Middle-school classes team up to create business


The eighth-grade art, business and technology classes at Brownstown Central Middle School have teamed up for a project that will make any bird chirp.

Combining the skills of painting, marketing and building, more than 100 students are involved in the production and selling of birdhouses and birdfeeders.

Profits from the project will allow students to travel to Louisville, Kentucky, for a Junior Achievement Finance Park field trip, where they will learn how to budget their money and save some for the future.

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The project started with Tom Wischmeier, who teaches Project Lead the Way, a required class at Brownstown in which eighth-graders apply science, technology, engineering and math.

He had some funding available, so he asked business teacher John Lawson and art teacher Jerry Brown about having their classes come together for the first time.

“It’s just the time of year where you are going to get more out of your kids if you can get them up and doing something versus keeping them in a seat for the last week right before (Christmas) break,” Wischmeier said. “We take some of that energy out on a project.”

The holiday break comes right in the middle of the second trimester.

For the first six weeks, some eighth-graders took Project Lead the Way, while others took Lawson’s personal finance, or Finance Park, class, which also is required.

When classes resume in January, Wischmeier and Lawson will trade students.

“It’s something good, I think, at this point in the year,” Lawson said of the project. “Everybody is ready for their vacation, and it keeps them focused and keeps them busy. A lot of them at this age, I don’t think they get the hands-on that (Wischmeier) has been able to give them.”

The three teachers combined different aspects of what they teach and related it to a real business, similar to how a factory would operate.

Wischmeier’s students do the design, engineering and manufacturing, Lawson’s class takes care of the marketing, sales and accounting and Brown’s students paint the final product.

Wischmeier said he chose birdhouses and birdfeeders after coming across a similar project on the internet. The design is simple, it doesn’t take much time and it’s affordable, he said.

The students used cedar pickets in assembling the birdhouses and birdfeeders, which have 10-inch sides and 8-inch ends and are 8 inches tall.

“I wanted it to be something they could design with the CAD program, Autodesk Inventor, and yet we could also come out here (in the wood workshop),” Wischmeier said. “It just fit the skill set of eighth-grade students both in the wood workshop and in the classroom.”

The teachers and students also discussed pricing levels. They are $5 for a basic birdhouse or birdfeeder with either a green or red painted roof and $7 for a themed model, choosing either Brownstown Central school colors or a winter, spring, summer or fall scene. For $3 more, they can be personalized with a name or short message.

Once that information was available, it was time for Lawson’s students to let people know about the products.

Using a Google form, they made fliers to post around school and email to staff and parents. The flier also will be placed on the school’s website with a clickable link that will allow people to place an order. Orders will be accepted through mid-February.

When orders come in, the art students paint the birdhouses and birdfeeders.

Brown had his students draw designs, and then they picked a winning design for each of the four seasons. Those students paired up with classmates to paint the birdhouses and birdfeeders.

Brown also talked to his students about the business and production aspects of the project.

“We told them, ‘People are really depending on you — production or fabrication and marketing. We’re a major cog in this whole operation here because if they don’t look good, they are not going to sell,'” Brown said.

“The pride that they were taking in it and watching kids actually physically getting to do something with their hands instead of sitting and listening to a teacher talk all day, they are actually building something,” he said. “One day, we were painting several basic ones, and I asked kids to volunteer to help build, and every kid’s hand went up. They really enjoyed it.”

From the fundraising aspect, Wischmeier said they would like to double their investment. Since he spent about $300 on materials, making $600 would be great, he said.

Lawson said that would help cover students’ expenses for the Finance Park field trip. It costs about $25 per student to go, plus the expenses of a bus driver and gas.

He also recently received a $250 grant, and he said he always receives financial support from local organizations.

“Once we start to sell, then our kids will count the sales dollars and calculate based on expenses what kind of profit we make,” Lawson said.

Lawson’s class has been required for eighth-graders for about eight years.

In a simulation exercise, students have to get a job and create a budget so they can buy a house and a car. They refer to local real estate and automobile dealer websites to determine costs. Playing the role of a banker, Lawson calculates their loan payments.

“It at least teaches something about the value of money and the value of budgeting and paying your bills and planning for your future so you make some wise decisions,” he said.

At Finance Park, they are able to apply what they learned in class. There, they are given a job and its pay rate, and they have to break that down into monthly income to apply for loans, pay their bills, buy what they need to live and save money back for the future.

Wischmeier also gives his students a feel for the real world by visiting three college campuses in Columbus and touring an industry in Seymour.

The birdhouse and birdfeeder project is another way for students to understand what goes into manufacturing a product in today’s society, he said.

“A lot of kids probably think a Ford truck, they make the parts, the tires, it’s all made there and they put it together,” he said. “That simply is not the way the world works. It’s not all done by one person. You play a small role, and then that product rolls on.”

Lawson said they also wanted to emphasize interdependency.

“When you do go out and get a job, you don’t just have your job. You’re going to depend on other departments or other people, and they are going to depend on you, and everybody has to do a quality job,” he said.

There is a communication lesson, too. All three classes have to keep in touch with each other throughout the project. If there are any changes made, everyone has to be in the loop.

“It’s either verbal or written communication in a real job, but you have to have good communication skills to do quality work,” Lawson said.

The concepts of business and production, including quality control, also were important, Brown said.

“You’re taking ownership of this. What you put out there in the public matters,” he said. “These kids really worked hard. They put a lot of thought into it. I’m just very proud of how they took ownership of this.”

Eighth-graders Reece Carlin and Allie Mae Wingler both were involved in the art and Project Lead the Way classes.

Both said they were excited about the project from the start.

“I thought it would be different where everyone could do something. It’s better than doing (regular class) work,” Allie Mae said.

“Everyone could just come and work on the same project, and we could sell something for the school,” Reece said.

They both liked the hands-on aspects of the project.

“You can start from just being on the computer, and then we can come together and actually create something. It was cool to see what it looks like on the computer and then in real life,” Allie Mae said.

“I like how everyone had different designs, and you could paint them to how you feel like they would look a little better from the actual design,” Reece said.

When the project ends, Wischmeier said he is going to survey the students to see how many built something for the first time.

“I bet half of them have never done this,” he said. “It’s just something that kids don’t do these days. Everything is electronic, which is good, but some of this old stuff is still good, too.”

The teachers already are talking about coming together for a project next school year. They will be brainstorming to see what they will come up with next.

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Brownstown Central Middle School eighth-graders are building, painting and selling birdhouses and birdfeeders. They have 10-inch sides and 8-inch ends and are 8 inches tall.

The prices are $5 for a basic model with either a green or red painted roof and $7 for a themed model with either Brownstown Central school colors or a winter, spring, summer or fall scene. Add $3 for personalization with a name or short message.

A flier with a clickable link to place an order will be placed on the school’s website, ms.btownccs.k12.in.us. Orders will be accepted through mid-February.