Skill Builder: My Cardboard Robot

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Skill Builder: My Cardboard Robot

J.E. came up with this simple activity to teach younger students how to connect cardboard in order to create moveable joints. We call it My Cardboard Robot. The activity, which takes about an hour, also teaches a few ways you can utilize the layers in corrugated cardboard to create different structures. We've done this activity with a few kindergarten and 1st grade classes as a precursor to more design centered, open-ended maker projects. We've found that doing this activity as a skill builder allows students to be more creative and independent with their future inventions.  It also uses minimal hot glue, so it's easy to do even if your students are still in the training phase with the hot glue gun. 

Each student will need 6 pieces of corrugated cardboard that roughly resemble the body parts of a robot. Additionally, you will need brass fasteners, bamboo skewers, pony beads, small zip ties, and tape. Tools needed include a nail to poke holes, cardboard scissors, and a glue gun with glue sticks. 

The robot's legs are connected with two variations of a pivot joint. To start, have students carefully use the nail to poke holes at one end of each cardboard leg and at the base of the body. Connect one of the legs using a brass fastener. For the second leg, first cut or break off one inch of a bamboo skewer. This will become a skinny dowel that allows rotational movement. Stick the dowel through the body and second leg and secure with a drop of hot glue on the back side of the robot. On the front side, slip a pony bead onto the dowel followed by another drop of hot glue to attach the bead to the dowel. It is important that the hot glue is applied only to the bead and not to the cardboard in order for the leg joint to have unrestricted movement.

The robot's arms are connected by two variations of a hinge joint. Again, using a nail as an awl, poke a hole at the end of an arm and on the side of the body. Slip a small zip tie through the holes and lock it together. Clip off any excess plastic on the zip tie. For the second hinge joint, lay the cardboard arm flat against the other side of the robot's body. Use a few pieces of tape to connect the arm to the body. By only using tape on one side of the robot, the arm is able to move about the joint on the side the tape is adhered to. The kids liked to pretend the tape was a bandage for the robot's arm.

The final joint is the robot's spinning head. To create this joint, stick a bamboo skewer in between the layers of the cardboard. Place a few pony beads on the skewer to create the neck followed by the cardboard piece that represents the head. To ensure the head doesn't fall off of the skewer, finish by placing a few beads at the end of the skewer and secure with a drop of hot glue. Again, placing the hot glue on the bead rather than the cardboard allows the cardboard freedom of motion around the skewer axis.

We then had the students label each of the joints in both English and Spanish and give the robots a little personality with some poster markers.


Lastly, we created a simple cardboard base so that each cardboard robot could be displayed on a flat surface. To do this, I used some cardboard scissors to cut half way down two pieces of similarly sized cardboard to create a perpendicular base held together with a half lap slot. I inserted a bamboo skewer into the base and the bottom of the robot's body, and viola! A cute little cardboard robot display to remind everyone of the different ways to create moveable joints!

Look at all these happy little 1st grade makers at a dual language school in Austin, Texas! Now they are ready to move on to their design with empathy project!

Until next time, happy making!





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