Franklin School Fifth-Graders Fashion Foosball from Former Cardboard Boxes

Courtesy photo    Franklin fifth-graders created this foosball table from a environmentally friendly packaging and a few other basic materials.

The names are classic arcade: “Assassin Roulette,” “Dr. Who Pinball,” “Space Wars” and “Zappatron.” The materials used are classic kid’s stuff: cardboard, tempera paint, foam dart guns, rubber bands, balloons and plastic flowers. But teacher Dustin Brantley’s “cardboard arcade” project is about way more than fun and games. It’s about engineering, creativity, persistence and learning from mistakes.

The design challenge
Brantley, has been teaching at Franklin Elementary School for 11 years. He first introduced the arcade project to his fifth-graders in 2012. The project guidelines are relatively simple: Build an arcade game that includes at least one simple machine and is 90 percent constructed from recyclable materials. 

“I am always amazed by how each kid approaches the same problem,” Brantley says. “How does the ball get returned? Does it come back on a ramp? If so, what will be used for the ramp? Cardboard? Empty water bottles? One kid used a series of rubber bands that the ball would bounce against to return to the player. Another kid used a fan to blow the ball back.”

Arcade Day

Once the game is built, other classes play them at the annual Arcade Day. Brantley’s students stay at their stations for an entire school day, and each period they teach younger students how to play, which has become a cherished Franklin tradition. 
“This year, as the second-graders were leaving the room, I asked if they had a good time,” Brantley says. “One kid said with a tear in her eye, ‘This was the best day of my whole life.’”

Brantley’s fifth-graders are usually exhausted by the end of the day from the sheer repetition of “narrating rules, resetting the games and going after flying parts” for hundreds of other students, Brantley said. But this teaches the students about job responsibility. 

“It’s not too often a kid gets to use their mechanical side to create something that is enjoyed by the whole school,” Brantley said. Plus, as the students run the arcade, they see “how their creations are bringing thrills to others,” which can help them feel more confident.

Of course, some lessons are learned the hard way. One student accidentally hot glued her hair to her game while she was trying to fix it. Another created a water game out of cardboard. Brantley says he has learned to always have hot glue, duct tape and a screwdriver ready on Arcade Day for quick fixes.

The final step of the project is a class meeting, “where we talk about everything from what it was like to stay at a job for many hours, to problems that arose and what they did to perform repairs or improvise. We also discuss if they would have changed anything about their game after seeing it in action for many hours (and being handled by kindergarteners!),” Brantley said.

Brantley himself doesn’t spend a lot of time at arcades, although he has been to Alameda’s Pacific Pinball Museum a few times. “I like playing the students’ games much more,” he said.