Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hosting a Cardboard Challenge at Your School


I remember watching Caine's Arcade years ago when I was still teaching art, and immediately becoming inspired and wanting to do something like that with my students, but it never quite came to fruition...

Then, just this fall, I was listening to the TechEducator Podcast about #CardboardEDU and it all came back to me - I remembered how cool I thought the idea of creating using ordinary cardboard material was, and began to brainstorm all over again about how I could use this at my school. Despite being a technology teacher, I absolutely loved the low-tech aspect, and how easy it would be to create a maker-themed event for it.

A quick Google search turned up all sorts of events and projects at schools all over, like the Global Cardboard Challenge, which has been happening since 2012 ... which left me feeling quite tardy to the party! But I still needed to make this happen. I presented the idea to Mr Walker, our art teacher, and we decided to make it a joint effort. We then went to my principal, who was super supportive, and scheduled a short presentation for us at the next PTA meeting, so that we could present to parents and get some support (and supplies!) from their group, too!


The "official" Global Cardboard Challenge is held in October each year, but since the art teacher and I weren't really sure how this would go over, we decided to go ahead and host it in February (at the time, giving us a few months to sort out the details) because it is a relatively less busy time of the year in our building, making it more ideal for hosting events.


In theory, hosting a cardboard challenge event is pretty simple: collect a bunch of cardboard, find a chunk of time, and have students come and make stuff. But of course, in reality, it helps to be a little more organized than that. Here's what we did:
  1. Write a list of supplies to buy, and ask PTA to help fund: cardboard scissors, saws, tape, and glue gun sticks. 
  2. Ask PTA for parent supervision help (if needed, we found that this wasn't needed as much as we originally thought). 
  3. Pick a date (we chose 3:30-6 pm after school on a Thursday), and reserve a space in your building - we chose the cafeteria for the big tables and sweep-able linoleum floors. 
  4. Advertise! We made flyers and asked each teacher to post one in their classroom or on their door. We also went on our morning announcements to try and hype the event. 
  5. Collect cardboard. Lots of it. Have a space to store it all ahead of time. We used the art room, a storage closet, and even a section of basement hallway. Our maintenance team was super supportive (and patient!) with us. Sources for cardboard included parents, teachers, students, maintenance department, cafeteria team... everyone pitched in and it was awesome!
  6. Create a student sign-up system for the event. We used a Google Form to have students sign up in teams of up to four. We asked them to come up with a team name, and encouraged matching shirts, costumes, or accessories. Having students sign up ahead of time was helpful so that we could estimate how much we needed for supplies. 
  7. Decide if your event is going to have a theme, and if not, consider giving some ideas to students for projects: cardboard forts? armor? robots? games? vehicles? sculpture? costumes? We kept our first year open-ended, but I'm considering having a theme next year. 
  8. Awards. Will you have them? For what categories? Who votes? For our first year, we made simple participation medals (out of cardboard, of course) that read: "I mastered the Cardboard Challenge at SMS," and encouraged students to wear them to school the following day.

I was so excited to have over 15 teams of students sign up for our first ever Cardboard Challenge event! There was so much excitement in the cafeteria. Our administrators stopped by several times to watch the action unfold, and many teachers took the time to stop by and talk to students, too! We even had a team of seniors from the York High School "Invite to Teach" program (it's like a teacher internship for students who think they'll go into the education field in college) participate in the challenge!


For leaving the first year's event open-ended, we got some pretty fun and creative results: two massive castle forts, a life-sized robot, a working skateboard, a cardboard V-8 engine, a basketball hoop, a cityscape, and some cardboard shields and weapons were among the finished products!


I think that the students really enjoyed themselves. Several groups took their finished pieces home; a few others left their creations here at school and are on display throughout the building. One of the nicest things to happen after the event was this super sweet and cute email that I received from a student:

I've literally NEVER had a student take time like that to write me an email just to say that they liked something. So this is a pretty big deal for me. I'm saving it in the happy file.


Reflecting on the night's events, there are a few things that I would improve upon for next year:
  1. I need a better clean up system. There was a huge mess at the end of the night. It would be nice to give each team their own waste bin to toss trash as they work. Also, I should pre-set some large cardboard boxes as recycling "bins" for unused larger pieces of cardboard to be returned. 
  2. An adult sponsor for each team. I'm considering having each team include an adult sponsor, like a parent or teacher, to help with building and supervision. It would be a great way to include parents (or building staff), and also help with my #1 item - cleanup. 
  3. Have a snack/refreshment station. Even just cups for water would be nice, but some cookies or granola bars at a table just beyond the builders would be a good place to take breaks a couple of times during the evening. 
  4. Supply organization and safety. Thankfully, everyone was safe and no one was injured beyond a paper, er, cardboard cut, but I would like to feel just a tad bit more organized by having a pre-set "toolbox" for each group next time, probably consisting of cardboard scissors, exact-o knife, glue sticks, tape, cutting mat, etc... This is also where having an adult sponsor for each team would come in especially handy, too. 
  5. Size limits, and plans for display after the event. Giant forts are cool, but don't always fit through the doorway, nor are there a lot of places to store/display them. I think I need to put a cap on size, unless a student plans on taking it with them!
  6. Trophies and a closing ceremony. Our event just kind of ended with a mad scramble to clean up and get out on time. It would have been nice to have more of a show-and-tell time, or awards ceremony. I'd love to make super cute cardboard "trophies" for the winners, too. 

Have you ever been to an event like this, or hosted one yourself? Do you have any advice or ideas? Let me know!

- Mrs L.
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