Assembling this massive polar bear required an impressive amount of collaboration.
Standing more than five feet, the imposing cardboard animal showed an intricate level of detail. Every element offered a painstaking eye for nuance – the massive paws rendered out of discarded boxes, fluffy fur made out of soft white stuffing, a black pom-pom serving as a nose and toilet paper rolls used as the bear’s eyes.
This polar bear built out of cardboard and other common materials would have been a feat for any accomplished, professional artist. But the piece sprung from the minds and hands of second graders at Greenwood Elementary, dozens of students from multiple classes who came together for a common goal.
“We all started on the body together,” said Greenwood Elementary student Stephen Dayton as he showed off the finished product on the stage in the school auditorium. From there, different groups tackled separate specialties – Stephen, for example, helped create the polar bear’s iceberg perch.
The Greenwood Elementary second graders were just one of the many classes in the school to collaborate on a project for this year’s Cardboard Challenge, scheduled for Oct. 8 at Cherokee Trail High School.
The school’s first graders built a cardboard dragon, third graders made a coiled anaconda, fourth graders put together a bighorn sheep and fifth graders created a butterfly. All of the animals tied into the classes’ curriculum, and every project conveyed important lessons rooted in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), not to mention the critical elements of artistic inspiration.
“We have our critical thinkers and our conceptual thinkers – this brings them all together,” said Midge Eidson, Greenwood Elementary principal. “These projects provided a nice opportunity to show creativity in a different way than they can taking a test … It was just amazing to watch (the creativity) unfold in a very short amount of time.”
Greenwood Elementary is just one of dozens of schools across the Cherry Creek School District submitting projects for this year’s Cardboard Challenge, a competition inspired by the 2012 documentary film “Caine’s Arcade” directed by Nirvan Mullick. The film centers on a 9-year-old boy from Los Angeles who created an arcade made entirely out of cardboard. The project and the film caught the attention of an international audience of supporters; school districts across the country used the basic concept as a way to encourage creativity and better illustrate STEM-based curriculum for students. The project also launched the Imagination Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering creativity and entrepreneurship for children across the globe.
At Cherry Creek, it’s resulted in a district-wide event that encourages the best kind of innovation from students of all grade levels. It's the second year that the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation has funded and organized the event as part of their broader mission. That core goal focuses primarily on impacting all CCSD students, investing in innovation and building long-term relationships in the community.
About 700 projects will be on display at the Cardboard Challenge event on Oct. 8. The collection will feature creations by kindergarteners, elementary school students and middle schoolers. High school students working with 3-D printers and other cutting-edge equipment have also submitted entries.
The format of the Cardboard Challenge has inspired students to put together complicated creations in a relatively short amount of time. At Dakota Valley Elementary School, students from all grade levels signed up for a cardboard club helmed by STEM specialist and “Queen of Cardboard” Beth Cohen. Since the beginning of the year, students have showed up to school early several times a week to collaborate and create.
“We did a limited edition, condensed club,” Cohen said. “We meet early in the morning before school for a period of 45 minutes. It started with a lot of brainstorming and thinking about what we can do as a group.”
“For me, as an educator, it’s been so exciting ... It’s been wonderful, because there have been relationships forming through cardboard, through this teamwork and the use of their imaginations that you might not have in other situations. The children have really come together in a very supportive way."
-- Beth Cohen, STEM instructor at Dakota Valley Elementary School
They’ve designed cardboard airplanes and worked together for a special photo booth project for the night of the Cardboard Challenge. Students from across different grade levels have come together for a common goal.
“For me, as an educator, it’s been so exciting,” Cohen said. “It’s been wonderful, because there have been relationships forming through cardboard, through this teamwork and the use of their imaginations that you might not have in other situations.
“The children have really come together in a very supportive way,” she added.
That enthusiasm has gone beyond the Cardboard Challenge event. Sadie Connor, a fifth grader at Dakota Valley, showed off a cardboard airplane she helped design and build for a special ucpoming event at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum. The craft was a cardboard tribute to aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker, and featured carefully constructed pair of wings, cockpit and jet of smoke emanating from the back of the plane.
“We thought this would tie perfectly into the Cardboard Challenge,” Connor said. “The hardest part was the top and bottom wings; we had to figure out a way to make the landing wires connect and it was hard to get it balanced and stable.”
Tackling such problems offers students at all grade levels a real-world example of STEM curriculum. The Cardboard Challenge gives students of all ages the chance to become designers, engineers and collaborators.
“It’s a natural and organic link to STEM,” Cohen said. “The Cardboard Challenge allows children to think in ways that take them to a high level of problem solving. It seems simple – you’re working with recycled materials and cardboard – but it’s truly getting children to think at a very high level and to push themselves as individuals.”
The Cherry Creek Schools Foundation's 2014 Cardboard Challenge runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 8 at Cherokee Trail High School, 25901 E Arapahoe Road in Aurora. Admission is free. About 700 student projects will be on display.
Posted Oct. 2, 2014.