I've written about boxes before. And there is much more to my teaching than having kids design boxes from one piece of paper. But, it is one of the coolest and enjoyable parts of my fourth grade classroom. I think my students would agree. And what is so neat about that is they learn a ton of problem-solving skills without even thinking about it.
Without exception, when I show boxes made by 9-10 year olds to adults, the adults are in awe and say they could not make them (they really probably could if they made it through my fourth grade class).
What I have seen over the last few years is just amazing. The box project has gone from a small couple of lessons to an integral part of my classroom - for a number of reasons. Maybe it's not outwardly evident, but boxes overlap with much that kids need to learn: design, goal-setting, trial and error, perseverence, teamwork and creativity to name a few. There are others too: using a protractor, visual literacy of how things fit together, and measurement. The project also overlaps with stories written, differentiation between ability levels, and the consumer boxes we tear apart.
You'd be amazed at the connections people make, as I hear all the time from parents who can't look at boxes the same anymore, kids bringing them back from vacations (I have a pizza box from Macys in NYC!), or other teachers leaving them in my mailbox at school. Even kids and parents from other grades mention them to me. This week, we went on a field trip to Consumer Packaging Group and Quad Graphics - big connections were made between the box project and the real-world business of printing.
That's why when I was asked to teach the box project to Racine Youth for Christ's young men's group, of course I said yes. You might think making boxes with middle to high school boys would fall flat, but it hasn't. We've started small with cubes and then small house-like designs as I've walked them through the process. It's pretty darn cool when a young man designs a small box, adds a small heart to put inside, and then mentions he's going to give the box to his girlfriend. This after one session of boxes! That brings tears to my eyes even now. I hope to continue to bring this project to more students in our area, throughout the region and even further away.
The creativity I've seen has been amazing. One student asked if she could make a box with moveable parts, so she made a safe with a "combination lock" (shown below). As a testament to my current students' imaginaction, we put together a very quickly made, impromptu video yesterday in class. The set isn't fancy at all, with student-made boxes (all one piece of paper) all stuffed into a small area. One student took over as the director and we put together "The Monster of Box City" video as one end-of-the-year mini-project. One boy even made a specially designed marionette box to be used as the monster. It's just one more way students have connected with the box project. Check it out below.
I find it all amazing, and feel privileged to see it all in action on a daily basis.
© 2015 Peter J. Wilson
Peter Wilson teaches fourth grade at University Lake School, in Hartland, WI.