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Getting Down to the Bottom of Things: Taking Apart Appliances for Lessons

Curriculum Center

Taking small appliances apart can be fun and a learning experience, as remedial reading and writing teacher Elaine Hardman's class found out at a Take It Apart Party. Putting it all back together turned out to be at least as much fun as dismantling it! Included: Hardman shares ideas for other fun -- and educational -- classroom parties!




More Party Plans!

The Take It Apart party is only one example of the fun and educational parties Elaine Hardman has created for her students. Sometimes they cook but not in the usual way. "The only communication allowed for direction giving and conversation is in writing," she said. "No talking allowed until we eat.

"We color Easter eggs and have roller skating parties in the gym," Hardman continued. "We had one origami day. That was fun. Sewing is a hoot. Usually we have it at Christmas and hand-sew ornaments from felt. I spend a lot of time threading needles."

Hardman herself is a potter, so her students sometimes make things from clay. Last year they made bowls, and this year they made lamps. Hardman is more than willing to communicate with teachers interested in her party ideas. Her e-mail address is Elaine Hardman.

Do you have a fun party idea that you would like to share? Click here to share your party idea on today's message board!

"I took apart a telephone," Sarah wrote. "It looked like a little town, and the screws are the people."

Sarah dismantled the telephone during a Take It Apart Party organized by Elaine Hardman, an elementary remedial reading and writing teacher at Andover Central School in Allegheny County, New York. Should teachers encourage students to take apart appliances and other household items? Hardman thinks so, given the right circumstances.

Hardman runs a monthly after-school club for her students and, as vital as academics are, she likes to devote the time to activities that are essentially fun, with an accompanying educational component.

"After four years of having a monthly after-school party, I'm starting to dig deeper into my creativity to find new ideas for parties," Hardman told Education World. "In February, we made snowmen out of scrap wood. There was a tremendous clamor of hammer in this place. The students loved nailing things together. I decided we'd make something else while the interest was there."

As often happens with creative ideas, the rest of the concept for the party sprang from a chance occurrence. "My brother-in-law was cleaning house for his grandfather," Hardman related. "They had lots of things to throw away -- mostly old appliances. Suddenly it clicked. We'd take apart instead of build."

Hardman asked faculty members for such throwaways as broken small appliances. She collected "quite a pile. Some of the 'talk to me about parties and hair-dos' girls said they didn't know how to take things apart. We had a practice session and took apart a telephone. They were hooked on the idea."

While dismantling small appliances, students found magnets and small speakers inside telephones, spirals of wire in a cone shape inside a hair dryer, and lots of soldered pieces inside a hard drive. The inside of "a digital clock looks a lot like a hard drive if you don't know much about the soldered pieces," Hardman said. "Inside a shoe shiner is a ring of ball bearings -- very cool."

The party is seen as a reward for good work, but usually the students write about it. Sam and Eugene wrote "What we are doing is taking apart stuff that is not working or is old. We are taking things apart because we want to have experiments. Our teacher just wants us to have a really good time with things. She also wants us to have fun without homework."

Hardman takes digital photographs at each party, and the more-detailed stories are published in the school district newsletter. Her class publishes a monthly magazine that children take home. The magazine also goes into school and town libraries.



As it turned out, the Take It Apart Party became a Put It Together Party. Hardman's students used the fruits of their dismantling labor to assemble various things, including sculpture.

"Nick made a bird house," Hardman said. "No residents yet. Amy, Courtney, and Nicole made faces and used the coiled wire from a phone for hair. Trevor and Patrick made sculptures that defy words.

"Adam and Eugene and Chris made huge things using pieces of a two-by-four for the base. They nailed on two VCRs and a satellite controller. They put the things in their clubhouse on the hill."



Organizing a Take It Apart Party is not exactly simple, Hardman said, but it isn't that complicated either. She offered the following tips on getting ready for the party:

  • Borrow safety glasses from the shop teacher and have all students wear them.
  • Ask each student to bring tools to share so you will have several hammers, pliers, wire cutters, different sizes of straight and Phillips screwdrivers, and a drill.
  • Allow only teachers to use the drill.
  • Set up a specific off-limits location for drilling.