The physical aspects: Reward Tokens
I’ve talked about using tokens in class to instantly reward students for participation, groups work, concentration, and anything else I like. A physical reward is easy to allocate on-the-spot, and at the end of the lesson the XP represented by the tokens can be tallied up in their books (or by visiting my desk to have them tallied in my markbook) and the tokens returned. The competition aspect is added to by the possibility of owning something like this, albeit for the duration of the lesson, so they need to be beautiful or interesting. As I’ll only need one set for three classes (famous last words) I’ve calculated I need about 50 10XP tokens and 20 20XP tokens.
I initially assumed I could get die-cut counters printed online and sent to me. However, this seems only possibly through US companies like The Game Crafter, and while I’m looking forward to working with them at a later date on a bigger project, I don’t think the waiting time and postage would really be worth it for this project.
However, on a trip to The Range, I spotted this:
I didn’t know shrink plastic was a thing – I just remember the childhood fad of baking crisp packets in the oven until they shrank to miniature size, which we were then encouraged to wear as ‘jewellery’. However, as a quick look on Pinterest shows, it’s a thriving industry on Etsy, and it has a multitude of uses. So, I’ve decided to make my tokens out of it.
What is shrink plastic? It’s a form of hardened polystyrene, made in paper-thin sheets that can be transparent or opaque. When you stamp or draw on it, using ink, paint, or !with some special types, inkjet printers, it retains the medium pretty well due to having one roughened side. These illustrations are then cut out, laid on cold foil on a cold baking tray, and baked in a pre-headed oven at 175C (or 185C for fan ovens), where, in a matter of minutes, they curl, shrink, and flatten out into a shape seven times smaller and seven times thicker than before, with designs miniaturised and colours more vivid. They are pliable for about a minute once removed from the oven and can either be pressed flat with a book or other flat item, curled round a cylinder to make rings, or curved into bows. Minutes later the material is hard and non-pliant, although it can be re-heated back in the oven to re-shape. By punching a hole in the shape before baking, you can attach jewellery findings after to make earrings, necklaces, or even mobiles. They can be sealed with varnish (even nail varnish) to keep the ink or pencil fresh.
My my token designs are quite simple – round, coin-like shapes with a design meant to imitate stamped lettering, with Roman numerals. Getting the size right was a bit difficult: my first batch were 1p sized when baked, which I felt was just too easy to lose, and my experiment with making a ‘shrinking ruler’ for scale hadn’t been practiced yet so I couldn’t trust it. But, once the design was finalised and tested, and a range of finishes applied, I think I’ve come up with a winning design, and now all I need is a rainy couple of days to trace, bake and varnish the 70-odd I need!
- 1 pack shrink plastic (I have ordered artist-grade transparent plastic, but while I wait for that to arrive I experimented with ‘Frosted’ Shrinkie plastic.
- Design to be traced (if you like)- REVERSED if you’re using transparent or frosted plastic!
- Ink, ink pens, pencils, depending on your design (India ink or permanent ink like Sharpies is best for longevity)
- Sharp scissors (for a simple round shape this was best, but I’d use a scalpel and cutting mat for more intricate designs as tight edges can break with a scissors)
- Oven pre-heated to 175C
- Baking tray lined with foil
1: Draw (or stamp) your design onto the rough side of the plastic, using pencil or ink. The reason why you may like to reverse your image is that, once baked, the other side of the transparent or frosted plastic is shinier and pleasant to view your design through.
I also made sure the rougher side was flat onto the foil – when the other smooth side melts and shrinks you don’t want marks pressed into it.
2: Cut out your shape and place onto the foil-lined baking tray before placing it into the oven. Watch.
3: The plastic warps, twists, shrinks, and then returns to a flattened position. (If you’ve done a design with longer sticky-out bits, like a person with arms and legs, it might look like they’re going to stick together, but they rarely do. If they do stick, you can take them out quickly and separate them while pliant.)
4. Take out the tray and immediately place something clean and flat on top of the shrunk plastic to flatten it, like a book. (Sorry Rick)
5. Leave to cool and voila!
6. You may like to varnish them. Clear nail varnish is perfect. Using it on the frosted side actually made it more transparent in my experience. A sparkly nail varnish creates a holographic effect rough the thicker side, while a gold polish looks luxe, but stops the object being double sided, which I’m not sure I like for my tokens.
Banged together, they make a lovely sound, which I am going to have to put up with in the first stages of using them in class I expect 😉 I just hope I get them back!