Projects using toys are immediately engaging for students, and can provide surprising learning opportunities. Our first grade class had a whole unit on toys; they took apart toy cars to learn about how they worked, built tops (while learning some basic physics concepts), and designed new toys from scratch using a variety of materials.
They started the take-apart activity using Parts, Purposes, Complexities to think about how toys work (and safety!) through class discussion…
Here they are taking apart toy cars in class, after which they explored the parts and purposes of their toys.
Some close-ups of their completely taken-apart cars. They used the parts to create wall tiles so they could share their work during our Winter Expo (similar to a back-to-school night).
Then the moved on to building tops, with a variety of materials — we used cups, plastic lids, cardboard squares, skewers, straws, and golf pencils.
Students record multiple iterations of their design. This can also lead into writing practice, where they explain what changes they made, which one worked better, and why they think it did.
And finally, they designed new toys, based on their understanding from the take-apart and tops-building activities!
Students were encouraged throughout the process of making their toys look like their designs, and were generally very accurate. Notice the gemstone mouth on the heart toy and the description on the plans for the car of what materials they were going to use. The final picture is an example of a student who went on a bit of a design tangent when unexpected materials were introduced; he combined tinker toys and empty ribbon containers to make a space ship.