Class 2's Cardboard Arcade Challenge

Several years ago, a remarkable 9-year-old boy, Caine, spent the summer designing an elaborate cardboard arcade at his father’s auto-supply store in a remote area of East Los Angeles. He built more than a dozen games, from pinball machines to a claw catcher, and waited for customers to show up, but no one ever did – until one fateful day when a man named Nirvan Mullick came in search of a new door handle for his car.

Mr. Mullick was delighted and impressed by Caine’s inventions, playing them all. A filmmaker, he spent the next few months making a short film about the amazing arcade and promoted it through social media; it became a viral sensation. Tens of thousands of people visited, and children all over the world began emulating Caine’s cardboard creations. In what would also promise to be a life-changing moment for Caine, Mr. Mullick established a college scholarship fund to support his education.

Fast forward to a recent morning in Chapin’s fifth-floor Technology classroom. The STEAM-focused assignment for this group of eager Class 2 students was to make their own iteration of Caine’s Arcade. Excitement and anticipation permeated the room.

All sections of Class 2 began by watching Mr. Mullick’s captivating film. Lively brainstorming sessions ensued, during which they shared their thoughts about what an ideal arcade game would look like. They sketched their ideas on small sheets of paper, which were hung on a display board to spark their imaginations.

“Your challenge is to be as innovative and creative as you can be,” Lower School Technology Integrator Jasslin Betances instructed, as she passed an iPad to each person. The students opened up Book Creator, an educational application that allows users to draw and write.

Underscoring Chapin’s emphasis on inquiry-based learning, Ms. Betances began by posing a series of open-ended questions.

“Why was Caine an innovator?” she asked. The students mulled this over for a moment before responding. “He created an arcade out of scraps and things that were already there,” offered one student. Added another, “He didn’t tell his father to get him anything. He used recycled materials.”

This particular class centered on the research phase of the arcade project. Tasked with gathering concrete information for their designs, the students watched several short videos that demonstrated how to construct a variety of simple machines out of cardboard with additional materials like string, marbles, toothpicks and popsicle sticks.

“Write down what you want to remember,” urged Ms. Betances.

They observed one design that utilized a basic pulley system. “Does this remind you of something?” Ms. Betances asked. “A yoyo!” shouted a student.

Another example relied on a tilted board to work properly. “Why did this need to be at an angle?” Ms. Betances wondered, holding up a piece of cardboard for emphasis. “Or the ball will go straight down,” a student answered.

Using their iPads, the students took notes and sketched shapes that piqued their curiosity. Soon their screens filled up with bright ideas, expressed in words and pictures.

Ms. Betances wrapped up this engrossing lesson by asking another important question, “Why are we making the arcade?”

“To raise money for refugees!” exclaimed several students at once. Indeed, this cross-curricular endeavor ties in beautifully with Class 2’s current Social Studies unit on immigration and refugees. As such, members of the Chapin community will be asked to make a donation to enter the arcade, which is scheduled to open at the end of May. The money raised will be given to the International Rescue Committee, which helps refugees build better lives.

Next week, to help further conceptualize their designs, Class 2 will experience how a local professional arcade works. Armed with carefully collected research and no shortage of enthusiasm, the students will embark on the actual construction of their cardboard arcade, a thrilling process they will be more than ready to tackle.

As the Technology class wrapped up, these students saved their documents, returned their iPads and moved on to their next activity, no doubt energized by this wonderful project and their potential to help others.

Browse photos of the class below: