We start with a brief overview of what exactly is an arcade. I always include both definitions (covered passageway lined with shops AND place to play games for a fee), because I see myself as a teacher of all subjects. Then we watch and discuss the Nirvan Mullick film Caine's Arcade which is the original inspiration for the whole cardboard arcade phenomenon. The movie documents the arcade built by a 10 year old boy who was spending the summer hanging around in his father's auto parts store.
Next students get together in teams, or elect to work independently, and brainstorm ideas. I place as few limitations on them as I am able. The games must be table top size and must be playable by first and second graders. I encourage the students be be as creative and not just make a replica of an arcade game they saw at Dave and Buster's. Once an idea is selected, students begin planning in their journals. These plan include a list of materials, steps for completion, and direction for how to play the game. I insist on a detailed plan because I find that it cuts down on the amount of materials that are wasted. During the planning phase I meet with each group to offer feedback on their design. Depending on what they are trying to make, I ask questions to get them thinking about the details that will need to be included. That may be "how will you build the ball return?", "how will you stop the ball from flying across the room?", or "how will player know they have won?".
The construction and testing phase lasts several days. While I do help with some of the tougher cutting tasks, I make the students do as much of the hard work as possible. Last year I banned the use of tape in construction because it is wasteful and fails to hold the game together anyway. I spend a lot of the building class periods teaching students to use white glue and structural elements like L-braces and flanges to attach pieces of cardboard to one another. There is much gnashing of teeth in the beginning when I refuse to produce a roll of tape for them to mummify their project with. However, once a few students get the hang of the glue techniques, they are eager to share their skills with others.
The final phase of the project is always the presentation. I invite a class from a lower grade to come and play the games. I never know who will be available from which grade level, so I prepare the 3rd graders for the fact that they may end up entertaining anyone from Kindergarten through 2nd grade. They are always so excited to show off what they have made and the only disappointment ever voiced is that I did not invite their former teacher or the class with their sibling to participate.
There have been some really great projects so far in this unit including a 3 story escape room game, a pinball machine, and a nicely done soccer/hockey mash-up game.