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Cardboard Creations: A Maker Education Camp

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This post discusses my Cardboard Creations Maker Education Camp that was taught to fifteen 5 to 12 year old learners for five days, 2.5 hours each morning during Summer, 2017.  It is split into three sections:

  • Rational for Using No Tech, Minimal Cost Materials
  • Some Pedagogical Perspectives
  • Summer Maker Education Camp Project

Rationale for Using No Tech, Minimal Cost Materials

Cardboard Creations Maker Education Camp utilized no technology (except for projecting images of example projects on the whiteboard) and low/no cost materials. Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry Pis, Arduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and Dot, Ozobots, Spheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and I facilitate Robotics and Computer Science with my gifted students and at one of my summer camps. The learners engaged in these high tech learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Creations.

As a recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:

A big challenge for maker education: making it not just the purview mostly of middle- and upper-middle-class white kids and white teachers whose schools can afford laser cutters, drones or 3-D printers (3 Challenges As Hands-On, DIY Culture Moves Into Schools).

In order to adequately address this challenge, it becomes important to speak of making in broader terms; that maker education is so much more than 3D printing, drones, and robots. As Adam Savage from Mythbusters notes:

What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay. Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).

Doing and promoting maker experiences such as cardboard projects have the potential to offset the challenges associated with access and costs as well as provide opportunities for making by all.

Cardboard, my makerspace material of choice, is available in every home in America.  From mac and cheese boxes to a shoebox, cardboard is a material that puts students on a level playing field. It’s free. Students can cut thin stuff with scissors or score corrugated material with a pair of safety scissors, and tape is cheap enough that I can send a partial roll home with a student who needs it. Kids in families who cannot afford clay or craft kits or have little money for additional classroom supplies can still imagine something using materials that belong to them. That equals the playing field among students who ‘have not’ with students who ‘have’ adequate resources (Cardboard Creators: Reusing to Learn).

Some Pedagogical Perspectives

The Experiential Nature of Maker Activities Makes Them Messy, Loud, and Chaotic

Traditional classrooms are often marked by students quietly at their desks completing the same tasks at the same time. This is opposite of what went on during the Cardboard Creations Maker Education camp. The classroom was loud, seemingly chaotic and messy. Cutting and working with cardboard creates a mess, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.

Learning is often a messy business. “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy!  But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://www.learningismessy.com/quotes/)

Concepts and Skills Naturally Embedded in a Context

Concepts and skills became embedded in the experiential activities. Learning of concepts and skills occurred at the time when the campers’ interest and need were the highest.  For example, when the learners did their solar ovens, several concepts were introduced and talked about: direction of sun rays, solar energy, angle of lean. These discussions and knowledge helped them to better their design and set up their solar ovens. Their learning had a context and a reason.

The same was true for the the learning of skills. Learners were motivated and attentive when I demonstrated certain cardboard folding and connecting techniques. This also included soft skills such as communicating needs, asking for what they needed, and collaborating with others as they found a genuine need and desire to use them.

The Cardboard Box as a Blank Palette

Many of kids’ toys are promoted and sold with directions, solutions to problems, and expectations for end products.

Unfortunately for kids today, the designed world doesn’t leave much room for them to explore. Most toys come with pre-defined identities and stories, which rob children of the joy of imagining these things. This leaves few opportunities to figure out how to use a toy, experiment, fail, and invent the story of where it came from, and why it does what it does. Imagining, understanding, and becoming who we are is a process informed by play, and both toy companies and designers are taking all the exploration out of it (The Case For Letting Kids Design Their Own Play).

The cardboard box becomes a blank palette waiting for a kid’s imagination to make it into come alive especially in the mind of that kid.  Making with cardboard doesn’t come with a set of step-by-step instructions about what and how to make. This is beautifully illustrated by the following short film.

Summer Maker Education Camp Projects

What follows are the projects that the campers did during the cardboard creation camp

Knight Costumes and Capture the Flag

The campers made shields, swords, helmets and then played Capture the Flag . I got this idea from http://www.instructables.com/id/Cardboard-Fortress-Battle-capture-the-flag/. Given the elementary age level, I cut out the shields and sword handles for them.

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Solar Ovens for Smores

Campers made solar ovens for Smores which was an easy, high engagement cardboard activity for them to learn about and explore solar energy. There are lots of tutorials on the Internet about how to make these. Here is one of them: http://desertchica.com/diy-solar-oven-smores-kids-science-experiment/.

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Photo Face-in-the-Hole

The materials for this activity were simply big pieces of cardboard and poster paints. Kids were given the task to make a photo face-in-the-hole. What they created can be viewed in the following slideshow.

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Cardboard Box Foosball

Directions on how to make the cardboard box Foosball can be found at: http://www.muminthemadhouse.com/shoebox-table-football-foosball/. I cut the goal areas out for the campers ahead of time. They poked the holes for the dowels using the pointy end of the Makedo Safe-Saw.

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Miniature Golf Course Holes

For this cardboard creation, I gave campers a long piece of card, a kid golf club and golf ball (bought at https://www.carnivalsource.com/store/p/194472-One-Set-Golf-Set/10-Pc.html) and had available toilet paper/paper towel rolls, pool noodles, small cardboard boxes for them to each make their own miniature golf course hole. When completed they were placed on the playground’s grassy area to make a miniature golf course.

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Hot Wheel Car Tracks and Garages

For our last day, each camper was given a hot wheels car and told to create anything for that car using all of the left over boxes, duct tape, and Makedo screws. Most created tracks but a few created garages. This was equally engaging for the boys and for the girls.

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Here is a link to my blog post that includes the cardboard challenge projects from summer, 2016: https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/07/25/cardboard-challenges-no-techlow-cost-maker-education/. My cardboard creations webpage of resources and  project ideas can be found at http://www.makereducation.com/cardboard-challenge.html.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 18, 2017 at 11:16 pm

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