An educational blog for teachers and students.


You never know when a shift can happen

Posted on September 24, 2014 by Kathy Rusert

bales of cansWhen I talked to my eighth graders about joining the “Great American Can Roundup,” it was met with little enthusiasm. But when I explained it would be good to collect aluminum cans and enter the contest since we would also be making a little money for a class field trip, they all agreed to get on board.


When I started thinking the project through, I realized all the different standards I could touch with this one idea.

Science standards - I made it a study of raw materials used to make cans and students researched how they are recycled.  The students identified and easily understood how to:

         Reduce—easy, just use fewer aluminum cans 
         Recycle—easy, we were going to collect cans and take them to the recycling center; and
         REUSE—OK, now I had their attention!

Then the “shift” happened

The idea of reusing awakened the imagination and creative talents of everyone in the classroom. These creative inventors designed and crafted shoes, airplanes, bracelets, flowers and many other things from aluminum cans! Our standard lessons on protecting the environment now became an art lesson that would allow for student freedom and creativity!

Common Core standards - After making their art pieces, the students wrote detailed directions on how the project could be replicated by other people. A display was placed in the hallway with the artwork and copies of directions for other students to pick up.

Technology standards - The students created a multi-media presentation to enter in the Destination Science Competition for our area. They entered PowerPoints, prezis, Photo Story 3 presentations or a video. One of our students placed first in the technology compPtition!

"Next generation" science standards - They evaluated mining practices to extract the aluminum from bauxite mined in Arkansas and discussed various design solutions to maintain biodiversity and ways to protect ecosystem services. They investigated the interactions, energy and dynamics within ecosystems where bauxite is mined and where recycling factors use the aluminum for other purposes.

Math standards - the students used ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world mathematical problems when they created graphs and tables relating to harvesting, using and recycling aluminum, and they summarized numerical data sets relating to bauxite and aluminum.

Although we didn’t win “The Great American Can Roundup,” the project was definitely a success.

Next time things don’t go as planned, remember that when “shift happens,” it can be a good thing!

Kathy Rusert is a teacher at Acorn High School in Mena, AR and a regular blogger on She often writes about the projects she does with her class and the funding she's able to receive from websites like

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