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LESSON LEARNED - The 5th Annual Cardboard Arcade

I should start by saying a big thank you to our educators. As a Leadership Team, we can get tunnel vision around new and fresh ideas…always wanting to mix things up and give things a try. It’s important to us that our community be inspired by the work, projects, and events in which we engage. After four years of the Cardboard Carnival, we began brainstorming ideas that would help us reimagine our big fall project. However, when questioned by our incredible staff about why, we had a hard time justifying the departure.

“Are kids still motivated and excited to create games?”

- The answer is YES, wildly motivated. In fact, many of them have been talking about it since school started.

“Do we feel that really good learning still happens during this design process?”

- YES, for sure.

“Are returning students taking last years’ experiences and leveling up?”


“What about the new students who are really looking forward to participating?”

- Good question. They seem really excited to dig in.

“Then why are you attempting to replace the event?”

- Ummm…uhhhh...

The truth is that this event continues to bring out the best in our students. All the things we value as an educational community are embodied in this project. Kids have an opportunity to make observations and ask questions. They get to be curious and creative. It provides an opportunity to develop design thinking skills, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and so much more. They also get a chance to receive real-time feedback from authentic audiences during the Carnival. All of this AND we get the chance to bring our community together to celebrate the efforts of our students.

Perhaps the most important voices in explaining the impact of this wondrous event are those who imagine, design, and build the games themselves…our students:

“How did you use last years’ event to inform this years’ project?”

1st grader - “I made it more challenging than last year. My box wasn’t high enough for adults, but it was just right for kids.”

2nd grader – “The difference I made from last year and this year is that I tried to work harder on it and make it bigger. Mine was a lot more challenging to make because I had to do a lot of sawing for it. I put more time into the process than the year before.”

5th grader – “This year I did more iterating than last year. The first try of the game I created, it wasn’t sturdy enough, so I taped it more and added boxes to the side. But it kept falling over. On the last iteration, I just got a bigger box and made it really solid. I accidentally broke the spray paint and it started spraying everywhere. In the end, I think it looked better because it was simple, it had one box, and it was sturdier than my first try. (Also, I liked meeting the new parents at the cardboard carnival!)

“Was it a hard project to figure out?”

Kindergartner – “Mine wasn’t really hard to make. I really only needed hot glue.”

1st grader – ”The challenging part was spray-painting it. I didn’t know what color to spray paint it.”

1st grader – “In the beginning, I tried to think about what to do for my arcade game. I was thinking for a long time. I thought, dinosaurs! Then I got a big box and got a hot glue gun.”

4th grader – ”I thought it was going to be super hard, but it wasn’t too hard. I made mini basketball. I decided to make 3 hoops - easy, medium, hard.”

“What do you think about the future of the Cardboard Carnival?”

4th grader – “Next year I’ll probably start earlier.”

Kindergartner – “Next year I’m going to use water guns instead of darts!”

5th grader – “I think we inspire other schools to do it. One, it’s really fun and two, you learn a lot of stuff about building games…technical skills like hot gluing and cutting cardboard.”

5th grader – “It’s really fun and teaches you a lot of things, like hot glue and time management, like if you’re big on procrastinating.”

5th grader – “I’ve done it for a while now, and one reason we should keep doing it is because it’s good for kids who come to this school. They get to try new things each year and use the toolkits and mindsets to make a game.”

Oh, the wonders of hot glue! There is no doubt that students leveled up. The amount of creative thinking and imaginative game design was on full display. One game took on a bit of an "escape room" feel with clues and hidden messages and compartments. One student, understanding that carnivals tend to have more than just games, made her own stamp station with beautifully hand-cut stamps that could be displayed on small pieces of cardboard and then worn as necklaces.

Games mechanics were not only more interesting this year than ever, but even physically, students had managed new ways to make their games sturdy and more durable. I had the opportunity to climb through a "Laser Maze" where lasers were represented by strings with bells attached to let the host know if you'd touched them. They were strung through a large, tunnel-like box, making it both interesting and challenging. (Pretty sure I failed miserably and would be missing a limb or have sounded the alarms or something)

One family hosted a mini carnival at their home over the weekend, inviting kids to bring their games over while encouraging Sycamore alumni and kids from the neighborhood to get involved by making a game of their own as well.

After another wonderfully exciting day, it’s hard to imagine how we ever thought about cancelling this event. We know it can be hard for parents to allow students to struggle with the process. We know it’s hard not to want to project manage the whole activity. However, the learning derived from this experience is essential. It focuses on the very shift we value so much…moving students from being simply consumers of things and into becoming authors, designers, and creators of ideas, experiences, and products. We look forward to updating this project-centered experience by helping to scaffold some of the time-management aspects of the process. Always reflecting, always growing.

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