38. Hough Street School Hosts Cardboard Arcade Challenge

Home Newsroom 38. Hough Street School Hosts Cardboard Arcade Challenge

This week Hough Street elementary students rose to a new challenge: the school’s inaugural cardboard arcade challenge. They started with boxes (think cereal boxes all the way up to sectional sofa boxes), then used their imaginations to transform the hum-drum containers into awesome games their classmates could play.

It took creativity, patience, and perseverance to get the job done. Oh, and tape. Lots and lots of tape.

Hough's gym, aka the cardboard arcade - Photographed by Liz Luby
Hough’s gym, aka the cardboard arcade – Photographed by Liz Luby

When Hough’s principal, Jim Aalfs, first heard of the Global Cardboard Challenge, he knew the school community would embrace the idea. “We’ve been spending the year studying Angela Maiers’ book, Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning.” In her book, Maiers cites imagination, curiosity, self awareness, courage, adaptability, perseverance, and passion as the most important “Habitudes” schools can teach children to prepare them to succeed in an ever-changing climate.

“The cardboard challenge was just such a perfect fit with our work on Habitudes,” Jim says. It wasn’t a tough sell. “In typical Hough fashion, faculty, staff, students, and parents just immediately got on board.”

?, Cassandra Keaton, and Hough's principal, Jim Aalfs - Photographed by Liz Luby
Hough Students with Principal, Jim Aalfs – Photographed by Liz Luby

In addition to the school’s work with Habitudes, the challenge was inspired by the story of Caine’s Arcade, which chronicles the beginnings of –if not the first, now certainly the most well known–cardboard arcade. In 2011, then 9 year-old Caine Monroy spent his summer building carnival-like cardboard games, then set them up in the front of his dad’s auto parts shop in East Los Angeles. For weeks, Caine waited for a customer. Finally, one came: by serendipity, it happened to be filmmaker Nirvan Mullick.

Nirvan’s short film about Caine went viral. It generated worldwide interest, and in 2012 the Global Cardboard Challenge was born.


Hough’s cardboard challenge was announced in December, and students who chose to participate (it was optional) had over a month to plan and execute their ideas. Some chose to go it alone, designing their own plans. Others joined with siblings, and many formed peer groups. The rules were simple: this was to be a kid-centered activity. No parents need apply. That, and be careful cutting the cardboard :).

All in all, 140 of Hough’s 300 students participated. The gym was utterly transformed: it was chockablock with colorful cardboard games.

When Hough third grader Brad Fisher first heard about the challenge, he felt pretty overwhelmed. “I was like, ‘Oh man, do I have to do this? I’m doing the talent show, I don’t think I can do this,” Brad says. But when he realized he could work with his younger brother, Nate, a first grader, he was sold on the idea. “My brother Nate and I were talking about Minecraft. Nate came up with the idea of a ring toss…then he came up with the name Creepering.”

Brothers Nate and Brad Fisher, in front of their game Creepering - Photographed by Liz Luby
Brothers Nate and Brad Fisher, with their game Creepering – Photographed by Liz Luby

With an idea in place, it was time for the brothers to design. “Nate cut these out and made the tubes, and then I made these rings. In case you didn’t know, they’re actually two plates stuck together. When there was only one it would fly off, and we didn’t want that to happen.”

In retrospect, Brad’s happy he chose to participate in the challenge. “I’m glad. I found out how fun this could be, and how much fun I would have been missing out on.”

Sophia Cai, a fourth grader in Mrs. Haney’s class, couldn’t wait to design a game. “I felt really excited because, you know, it gave me a chance to share my ideas with my fellow classmates.” She had enthusiasm, but needed a plan. Sophia partnered with classmates Lily Dale and Ella Holtermann. “We had to discuss it and think it over. Finally we had two ideas, and we had to combine them.”

Post - Cardboard Arcade
Lily Dale, Sophia Cai, and Ella Holtermann with their “Spin and Throw” game

The group compromised, but their combined plan didn’t work at first. They hit a roadblock. “We were really frustrated and angry,” Sophia says. “If we didn’t have plan B, what could we do? Thankfully Ella saved us…and so we were hopeful.”  The girls are happy with the end result, and would only make one change. “These balls go all over the place. We need to contain them somehow.”

Finn Haney, a fifth grader at Hough, knew this challenge was right up his alley. “I already had a ton of cardboard boxes in my basement, because my dad is a mad genius and is always doing crazy things.” Finn was going to make a skee ball game, but learned that was a popular choice among his classmates. He wanted to come up with something different.

Post - Hough School Cardboard Arcade - 5
Finn Haney next to his creation – Photographed by Liz Luby

After recently purchasing a set of three toys for a pet, Finn had a box with three equally-spaced holes. He flipped it vertically, stoplight style. “Then we started throwing balls at it, and figured out how to make the ball return. My sister helped me with that part,” Finn says. “Then it kept tipping over, so I had to add another box behind it to make it stand up.” All in all, Finn’s very pleased with the result.

Jen Conant, the extended teacher at Hough, was thrilled to see the Habitudes in action. “This is exactly the type of learning we’ve been focused on as we’ve studied Habitudes,” Jen says. “It’s the best kind of learning. The students are fully engaged on so many levels.”

Jen noticed the differences in the way the younger and older students approached the project. “It’s been fun to watch the younger students take a game that they’re familiar with and make it their own. And it’s really great to see the older students taking it to that next level, and designing something entirely new and unique.”

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The only disappointment was the day’s early dismissal, and the cancellation of the evening’s family event. But Hough principal Jim Aalfs knows the seeds for next year’s cardboard challenge are already planted. “This was a tremendous success for the Hough community. I can’t wait to do it again next year.” Hang onto those boxes!

You don’t have to wait until next year to learn more about Hough’s cardboard arcade! Stay tuned to CBS Morning News on February 10, from 5:00-7:00 a.m., for news coverage of Hough’s fifth graders’ Cardboard Challenge projects.

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