Glasnost Games: History Class meets Pinball

Glasnost Games: History Class meets Pinball

Cold War Pinball

PinBox 3000 Bay of Pigs design

Maintaining good international relations with Russia can be tricky. So Arlington High School history teacher Michael Sandler gave his students an assignment to write a report about one aspect of the Cold War. At this, the students perhaps were not all "glasnost" (openness) to the idea. But he connected the writing assignment with the PinBox 3000 cardboard pinball machine kit and...well, the walls came crumbling down.

Professor Ben met up with Michael Sandler at Pintastic New England Pinball Expo in Sturbridge MA and talked with him about the assignment and how the PinBox 3000 played a role in activating the visual imagination of the history of the Cold War.

BEN: How was the Cold War PinBox 3000 complimentary to the writing assignment?

MICHAEL SANDLER: It was interesting because I had no idea what I was going to get from them [students]. I didn't know what they were going to end up producing and I was pleasantly surprised by what the kids could create, and how they could take these big themes and distill them down to just a couple of pieces on the playboard. It was nice to see them working hands on, normally in history when doing a research project, it is about the research and it's about the written product. This added art, design, mechanical engineering, and collaboration.

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Comrades In Cardboard

PinBox 3000 1980-1984 Olympics theme pinball
PinBox 3000 Cuban Missile Crisis theme

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BEN: Let's talk about the hands-on element. How was adding the tactile part how did that enhance the experience. Did they retain more information by building?

MICHAEL: I think they had to think more about it. It's not just words on a page, it has to actually work. And it has to make sense and add meaning. Why is this thing on here? What part does it play in the story?

BEN: What about the biggest challenges that these guys came up against?

MICHAEL: Ramps. Ramps were tough. One pair of students gave me a little wedge of wood to put underneath, to raise it up, so the ball could actually travel up the ramp. The distillation process, how do I take all this stuff that I found? It's similar when writing an essay. In some ways it's easier to write a 3 page essay than an 8 page. How do I really break it down to what are the core things that some who doens't know about this needs to know. I thought that was a challenge. In terms of putting it together... they helped one another, and that's one thing I really liked about this. Here, different kids stepped up because they got some engineering skills, they are tinkerers. PinBox 3000 encouraged them.

They were researching too, because this was a research project. They were excited about it. The big take away for me was that this was a really engaging things that the students were working on. Its the visual part of the writing assignment. They added the writing into the games. This is not just for a middle school audience, this for people that want to play. How can they make the subject matter come to life?

Thanks to Michael Sandler and Arlington High School for sharing this project. If you have a PinBox 3000 workshop that you'd like to share, contect Cardboard Teck at

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