Westview Middle School students are designing a Hot Wheels track with a rotating middle section, a basketball version of the classic skee ball and a fishing game using recycled robotics competition parts.
Westview technology teacher Danny Hernandez said the class is student centered, with students designing, testing and building the games.
“I don’t have all the answers for them,” he said. “They have to figure out the problems.”
Hernandez, a parent at Longmont’s Central Elementary, was talking with other parents several years ago about how to improve Central’s annual carnival fundraiser. He suggested having his middle school students build and run the carnival games, allowing Central to save the money spent on bringing in an outside company.
He made the games the main project in his nine-week “Wired Creativity” classes. The goal is for students to design a new twist on carnival games, with many incorporating technology.
Working in groups, students start by building a prototype using cardboard, scrap wood and other spare parts. Along with building new games, students are encouraged to improve on games built by previous classes. Those with an artistic bent are in charge of the painting.
Most materials are either donated — mainly by parents, with a local bike shop contributing cardboard from product boxes — or repurposed from previous robotics competitions. The carnival games share space with the robotics arena in the school’s technology lab.
After testing the prototypes, the games that work best are built from wood and rented to elementary schools or used for Westview events.
“Not every game makes it,” Hernandez said. “They have to use data to prove it’s going to work.”
In the current seventh grade class, a group of three girls came up with an idea for a hot wheels track using pipes, making it into a game by using a motor to spin the middle section, making it more challenging to get the car to the end.
“I’m the first one to do it,” Ava Simonson cheered as she successfully sent her car through the track. “I’m amazing.”
She said she signed up for the class because “it sounded fun to be able to make things.”
Nicco Kovacic came up with a simple idea of tossing a disc into buckets, then changed it to use a disc to use to hit a ball into the buckets to increase the difficulty level. It’s so difficult now, he named it “The Near Impossible Game.”
“You have to hit it just right,” he said, adding he’s thinking about adding a wood bumper around the buckets to contain the balls that bounce out. “It’s simple, but it’s complex.”
Seventh grader Jayden Henderson is working on the game that combines skee ball with basketball. The aim is to roll a ball up a ramp into one of three baskets, set at different heights. In testing the game, he only made the top basket once, so that one will win the biggest prize.
“It’s really hard, but it works,” said Jayden, who is also on the school’s robotics team. “I like working with electronics and programming.”
Grades aren’t based on the final product, giving students more room for creativity and to try more complex designs that they may not finish by the end of the class.
Hernandez gives a “participation” grade for showing up and staying on task. Students also are asked to grade themselves through written reflections on their work every other week — a practice he started during the pandemic when he couldn’t see their work while they learned from home.
“If you’re willing to show up and willing to work and wiling to learn, there’s no reason not to get a good grade,” he said.