Recycled Tech for Teens

Cat Mullen July 11, 2017

Recycled Tech for Teens was a STEAM program that was designed to get teens interested not only in technology, but in how technology works and how it can be reused and re-imagined.

When my library system began planning the programs that we would host during the summer, the Young Adult Librarians were charged with implementing at least one STEM or STEAM program. As a newly minted Young Adult Librarian, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

I had heard and read about some libraries hosting “Tech Take Aparts”—bringing in old, dated technology and providing tools so that library patrons could take them apart and see how they worked. I wanted to take this a step further and allow them not only to take apart the technology, but to reuse it, whether by trying to make it work again or by letting them create something completely new with the old pieces. Knowing my teen patrons were both intensely curious and very hands-on, I knew this had the potential to be a great program.

Type: Self-directed
Age: High school
Optimal size: 11-20
Estimated cost: $26 - $50
Planning time: <2 hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

Support STEAM learning: Increase interest and knowledge in STEAM learning, specifically in engineering, technology, and art. Encourage participants to think of ways that science-based undertakings can be used in tandem with artistic pursuits.

Critical thinking: Think critically and flexibly about technology and its myriad of uses. Demonstrate curiosity with how common technologies work. Investigate, explore, and gain familiarity with common technologies

Community, collaboration, and problem solving: Work together and foster collaboration. Assist each other during the program. Ask questions, brainstorm, and problem solve together.

Creativity: Think outside the box and brainstorm creative uses for recycled technology and their parts. Express themselves and create whatever type of art they desire. Experiment with new methods of art creation.

Leadership: Take the lead and work independently. Demonstrate self-management by staying on task throughout the entirety of the program. Assist those who are struggling and feel motivated to answer questions others may have.


Preparation: I did some research—there’s not a ton out there right now regarding this type of program in a library, but there were a few web resources I utilized—and decided on what technology I wanted to use for the program. This ended up being the most difficult part, as I did not want to have anything dangerous or too complicated as I am definitely not a technology expert.

After much debate, I made a list of items I desired and went to Goodwill to see what I could find. I ended up buying multiple old computer keyboards, a computer mouse, an old toy piano, an old fashioned alarm clock, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and different types of tools (mostly screwdrivers and pliers). Many other types of technology would have worked as well.

To incorporate art into this tech-heavy program, I brought out art supplies (including construction paper, markers, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, and glue guns) so that after taking the technology apart, if they wanted, the teens could create something new out of the pieces.

Backup Plan: I wanted to have a backup plan in case the technology was being particularly stubborn (as in, we could not get the tech to come apart!). Also, patrons who typically attend programs at my library tend to skew young (even if the program is marketed towards teens), so I wanted to have a plan in case the attendees ended up being too young to handle tools or take apart technology themselves. As such, I requested boxes of Snap Circuits from our mobile makerspace. I had done a Snap Circuits program in the past, so I knew that this would be a popular alternative if need be.

Setup: I had anticipated that the program would last 1.5 hours. I set up the technology by putting them all out on rows of tables with plenty of space in between. I had the tools set aside and wanted the teens to first evaluate the technology and then assess what sort of tools would be necessary to start taking the tech apart.

I had a separate table set up filled with the art supplies, hoping that the teens would gravitate over to that table with the tech pieces after they had successfully deconstructed them.

I had the Snap Circuits, still boxed, set out on another set of tables towards the corner of the room. I did not want those to be the focus of the program, but I still wanted them to be handy if need be.

I also had a laptop available for both me and participants. I wanted to be able to quickly look up the answer to a question or allow teens to look up tutorials or videos themselves if they wanted.

Running the Program: I wanted the participants to be fairly independent and self-directed. I wanted them to think critically on their own and work together, peer-to-peer, if questions came up. As such, the participants were allowed to choose the tech they wanted to take apart, working together or alone, and it was completely up to them what type of tools they wanted to use. I supervised the use of the tools and the tech, and was also available to answer questions if they had any.


The success of the program was evaluated in three different ways: if learning outcomes were achieved, level of participant engagement, and number of participants.

Based on those criteria, the program was very successful. Achieving any of the learning outcomes would have been great, but this program effectively fulfilled all learning outcomes which was especially gratifying.

The learning outcomes were achieved in many different ways. After a short introduction by me which featured an overview of the program and a rundown of the rules, participants dove right in. They began by thinking critically about technology. They started the program by assessing the tech--some familiar, some not--and brainstorming ways in which the technology could be disassembled and, later, repurposed into art. This hit on the learning outcomes of critical thinking, STEAM learning, and creativity.

After assessing the technology, they quickly began to take the technology apart. This is where community, collaboration, and problem-solving really came into play. Some technology was very obvious and easy to take apart (for example, the computer keyboards), while some required deeper thought. Certain technology (for example, the computer mouse) necessitated testing and experimentation, which participants did without any hesitation. As I strove to be at the program in a supervisory capacity as much as possible, I really hoped that participants would ask each other questions, work together, and do their best to solve any problems on their own. I had nothing to worry about--they put their heads together and were able to work through just about every issue they encountered.

To me, the most inspiring learning outcome that was achieved was leadership. Not only did participants successfully take the lead during this program, showcasing their self-confidence and displaying excellent self-management skills by staying on task, but the older participants, without any prompting, began to mentor and assist the younger participants so that everyone was able to contribute.

The learning outcomes of creativity and STEAM learning were again achieved after all of the technology pieces had been successfully dismantled. Participants were able to reuse the parts and create something new. Some participants integrated different types of tech pieces with others to make hybrid tech creations, while others used more traditional art supplies to create items of their own original design.

In total, 16 patrons (10 teens, 4 middle schoolers, 2 elementary age children) attended this program. That alone was a huge success as the typical teenage patrons we get at this particular library branch have little interest in library programs. I heard nothing but positive comments throughout the program, and even had participants ask when I was planning on doing another program like this. That is just about the highest praise I can get!

Though I consider this program to be very successful, there are a couple things I would do differently next time. For one, I did not anticipate how quickly the tech would be taken apart. Once the participants got the hang of things, the items I had available were surprisingly easy and quick to take apart. I had planned for the actual program to last 1.5 hours, but one hour would have sufficed, with a half hour of setup time.

I would also do things a bit differently where the technology pieces are concerned. First, I would provide a larger quantity of technological pieces to take apart. During the program, I wished that I had more items for them to take apart. Second, I would choose more varied types of technology. I was conservative in the technology pieces I chose (as in, I was afraid I would pick something too difficult to take apart or something with dangerous pieces), so for next time I would definitely go more outside of my comfort zone.

I was happy that I had a backup program--the Snap Circuits--as they were utilized by some of the younger siblings who had tagged along to the program. They were too young to handle the tools for the take apart, though they did spend some time watching the older participants. The younger participants were very engaged with the Snap Circuits, however, and ended up experimenting and creating many different types of circuits. Once all of the technology pieces had been taken apart, the older participants joined them and began to use the Snap Circuits as well to fill the rest of the time during the program.

Overall, I loved this program and, most importantly, I feel that my patrons loved it too!

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