Unplugged Arcade: Switching Off From Typical Class Instruction

ANYA MILLER and CALLA TAYLOR, with photography by LEILA SMEE -

How is the Kennedy School implementing hands on learning and STEAM in the classroom? What tactics do teachers use to get students out of their seats and engaged in learning?

The Unplugged Arcade is an event that has been happening at this school for years. It is a project the seventh and eighth grade students work on in science class but the whole school gets to participate in. Over the course of under two months, the middle school students built arcade games mostly using wood they already had or from the street. The finished games don’t use any electricity, hence the name “Unplugged Arcade”.

Mr. Sharp, the seventh and eighth grade science teacher, assigns this project to educate his students on the engineering design process and the universal systems model, as well as learning how to use power tools. He got this idea from a nine-year-old named Caine who lives in East LA. In 2012, Caine made an arcade using cardboard and any other materials he could find.

Students worked on projects anywhere from their own skee-ball variations to strength tests to mini-golf. The project began with students researching and brainstorming potential project ideas. They then chose ideas and started designing a plan.

Once they had an idea of what they are doing, students made Orthographic Projections of their projects. An Orthographic Projection is a drawing that shows what the final product will look like. It shows one side of the project at a time, and never shows multiple at once. For example, it might show the front of the game in one drawing and the top in another, but it won’t show a 3D version with both the front and the side. The Orthographic Projections were hung up on the walls outside of the science lab. As soon as the Orthographic Projections were done, students launched into project creation.

In the span of about two months, students worked on their projects. The project is very hands-on and students used power sanders, power saws, power drills, and other tools, under the supervision of Mr. Sharp. As the projects finished up, students moved on to finishing and painting.

Finally, after two months, students were ready to present their projects. On Thursday, February 13, seventh and eighth grade students gathered in the cafeteria and gym. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade walked around and played all the games. Finally, the younger students voted on their favorite projects.

Younger students are given a paper that lists all the projects that they saw. They then are prompted to circle their favorite game. When all the votes are tallied up, there should be a winner. The winning group will receive a gift card. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winners!

Seventh grader Kaylie Burke said “This project broke the routine of going to class and just sitting at our desks while listening to Mr. Sharp lecture us. I liked that we got to go to the lab and actually make really cool projects using tools and our hands.” Not only did this project get kids engaged and out of their seats, it taught them to be independent. This project gives students a skill set that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives: the ability to be safe and efficient with power tools and the ability to work well with others. Seventh grade student McKenzie Pate recalls “I liked the challenge, and I really enjoyed decorating it and presenting it to the younger kids.”

6th grade students who visited the showcase said they learned that “You don’t need electricity to create things.” This project is so amazing because it bridges the gap between multiple grades and gets students in the lab creating.

We can’t wait to see what students will create in the coming years at the Unplugged Arcade! To view some of this year’s projects, browse the gallery below!

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