Introduction: Making Cardboard STEM Model Kits From Trash for After School Programs

About: I build things with kids ages 10~16 in an afterschool program. I hope that I can continue to create instructables to inspire others Buy things on Amazon? Amazon donates a small percentage of your order t…

I created this project to assist the Elementary schools in my community. Right now, after school programs are hurting a lot. Either after school programs have completely cancellation or have a lack of activities since students cannot meet face to face from Covid. I had been planning to do this project for some time and with the beginning of the school year starting I thought now would be the right time to start.

This is how I am supporting after school programs in my community even if its in a small way. My plan is to use Trash (reclaimed cardboard from local businesses) and make them into STEM kits to assist after-school programs. I gathered most of the boxes from a local dry cleaning business on pallets. I had about 500 boxes in total. Most of the boxes could be used, aside from ones that were damaged due to improper opening with box cutters, damaged on pallets by forklifts, or other misc mishaps. Initially I am making 1,000 kits from these with 6 different types of animals. A gorilla, elephant, domestic house cat, a snail, a penguin, and dog.

I hope you enjoy this instructable and find it useful in some way.

"Be the positive change you wish to see in your community." - Be a Kid Hero

Step 1: The Tools and Materials You Will Need

Listed below are the supplies you will need:

paper and pencil

exacto knife or razor knife

a computer with paint, word, or design software

a printer to print your document

laser engraver at maker space/library (optional)

a lot of cardboard (150 lbs worth or just a single box)

Step 2: Making Your Design

Designing your model.

I designed my models off of animal pictures on the internet and I can show you how. I also attached a video showing the large scale process of doing a lot of boxes. Right now for after school programming elementary schools specifically are hurting for activities for children. So I made these kits and included a supplement sheet that showed facts about the animal's biology for students to also learn. This could be used for class grades 1-12. You could modify your fact sheets using vocabulary that is appropriate for the age.

1) Go to google. Find a elephant or animal side view. Type "animal name side view" and then hit enter.

The picture I came up with was this (example shown in explorer window).

2) Use your paint program and crop photo so that only the animal is in the picture. (see next example).

3) Use magic select tool to remove animal and you will be left with the outline. You can either use the negative or the outline. Either will work for tracing your image onto the cardboard.

4) Find a rear image of the same animal you are working. So now we are looking for a picture of an elephant butt. Go back to google and search "elephant rear side". You should be able to find pictures like this.

5) Again use paint or similar program to crop and then use magic tool to remove animal to gain the animal outline.

6) Use google doc, Microsoft word, or a similar program to import your file to print out. Also enable your ruler scale tool on the program to make them both relatively the same size. We are wanting to create a 3D model using the image negatives. They should be roughly the same inch or mm scale between the side view and the back view.

7) If you plan to do this by hand, you can print the sheet out and skip to STEP

Overall, you will need two back side print outs and three side view print outs to make an elephant the way I designed it. The first back side will need to be the same height as the front hind quarters. The second back side will need to be the same height as the rear hind quarters. The outside side views are identical minus the trunk. The center piece side view only which has a trunk in the image still intact but no legs. You can make these into outlines or silhouettes to use for laser cutting. Make sure they are higher quality in order to get them to work better. Speak with your local library maker-space pro for more info on what they prefer. I put a final image of what your puzzle outline should look like

Step 3: Lay Your Print Out Over Your Cardboard

You can glue your printout onto the cardboard and then cut or do a silhouette or do a trace and then cut. Which ever is easier.

1) Decide which method you will use.

-Glue and cut (exacto knife, cutting board, glue, print out),

-trace and cut (pencil, exacto knife, print out)

-laser cut (laser cutting/engraving machine, and your file)

2) Cut out your pieces

Step 4: Cut Out Stuff Carefully

Take your time to cut out your design. Keep your fingers in a safe position. If you are using a laser cutting measure your cardboard and try to get them into uniform pieces. I used a table saw to cut my cardboard because of the quantity.

Usually, I wouldn't recommend a table saw for this especially cutting paper products. It has the tendency to dull the blade. My table saw blade is about time to swap it any way. So I will replace the blade after cutting all the boxes. Put all the flaps in one box, all the bottoms and sides into another box. measure these out and reference the measurements before going to the maker-space so you know what size to resize your document (image) to make the correct scale cuts.

Step 5: Create a Word Document to Have Supplemental Information.

I created six different documents for each animal. Things I included in my short paper were:

Animal name?

Where can the animal be found in the wild?

What the animal babies are called? How many are in a litter,etc.?

How long do they live for?

Can they be kept as a pet with a special license? (kids seem to ask me this often)

General facts (what they eat? Are they dangerous to people? Etc.)

I could have posted what I wrote, but I thought it might be interesting to see what others find, plus it gives you an opportunity to learn something as you create your own short paper. Make sure you keep your vocabulary appropriate for the age of the child. Teaching a child, the Latin word for the animal might be cool, but more difficult if they are only 5 years old compared to Jr. High or High school.

Step 6: Package for Later Use or Assemble and Have the Child/student Decorate/Paint

If you plan on giving these away, put them into gallon size bags. Fold your paper in half that has the facts on it. And put in some markers, or paints and a paint brush, etc.

If this is for your child, you can still package it for them and give it to them when time permits. It will keep the pieces together. If notches were cut a little jagged you can use modge podge lightly on the model or use some Elmer's glue to hold it together. Stand back as the child enjoys their project and give yourself a pat on the back. You not only recycled a bit reducing some of the waste to the environment, but you were able to "Edu-tain" (entertain and educate) a child.

"Be the positive change you wish to see in your community." -Be a Kid Hero

Thanks for reading.

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