Voorhees Middle School students learning engineering and entrepreneurship in a unique way

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Several sixth-grade students at Voorhees Middle School are getting their creative juices flowing as they work on a project that involves going through the process of what an engineer is and the process of designing.

It’s called the Dyson Foundation Project from the James Dyson Foundation, a two-week process that was started by James Dyson, creator of the Dyson vacuum. The students started the project on Oct. 10 and will finish on Oct. 24. After the students finish, they will showcase their creations to their parents on Oct. 25.

According to its website, the James Dyson Foundation “is dedicated to encouraging young people to think differently, make mistakes, invent and realize their engineering potential.”

Voorhees Middle School librarian Stacey Fulton got word of this project from her library resource e-mail list. She thought it was something the students could benefit from since they had just read the book “Howtoon: Tools of Mass Construction” over the summer. The book is about a brother and sister using everyday objects to invent toys that readers can build.

“Basically, the reasoning was to get kids thinking about creating, building and making,” Fulton said. “This was a natural marriage of the two.”

She approached language arts teacher Julie Zielinski who was intrigued by the idea and, soon after, two of her language arts classes started the project. Each student received an ideas box, which came with a Dyson product, DVDs and a booklet of lessons. According to Zielinski, the DVDs show how Dyson got started and shows engineers from the company at work. She also said the ideas box covers multiple standards and gets students to think with their heads and hands.

“After day one, I realized it is not about math and science,” she said. “It is also about enhancing communication skills that students lack.”

Besides learning the process of an engineer and designing, the students are coming up with ways to change a product to make it work in a better way and figuring out how to work collaboratively in a productive way.

“I had students write down in a journal what invention they could not live without,” Zielinski said. “Next, they found that invention using the school databases and had to find the inventor and the date it was invented. After that, groups I assigned came up with an object that is either at school or at home that they all thought could be a better one. They sketched their designs individually and then began working on improving an item.”

Zielinski’s students are just as excited as her and Fulton about the whole process.

“What I learned so far is that there are certain inventions that I thought I could not live without, and I learned that most inventions came from mistakes,” student Brooke Elwell said. “I like how Dyson created a new fan and it was safety free and a super cool invention that I would like in my house.”

The students received motivation and helpful information about entrepreneurship from Aaron Krause, a Voorhees resident and inventor of numerous household products including his most popular one, Scrub Daddy — a round sponge with a cut-out smiley face.

Krause was featured on “Shark Tank” in 2012, and his business has exploded since. Scrub Daddy is the highest grossing product to date on “Shark Tank” with estimated retail sales of $100 million.

“My students loved meeting Mr. Krause and learned a lot from him and the process,” Zielinski said. “They were on the edge of their seats listening to him tell his story.”

Krause loved meeting the students as well and hearing them talk about their ideas.

“The underlying tone in the entire country right now is supporting entrepreneurship and inventors, something that really hasn’t been pushed until recently,” Krause explained. “The creativity aspect of children and kids at young ages, their minds are completely open.”

Krause introduced the students to his new products that haven’t been released to the public yet.

He also talked about patents and monopolies, but didn’t have to fully explain what they are because some of the students already knew.

“I was definitely expecting to come in and actually give them a lot more depth on what monopolies and patents are and a little bit about the aspects of starting a business,” he said. “It looks like ‘Shark Tank’ is paying off and a lot of kids are watching it.”

Krause’s story was not solely about his successes. He’s had some bumps on his journey, and he let the students know it’s not an easy road to success.

“Business is a roller coaster,” he said. “Anybody who tells you differently is sugarcoating it. There are always going to be problems. I spend most of my days putting fires out.”

Zielinski was happy Krause talked about his failures because they won’t achieve success without some missteps along the way.

“It’s good for kids to learn about failures as well as successes,” she said. “In today’s age, kids don’t know how to fail, and his story is a failing success.”

“I feel that students need to know that being an entrepreneur will take a lot of effort and trial and error, but in the long run, it will be worth it to chase their dream,” she said. “By engaging in the Dyson Foundation project, students will have to face their fears of failure, have a backup plan, learn from their mistakes and improve their design.”