Sign up now for the Cardboard Carnival

February 17, 2022

In search of hand-on, creative, problem-solving activities – with prizes? 

The Cardboard Carnival transforms engineering into a game with a free series of citywide challenges for District 65 students and Evanston residents in grades 5-8. Through coding and constructing a 3-D cardboard arcade game, participating kids learn about the engineering design process, strengthen their interest in STEM, and build valuable problem-solving skills. 

The Carnival kicks off Saturday, Feb. 26 with a workshop on writing and programming motors.  Registration for the months-long competition is open now and continues through Sunday, March 20. Sign up here. 

The challenge culminates in a community showcase Saturday, April 9, when participating students present their finished arcade games  to friends and family and are awarded prizes in a raffle. Cardboard Carnival participants may only win one prize, but the more prize tokens they earn by adding features to their arcade designs, the greater their chance of winning.

Much of the program will be held in person this year, although virtual support options and YouTube tutorials will be available as well. Participants can register now for workshops beginning Feb. 26 to guide them through the engineering and design process. Mentors from Northwestern University will also be available to help participants with the challenge.

EvanSTEM Director Kirby Callam said this year’s focus on holding programming in person is part of an effort to get kids excited and engaged in their games and the process of building them. The idea is to empower kids and encourage them to explore STEM as they continue to grow and learn, he said.

“That’s what we’re trying to do—shake up kids’ lives a little bit by giving them something different that they’re not doing these days and make it impactful,” Callam said.

All kids are encouraged to apply. The program focuses on reaching out to those underrepresented in STEM fields, including girls and BIPOC students, providing them with additional support and removing barriers to participation. Supply kits will be loaned out for free—the only thing participants need to supply is cardboard.

In addition to regularly held tutorial sessions for all participants, after-school training programs with Y.O.U., Metamedia, and Family Focus will be held to support underserved and underrepresented students in STEM working on building their games, and special mentor sessions will take place specifically for participants in these groups, led by experienced mentors who share their identities. Resources will also be made available for Spanish-speaking participants.

Library Innovation and Digital Learning Manager Renee Neumeier said that these extra support measures are part of an intentional effort to include and foster the growth of kids who might not typically be encouraged to pursue a future in STEM. 

“We want youth to see themselves reflected in this as much as possible,” Neumeier said.

Additionally, a STEM parent/caregiver advisory group will be available to receive feedback and input about the challenges and help the Library better connect and communicate with the community. The advisory group is primarily made up of Black and Latinx community members.

The Cardboard Carnival is made possible in partnership with EvanSTEM and D65, with assistance from Northwestern University, Family Focus and Y.O.U.

The Cardboard Carnival is funded by the Project Next Generation Grant. Projects were awarded grants from the Illinois State Library using federal Library Services and Technology Act funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Grants are awarded to public libraries serving culturally diverse, low-income and underserved populations. 

Learn more at


Statement of Inclusion: Evanston Public Library, District 65, and our partners are committed to creating safe and welcoming spaces, programs, and services for all Evanston youth.  Just like Evanston youth, the staff who work on the Citywide STEM challenges come from a variety of races, cultures, experiences, sexual orientation, and gender identities.  By being intentional with our staffing and program structure we hope that youth see themselves reflected and feel supported when they take part. 


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