East Side Elementary Students Design, Build Arcade Games on STEM Day

East Side Elementary teacher Mihaela Brooks poses with some of her fourth grade students who built a foosball table out of cardboard boxes as part of the school’s first STEM Day September 23.

East Side Elementary School students dug through a mountain of empty cardboard boxes methodically searching for the perfect box to create an arcade game. The students grabbed big boxes, little boxes and every size in between and hurried back to their classrooms. Classrooms bustled as the student engineers began building their games.

The students had spent the prior two weeks sketching out their designs for an arcade game and gathering supplies to use on East Side Elementary’s first schoolwide day dedicated to Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).

A video about a nine-year-old boy, Caine, in Los Angeles, who designed and built his own cardboard arcade, inspired the East Side Elementary staff and students to do the same. “Caine’s Arcade” became the theme of East Side’s inaugural STEM Day.

“[Caine’s] father owns a shop, and he decided to build an arcade in the shop. His dream was for people to come to play his games. His whole video was very inspiring, and it shows all the games he created,” said Mollie Cushing, East Side parent volunteer and STEM committee member.

From kindergarten to fifth grade, students in each grade level watched the video about Caine’s Arcade. First grade teacher Susanne Smith said her class talked about what inspired them and then learned about engineers and how they design things.

This isn’t the first year Smith has used Caine’s Arcade to teach STEM, and she helped to inspire other East Side teachers to incorporate the Caine’s Arcade concept into their classroom curriculum, too.

“A couple of years ago, a fellow first grade teacher shared the Caine’s Arcade video with me, and together we decided to try it with our classes. The next year we invited some more teachers to join, and we kept telling our first grade teachers this is a really fun, great activity. So it kind of trickled through first grade,” Smith explained. “This year because we are trying to bring STEM more schoolwide, we decided [Caine’s Arcade] would be a really great activity to get the whole school involved.”

The Caine’s Arcade STEM Day is one of five STEM days planned at East Side Elementary this school year. Smith said it is important to teach STEM because STEM jobs are the future. Fellow East Side teacher Mihaela Brooks agreed about the importance of teaching STEM in school.

“I absolutely love STEM! I love the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math all put together,” said Brooks, a fourth grade teacher.

On STEM day, students tested out their designs and showed off their newly constructed arcade games to their classmates, teachers, parents and even administrators.

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“The energy [parents] saw on [STEM Day] cannot be expressed in words,” added Brooks. “The administrative team came in and played the games. I could not believe how happy the administrators were because they played the games. They were like kids. For the students to see the principal coming to play their games is amazing!”

Cushing, who has two children at East Side, shared her experience as a parent walking the school halls on STEM Day.

“If you walk through some of the classrooms and listen to the [students], they are talking to each other; they are collaborating; they are sharing ideas,” Cushing said. “They are going around and trying each other’s creations. It’s awesome!”

Smith and Brooks both shared Cushing’s enthusiasm watching the students work together. Brooks said one group of her students designed their own t-shirts so they stood out as one team.

The teachers agreed they didn’t have to give the students suggestions on what to build. They just helped the students with the design process. The students’ imaginations came to life as the heap of broken boxes transformed into a foosball table, toss and win game and a variety of other games.

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“All the adults who came in the room were amazed by the creativity of all the children,” Brooks said. “It is also very interesting to see the progression between kindergarten and fifth grade. The games in kindergarten and first grade are very small and simple, and as they progress through the grade levels, the games become more complex and bigger.”

Smith smiled as she talked about her favorite part of STEM Day—watching the kids’ plans come to fruition.

“When you see it come to life in the boxes, it is really neat,” she added.

After the classroom arcades closed, the teachers and students talked about what did and didn’t work with their designs and how they could improve them.

“I think [STEM Day] teaches the students it is okay to fail and to retry,” Brooks said.