Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Problem Solving, Student Products

Cardboard Mini Golf

I am a recovering control freak/perfectionist.  So, when my students work on projects for #cardboardchallenge, it takes every ounce of restraint to not turn into a raving lunatic.  Nothing goes as planned; in fact plans are pretty much a waste of time.  My classroom looks like an episode of “Hoarders,” and I find duct tape hanging off of my clothes for months afterwards.

I constantly tell my students that empathy and mistakes are part of the design process, but it turns out I should be lecturing myself more than them.  While I watched over the mass production of cardboard miniature golf courses this year, I had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t be disappointed that my students’ visions were completely different than mine and that it’s not very encouraging to have a teacher keep telling you, “That’s not going to work!”

During the entire week leading up to our first project “reveal” at a school festival, I worried that it would rain.  On the day of the festival, bright sunshine greeted us – along with hurricane-worthy gusts of winds intent on adding the extra challenge of giving us moving targets as we ran around the basketball court chasing our golf courses.

The tech enhancements we had made for a few courses disappointed because they kept getting disconnected or weren’t loud enough to make people “ooh” and “ahh.”  Some students abandoned supervisory shifts of their courses to go play elsewhere, and one group took an hour to get their course working because one of the students had a picture in his mind of what it should like that none of the rest of us could understand, and he wouldn’t compromise.

I am not telling you this to complain or to discourage you from attempting a similar project.  I like to be honest on my posts, so people don’t get blindsided by obstacles when they decide to try out a “good idea.”  The question is, was this a good idea?

After we put some weights on the courses to keep them in one place, and students began to stream over to try out swinging the putters, I saw a lot of smiles.  I heard a few students talk about how proud they were of their work, a few who mentioned some adjustments they wanted to make, and a few who already had ideas for next year.  Some students took extra shifts to make sure their courses could stay open, and there were many kids who would try a course and then get back in line to try it again.  In other words, kids were having fun.

I had told the students this was our first big “test” of the courses, because we are hoping to take some to a S.T.E.A.M. Festival in December.  To be honest, though, it’s tempting to forget about that – just clean everything up and move on to other projects.  I am desperate to get back to some semblance of order and leave the chaos behind for awhile.  Fun was had, lessons were learned, so let’s call it a day, right?

But Design Thinking isn’t about giving up.  So, next week we are going to reflect on peer feedback, discuss improvements that can be made, and continue to make messes that will create knots in my stomach, but that I will accept as part of the process. We are going to move those projects from good enough to great.

But first I need to buy a lot more duct tape…

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.


Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Motivation, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

Global Cardboard Challenge 2014

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Yesterday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year.

Since most standardized tests used to measure “success” in schools today do not assess creativity, this skill tends to be less emphasized than ones that easily translate into multiple choice questions. However, I haven’t met one person who thinks that creativity is frivolous and many articles I’ve read, such as this one, from various news sources seem to indicate that it is a valuable attribute in the 21st century job market.

That being said, it’s sometimes difficult to fit creative activities into the school day.  The Global Cardboard Challenge is the perfect opportunity to revive the imaginations of your students.  First, show them the fabulous Caine’s Arcade videos.  Then, get your students to brainstorm and sketch their own ideas.  Next, give them time and resources to build.  Then, let them critique and improve.  And, finally have them share their creations.

Cardboard Theater (with a scrolling moving picture) created by one of my 3rd graders
Cardboard Theater (with a scrolling moving picture) created by one of my 3rd graders

There is not one right way to do this.  It can be during school, after school, on a weekend.  You can do it big and invite the community, or you can do it small and just involve your class or grade level.  The official date for the 2014 challenge is October 11th, but you can do it any day you want.

Last year, I just had my GT students participate.  I gave them an hour or two each week for about 4 weeks to work on their projects.  (If you want to see students completely engaged with absolutely no interest in even talking you, I promise this is the activity to try!)  Then they designed their own tickets and invited classmates to see their projects during recess.  This year, we’re going bigger.  I will still have my GT students make projects, but I will also have an after school Maker Club.  The GT students will be researching charities and choosing one.  The school will vote on the best projects, and we are teaming up with Main Event to host a “Pop-Up Arcade” of the student projects in their party rooms, charging $1 for the community to play the games.  All money raised will go to the charity my students select.

For more ideas on how to host your own event, you can check out the Organizer Playbook here.  More information is located here.  But remember, you can “think outside the box” and make the event fit what suits you and your students.

Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Student Products

Theme Park Game

Adventure Claw
Adventure Claw

This summer, some other GT teachers and I got together to host some free online classes through Edmodo for our 3rd-5th graders.  My class is called, “Make a Theme Park.”  Each week, the students are invited to make something for a theme park that they have imagined. For the 1st week, the challenge was to build a model of a theme park ride, and the fantabulous Joey Hudy judged.  You can see the post I did on the winners here.  During the second week, the students created theme park mascots, and Braeden the Master of Puppetry was our judge.  Here is the link to that post.  For week #3, I invited Michael Medvinsky (@mwmedvinsky) to judge theme songs created by the students for their parks.  You can find the winner, as well as a link to the Padlet of their submissions, here.

The final week of our “Make a Theme Park” class was judged by Sylvia Todd.  For those of you who don’t know Sylvia, she is the delightful host of Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show.  She also, along with Joey Hudy (our 1st week’s judge) appeared at the first White House Maker Faire this summer.  And, she has a book coming out – hopefully very soon!

Sylvia’s task was to judge the games that students to made to go along with their theme parks.  This project assignment was similar to the Global Cardboard Challenge in which some of my students participated last September and October.  Sylvia chose “Adventure Claw” to be the winner for the week.  The game, pictured at the top of this post, was described this way by its maker: “The alligator on top is the claw, and when you pull the string it moves! If you are lucky, you might even get a prize. I was able to pick up a dime.”

Some of the other entries were:

undertheseaUnder the Sea – You get five tries to throw the water balloon through the holes. The eyes are two points each and the mouth is three points (like basketball).

jellyfishdefenseJellyfish Defense – I made a pinball machine. You have 3 lives to try and get as many points as possible. I used magnets to get the double ball and multiball.

whackamouseWhack-a-Mouse – When someone underneath the box pushes up the cups you will have to whack the mice with the cat paw.

Catch Indiana Jones (sorry I don’t have a picture available as only a video was submitted) – Can you catch him? Or will he escape? You get three tries to roll the boulder and hit Indiana Jones. The first Indiana Jones you hit is the one you score points on.

Art, Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Response, Teaching Tools, Videos, Websites

Tried and True – Global Cardboard Challenge

The Cardboard Theater created by one of my 3rd Grade students for the 2013 Global Cardboard Challenge
The Cardboard Theater created by one of my 3rd Grade students for the 2013 Global Cardboard Challenge

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

In 2013 I stumbled across the Global Cardboard Challenge, and decided to see what my GT students could do with it.  I had great hopes for it – and I was not disappointed.  Here is one of the posts that I did while we were in the midst of the project.  My GT students in 1st through 5th grade all participated.  You can see some of their creations here.

When I say that I have never been so completely useless as a teacher in my life (except when I administer standardized testing), I am not exaggerating.  Why was I useless?  Because once the students got to work, they were completely engaged for hours at a time – and they really did not want my help or suggestions.  I stood around and made cuts in boxes and distributed packing tape.

I am planning to expand the Challenge this year to include not only my GT students, but also students in a Maker Club that I am going to be sponsoring after school.  We also have a fundraiser in the works where the students will display their final products at a local business and the community will be invited to play the cardboard games for a small donation to a charity that my students will determine.

This year’s Global Cardboard Challenge is scheduled for October 11, 2014.  But you do not have to actually create on that date!  Go to the site for the details and resources, and think about what works for your community of creative kids.  And, if you or your students have not seen Caine’s Arcade, the amazing video that inspired this event, make sure you watch it!

Art, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Parenting, Student Products, Teaching Tools

That’s Not a Box!

One of my favorite books to read to my Kinder GT class when we talk about Inventor Thinking is Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Gauch.  Christina is a very creative young lady who finds all sorts of uses for the box delivered to their house “on a refrigerator.”  Her mother keeps trying to dispose of the box that is cluttering their front yard, but Christina keeps thinking of new uses for it.  To her, it is anything but a box (or clutter).

Following up on yesterday’s post, I thought you might like some more “make something” resources – and, as you may have guessed, they all have to do with boxes.  Since I am gearing up my students to participate in the Global Cardboard Challenge again in October, I am always on the lookout for cardboard ideas.  Thanks to @JeanneReed1 for tweeting the link to the awesome Makerspace Pinterest Board where I found the Inventor’s Box idea pictured below. Here is that one, and a few others I’ve run across recently (and, yes, the first one totally appeals to the “tech nerd” in me!):

Scratch Arcade
Scratch Arcade


Click here to see all 31!
Click here to see all 31!


Inventor's Box
Click here to get instructions!
31 Creative Uses For Cardboard Boxes

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.