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Barnum students create with cardboard

Barnum fourth-grader Sam Collier sets up the cardboard bowling arcade game he created for Monday's Global Day of Play in the school cafeteria. In all, 183 students in grades K-6 designed and constructed cardboard arcade games for the event. Photo Courtesy of Joel Soukkala1 / 2
Carter Hautajarvi sets up the cardboard air hockey game he made as part of the school's Global Cardboard Challenges. Schools from across the country and around the world participated in the Challenge, showcasing their imaginative creations during a "Global Day of Play" this week. Photo Courtesy of Joel Soukkala2 / 2

The din in the cafeteria of Barnum Elementary on Monday afternoon was almost deafening. But rather than drawing the disapproval of teachers and staff, it brought praise. It was the sound of imagination at work.

Monday was the school's first-ever Global Cardboard Challenge, with students in grades K-6 joining some 70,000 other kids across the globe in designing and building cardboard arcade games for a "Global Day of Play."

The event was inspired by the experience of 9-year-old Californian Caine Monroy, who spent an entire summer building an elaborate cardboard arcade in his dad's used auto parts store in East Los Angeles. Sadly, Caine didn't have a single "customer" all summer -- until a filmmaker named Nirvan Mullick walked into the parts store looking for a used door handle for his '96 Corolla. Caine asked Mullick if he would like to play and Mullick said yes. Mullick later came back to Caine's Arcade to make a short film of it and learned that he had been Caine's first and only customer. As it turned out, the film went viral on the Internet, and folks began to flood in to play Caine's homemade arcade games.

Since that time two years ago, Caine has become something of a worldwide phenomenon. His experience has highlighted the importance of celebrating the powers of the imagination in children and helped launch the Imagination Foundation to foster creativity in more kids. Through the support of the Foundation, the Caine's Arcade Global Cardboard Challenge has become an annual event, encouraging kids to build things out of cardboard and communities to come together for a Global Day of Play.

Barnum teacher Abby Kahara first learned about Caine's Arcade last spring when she attended "TeachFest" as part of the Learnzillion Dreamteam, aimed at helping teachers understand new educational standards and the best ways to teach them. Caine and Mullick were guest speakers at the event and talked about Caine's Arcade and the first Global Cardboard Challenge held in October 2012.

Kahara brought the idea back to Barnum Elementary School and spearheaded a committee to organize a similar event for this fall.

All of the students in the school were shown the film about Caine's Arcade for inspiration.

"They were absolutely mesmerized with Caine and his arcade," attested Kahara.

Kahara also put together a website with resources, ideas, suggested materials and places to get cardboard, but everything else was left up to the students.

Though participation in the Global Cardboard Challenge was voluntary, some 183 students chose to take part, with all of the designing and construction done outside of school hours. Though the community was not formally invited to the unveiling of the students' cardboard creations, Kahara reported there was a huge turnout nonetheless, mostly through posting it on the district website and word of mouth.

"I couldn't guess the number of community members present," said Kahara, "but it had to be close to 75, give or take. All I know is that the turnout was more than anything I expected!"

The students who created the games set them up and then classes signed up for times to visit the arcade and play the games.

"I was really impressed with all of the students and their respect for each other's games," commented Kahara. "We didn't do prizes --we wanted the focus to be on them using their imaginations. The kids loved it! Personally, I got pretty emotional when I entered the media center the morning of the challenge and saw all of the games. It was overwhelming to see what can be done with a little cardboard and the freedom to create!"

Kahara said the school is already planning to take part in the Third Global Day of Play on Oct. 4, 2014, adding, "Bigger and better is the plan!"