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3 Sustainable Science Olympic Activities For Kids | Recycled Metal, Alloys, and Upcycled Olympic Medal Project

Wondering what the Tokyo 2020 Olympics can teach kids about sustainability? The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee aligned many projects and programs with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to help ensure this international event serves the global population. 

Specifically, they worked with Japanese residents across the country to sustainably source metal for the Olympic medals as part of the Tokyo 2020 Nationwide Participation Programme. Read on for more about the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project and how the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee partnered with thousands of citizens to create unique Olympic medals for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Also, try out one of three sustainable science activities for kids all about metals, alloys, and Olympic Medals. 

Image of five sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post.

Buried in a box in the back of a storage closet, we have a collection of old cell phones and small electronics collecting dust and becoming increasingly obsolete with each iteration of technological advancement. We keep these cell phones partially with the intent of using them as backup phones, if needed, but also because we haven’t taken the time to dispose of them (and the private data they store) responsibly.

I suspect we aren’t the only ones with a collection of aging electronics worth little more than the metal of which they are made. Aware of these perfectly good metal stocks wasting away in millions of households, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee) created a program called the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project to partner with residents to source materials for each of the Olympic Medals that would be awarded over the course of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

From April 2017 to March 2019, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee partnered with over 1,600 municipalities and companies to collect millions of small electronic devices like cell phones from people all across Japan. They worked with smelting contractors to extract the metal from each of the items and gathered enough recycled metal to make approximately 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze medals, all of the medals that will be awarded to victorious athletes during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 

With the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a core tenet of the Olympic Committee’s principles, they highlighted the power of partnerships between Japanese residents, Japanese municipalities, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee to showcase the importance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #17: Partnerships For The Goals.

Related Reading: Check out more educational activities for kids about how the Olympics incorporate and support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Image of five sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with three colored pencils.
Image of five sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with four colored pencils.

Why Responsible Sourcing and Repurposing Metals Matters

The Tokyo Medal Project also reduces the consumption of virgin metals in favor of recycling metal from unused electronics. Recycled metal reduces the mining necessary to extract new metal from our Earth. Recycled metal also requires less energy to process relative to extracting new minerals, thus reducing the carbon footprint of the Olympic Medal production process. 

The mining of metals bears several harmful environmental impacts. Mining harms habitats where extraction takes place. Chemicals used in the mines pollute local ecosystems. And the development of mines can contribute to deforestation when mines are created in otherwise forested areas. 

By using recycled metals to make all of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals, the Olympic Committee is practicing the principles of SDG 12 Responsible Consumption. This program also reduced the need to mine new metals, protecting wildlife and their habitats on land and in water which align with SDG 14 Life Below Water and SDG 15 Life on Land, respectively.

As sustainability becomes an increasingly urgent core principle of our lives, it’s neat to see events like the Olympics shine a light on how everyday people can participate in a large program that demonstrates large-scale recycling, responsible consumption, and the power of working together to create unique programs for sustainable success.

3 Sustainable Science Olympic Activities For Kids | Recycled Metal, Alloys, and Upcycled Olympic Medal Project

We’ve created three sustainable Olympic activities for kids that repurpose materials. These kids’ STEM activities also provide an opportunity to see how global event organizers can partner with local communities to host more sustainable events by prioritizing practices like using recycled instead of new resources. Check out these three Olympic activities for kids and learn more about the sustainable science of metals and alloys. 

Below we’ve included information to complete each of the three sustainable Olympic activities for kids. We also created printable worksheets to go along with the instructions that include a few additional fun activities related to recycled metals, alloys, and the Olympic Medals. Drop your email below and the whole workbook will be in your inbox in just a few minutes!

Download the Sustainable Science Olympic Medals Activities Workbook!

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    Here are three sustainable science Olympic activities for kids all related to the metals and alloys used to make the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals for this year’s summer Olympics.

    Image of several sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with four colored pencils.

    #1 Upcycled Olympic Medal Craft Projects

    Aligns with SDG 12 Responsible Consumption

    Encourage children to embody the intentions of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee and create upcycled Olympic Medals with any recycled or repurposed materials they can find around the house. Create unique Olympic Medals with cardboard, string, and paint. Reuse plastic bottle caps, plastic container tops, or jar tops and poke a hole for a ribbon or lanyard to create three-dimensional medals.

    If you want to make your Olympic Medals look like the real Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals, take a look at this year’s Olympic Medal design details. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals are 85 mm in diameter and between 7.7 – 12.1 mm thick. You can see photos and get more inspiration about size, weight, and style if you want to replicate the medals the athletes will win this summer. 

    As kids create their own upcycled Olympic Medals, discuss why it’s important to reuse things they already have at home. Help them understand why this reduces waste, limits the burden on the planet, and saves money when we don’t buy new supplies for creative projects.

    Be sure to download the worksheets to go along with this Olympic craft project. You’ll find space on the printable activity sheet to plan your creation and compare your plan to the final product. We’ve also included a fun Olympic Medal word search and a sustainable Olympic Medal vocabulary matching activity.

    Image of five sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with two colored pencils.

    #2 How To Recycle Metals In Our Homes

    Aligns with SDG 12 Responsible Consumption, 17 Partnerships For the Goals

    Encourage children to browse around your home and search for unused small electronics that have metal in them that could have been donated to the Tokyo Medal Project. Some examples include cell phones, laptops, tablets, chargers, and headphones, just to name a few.

    Although we can’t participate in the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project, research ways that you can recycle these materials in your local area. You may also consider the pros and cons of each option. For example, some options might pay you for your recycled electronics while others cost a fee to use. Some options may have larger carbon footprints due to transportation or processing. Other alternatives may support local charities. Brainstorm the pros and cons of each option you found in your area. 

    Image of three sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with two colored pencils.

    Ways To Recycle Electronics in Your Area

    Below we’ve included a few ideas to jump-start brainstorming. There are many ways to recycle electronics you no longer need. Sometimes, you can even make money by selling small electronic devices you no longer need but that still have plenty of life left in them.

    • Retailer disposal program (like the Best Buy Electronics Recycling Program)
    • Wireless provider phone trade-in program
    • Electronics resale company (like Trademore)
    • Recycling center
    • Municipal e-waste collection event
    • Thrift shop donation
    • Facebook Marketplace
    • Local trade or swap groups

    Download the printable workbook full of sustainable Olympic activities for kids by dropping your email in the signup form below. The free downloadable workbook includes sheets to brainstorm ways to recycle electronics in your community as well as space to write about the pros and cons of each electronics recycling alternative.

    Download the Sustainable Science Olympic Medals Activities Workbook!

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      #2 Bonus: Disassemble Small Electronics To Discover Metal Inside

      Aligns with SDG 12 Responsible Consumption, 9 Innovation

      Heads Up: This activity requires adult supervision. If you do this, proceed at your own risk and be sure to take precautions to unplug devices, remove any batteries, and be cautious to prevent injury.

      If you have a cell phone, laptop, or other small electronic appliance you no longer need, consider letting your child disassemble the electronic device to investigate how it works, how much metal is inside the device, and spark their interest in innovation.

      Not long ago, my son pulled out a miniature toolset and really wanted to build or deconstruct something with it. We had an old laptop that was collecting dust for years. I offered it to him, and he spent the next couple of days meticulously deconstructing the laptop to figure out more about how it worked and what was inside this sleek yet powerful machine.

      Image of two sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with some pennies, paper clips, and a magnet on a countertop.

      #3 Metals & Alloys | Science Scavenger Hunt For Kids

      Metals are all around you. The most common metals found in your home are aluminum and copper. 

      Did you know that metals are also mixed with other metals or nonmetals? These mixtures are known as alloys, and sometimes alloys have similar properties to metals. The most common alloys in your home are steel and brass. 

      Alloys are created to change or enhance the properties of a metal. For example, steel is an alloy of iron, carbon, and a trace amount of a few other elements. Iron is a very strong metal by itself, however, it rusts when exposed to water. When iron is mixed with carbon to make steel, the alloy does not rust.

      Another common alloy is brass, which is a mixture of copper and zinc. You may find brass doorknobs or railings in your house or have a musical instrument made of brass. 

      Pure copper is expensive and turns green, or oxidizes, over time. Using brass instead of pure copper can decrease the costs of manufacturing items and prevent oxidation.

      Image of several sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with three colored pencils.

      Metals and Alloys in the Olympic Medals

      At the Olympic Games, the Olympic Medal designs use both metals and alloys. Did you know the gold medal is made mostly of silver? The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Gold Medal is made of only 6 grams of gold plating over a silver base. 

      The Silver Medal is made of pure silver, the only Olympic Medal made entirely from the substance by which it’s named. 

      Bronze is another common alloy and is a mixture of copper and tin that can also include a small number of other elements. By adding tin to copper, the resulting alloy is much stronger than pure copper, which is why bronze has been used for centuries for creating statues. 

      But guess what?! The Olympic Bronze medal is actually made of brass! It’s made of 95% copper and 5% zinc. 

      When engineers innovate and design new things, from small Olympic medals to massive skyscrapers, they need to consider the properties of metals and alloys to know which will be best for the intended purposes. As countries build innovative and sustainable infrastructure, which uses lots of metals and alloys, they must consider which metals and alloys will help make everything from electronic devices to buildings strong, durable, sustainable, and affordable. Metals and alloys will be top of mind for many people pursuing SDG 9 Industry, Infrastructure, and Innovation. 

      Image of some sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with some pennies, paper clips, and a magnet.

      Science Scavenger Hunt about Metals and Alloys

      We’ve created a science scavenger hunt to help kids learn more about metals and alloys. Use this scavenger hunt and the related printable workbook to explore sustainable chemistry for kids related to the Olympic Medals. 

      While we’ve explained the activity below, we also provide a FREE printable workbook for you that has everything laid out with easy-to-follow instructions, space for drawing, and prompts for analyzing the results of the metal and alloy scavenger hunt. We’d love for you to sign up to have it sent right to your inbox so you can download it and print it out at home.

      To complete the science scavenger hunt, first find as many of the following items as you can:

      • Aluminum foil or can
      • Copper or copper-plated coin (example: an American penny)  or wire
      • Steel paper clip
      • Brass door handle or musical instrument
      • A magnet

      Then, sketch each of the items (minus the magnet) and label each as a metal or an alloy. Describe some properties of each object:

      • Is it shiny or dull? 
      • Is it smooth or rough?
      • Is it hard or brittle?

      Using the magnet, test to see if each item is magnetic or non-magnetic by observing if your magnet sticks to each item. Record your findings. 

      Teacher note: Copper, tin, zinc, and aluminum are all non-magnetic metals. Iron is a magnetic metal. The only substance that is magnetic is steel (the paper clip, in this case). 

      Image of some sheets from the downloadable activity kit related to this post along with some pennies, paper clips, and a magnet and several colored pencils.

      Think about why certain items are made with each of these metals or alloys? Did the engineer or designer use a specific metal or alloy to make the item stronger or to make it last longer? Maybe they chose a certain metal or alloy because they wanted it to look a certain way or to build it at a lower cost.

      Use your knowledge about metals and alloys to consider how the choice of certain metals or alloys in engineering can play an important role in the innovation, design, affordability, and sustainability of the things we build and create. 

      To download the entire free printable workbook of sustainable Olympic activities for kids, drop your email below. You’ll see the workbook in your inbox in just a minute or two. You’ll also be set to hear about the coolest and latest sustainability resources we create and curate to raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.

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        We can’t wait to connect with you in the RGK Club.

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        About The Author

        Jen Panaro

        Jen Panaro, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. She’s also a serial library book borrower and a messy gardener.

        As a mom to two boys, she is passionate about helping families be more responsible stewards to their communities and the planet. She also owns Honestly Modern, an online space focused on eco-friendly living for modern families.

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