This year, my fifth-grade classroom was fortunate to win a STEM grant which included a 3D printer, the first for our school. The students were enthusiastic about watching it print, creating designs, and seeing new designs come to life from the beginning. It tied right into our math curriculum on coordinate grids. The student engagement was extremely high.
One morning, I shared a problem to the students, “we don’t have enough filament to complete all our planned projects. There is no more grant money. Mr. Ehrmann can’t spend any more personal money. We have a problem, find a solution.” We spent a few minutes to ponder the question on their own during regular class time. When I asked them as a whole group it started the best brainstorm I ever witnessed as a teacher. The students led the conversation as I recorded ideas. We welcomed all ideas. They discussed different fundraiser ideas, until one student said, “why don’t we sell stuff from the printer?” This one idea sparked a two-hour conversation with all 25 students. By the end of the conversation, the students had worked out their plans to sell key chains to the entire school. This project continues to offer new learning opportunities for the students and myself.
Building Classroom Unity:
Once some of the initial plans were in order, the students generated a long to-do-list of tasks that needed to be completed:
Persuade the principal to approve the business
Create a keychain design and print prototypes
Analyze the cost of printing and other materials needed for sale
Create a marketing plan to launch for approval
Each task required a significant amount of work. I coached them to split themselves up into “teams” to fulfill each task. This would allow them to complete four projects at the same time. It would also require them to focus on their own project and trust the other three teams. Every student became involved in an important task and contributed to an outcome. There was already a strong positive culture in our classroom, but, this had an even larger impact.
Each team fulfilled their responsibility and we invited the principal in for a pitch. The team persuaded the principal to approve the business. They instantly started another long list of tasks to complete for success:
Start mass printing of the keychains
Develop marketing materials to display in the school
Develop a process for selling and tracking sales
Creating future designs
Before we started the mass printing I pointed out that we were taking a huge risk. We could use more filament to print these keychains, it wouldn’t be popular, and we would be completely out of filament with no money left. I asked, “do you want to take the risk?” They all responded with a resounding “YES!” They were off to the races.
Fast forward to the first day of sales, the line was over one hundred fifty students long extending out onto the bus platform. They sold out the first two-hundred keychains in ten minutes and started taking orders. I was running our printer all day in school, taking it home, and running it straight through the night. The next week we completed all orders, sold out again, and fell farther behind on orders. We could not print fast enough. After netting two-hundred fifty dollars in sales, they decided we needed a bigger printer. They asked our principal for a two-hundred dollar loan to buy a new printer twice as big. They contributed the other two-hundred fifty dollars towards the device. They paid off the loan in ten days.
In two months the fifth graders sold over one thousand five hundred keychains earning just over one-thousand dollars. All of the proceeds went towards the school home and school association. The following school year a student entrepreneurship club was created. They are in charge of keychain sales as well as community service fundraisers. The keychain profits were used to purchase a water filling station in the fourth and fifth-grade hallway. The future of the project will be left to future entrepreneurs to decide.