really neat to witness how we’ve grown,” Rodoletz says. “All sorts of foundations, businesses and people have decided they like what we’re doing. They like our model of the store earning money for classes. People have put their faith in us and we’re trying to live up to it.”