Elevated Education

Critical thinking reaches new heights at St. Martin’s Episcopal School.

The Jefferson Chamber of Commerce recently collaborated with students at St. Martin’s Episcopal School to create custom gift boxes for each of its major investors. The partnership came about when Todd Murphy, president of the Chamber, and Alex Zarookian, director of investor relations and special events for the Chamber, spoke with Denise Altobello, director for the school’s Innovation + Design class, about a possible project. Once Murphy and Zarookian saw the resources and capabilities of The Gibbs Family Center for Innovation + Design, they asked to proceed with the partnership, and gave Makerspace Coordinator Robby Stanley’s students the lead as designers and makers for the project.

The Chamber tasked the 21 students in Stanley’s class to design and build boxes made of sustainable wood, and possibly with acrylic or metal accents, that would fit the Chamber’s signature marketing materials.

“The Chamber shared with us their needs of what design elements should go on the box and what physical items should go in the box,” Stanley said. “It helped give the design teams some key parameters to meet the clients’ wishes. If the students didn’t plan for one of the gift items to fit in the box, they had to redesign to meet those size requirements.”

The boxes needed to hold round leather coasters that would display the Chamber’s branding. In order to create the coasters and cut the wood for the boxes, the students learned how to design for a laser cutter using professional-quality vector graphics software. In addition to physical design parameters, the students were required to stick to a budget. The entire class was broken up into groups, and each group pitched their design to the Chamber last October. The Chamber then provided feedback on the prototypes and made a final decision on the winning design. The winning team, composed of Jenna DeLatte, Molly Rivas, Caroline Spiers and Zoe Tatum, took the lead on the project and guided the rest of the class on the production of the coasters and boxes. They delivered the final materials to the Chamber in November.

Throughout the project, the students learned the basics of project management, including setting goals and charting progress; breaking down tasks and setting deadlines; choosing and implementing specific strategies; and monitoring, adjusting and problem-solving.

“It is a great, real-world project that brought together classroom objectives such as teamwork production objectives like quality control, efficiency improvements [and] material choices,” Stanley said. “There wasn’t a test; it was a product that had a destination within the real world. When students take on projects like this, it builds initiative, teaches them to be go-getters and problem solvers, and empowers them to be self-directed and manage their own work.”

While other schools around the world are discovering the amazing benefits that makerspaces add to their curricula — even if it’s just a few 3D printers or virtual reality headsets — it is this kind of thinking that is revolutionizing the way students and teachers learn.

“What distinguishes the Innovation + Design program at St. Martin’s is its increasing integration in the curriculum,” Stanley said. “Locally, we’re also just one of a few to incorporate entrepreneurism within a middle school program.”

Stanley and his class received positive feedback from both the Chamber and from the gift box recipients.“We appreciate the opportunity to stretch ourselves and find out what we can do in a scenario that very much puts students in a project they might see in the professional world,” Stanley said. “The students learned what they could do and had fun in the process.”