OMS cardboard challenge

Owatonna Middle School sixth graders unveiled their own games Friday to be played by classmates and members of the public as part of the district’s annual Cardboard Arcade. (Ryan Anderson/People’s Press)

OWATONNA — Owatonna Middle School sixth graders unveiled their own games Friday to be played by classmates and members of the public as part of the district’s annual Cardboard Arcade.

“The best part for me is to see all the kids working together,” said sixth-grade teacher Josh Woodrich. “Everyone has a role,” and “this is often a chance for the quieter kids to shine.”

Danika Kaytor couldn’t decide what she enjoyed more Friday, sampling other games, or watching individuals attempt the one she constructed with her two teammates, she said. “It’s fun to see what other people came up with, but also to see people experience your game.”

Kaytor’s team offered Bucket Toss, even though it wasn’t their initial plan, she said. Originally, they dreamed of crafting a huge box, “like a real arcade game,” with a person in the box moving around a bucket, “but that didn’t work.”

So, they moved on, using cardboard, buckets from Kaytor’s house, masking tape, and tinfoil for balls, she said. Buckets varied in size, allowing one to earn differing numbers of points for a successful toss.

Another pivotal component to their game was a backstop, she said.

“We didn’t want to chase the ball everywhere,” she added.

Ah, a very real concern, as that turned out to be the main adjustment Justin Gronli would have made to his team’s game if given another opportunity, he said. “I feel proud of my game, but I can improve.”

Gronli and his two teammates opted for a Plinko-esque “The Price is Right” game, “my favorite arcade-style game,” he said. “The planning was pretty easy, and it wasn’t that hard to make.”

He began with the edges, “the easiest part,” cutting egg cartons in half to keep the Plinko puck inside the game, he said. Plastic tubes, cardboard for the base, a plastic hockey puck, and the aforementioned egg cartons all contributed to the creation of their activity.

Game components “must all be recycled materials,” and while cardboard was instrumental in most every project — hence the Cardboard Arcade moniker — ingenuity ranged from bottle caps as balls to catapults made from spoons, Woodrich said. “They really get into this — focused — and it encompasses everything” in the school’s E-STEM philosophy, from using recycled materials, a nod to the environment, to scientific forces and motion, to math for measuring, to engineering for construction.

A pair of cardboard tubes held up the ramp for the skee-ball game crafted by Nora Johnson and her two teammates, she said. Though skee-ball is “about average” in terms of difficulty compared with other games Friday, it’s also an inarguable arcade classic, illustrated by its popularity among visitors.

Or, as Richard Klin put it in The Atlantic, skee-ball is an ideal balance between chance and skill, which has sustained it for a century.

“Skee-ball has survived so long not because it is special, but because it is ordinary,” Klin wrote in December 2016. The design has barely changed in 100 years, it has long been a fixture of amusement parlors and carnivals, and it’s “a perfect balance” as “a game of skill, but not that much a game of skill.”

Owatonna’s cardboard arcade began a few years ago at Willow Creek Intermediate School after Josh Tolle—a sixth-grade teacher—and a couple others alighted upon the Cardboard Challenge, according to Dr. Tom Meagher, the district’s STEM coordinator. The Cardboard Challenge — sparked a handful of years ago when a 9-year-old named Caine Monroy constructed a do-it-yourself arcade in his father’s Los Angeles auto parts store and asked students to use engineering skills to create games with recycled materials — has since become an international sensation.

The other half of OMS sixth graders conducted their Cardboard Arcade shortly before spring break, Woodrich said. The Vikings and Gophers “teams,” on the other hand, started planning April 2 for Friday’s exhibition.

Though their games were all different, the sighs of relief when they proved functional cut across Kaytor, Gronli, and Johnson, as did a sense of enjoyment in creating their projects, with Kaytor saying the Cardboard Arcade “made science more exciting.”

“The best part was trying it and it working the first time,” Johnson said. “It was really exciting, and we all started jumping up and down.”

“My favorite part was finishing it and seeing it actually worked,” Gronli added. “This is a really good idea for sixth grade, and people were really creative.”

Johnson feels science has taken a significant step up from elementary school, which was “a lot easier,” she said. Elementary science concerned “little experiments,” while now “we have huge projects” so “we have to be more careful about what we do, and how we do it, so nothing goes wrong.”

Not that she’s complaining about the rigor, because it also permits more individualization.

“It’s more fun,” she said. Johnson and her classmates even “got to do a water-bottle-flipping challenge” this year—despite the fact flipping water bottles is usually discouraged during school hours.

Cardboard arcade projects were displayed throughout the middle school’s brand-new sixth-grade wing Friday, and having new scientific space and tools this year “really helped,” Woodrich said. “I think this is the best set of games we’ve had.”

Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.

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