Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Kids Ran the Show - 4th Annual Cardboard Challenge

The KIDS ran the show, and showed their creativity, perseverance, and adaptability last Thursday during our fourth annual Cardboard Challenge.

Highlights of my day: 
  • Many parents came to see creations and to talk about the day and their children! The kids were so very happy to have them play their games!
  • Mrs. Ryan, our new ALF (advanced learning facilitator), helped one group of students at the end of the day - one of the boys lost his phone outside during the fire drill.... She helped us locate it!!
  • A couple of teachers came down to visit and play!
  • Mr. Slowinski's class joined us all day this year - it was great to have his students collaborate with mine. I also got to learn a few more names and faces.
  • Check out the Storify archive of some reflection notes from scholars in room 239!

What I wish had gone better:
  • One student lost his phone during our fire drill. He brought it with him to showcase Google Cardboard. The kids in his group had even created a "Virtual Reality Booth" (pictured here).
  • Only a couple of teachers this year made it down to the library to visit.
  • I have to not focus on who is NOT at the Cardboard Challenge, and instead focus on WHY we do this. We do this for the kids - not for any notoriety. Their reflections were enlightening.
I love reading student reflections, and reflecting myself...

The best suggestions I got from this year:  From a student who enjoyed the day, but had some issues...
I think we should do cardboard challenges more in the future because it brings out the creativity in middle schoolers or in any age group.  This challenge is a type of homework that all kids of all ages will enjoy.  When I was building my game, my game failed many times because it was a slingshot and it would bend and break all the time.  My dad helped me find new parts to build it and it worked out perfectly.  When I did the cardboard challenge, it taught me to not give up and to try new ideas if something didn’t work.  When we did the actual cardboard challenge at school it was very fun watching people cheer when people were winning the cardboard games and getting those silly prizes. The only problem that I had with my game was that everyone wanted my groups’ prize so they were crowding around me and not giving me any space. Also they would not listen to my instructions, especially the one that stated that everyone could only play twice.  Since everyone was crowding around, they partly broke my game too which was very upsetting.  Because of the crowds around my game, I did not have any chance to play anyone else’s game, which was disappointing. I hope that the teachers can make sure to tell the students this. Next time it would be better if everyone is able to have a chance to play other people’s game and not have one group not be able to play the games. Also, it would be a good idea to tell the students to be gentle and not be so aggressive with other people’s games.

The biggest joy I got from this year:  Reading a reflection from a student who struggles with many aspects of my class, and life, in general. This student took the challenge, and conquered many obstacles during the 80 minutes. This student really showed persistence and adaptability. Here is the reflection:

I think it's a good idea to continue to do the Cardboard Challenge because we get to learn and have fun at the same time. The challenge requires planning, research, and teamwork.  It used measuring and testing to make sure the game actually would work.  The challenge forced me to adjust my original plan.  It's required persistence to make sure the game would work for others. If I ever have to do this again I learned what to do differently next time from my observations with this challenge.

The biggest lesson I learned this year: Some students were upset... by some other students' "great" creations. Two instances come to mind - one I observed, and one that a student wrote about in his reflection. In one I observed, the student walked around the room with the cardboard creation in a bag, and didn't want to put it out on a table after getting a glimpse at the other projects. This student did not feel confident at all when comparing his/her own completed project to the other students' projects. It was very disheartening, and made me wonder how many times this had happened in previous years and had not been noticed by me. Some students seem okay with not having the "best" project (we don't judge them at all as a class), but I can see now that some students are not okay at all with it. Here is proof of another student's feelings of disappointment...

The cardboard challenge has its up and down like a roller coaster. The rush of adrenaline filled me when I had sensed that I was building my own idea, and that the only limit was my creativity and cardboard. When you are going up, you feel happy about how many people get to play your game, a sense of enjoyment when the wandering eye stumbles across your envisioned work. You get to make someone’s day brighter, the simplistic cardboard manages through all odds to remove all school’s stress of grades. You can make people addicted to the game, playing over and over to manage to beat that one little issue you had, perhaps missing one of the throws in a basket hoop or tilting a ball into a hole of demise in a of game of a maze full of traps.
There is an issue though, which is the falling part of the roller coaster because when someone doesn’t do what all the other students call advanced, the game isn’t played. You could get teased for how much time most have been placed into the cardboard. If you game doesn’t have any interesting parts or difficulty then the game is rejected, torn by rejection while it sits on a table. If you don’t offer interesting prizes or an advanced model for a game, you might as well just move around, playing other games.
And if you break a rule, as if you found an easy way to beat the game, you are told to leave and never play again because it’s “Your fault if you do a trick that you noticed in the game’s architecture, not the creator who didn’t plan for such trickery.”
So in my opinion I would say, the Cardboard challenge game can be fun if your game is rewarding or attracting to your fellows, but when you game is called “easy to make” or “trash” and you're not having fun with anyone game, then no, the Cardboard challenge can just depress you.  
So in my experience, I believe the challenge could be a lot better if there were better guidelines.

I will ask this student what guidelines would be suggested, but I'm thinking that would take away much of the freedom that this activity provides. I need to do more research with these young learners, as the LAST thing I want them to come away with is disappointment in their own creation...

My favorite sentences in all of the reflections... all from one student who barely says a word in class:
My group and I had prizes and such but all that didn’t matter, the stuff that really did matter was how we got to see all the glorious faces of all the happy kids enjoying the game and having a spectacular time playing and giving themselves some sort of challenge.
When I played the games I had bonded with people that honestly I rarely had ever talked to, I got to know them better and I got to make them hysterical at times and I feel like I made some tight friendships. 
This cardboard box challenge changed me and me feel like a better person and really introduced myself to myself and to others and I had a phenomenal time.  

Next year, I will share these reflections with students. We'll talk about it. Hopefully we will grow from the experience. I know I grow from it every year.

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