Sustainable Tinkering

The idea for Strawbees sprouted when inventor and co-founder of Strawbees, Erik Thorstensson, transformed plastic scrap into clothespin-like connectors while play-prototyping with children in India to create and build with using the die cutting machine now known as the Sustainability Station. With this exciting discovery, Thorstensson also imagined how a single-use straw could be repurposed as a building block for creation over consumption.

Thus began the innovative journey from straws and connectors to create Strawbees with the grand vision in hands-on learning starting with waste and found materials. As the company progressed through the stages of inventing, reinventing, and now growing as a global leader in hands-on STEAM education.

We are a company full of young aspirational engineers, environmentalists, developers, creatives and educators. To aim for a closed-loop system and to reduce, reuse and recycle is simply part of our DNA.
Erik Thorstensson, our Chief Innovation Officer and Inventor behind Strawbees

With a mechanical engineer specialized in environmental product design as a founder, Strawbees has stayed true to one of its core values, sustainability, in its on-going practice and research for the future. In creating with Strawbees, teachers and students have the unique opportunity to join in the process of sustainable tinkering, creating designs that are reusable, recyclable, and that reduce the use of waste materials.

Strawbees and Core Sustainable Development Goals

With sustainability at the heart of its identity, Strawbees lessons and activity resources align with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals passed by the United Nations in the blueprint for Agenda 2030 for a more sustainable world. These goals are intended to end poverty, reduce inequality, ensure health, boost economies, and protect the environment. They are meant to protect people and build cooperative partnerships among nations. Across all articles and student resources in the Strawbees Classroom, Strawbees aims to uphold:

  • Goal 4 – Quality Education
  • Goal 5 – Gender Equality 
  • Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production

[1] Learn more about the individual Sustainable Development Goals at the official United Nations website here.

Goal 4

[2] Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all with Goal 4.

The new Strawbees classroom builds upon our philosophy to create resources for quality education. The Strawbees Classroom is built with both the teachers and students in mind. Strawbees supports teachers, as they support and educate students, by developing relevant standards aligned curriculum, and creating a Classroom with all resources, activities, and lesson plans at their fingertips.

Strawbees understands education as a global and common good, fundamental human right, and a way of realizing other rights. We achieve this goal by creating resources and content with flexible and inclusive learning opportunities for teachers with low entry barriers, a wide range of outcomes, and high expectations of what can be achieved for students using the Creative Learning Spiral from MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten as the backbone of our lesson plans.

[3] Kindergarten learning approach for student projects to iterate through the Creative Learning Spiral coined by Mitch Resnick of Lifelong Kindergarten.

Students are also empowered as they iterate their projects with the Creative Learning Spiral across all Strawbees activities or in lesson plans. Through this hands-on learning, they come to recognize the intrinsic value of education and analyze and identify their own learning needs in their personal development.

Goal 5

[4] Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls with Goal 5.

Strawbees play an important role in empowering girls to achieve their dreams.  The founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, founded the organization as part of her “mission to close the gender gap in tech.” In 2017, only 24% of computer scientists were women. As she stated in her Ted Talk, girls are often taught to value perfection over bravery and may be reluctant to take risks by taking coding and engineering classes in high school and college. Instead, Saujani relates and we can empower girls and women by emphasizing bravery, rather than perfection.  

Strawbees approaches building, design, and coding, with a very low risk, low frustration entry level. At the same time, the Learning Spiral helps all students, girls in particular, become accustomed to tinkering and persevering through problems and landing on several solutions. There is a level playing field which allows girls to quickly build the confidence they need to one day pursue opportunities and careers in STEM fields.

Goal 12

[5] Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns with Goal 12.

Strawbees straws and connectors are durable and reusable in themselves, and enable educators and learners to make over and over again with these same materials. Students can rapidly prototype a lightweight design then quickly disassemble the build to create a new model. In addition, the straws are now prepared pre-cut, which supports responsible production in lessening waste from cutting the straws. 

Students, in turn, can focus more of their time and energies on discovering new ideas, hands-on opportunities to learn, reiterating and refining designs, and growing communicative and collaborative skills as they imaginatively share about their Strawbees designs. Sustainable consumption with Strawbees also includes reimagining and repurposing items like cardboard, paper, and egg cartons. These materials can be creatively combined and continually repurposed with Strawbees straws and connectors to make curious and innovative three-dimensional builds of all shapes, scales, and sizes.

Sustainability Station, a die cutting machine to make infinite amounts of connectors from found waste material.

Assessment

The Sustainable Development Goals are flexible and an excellent starting point for teachers who want to connect student learning experiences to real world problems. Engaging students with real world problems, such as those found in the SDGs, makes education more relevant and motivating for students. Motivation, itself, is a huge factor in predicting student success. 

When browsing through, student resources focus on a single SDG while other lessons crossover with 2 or even 3 SDGs depending on the topics covered. Lessons in Strawbees Classroom include challenges featuring these SDGs:   

  • Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellness
  • Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Goal 13 – Climate Action
  • Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals

Whether teachers are just started with problem-based learning or already experienced practitioners, Strawbees and the Sustainable Development Goals make learning both engaging and relevant for students.