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Phoenix Kids Invent Again

Allow us to show you a glimpse of a place where the mind roams free, bringing with it the joy and exhilaration of discovery. You shall see the process of the building of our Halloween games, from the humble beginnings of crazy, hilarious, or downright impossible ideas to the point of fruitition. First was rousting the impossible to create ideas, so that we found within ourselves an inkling of a plan, and to sketch it out for all to see. From those crude-looking outlines, we made a model of straws, as a 3-D representation of our ideas. Once that likeness was fixed in our minds, we used it to make blueprints of our spectacular games. After that stage was complete, we reached next stage – balsa wood models. We created these to a scale, so a piece of 1×2 pine five feet long in real life would be seven-and-a-half or twelve-and-a-half inches long on the model. Next was one of the most interesting stages, the phase for which all the others were done. That period was building. Finally, after all that work, came the party, a boisterous event for all the kids in the City of Salem who wanted to come to this amazing Haunted Happenings event for the community. This is merely a rough outline of the process. Prepare yourself – there is much more to this than meets the eye. — Sam Carlberg

Step 1: Writing Sponsorship Letters

We began our Halloween games project by writing letters asking businesses to sponsor us for materials to make the amazing games we make each year for the kids of Salem and our Haunted Happenings community service project. When I was writing my sponsorship letter it was very hard to get started. I couldn’t find in my brain that one creative piece of writing that is good enough to get me started typing. Suddenly the lightbulb in my head went “ding,” and at that moment I started writing like crazy. After I got my letter checked off I started typing, then I mailed my letter. I got four sponsor letters out, but no replies. We got letters back from some of the businesses telling us that they would sponsor us. — Eric McCathern

Thank you to our 2008 sponsors:

Dominion – Salem Harbor Station
Waters and Brown
Mary Ann Lyons
Red’s Sandwich Shop
Kensington-Stobert Gallery
Napa Auto Parts
DeIulis Brothers Construction
Total Properties Boston
Harrison’s Comics and Collectibles

Step 2: Thinking Outside the Box

Our Halloween game ideas grew to the sky. When brainstorming for our Halloween Party each idea broke out of the box wilder than the last. We had crazy ideas like a gorilla eating bananas as you drop them by launching a ball at the tree, and controlling a UFO, then using it to reel up cows. Our Halloween game ideas would put you in a state of shock of amazement as soon as you heard them and you would think about how awesome they were longer than you could comprehend. This year children went nuts to play our games when they saw that our games would always keep them involved with at least two movements incorporating simple machines. Kids learned how to play a real game that got them involved and we learned how to build one. Our games were not those repetitive high tech games you see at a fair. We may use simple but unusual machines, but we always think of ways to prove that simplicity is the best tool, and this year was no exception. Our ideas started small but didn’t stop growing.

However when the time was right we had to leave our imaginations behind, bringing our greatest idea with us. Such a decision could not be made alone; it had to be done as a team. Discussing what ideas reigned supreme had to be done from different perspectives. In the end, we learned to be efficient and support the least efficient teammate keeping the team rock solid. The time came when the idea became more than an idea. We put our minds into making a mighty machine. We put science into our imaginations to design the game. When using our imaginations, the word “limit” ceased to exist and the game always improved. We pushed our minds to fix flaws and make our game even better. When brainstorming three minds must think as one.–Matt Wysocki

Step 3: Sketching Our Game Idea

Time went by as I thought of an idea for my game. Suddenly I had a spark of inspiration so I put pencil to paper and let my ideas flow, occasionally correcting a mistake. Then my idea for my Halloween Game lay before me in two-dimensional form. I saw that in real life it would fall apart because of the lack of support. I added crosspieces onto the corners of the frame to make triangles since it is the strongest shape. When I was finally done with drawing and labeling its parts I let out a sigh of relief. Once I was finished sketching I moved onto the next step, making the straw model to match my sketch.–Jeffrey Childs

Step 4: Straw Modeling Our Design

There are many steps in making Halloween games but making a straw model of the frame is one of the most important. The transformation from a 2-D drawing to a 3-D model is difficult because we need to consider the placement of the wood and the structure of the frame. If it doesn’t work we have to redesign the frame.

When we redesign the frame we add different pieces for stability, strength and stiffness. For stability we add braces to corners. If there were a corner that was wobbling I would add a brace. Strength depends on the shape of the very structure of the frame. The strongest shape is a triangle. That is why we use lots of triangles. The straw model stage ensures we have a plan so we won’t run into very many problems building. It determines how the frame will look and work, so I think it’s very important and challenging.–Jonah Levin

Step 5: Making Blueprints

One big step every team had to make was drawing blueprints of their game. They had to be drawn to scale. That means that the proportions on the drawings had to be the same as in the real game. Everyone had to make very accurate lines, corners, measurements, and circles. For those we used rulers, squares, and compasses.

However, the main purpose of the blueprints was for every team to have a better understanding of how their game would be put together. There were at least four views, one front, one back, and two side. Some had close ups showing how a specifically complicated part would work and be built. All the pieces of wood would be labeled with a number or letter. We did this so that when we made our wood model and game, we would be able to see which pieces went where. I really enjoyed this step in the game process, as it was something in which I excelled and was able to effectively complete.–Matt Tremblay

Step 6: Scale Drawings

Using scale on Halloween games was extremely helpful, but at the same time extremely annoying. Drawing in scale made it possible to create a set of detailed and accurate blueprints for my game. Going through the process of using a scale gave me an idea of what the proportions would be on the real game. Making scale drawings was quite confusing. It required me to take the real life measurement and transform it into a smaller scale so it would fit on the paper. To be as good as the real thing a scale model or drawing had to have excellent if not perfect measurements. One inch in the wrong place could have ruined my entire drawing. No matter how annoying to draw or build they were, scale drawings or models helped me make a fantastic set of blueprints, a fantastic balsa wood model, and a fantastic game.–Daniel Tremblay

Step 7: Math in Halloween Games

It took a lot of work to make a Halloween game. There were some annoying bits and pieces. One of those was adding fractions. If we couldn’t figure it out in our heads we would have to figure it out on paper. I had to add fractions when I was trying to add all of my wood together. Sometimes while I was adding up the amounts of wood I needed I came across a length of wood that wasn’t even so I had to add up all of the small measurements which meant lots of fractions.

There were also some fun, exciting and easy parts like using a compass for making circles. I had to make a compass in my blueprints representing a wheel. All we had to do was find the radius of the circle then keep our pencils the same length from the middle then just turn the pencil. After we had gone all the way around we had made a circle. Measuring wasn’t as easy as using a compass. We had to measure twice and cut once so we were positive that we were cutting at the right place. That has been a carpenter’s rule for a long time. Measuring, adding fractions and making circles with compasses was hard work but still fun.–Leo Santoro

Step 8: Using the Pythagorean Theorem

This year, while building our Halloween games, I learned to use the Pythagorean Theorem to find the lengths of our diagonal supports of the right angle corner parts on our game. The only things that my team needed were a calculator, a ruler and a square. We needed to find the length of the hypotenuse opposite the right angle that makes a right triangle. To find the length of our diagonal supports we first had to find the lengths of the base and height. Next we had to square the length of the base, then square the length of the height. When we added the area of the squares together it came out to be the area of the hypotenuse squared. Then we had to find the square root of that number. It was lots of fun, even though it’s math. It was 100% accurate for finding the lengths of the hypotenuses on my game, and it was easy to do. I loved using it because it involved my two favorite parts of geometry, lines and triangles! – Zachary Barshevsky

Step 8: Using a Square

My two favorite parts of geometry are triangles and lines. So guess what my 3rd is? A square! But not just for the shape. I also love it for its uses as a tool. My team used a square for making sure that the wood going together at the corners were perpendicular. We also used one for our measuring because then we didn’t have to switch tools so much. Best of all we used it to draw straight lines. In our games we used its convenient corner to draw our right angles lines on blueprints, even on wood for cutting. We did it by putting the base up against the edge of the wood and then tracing the line of the height. Squares were definitely the most useful tool while we were making Halloween games. –Zachary Barshevsky

Step 9: Balsa Wood Models

When we started making our games this year we had to make blueprints and models first. After we drew our blueprints we couldn’t make a full size model because we didn’t have enough balsa wood so we made a scaled model instead. Although everyone’s scale was different, ours was 2.5 inches to a foot so we measured all the lengths onto the balsa wood, scaled down of course, and then cut the wood. Then we had to assemble the model using nail-like brads to attach the balsa wood together. After that we added braces where they were needed and then we were done.The balsa wood models really helped because they helped us understand how our actual games would be put together. The only setback was that the wood is expensive and we had a limited amount that we had to use effectively. In the end I would say that making the balsa wood models was both fun and helpful for the game building.–Rodney Bedell

Step 10: Cutting Wood

Doing the tedious job of cutting wood filled me with different feelings, mentally and physically. Slowly at first, then quite fast at some points, I moved my saw back and forth. My arms started to ache slightly, but I did not stop because I knew the job would soon end. This job filled me with great boredom because of the same constant motion, but it also filled me with pride that we were excelling in the construction of our game. Sawing is a challenge I think for anyone, because each piece of wood is unpredictable in the sense that one piece might be harder then the other or it might be wet. No matter what piece of wood someone is cutting there are always the aches they get from sawing through the wood. Like every good workout it hurts. We stretch our muscles and build new ones, knowing there is no time for a break. This pain is not negative though, it is a sign of progress and accomplishment. Without that pain there would be no progress. Sawing and cutting wood is both feverishly annoying and extremely satisfying.– Olivia Hanna

Step 11: Building

The building of our Halloween games for our annual Children’s Costume Party was a grueling and exhilarating process. After the wood was cut came a much more fun stage — drilling. The builders were making frames for their games with wood and screws. Each game was different, in both size and shape. Using the drills made the process of constructing the frame very enjoyable. One team had so much fun, they used a few more screws than necessary, but it helped in the long run — they didn’t have to use 15’ 9” of wood supports, because having six screws in each corner made the frame completely stable. However, there was some danger that came with the job. If the drill slipped, it could have nicked someone’s hand, an unpleasant experience. The builders could avoid faint danger, though, if they kept their fingers away from the screw.

The feeling of a drill, the sound of a fast motor, a squeal of wood — all this was pleasing to the person with the drill. Once the frame was completely assembled, the team went onto one of the last steps of building, attaching the foamboard, which every game team needed for rigidity, backboards, targets or decorations. That meant each team had to trace their shapes, measure, and finally cut the material. It also had to be screwed on, or otherwise it would fall off, and the once-spectacular game would be ruined. After the foamboard was affixed to the frame, the teams may have added some special touches, as one did. They bored holes in their wood in order for their launcher platform to go up and down for little and big people alike to play. This process is for which all the other steps before had prepared us.—Sam Carlberg

Step 12: Trouble Shooting

The most frustrating part of the game had to be on the day of the party. When I walked through the door, I heard the bad news that our tubes had fallen down because the cleaners had moved our game. I freaked out! We thought we only needed to set up our ‘Try Again’ buckets, but instead had to spend our time fixing the tubes. We had about 20 minutes to get the whole game set up. We got the tubes back up, but the rest of the game ended up not getting set up before the parade. After the parade we found out that the tubes had fallen down again and we had to temporarily close the game. Our plan for affixing the tubes to the table with nothing but duct tape wasn’t the best because it wasn’t strong, but we had no time to re-engineer. Luckily the tubes didn’t fall again during the party and everything went smoothly. The tubes fell one more time, on Exhibition Night. The railroad board funnels broke as well which was upsetting, but all right because nobody was playing our game since we were demonstrating how the game worked. It was really bothersome how the tubes always broke at the wrong time, but I am thankful that they were fine when we really needed them.– Olivia Hanna

Step 13: Decorations

A large part of building our game was the decorations. We used them to cover things we didn’t want to be seen on our game like tape, screws and dried glue, making it look nicer. However, we mostly used the decorations for making our game look more Halloweeny. This year my theme was pumpkins, so my team cut out many little Jack-o-Lanterns to paste on the walls and we cut out bug-type “Pumpkin Eaters.” We decorated our Pumpkin Man to look like a person with a belt, pants and a nice shirt. It was fun cutting out decorations. For me it was a nice break from all the sawing and drilling. Our decorations kept how we built the game a secret and they made everything look nicer.–Zachary Barshevsky

Step 14: The Party

The Haunted Happenings party was a hit. All the people who came, whether they were three years old or ten, had a blast. Nobody left without a smile on their face. The players weren’t the only people who had fun at the party. Those who were operating the games did, too. Seeing the original costumes people came in with was extremely fun. Nevertheless, we couldn’t just admire the players, far from it. We had to teach them how to play the games, and help them if they needed it. Even though we may not have known it, we were also refining our people and leadership skills by working with young kids. This party was the culmination of all our efforts beforehand, creative and academic. –Sam Carlberg

From the teachers:

In October the Phoenix 4th-8th grade curriculum combines engineering, science, math, writing, and creative arts in their Community Service project to benefit Salem’s Haunted Happenings. They design and construct giant carnival type games and host a public party for children. The blog was written and pictures taken and selected entirely by the 5th-8th graders.

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