From STEM to STEAM (STEM + ART) – Inspiration from Caine’s Arcade

Written by Cathy Simpson

October 7, 2013

For over 78,000 students across the globe, October 5th is the 2nd Annual Global Cardboard Challenge. It’s simple, kids build something with cardboard, recycled materials and imagination and then they invite everyone to come and play.
This all got started two years ago. Caine Monroy, 9 years old at the time, had spent his summer building a cardboard arcade in his father’s auto parts store in East LA. Caine loves arcades and loves to take things apart and learn how to put things back together. This is what he did all summer but didn’t get a single customer until Nirvan Mullick, an independent filmmaker, dropped by looking for a car door handle at his dad’s shop. He played Caine’s Arcade and the rest has been magical. He brought a flash mob to the store on October 3, 2011 and changed one young boy’s life forever.
I’ve watched the video many times because it’s inspiring and it still brings a tear to my eye when I see that final scene when Caine is shocked and thrilled that over 250 people came to play at his cardboard arcade. What you see is pure joy being experienced by a young boy – he called it the best day of his life.
Rothesay Elementary School (RES) where my daughter Maggie (aged 6) is a grade 1 student, signed up to be a part of the Cardboard Challenge. She came home from school last month and said “Mom, I saw the video at school of that boy who made the arcade and we’re going to do that too at RES!” I was absolutely thrilled to see the school take this initiative. Maggie finished three projects and they are proudly on display for everyone to see. Her cardboard creations include a game of checkers, a family card game, and lastly a Kitty Hotel that she of course did an architectural diagram for first so her dad – who’s an engineer – could help her build it correctly after he understood her vision.
We were able to go to the school to see all of the cardboard creations. The kids were so proud to show off what they had done – from robots to fish tanks, castles, games, and much more. When I saw the students and their creations, I saw hard work, creativity and the FUN they had using their imagination.
We often think we need expensive tools, the most creative environments, the best schools, and on and on to get great results and I believe we often sell ourselves short. Caine’s Arcade inspired a movement of imagination around the world where kids, families, and educators thought of the possibilities that can exist with the simplest tools of cardboard, scissors, and tape.
It got me thinking about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to STEAM (STEM + Art) discussion. At RES, I saw numerous very creative K to Grade 5 student’s works of ART. We need to support and enable that creativity not only in the technology arena but the arts because I believe that’s what will help us produce more inventors, creators, and big thinkers who can help all of us imagine the world that we can and want to live in.
Come to think of it, it’s been a great week at RES. Maggie also started attending a Science camp one day a week after school and came home excited to tell me that Science is so cool! That’s music to my ears. Now, we just need to bring Scratch, Tynker, and other very basic programming and coding into the school system at this very early age. Oh, the things these kids will start building will blow our minds.
Sometimes, reflecting makes you see that it doesn’t take much to change the life of a child and it’s these sorts of initiatives that do exactly that. Caine is inspiring us all. Well done Caine!

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