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Think Outside the Trash: Global Recycling Project-Based Learning

by Brandi Leggett
 | Jun 11, 2013
Every year around Earth Day, my third grade students typically do the same thing, focusing on the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. As third graders, I noticed students were simply going through the motion, reciting the same things they learned in kindergarten through second grade. What new things were they learning? Absolutely nothing!

p: Rafa from Brazil via photopin cc
This year, instead of the typical recycling unit, I decided to implement a project-based learning approach for my students, focusing on what recycling meant on a global scale. I challenged my students to think outside of the box by using the driving question, “What does recycling mean around the world?”

By the time the projects were complete, the students had not only become experts on their country’s recycling, they had learned how to incorporate technology into their presentations and how to better interact with one another in groups, utilizing problem solving strategies when disagreements arose.

The final product impressed me because students had complete ownership of their project. As students made new discoveries, it was they who took the role of teachers as I became an eager learner. Before this project, students had no idea they had the ability to use Skype to interview recycling experts around the world or create their own webpages. As students previewed their final projects, they could be observed jumping for joy as they high-fived one another. At that point, I realized I had created a project where the students were truly engaged in their learning.

Of course, recycling isn’t something that happens once a year. So while I chose this for Earth Day, the following project could be undertaken at any time of the year.

STEP 1: Formulate the driving question. The driving question is what sparks interest and guides the students through the project. For this project, our driving question was “What does recycling mean around the world?”

STEP 2: Brainstorm countries. Allow the students to brainstorm countries or cities outside of the United States. They will research how recycling works in their country or city.

STEP 3: Gather Internet sites and contacts. Once the students have brainstormed their list of countries and cities, narrow down the list to the number of groups you are going to have in your classroom. Begin to locate reliable recycling sites students can use for their research. On the sites, look for contact information. Send e-mails describing the project and request someone who would be willing to Skype with the students or answer questions about their recycling via e-mail. The students get excited when they have a chance to correspond with someone outside of the United States.

STEP 4: Group your students. Divide your students into groups of two to four. Assign students a country or city to research, or allow them to choose from the pre-determined list.

STEP 5: Write research questions. Students should create eight to ten research questions about recycling in their country. The students need to write deep questions that will allow them to really learn and investigate ( i.e.,How often does curbside recycling occur? Why?).

STEP 6: Draft interview questions. Next, have students write eight to ten interview questions. If someone responds granting them an interview, they will need to be prepared.

STEP 7: Record the research. Students will compile their data and record it on one sheet of paper. This will make it easier for students when they incorporate their data into the technology projects.

With this phase now complete, students can use their findings to work on the following projects. My third graders completed all of them. This isn’t necessary, but having them complete all the projects allowed them to become immersed in technology, where they understood how they could use a variety of tools to authenticate their learning.

Podcast: The students will write at least one paragraph summarizing some of their research. They will use this research to create a podcast. A very easy site to record their podcast is Record MP3 (

Prezi: The students will work together to create a presentation on Prezi ( This is a presentation tool, similar to Power Point that helps you share and organize your ideas as a visual journey for your audience.

Images: The students will search for five to eight copyright-free images of their country’s recycling using Google Advanced Search ( When using advanced search, change the usage rights tab to free to use or share, even commercially. This ensures none of the images used are a copyright infringement. It also teaches the students about copyright and creative commons rights.

Animoto: The students will work together to create an Animoto video ( to display images of their country’s recycling. They are able upload free music from the site and insert text.

Glogster: The students can also use their images to create an online Glogster poster (

Xtranormal: On this website, students will use their writing to create a 3D animated movie using one or two unique actors. They are able to select their own background for the setting of their movie and create actions for the actors they have chosen. The students will work together to construct a conversation (involving two people) about their country’s recycling. They will write it as a script. My only requirement was that they used text evidence from their research. On their Xtranormal (, the students will choose actors, background, and voices. The kids LOVE this site. It is a great way for the students to demonstrate their creativity.

Commercial: The students will write a 30-second commercial about their country’s recycling. If a webcam is available, have the students record their commercial. The students enjoy playing with all the different backgrounds for their webcam.

Website: After all of their hard work, why not put it all together? The perfect site for your students to create their own webpage is Weebly ( They can choose their own design, upload their work and add any text needed. I found students feel like they are on top of the world when they have created their own webpage and are able to share it with friends and family.

Here are some of my students’ global recycling projects:

I hope your students enjoy exploring recycling around the world!

Brandi Leggett is a National Board Certified Teacher in Middle Childhood Generalist. She received her Master’s in Elementary Education from Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania. She currently teaches third grade at Prairie Ridge Elementary in Shawnee, Kansas.Her classroom website is and classroom blog is

© 2013 Brandi Leggett. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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