A week after several Marian Central Catholic High School engineering students visited St. Mary Catholic School, the St. Mary students were tasked with putting what they learned to the test. Each class was challenged to create the tallest Christmas tree they could using only one sheet of newspaper, two feet of tape, several paper ornaments and one paper star.

“The idea is to get them to think outside of the box,” said science teacher Jennifer Cherniak.

Students had 20 minutes to build the tallest tree possible that could stand independently, not attached to any other objects including the table. In addition, the tree was required to have a minimum of one ornament and a star on top. Point values were attached to each of the requirements.
Students devised many clever strategies for making their trees, including rolling and folding the paper.

“I feel like folding is not the answer,” said seventh-grader Ethan Tom.

Partners Lily Bures and Lilly Polster were focusing more on the aesthetic value of their tree. “It needs to be pretty,” said Bures.

The winning seventh-grade group – Noah Maurer, Josh Cherniak and Braedon Sullivan – engineered a tree that stood 119 centimeters.

Following the challenge, Jennifer Cherniak reiterated to her class the importance of thinking outside of the box. She said, “The most successful engineers take things apart and turn them upside down to make things work.”

The engineering project was a fitting introduction to an entrepreneurial program St. Mary will be launching in the spring. Similar to the incubator programs found in the high schools, Uncharted Learning is a not-for-profit organization that provides authentic, rigorous curriculum for entrepreneurial education.
“It’s a stepping stone to what they’ll be doing in high school,” said eighth-grade teacher Hillary Russell, who will facilitate the semester-long program at St. Mary.

During the course of the six-phase program, students will develop a solution to an everyday problem; plan to solve the problem using a product, service or an app; create something to solve the problem; develop a marketing plan; work with a community mentor; gather feedback through consumer groups; and finally launch the product and sell it on an e-marketplace.

“Students are constantly looking at [their project] and getting feedback. They learn that an entrepreneur doesn’t have to have all the answers,” said Russell.

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