Activity Introduction

Quick summary: In this lesson, students take part in an eco-design challenge to repurpose objects that were destined for recycling or landfill. The STEM focus is creating a ‘useful’ item out of ‘useless junk’. This lesson encourages your students to stretch their imaginations with endless potential design possibilities. Students will experience design in a hands-on way and be challenged to think quickly to boost innovative thinking.

We’ve taken elements of this lesson and adapted them for remote learning. You can find this activity here.

Learning intentions:

  • Students will develop and build a design object
  • Students will create a useful item from useless items
  • Students can identify and trouble-shoot challenges
  • Students will understand the design process
  • Students can offer and apply a variety of solutions.

21st century skills: 


Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions: 

Years 5 & 6 Design and Technologies:

  • Investigate characteristics and properties of a range of materials, systems, components, tools and equipment and evaluate the impact of their use (ACTDEK023)
  • Critique needs or opportunities for designing, and investigate materials, components, tools, equipment and processes to achieve intended designed solutions (ACTDEP024)
  • Generate, develop and communicate design ideas and processes for audiences using appropriate technical terms and graphical representation techniques (ACTDEP025)
  • Select appropriate materials, components, tools, equipment and techniques and apply safe procedures to make designed solutions (ACTDEP026)

Syllabus outcomes: ST3-13MW, ST3-5WT

General capabilities: Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capabilities.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability.

Relevant parts of Years 5 & 6 achievement standards: 

Students explain how the features of technologies impact on designed solutions for each of the prescribed technologies contexts.

Students create design solutions for each of the prescribed technologies contexts suitable for identified needs or opportunities.

They combine design ideas and communicate these to audiences using graphical representation techniques and technical terms.

Students select and use appropriate technologies and techniques correctly and safely to produce designed solutions.

Topic: STEM/STEAM, Creative Thinking, Sustainability, Waste.

Unit of work: STEM Challenges — Primary

Time required: 90 mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium to High. Teachers are to set the experience and guide the children during the STEM session. The role of the teacher switches to a co-facilitator assisting groups in the design phase and asserting safe practices in the build phase.

Resources required:

  • Student Worksheets – one copy per student.
  • A range of junk drawer items or items that can be repurposed or are intended for recycling.

Related Professional Development: Practical Steps for STEM Inquiry

Keywords: STEM, STEAM, challenge, eco-design, creativity, re-purpose, re-imagine, design, build, engineering, industrial design, recycling.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions: Students will…

  • … develop and build a design object
  • … create a useful item from useless items
  • … understand the design process.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • … work independently and collaboratively
  • … offer and apply a variety of solutions
  • … reflect on their learning over time
  • … think creatively.

Teacher content information:

STEM challenges are flexible and can be used as a stand-alone lesson, a starting lesson leading to the exploration of bigger concepts, or to finish off a unit of work. Whichever way you choose to use STEM challenges, they are interactive, fun and engaging for the students.

Providing students with opportunities to experience open-ended tasks is important for helping students build confidence and explore and test their skills and limitations. However, the process can sometimes be challenging or frustrating for students. Some students thrive when undertaking a STEM challenge, while others can find i

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Student Worksheet

Thought starter: 'One person's trash is another person's treasure' ~ proverb

In present times, we are part of a throw-away society. This STEM activity is designed to inspire you to create something new and purposeful out of something old or useless.

STEM challenge: To create a new, purposeful object using items from the class junk drawer.

Challenge guidelines:
Each team can use...

  • … up to four junk drawer items to construct a new object.
  • … two or more different binding materials of only 1.5 metres in length in total (tape, string, etc).
  • … one elastic band.
  • … only 30 minutes to construct their object.


  • Teams should have no more than four members. You can also work alone.
  • Teams must work together in a positive way and include all team members.
  • Each team must describe how Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths are used in their design.
  • Each team will share their design ideas and final creation with the class.

Junk Drawer Design Challenge

Our obj

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