Intro to Design Lesson: Create a Paper Mache Darth Vader Tin Can Math Game




About: I adore instructables and use it when I'm playing with ideas for my students (I'm a certified art teacher and the Art Director for a children's summer camp). I have found that it fuels my creative process a...

I've been working on a lesson for my students design and create a paper mache head around a tin can that can then be used to play a math game at school or at home. 

The materials are cheap and the final product not only involves many subject areas, so it's aligned with the common core, but it's just plain cool to sit around!  If you choose not to use it as a math game, you could use the can as a pencil holder, a pot for a plant, paint brush holder, random junk holder, and I'm 100% sure there are many more uses.

So, sit back and learn how to create a paper mache Darth Vader and remember the technique can be used to create other characters, faces and more!!  (I will add pictures of others as well so you can get ideas and as soon as my students finish I will put up their work as well.)

Lesson plan info will be found on step 8 and as always tips and tricks will be found at the end of the instructable.

If you make a tin can face, I would LOVE to see your work, please come back and share. 

Ok-dokey Let's get started!

Step 1: Materials Needed

Materials Needed:

1 Tin Can
1 Sharpie
1 Egg Carton (cardboard)
1 Roll of Masking Tape
1 Bed Sheet or Pillow Case
1 Pair of Scissors
1 Pair of Google Eyes
1 Bottle of Glue
1 Plastic Cup

1 Can Black Spray Paint (flat) - Optional
Random bottles of acrylic paint
Various Paint Brushes

Step 2: "CAN" You Do This? Yes YOU CAN!

You need  tin can, so eat some soup, green beans, or other food in a can.  Ok, you can also just plain ask someone hey, can you save you tin cans for me.

You need to decided what your can is going to look like.  I've included a blank can for you to print out and draw on. 

Take a sharpie and draw on the can.  Put lines where you are going to need to build up with the cardboard.

Step 3: Take That Egg Carton!

Take your egg carton and cut it up in pieces you need.  Since this is Darth Vader I cut strips of the carton to make straight lines.  If you do a different figure you can cut different shapes and build up. 

You can also tape pieces together and then hook that onto the can.

Step 4: Making the Armature, You CAN Do It!

When making the armature you are going to use a bit of tape.  You won't use a whole roll, and people will look at the can and think gosh, you put a lot of tape on that!  Yes, it's a bit of tape but because it's small it looks like more than it is.

Build up layers and tape them down, continue to do this until you get the shape you need.

This is an example for kids, so I didn't meature out my pieces of cardboard and get really exact with my Vader, you totally can.  Do an example too well, kiddo's shut off.  With kids it is sometimes good to do something that still makes them feel they can accomplish it.  Little art teacher trick. ;-)

Step 5: Mache It!

You could paper mache it!  I am currently a little obsessed with glue mache.  I like the textures you get with the fabric.  Not that Darth Vader needs texture, but I'm working with my students to learn about texture so I lean towards texture.

Take glue and mix it 50/50 glue and water.

Cut strips of fabric, small strips. 

Dip the strips in glue and remove the excess with your fingers, place it on the can. Continue to work around until the entire can is covered.

Sit and let dry.

Step 6: Paint It!

Trim any excess fabric.  If some fabric is flexable and sticking out you can "glue" it down with paint.  After you put a base coat on, you can trim more fabric as needed with scissors or a razor blade. 

Step 7: All Finished! You Have Submited to the Dark Side!

Step 8: Common Core Lesson Info

If you are not in the field of education you might be thinking, what on earth is this common core stuff!!  Click HERE

In a nut shell it's bring all educational disciplines into a lesson.  This is NOT a new concept in an art room.

(I will eventually add my entire lesson plan to this instructbale (objectives, national standards, yadda yadda yadda), but it's a work in progress at this point.

There are a lot of areas to add depth of knowledge (DOK), writing, science, and math (as this does end up being a math game) 

The Math Game:

Multiplication Roll 'Em

How to Play
Player 1 (Jedi) rolls two dice.  The player multiplies the numbers together to find the product.  Player 2 (Sith) does the same.  Circle the math fact with the highest total.  The player who had the highest total wins the round.  Play all 18 rounds to see who controls the empire!

(There is a PDF to download the game worksheet on this step)

Step 9: Tin Can Head Gallery

Welcome to the tin can head gallery!  I will add more photos as my students create.  I would also love to see any tin can heads you, your children, your grandchildren, niece, nephew, students and more make!  I will try to give you a little info on each head as well, like grade level of the child as well as their title, I will include their design (the drawing) as well.

(Student work added with info on the pictures for what they are)

Step 10: PoofRabbit's Tips and Tricks

Poof Rabbit's Tips And Tricks
  • Getting Supplies: Ask around.  Teachers are horders by nature, we like to gather things we think we might need later.  If they have a goal for their hording (helping another teacher) it's like manna from heaven!  Another great way to get the cans you need, ask your students.  What works great, show the final product, tell them you are planning to create it with them, but to do so you will need them to bring in a tin can.  You can let them know until everyone in the class has a tin can, we can't make the project.  If they want to bring in more than one so their friends have one, that just in case factor, they can.  I assure you cans will show up that next morning.  NOt all you need, but a good chunk!  The same is true for egg cartons.  Schools use egg cartons in the kitchen, they are good people to ask as well. 
  • Remind students sometimes less is more.  Having small parts can be hard for little people.  You might suggest a more cartoon look or something less complicated.  Remind them they will need to be able to hold the can to roll the dice out of it. 
  • Plastic Party table cloths are your friend.  They come two to a pack and can be bought for less than two dollars.  If they are themed to a holiday you can get them after the holiday on sale, making them even cheaper.  These are great for covering tables so you don't have a huge glue mess.  You can also open up garbage sacks (cut them with scissors) and put them down.
  • Duct Tape edges to ensure there are no sharp bits to cut small people, that just stinks!  On the kids cans, I always prep them with duct tape in the inside edge.  It can be mached over.
  • Document!  It's fun to take pictures of students working (mine will be added when we finish our lesson, we just got started)  It's wonderful to be able to show later so the kids can see what other classes made, and you can show those pictures the next year.  Just like instructables, you get ideas by seeing others work.  Sure, some will copy, others will have their creativity bug crawling all over their brilliant minds and your project quality will go up!
  • If you need a lot of dice, I would suggest writing casino's in your area and asking for a donation of their old dice.  Most are very willing to lend a hand.
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    8 Discussions


    Thanks! I just introduced the project to my second group of 3rd graders (I have four groups in all) they are so excited! It may take us a month to finish, but I'm stoked to share their work with the instructables community!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I forgot I planned to show student work! These are a few of my 3rd graders cans. :)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Another material that is easy to use is gummed brown paper tape. It has a water activated gum on the back, it is easy to use and reasonably cheap.
    You should be able to get it from most art supplies as it is used for sealing the back of picture frames.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Ah yes I know the tape you speak of, I have also used it to hold down prints and watercolor paper to keep it from buckling, I had not thought about it in a mache, brilliant! Thanks for the idea!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I like your " little art teacher trick" of not over perfecting the example piece. I was inspired by a very rough example that seemed so much more acceptable, understandable, and accomplishable than finely the finished pieces that mask their methods. I still reflect often on that crudely bolted together mash-up of a lawn chair blended with a kid bike that inspired me to give bike making a try.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you, I have found that it's so hard for a student (adult or child) to want to even try to do something when they do not feel it's obtainable. My goal as an elementary art teacher is to ensure students feel they have a safe environment to work, play, and try new things. If I gave them a crazy example that looked like it walked out of an art gallery or off a shelf in a store, I have shut off many students before we even begin. Sometimes I even stop myself and "goof" on purpose. I also tell students when I make mistake, they need to know I'm human too. My level of craftsmanship and things (tho I really do try to be a decent example of craftsmanship, so a balance is needed) go up and down with the age of students I'm working with. This is a 3rd grade project in my room, so I didn't want to be to intimidating. I'm glad to here you were inspired by a rough example. It's really cool in my eyes that you can look back and remember where your inspiration came from! Thanks for checking out my instructable!