From Trash to Treasure Part 2: Inspiration to Reality

Learning, Learning Theory, MAET Year 1, Maker Movement, Repurposing, Squishy Circuits

I recently shared my Thrifting experience and design plans for a Don Quijote inspired Spanish windmill. I had thought ahead a bit and designed my invention to be a “test run” of sorts for my potential lesson plan.

Again, the maker kit that my group and I had was “Squishy Circuits”. This kit is an awesome tool for younger students to more actively participate in the circuitry experience safely and creatively.

My third and fourth grade Spanish students focus their cultural learning on Central American countries. My goal for this particular lesson including “Squishy Circuits” is to have them contribute to their understanding of Culture through the Products and Perspectives Standard, which requires that students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied.

It would be easy to assign students to create a poster or a PowerPoint packed to the brim with information about a certain landmark from a country and present it to the class to demonstrate their understanding. However, this is a topic that students really struggle to assign meaning to. How without actually physically traveling to these landmarks am I able to get my students to achieve a deeper understanding and make connections? Regurgitating memorized information is not going to create that deeper connection.

My idea is that earlier in the year, we would have covered the basic geography of Central America and done a bit of background about each country. We would have explored Nicaragua deeply in fourth grade through a service-learning project and Guatemala deeply in third through a holiday related project.

Bringing in the idea that “…learning is enhanced…when teachers pay attention to the knowledge and beliefs that learners bring to a learning task, use this knowledge as a starting point for new instruction, and monitor students’ changing conceptions as instruction proceeds, ”(Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, p. 11) I would begin this lesson by introducing students to a specific Central American landmark and have them help me produce some basic background information about that landmark. This would ensure that my students are achieving meaningful learning by giving them the background knowledge to build their future knowledge upon.

In my experience, Vygotsky’s learning theories of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development are key in successful language teaching. I usually scaffold my learners through teacher or student modeling, which I would do in this lesson by having them walk through an example list of resources that I would probably post using the MentorMob learning playlist tool for the example landmark. As we walk through these resources, I would ask questions to have them describe their thinking about the landmark and encourage them to make connections from the resources we looked at and from using prior knowledge. I would then divide my students up in small groups and assign each group a landmark.

Some examples of landmarks:

Panama Canal (Panama)

Ometepe Island (Nicaragua)

Tikal Temple in Tikal National Park (Guatemala)

Catedral Metropolitana/ Catedral de Panamá (Panama)

Joya de Cerén (El Salvador)

Depending on my students’ background knowledge of circuitry, I might either go through just the tools included in the “Squishy Circuits” kit, give an actual demonstration or just hand it to them with no explanation via the constructivist theory (or the Craig McMichael method).

I would give my students the tools to get started on their creation of this landmark and then focus on supporting the participatory and hands-on learning portion that really creates the meaning for this particular topic. I think it is awesome to have the science part embedded within the culture through the “Squishy Circuits” kit. I will probably be able to kick start some students’ motivation on the sole fact it is science related. I consider myself a global educator who “…use(s) participatory learning activities such as simulations because they infuse their classrooms with complexity, unpredictability, and realism.” (Byrnes, 1997, p. 100) Students have to be able to feel like they can go out and apply these skills in the real world. Through my use of participatory learning, I can see that “…participatory learning helps students develop analytic and interpersonal skills” (Byrnes, 1997, p. 99) that they would not be developing just working individually on a PowerPoint.


Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Byrnes, R. S. (1997). Global education’s promise: reinvigorating classroom life in a changing, interconnected world. Theory Into Practice, 3695-101.

From Trash to Treasure: Thrifting for Inspiration

Learning, MAET Year 1, Maker Movement, Repurposing, Squishy Circuits

As a relatively young teaching professional with a generous amount of student loans, thrifting has recently become a new default mode of shopping for myself. Yes, having shiny new things are nice and necessary occasionally,  but through some recent personal experiences I have become much more weary of the culture of consumption that we live in.

For this reason, I was excited to dive into thrifting for our maker project experience. I did not get a chance to visit the MSU Surplus store but did visit digitally via the website. I also physically visited several local resale shops to look for inspiration.

Our group’s maker kit was the “Squishy Circuits” kit. This kit uses conductive play dough and insulated play dough along with a battery pack, two buzzers and a rotor to allow younger students to safely and creatively play with circuitry.

I must admit, I approached this task thinking ahead to how I would incorporate my maker kit into a lesson for my Spanish classroom. At first glance, I was at a loss for ideas. This is after all a tool geared more for science and art.  When we had a our “play”sessions, we only seemed to go so far and then we ran out of things to do with this kit. So I began brainstorming to think of something I already do with my students and how I could incorporate the “Squishy Circuits” kit as a way of embedding the science portion into the Spanish content. My students study Hispanic cultures and one of the hardest things to give them is perspective. How do you accurately describe the beauty and significance of a certain culture landmark in ways that have meaning for students who have never had the experience of actually seeing the landmark in real life? Rather than research the landmark, print off some pretty pictures and give a poster or PowerPoint presentation, what if I had them actually work to (within reason) accurately create the landmark using “Squishy Circuits”?  They would get a hands on experience and have to research and answer those key critical thinking questions in order to be able to represent theirlandmark accurately. I could mold this idea to whatever country or concept we are talking about but the first inspiration to strike me was the majestic windmills in La Mancha in Consuegra, Spain that inspired Cervantes in Don Quijote.

So with that idea in mind, I went thrifting for inspiration.


I saw Legos, which reminded me of the Lego architecture sets that are out there and how popular they are. I thought about how building the landmark will give my students a completely different experience than just looking at a picture or talking about it. I looked at all the small jewelry pieces and thought about giving my students all sorts of random mediums to accomplish their goal of replicating this landmark. Exploring the different mediums will also force them to understand the circuitry aspect of “Squishy Circuits” as well. Roaming the thrift stores, there are all sorts of objects that could be incorporated into the play dough of the squishy circuit. If it is a plastic object say Legos, they will have to understand that it is not conductive and therefore design their building accordingly. If it is a metal object, they will have to experiment to see if it is a conductive metal or not and if that effects the architecture of their building. In the case of this project, I was using the thrift store more as a starting point of inspiration of where to go with the design of my windmill. And it worked…

Less than twenty minutes later, out to lunch with my husband, I began to talk out with him the idea for my windmill design. The stars seemed to have aligned as we happened to be eating at a restaurant that gives you one of those paper tablecloths and crayons. We both began to illustrate what we were thinking and created prototypes of this windmill made with “Squishy Circuits”. Amazing how some of the best ideas come together and appear in the oddest places (7 Brilliant Ideas Scribbled on Cocktail Napkins).


Ok, so my drawing skills leave much to be desired but after talking it out with my husband, we sketched out a basic layout that would work in theory and determined the tools I would need to create it.

How to Create a Spanish Windmill using “Squishy Circuits”

I will do my very best here to explain step by step how you could go about creating a working La Mancha inspired windmill that should end up looking as majestic as the real ones in Spain. Or at the very least, a functioning windmill.

Supplies Needed:

  • 2 batches of conductive play dough NO FOOD COLORING ADDED SO DOUGH REMAINS WHITE (click here for recipe)     (HELPFUL HINT: make sure to label this dough in a plastic bag “conductive” so it does not get confused with the insulating dough)
  • 1 batch of insulating play dough NO FOOD COLORING ADDED SO DOUGH REMAINS WHITE (click here for recipe)                         (HELPFUL HINT: make sure to label this dough in a plastic bag “insulating” so it does not get confused with the conductive dough)
  • 1 batch of conductive play dough (equal portions of blue, yellow and red  to create black play dough) (click here for recipe)


1 metal spool with holes (no thread)

  • 1 medium sized rubber band
  • 1 wooden skewer
  • needle nose pliers
  • 12 inches by 1 inch of mesh (can be wire mesh or window screen mesh) cut into four separate 3 inch by 1 inch pieces
  • hot glue gun

What To Do First?

Create Your Windmill Shape


1. Begin by forming your white conductive dough into a vertical cylinder shape. This will represent the white bottom of the windmill. You may not use all the dough depending on the size of your desired windmill.

2. Now take your white insulating dough and create a cookie shape cylinder to insert on top of the white conductive dough vertical cylinder. This dough should be about an 1″ in height on top of the white conductive dough.

3. To finish your windmill shape, take the black conductive dough and create a cone shape proportionate to your white cylinder shape. Make sure that the black conductive cone shape is not touching the white conductive dough only the insulating dough underneath.

photo(11)Create Youphoto(12)r Windmill Blades

1. First, find your metal spool and four sections of three inch wire. In the tiny holes on the side of the metal spool, locate four holes that are diagonal from each other and will create an X shape for the blades of your windmill.

2. Use the needlenose pliers to bend each wire through one of the tiny holes on the spool and bend it back through to secure it to the spool. Do this with all four pieces of the metal wire to form the X shape blade.

3. Heat your hot glue gun. When the glue gun is ready, attach your four pieces of mesh or window screen to each wire vertically to imitate the blades on the windmill. Make sure to use small dots of hot glue so that you are not making the blades too heavy with glue. Let each dry.

4. Find one of your wooden skewers and your metal spool. Take your wooden skewer and thread it through the large hole in the metal spool. On one end of the wooden skewer add a small sphere of leftover dough to act as a stopper for the metal spool. Make sure the dough does not actually touch the metal spool.

5. Insert the wooden skewer near the bottom of the black conductive dough cone. Make sure to leave space of the metal spool to be able to spin freely. If there is extra wooden skewer stick out of the back of your windmill, feel free to cut it off with scissors.

Make It Move


1. On the side opposite your windmill blades, attach your positive (red) side of the the battery pack to the black conductive dough. Attach your negative (black) side of the battery pack to the white conductive dough. Your dough is now charged.

2. On the side with the windmill blades about 1-2 inches directly below your metal spool insert your motor into the white conductive dough. Insert the positive (red) side of the motor into the black conductive dough. attach your negative (black) side of the motor to the white conductive dough. Your motor should now be functioning.

3. While working on step 3, remove the negative side of the motor so it stops rotating. Take the rubber band and wrap it around the metal spool and around the spinning motor end. Reattach your negative side of the motor to the white conductive dough and now the rotation of the motor should translate to the spool and result in a spinning windmill!

Give it Some Character

You have successfully created a working windmill. Feel free now to give your windmill some character or just bask in the glory of your accomplishment. You can add windows, doors, cracks in the dough, ect. to give it that older and more authentic feel. Also each “La Mancha” windmill has name so feel free to add that above the door of your windmill in marker. Excelente!

Please comment below if you have any suggestions or ways to improve the design of the windmill. Do you have other architectural structures that lend themselves to recreation using “Squishy Circuits”?