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STEM Cardboard Challenge

Working to solve problems creatively down to the end of the semester, Smith Middle School sixth- and seventh-graders met the “STEM Cardboard Challenge” Friday, constructing arcade games from recyclable material.
The students, working in teams of four, used mountains of donated cardboard and similar material to construct original games, then played them and voted on their favorites.
Teachers Connie Cox, Katie Drake and Elizabeth Houston took part in a similar challenge at a conference recently, then showed students a video about “Caine’s Arcade,” featuring a real-life 9-year-old who started a sensation when he made creative, working games from cardboard in 2011.
The Smith teachers liked the idea of ending the semester, a scheduled early-dismissal day, with a creative challenge to work together to solve problems and design games.
Parents and staff members came through with donated supplies and a list of area businesses offered prizes for the top teams.
“We were excited about the engineering part, to solve problems together,” Cox said. “That is a skill that is being lost.”
She and other teachers also liked the idea of providing extended time to make mistakes, revise and do it all again. “We wanted time for the whole process,” the science teacher said, referring to a large poster with the words “plan, create, improve and communicate.”
“We could slow down to advise and revise,” Cox said. “We want them to work on revision.”
In one classroom, sixth-grader Amantee Hicks drew in customers to his “Dissect the Ant” game. Players used a hand-held utencil similar to a claw to grab various items from one container and place it into another, with each kind of item worth different points.
He first thought about a game similar to the claw that grabs prizes from a glassed-in container, but modified it to be easier. He also attached a foil-covered box containing prizes which players couldn’t see.
Another popular game, which ended up winning among sixth-graders came about from a student’s dad, whose favorite arcade game was Galaga.
Emily Benavides and Jazmin Arango invited players to knock over aliens with balls and attempt to get the more valuable “challenge aliens” for more points.
Lots of the cardboard games mimicked versions of shooting baskets or soccer or hockey.
One innovative game similar to “foos ball,” required a student to hide beneath a box and push out tickets as players scored points. The top of the game contained straws and spoons for flippers.
“It was a fun day,” said sixth-grader Sophia Gines, running the “foos ball” game. “We learned to make games like this just like engineering.”
“Team building was the big lesson,” Houston said as the challenge concluded. “They had to work as a team. We wanted to try to have fun and to work together,” the teacher said. “They were able to test what they made and think through how to fix it.”