Last Thursday we hosted BAME (Bay Area Maker Educators) meet-up with the theme Cardboard. We love exploring familiar materials and finding new ways to tinker with them. Cardboard is definitely one of the materials that we’ve been using a lot in our daily prototypes as well as in the tinkering projects. Since the Exploratorium’s new exhibition WildCard is coming up soon, it seemed to be a good time for us and other maker educators to get together around the topic of cardboard and share out what we can do with cardboard in terms of tinkering in our museums and classrooms settings.
We started off the meeting by showing a video from OpenMake Cardboard event that we hosted a few years ago. It was a good introduction to overview what cardboard activities we’ve done in the past and who are the artists we’ve been working with. We also showed a couple of other projects that we've tried such as Cardboard pop-up tree and large scale stop motion animations.
Then we invited participants to dive into the Tinkering Studio's cardboard activities: some are our all time favorite and some are brand new (half-baked). Here is the line up for the activities:
Make your own Visual boards:
The board idea to show different cardboard attachment methods originally came from Sarah Wyman, an art teacher at Festus Elementary School, and Deanna recreated this board with a few additions. We also created "Types of Cardboard" to show different kinds of cardboard. Since they both work as a good reference for cardboard construction projects (especially the attachment technique board has been embraced by STEAM educators over and over on the social media), we prepared extra boards and materials so that the participants can create their own for their classroom or maker space.
And yes, people were busy making their own! It was great that they could learn a few attachment techniques while building a visual board for students.
Cardboard automata is our long-time favorite activity. We love that simple materials such as cardboard and foamies can create a mechanical sculpture and let you explore machine elements such as cams and levers in a playful way. On the table, we spread a few basic motion examples to help people observe the mechanisms. We had an impression that many people are already familiar with this activity, but it's always good to revisit the same activity: you will always find something new. We also informed people that the new online Tinkering Fundamentals course that we are hosting on Coursera (Mike, Karen, and Luigi are the instructor) is about motion and mechanisms, and the cardboard automata activity will be featured in that course. It's starting at the end of July.
Inspired by Noga Elhassid, an artist from Israeli, we have been developing the activity and accumulated many examples of motion mechanisms and art pieces. To help our participants to get started, just like the cardboard automata, we had a few examples of very basic motions that we spread around the table.
Cardboard corrugated gears are something we've been prototyping with but not being so sure what we could make out of those. I'm delighted to find that this rolling eyeballs were made in the night.
Love seeing cardboard boxes get transformed into something cool, and it's even cooler if you can wear it! We've done cardboard costumes several times on the floor, in the Tinkering Social Club and explainer trainings. We've made a few inspiring examples, and the guests were encouraged to use our favorite tools:
(From left to right)
- Or-ita: Cardboad scoring tool :An amazing cardboard scoring tool with a custom handmade blade by a Japanese artist, Makoto Orisaki.
- Titanium Snip Scissors :Great shears! Not only cardboard, this can cut many other materials such as chip board, thin aluminum, canvas, and plastic sheet.
- Klever kutter :Very safe cutter for cardboard. Great for classroom uses.
- Canary Corrugated Cardboard cutter :Different from Klever Kutter, this works more like a cardboard saw. It cuts with a back and forth motion. Feels like a knife through butter!
- Milwaukee Filip Knife :Our all time favorite!
Our new high school project explainer intern MaryClare created this skirt with the cardboard packing materials. The necklace was made by Donna, a participant from east coast who happened to be in town that night!
The guests seemed to be fine with a freestyle building, but in the future, I would provide more obvious starting points to help people get started: it could be these simple head/shoulder bases. Also, I'd like to come up with a simple base model for creating various masks. For example, I've made a mask of wolf by downloading a template from here (It's actually for construction paper, not for cardboard) and made a modified lion mask based on that. It was not easy. But I know a lot of people want to make cool masks! It would be fun if we could come up with a simple base and people could make various masks from that.
Also, having a photo booth like this might be a good addition to encourage people to create costumes and document themselves for future events!
Cardboard Marble Machines:
Usually we build marble machines with peg boards and dowels, but you can also build one with cardboard. In fact, cardboard is more accessible and easier to manipulate! Deanna created this example, and I like that she used masking tape instead of hotglue: it allows people to adjust the positions of the tracks after building. The big circle was her attempt to create a marble wheel to pick up marble balls, which was still work in progress.
The educators from Lawrence Hall of Science Ingenuity Lab created their own marble run! Here is a Tweet from them.
Cardboard coin acceptor:
This was an attempt to show that a simple coin acceptor can be made out of cardboard. For this particular example, we used Tim Hunkin's coin acceptor template, a low torque switch (we used this one from Adafruit), and Noga's linkage boat which was hooked up with a servo motor and arduino. When you insert a coin, it falls on a whisker trigger and activates the servo motor to sweep the oar back and forth. We printed Tim Hunkin's template on several cardboard sheets so people could take home and make their own coin-operated 'something', it could be a light, motor, or any arduino project.
Although she was not the participant of BAME meetup, Susan, who visited us in the week of BAME, made her own coin operated LED with our template!
Cardboard coin operated gumball machine:
This was another attempt to make a coin operated mechanism out of cardboard. Being inspired by this example on youtube, I followed the instruction halfway through but decided not to cover the mechanism. Leaving the top open so that people could see how it works inside seemed to be more appropriate for the BAME meet-up. This was not meant to be an activity, but guests were encouraged to interact with the machine - drop a quarter coin, load gumballs, drop wrong kind of coins and see what happens, turn the handle in the opposite direction...etc.
Cardboard marble maze:
Okay, you can't really build a coin operated machine within the short amount of activity time during the BAME meet-up, but how about building a cardboard marble maze? It's a sort of marble machines and you design the marble path. I've made one example and found that it was helpful to have grid lines on the board (so it can be used as a guide for placing internal walls) and lots of pre-cut strips available at hand. We prepared a lot of cardboard strips and printed subtle grid lines with two different patterns on both sides of the cardboard sheets.
Danielle drew a marble path with blue masking tape first, then she started building the internal wall pieces, making sure that they would not block the path that she designed. Using masking tape instead of pencils was a good idea because you can just peel it after building the maze, leaving no trace! There were also some people who didn't use any of these grid lines and created their own marble mazes from blank cardboard sheets (sorry, no picture).
I was also trying to find a good way to make circle holes on the cardboard sheet. For that night, we used a 3/4" diameter hole saw, but I found that the hole saw tends to scrape the back of the cardboard sheet when it comes through, so I used the hole saw to cut only halfway through and did the rest with a Xact knife. I'd say that this was still much easier way to make circle holes than cutting out entire holes with only a knife.
Sneak Preview at Wild Card - an installation by Cardboard Institute of Technology:
For the last 15 mins, we invited the guests to a sneak preview of the WildCard exhibition, where the members of Cardboard Institute of Technology (C.I.T) have been creating immersive cardboard environments in the Exploratorium's West Gallery.
It was great the we had Allison as a participant that night, who had been coordinating this exhibit with C.I.T., and she took us to a journey through this immersive cardboard dreamscape! It felt like an interesting transition in terms of scale. While walking through this large scale environment of cardboard, we also encouraged people to look closely to find their favorite pieces: I personally loved this garbage truck (reminded me of my son's obsession). We were allowed to take lots of photos. I'm sure each one of us got really good inspiration for a next cardboard project!
All in all, I think the night was a success! 'Cardboard' in the context of tinkering & making is such a broad topic, but I think we were able to cover a wide range of cardboard projects. It was great that we had prepared several activity stations and the guests could choose which one to dive into. Some people were floating around from one activity to another, trying a little bit of everything. It was also good that there were connections to the works of the artists that we respect, because that's where we often get inspirations and come up with a new idea for the tinkering activities.
We really enjoyed the event including the preparation process. I recognized, once again, that cardboard is a great material! It is such an accessible material and easy to work with but also has lots of possibilities: your cardboard creation could go incredibly big like C.I.T's landscape, or it could be a small mechanism that you feel proud of. It could be a meticulous sculpture or costume with all kinds of building techniques. Or, you could add some other fun stuff to your cardboard projects, such as a motor, light, switch, arduino, etc.. Cardboard can always surprise people! Here in the Tinkering Studio, we have lots of cardboard creations displayed, some are even in use, such as a cardboard bear rug, a cardboard tentacle, a cardboard girl, cardboard tube walls, automata, linkages, a giant hammer and plier, and and I like hearing people say "Look! That is made of cardboard!"
I am so excited with doing more cardboard projects. This summer we will host a couple of events "Infinite Versatility of Cardboard" and will immerse ourselves in the world of cardboard! We'll keep posting what we try next!