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Deconstruction: Breaker Space Gives Cooper Kids Room to be Creative - from The Messenger

February 26, 2020

In the library at Cooper Elementary School, a pair of students work to dismantle a piece of ancient technology once used by their ancestors — a VCR with a VHS of the movie “Shrek” stuck in it.

At the next table, another pair of students is taking apart a remote-controlled toy tank, methodically removing each screw keeping the cover attached to the tank’s body.

“How do you unscrew a screw?” Cooper librarian Jean Black asked fourth grade student Zach Palm as he worked on the tank.

“Lefty loosey, righty tighty,” he responded as he demonstrated on the toy.

The students were participating in a “Breaker’s Space” time in the school’s library. While other students worked in a “Maker’s Space” creating things, these students worked to deconstruct old toys and small appliances.

2 students taking apart remote control car

Black had heard of other schools doing similar activities and already had a student who enjoyed dismantling old TV remote controls.

“His name is Gavin Sankey, he’s in third grade,” she said. “He just wanted to take everything apart that I had that I didn’t use anymore. I started looking up ideas of what to do with parts you take apart, and it just gives kids a chance to be creative. There’s no rules, really, except for the safety rules that we have.”

Students are given tools like screwdrivers and pliers and are shown how to safely use them. They also have personal protective equipment like glasses and gloves when necessary.

“I tell them they can’t force it apart, they have to figure out how it comes apart,” Black explained. “The idea is for them to look at it and see how it works, where the power source is and how that fits into the circuit boards and things like that.”

As students take the items apart, they put some of the pieces in a box, which will be used to make new things.

2 students working to take apart a VCR

“It’s re-purposing,” Black said. “When we get all the parts, we’ll start making weird stuff with the parts. They can just be creative and do whatever they want. And they’ll learn how to use hot glue guns and maybe soldering equipment for the older kids.”

While Palm and classmate Josh Townsend worked to open the toy tank, Palm said he didn’t know what to expect once they got it open.

“I don’t really see any moving pieces besides the tires,” he said.

At the next table, fourth graders Tai Nguyen and Bennett Nekvinda were focused on freeing the “Shrek” videotape from the VCR. The age of the technology didn’t faze Nguyen.

“My mom has one of these at home,” he said.

Eventually, the boys were able to break the videotape free from its vice.

“There was a little piece of plastic holding it down on the side,” Nekvinda explained.

Then, they moved on to deconstructing the circuit boards and other parts of the machine.

“It’s like the pieces of the middle of a fidget spinner,” Nguyen described one of the pieces he removed.

Nekvinda said he enjoyed “breaking stuff” during his time in the library.

“It’s fun to take stuff apart,” he said.

Black said the school welcomes old toys and small machines for students to deconstruct, but “we just don’t want everybody’s garbage at the front door.” Those interested in donating items to the Breaker’s Space can call the school office at 515-574-5602.

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