Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Makerspace Essentials – Cardboard

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials (2)

Obviously, you don’t need money to add cardboard to your maker space.  If you time things just right, you can get plenty of donations. The beginning and end of the school year will yield donations from teachers who are unpacking or cleaning out.  If you send out an e-mail to parents, they will be thrilled to contact you whenever they have empty boxes.  Local companies will also be more than happy to donate cardboard.  Mattress Firm, for example, partners with the Global Cardboard Challenge each year to provide cardboard for schools participating in that project.

One of our 2014 Cardboard Arcade games
One of our 2014 Cardboard Arcade games

One piece of advice I can offer after doing this for a couple of years is to ask donors to remove any packing peanuts or other filler before depositing boxes on your doorstep.  Those little pieces are impossible to sweep and you will find them clinging to your clothes months after your project is complete.

And that leads me to uses for the cardboard.  One of the activities that introduced me to the chaos and joy of making was the Global Cardboard Challenge, inspired by the video, “Caine’s Arcade.”  This year, some of our cardboard even got reused twice – first as arcade games and then as enrichment activities for rescued wild animals.

Once the Cardboard Arcade was done, our need for cardboard diminished but didn’t disappear.  My students use it for Genius Hour projects, leprechaun traps, and robot tracks.  Like the mother in Christina Katerina and the Box, you will frequently be certain that the cardboard has outlived its usefulness when one of your students will dream up another idea and yank a ragged piece from the jaws of the recycling bin.

Don’t get me wrong.  Cardboard is useful, but storing it is a pain. If your maker space is a corner of your classroom or even the desks of your students, you may need to be creative about where to put all of those boxes and pallets.  I do not have an easy answer for this – except to take a deep breath and accept the fact that you will not only be maneuvering around foosball games and cardboard obstacle courses, but a room full of students completely engaged in creating. It’s worth the chaos.

The great thing about cardboard is that it’s free.  You can augment it with some of the following supplies, however, if you have the funds and vendor approval:

  • Klever Kutters – I won’t say these are 100% safe since nothing is, but they are way safer than scissors!
  • Shipping/Packing tape – A good stock of this is super important.
  • Makedo tools – My students love the hole puncher and the safe saw.  Previous classroom packs included plastic hinges which were amazingly versatile.  However, beware, this company is based in Australia and often seems to be sold out of classroom kits.  I like their product, but it can be difficult to obtain due to vendor issues.  A similar product that I haven’t tried is McGroovy’s Box Rivets.

For ideas for Cardboard Box projects, check out this link, Global Cardboard Challenge, or my Make Pinterest Board.


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