Cardboard Challenge Tips Part 2: More Tips and Tricks

Cardboard Challenge Part 2 Tips and Tricks: Here's more tips to help support your cardboard challenge, including storage, organization, and using design challenges.

Cardboard challenges have been a core part of my makerspace programming for the past eight years.  I continue to be amazed year after year at the amazing ideas students come up with when given a design challenge and simple, everyday materials.  In Part 1 of this post series, I looked at some of my favorite tools to help facilitate cardboard challenges.  In this post, I focus on other tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.  Here, I’ll talk about:

  • Storage ideas for wrangling all that cardboard and managing those in-progress projects
  • Adding in recyclable materials
  • Using Design Challenge and constraints to help spur creativity

Cardboard Challenge Tips and Tricks

(Post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase using them, I get a small commission that helps support running this blog.)

Storage ideas

Storing cardboard for a cardboard challenge can sometimes present a challenge.  You want to keep a lot of cardboard, preferably including some with different thicknesses, on hand for students.  But cardboard can take up a lot of space.  I prefer to store cardboard vertically, and I’ve found a few solutions that work for me.

My DIY storage solution at Stewart
My DIY storage solution at Stewart

At Stewart, I repurposed a wire book display with some bungee cords.  This was able to hold a TON of cardboard and since it was on wheels, we could bring it to our main area during cardboard challenge.  I don’t know that you’d want to buy a book display just to repurpose it, but if you already have something similar, it might be an almost free option.

I also had a Copernicus Maker Station at Stewart.  While it didn’t hold as much cardboard as my DIY solution, it did hold a good amount, plus other tools and materials I needed.  It’s a fantastic option.  

Using a storage bin for compact cardboard storage
Using a storage bin for compact cardboard storage

Since my storage space is pretty limited at Tampa Prep, I purchased a few of these large plastic storage bins and I cut my cardboard down to fit.  It holds a decent amount, and it can fit underneath the countertops in my makerspace.  I can’t keep as much cardboard on hand, but I just replenish it throughout the year.

Supplement with recyclables

Cardboard challenge with just cardboard is certainly fun, but in my opinion, adding in recyclables makes it even better.  I’ll save up yogurt cups, bottle caps, paper towel tubes, styrofoam trays and other materials throughout the year.  You can easily get these donated from parents or others in your community.  I recommend organizing them by type – I have plastic storage bins for each of the most common items I store.

Keep recyclables on hand and organized
Keep recyclables on hand and organized

Have a designated bin for scraps

As students work on their projects, there will be LOTS of little bits and leftover pieces.  Designate a specific bin or place for scraps.  This will help make cleanup easier, and it will be more efficient.  Sometimes a student might just need a small piece of cardboard – rather than cutting up a whole box, they can use one of the scraps.

Designate a place for scraps, even if it's not the most elegant solution.
Designate a place for scraps, even if it’s not the most elegant solution.


Watch Caine’s Arcade with your students

Sometimes, when I introduce the cardboard challenge, students are skeptical.  They might be more interested in all the techy stuff.  But when I show them the short documentary Caine’s Arcade, their eyes light up.  They’re inspired and suddenly eager to build something awesome like the then-9-year-old Caine.

Create a size constraint if storage space for projects is an issue

When your cardboard challenge wraps up, whether it’s just until work starts back the next day or if it’s done completely, you’re going to need somewhere to store the in-progress and finished projects.  I had several shelves and a small storage room at Stewart, so I generally had enough room for most of our projects. 

(Extra tip: Give your custodians the heads-up that you’ll be working on cardboard projects with students. I’ve almost had all our students’ work thrown away by a well-meaning custodian more than once).

If you have limited space to store projects, create a size constraint.  I once held a Tiny House Cardboard Challenge, where students had to design house models that could fit within a 2’x2′ painter’s tape square I set up on one of our tables.

Add a design challenge element to guide making

Sometimes, having a bin full of cardboard possibilities can be a bit overwhelming.  Adding in a design challenge can help students to focus and get ideas.  Here are a few of my favorites from over the years:

  • Cardboard Games – Build a game that another student(s) can play
  • Creature Challenge – Build a creature that does something
  • Tiny Houses – Build a tiny house that fits in a 2’ x 2’ square

Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace


For even more ideas about creating design challenge prompts to spur creativity, check out my book, Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace, co-authored with Colleen Graves and Aaron Graves. We go into detail about how to set up your makerspace for success, how to create design challenge prompts, and we share examples of successful design challenge projects from a variety of K-12 schools.


1 thought on “Cardboard Challenge Tips Part 2: More Tips and Tricks”

Comments are closed.