LaBRAE – Voices chanting “I need a chip! I need a fresh chip,” echoed through the classroom.
Students at LaBrae Middle School were busy working on a project that involved cotton balls, cardboard and potato chips.
“It’s not a traditional class,” teacher Joe Slifka said. “It’s more hands-on. It’s more engaging.”
Slifka calls it a problem-based learning class that gets students to solve problems rather than recite information.
“It teaches creative thinking, and that is the big thing, teaching kids how to think,” he said.
Morgan Meyer, 13, said she’d never done a project that involved packaging and sending a single potato chip safely to New Jersey, but she was having fun doing it.
“I think it’s very creative,” she said, explaining her decision to use napkins and tissue paper to pack her chip. “I just thought they would work. They give it more cushion,” she said.
Some students chose to work alone while others worked in pairs. Kendall Vaupel, 14, and Zoe Wilson, 14, decided to join forces.
“We used cotton balls and bubble wrap because we thought it would last longer, and it wouldn’t break,” Vaupel said.
In addition to choosing the right material to protect the chips, students also had to construct the package. They were given a size restriction of 3 by 5 inches and had to come up with the third dimension. After packing and securing their chips, they measured and recorded the size of the finished packages.
“We made a box out of cardboard and stuffed it with cotton balls,” said Dalton Stout, 14, who was busy taping his box shut before the students walked down to the auditorium to perform the final test – a more than 12-foot drop from a walkway above the auditorium. Then the packages were launched through the auditorium, landing and skidding across the floor.
Jacob Shiflett, 13, made a mock sad face as he held up his broken chip after the launch.
“There wasn’t enough cotton balls in it. It wasn’t cushioned enough,” he said before heading back to the classroom to remedy the packing and acquire another chip.
Slifka chose Pringles for students to use for the experiment because they’re more fragile, he said, admitting that keeping them from eating the product was a bit of a challenge at times.
Despite that, Slifka said the students all seemed to enjoy the project.
“I do it every nine weeks and I plan on doing it next year,” Slifka said.
He also said he hopes to include other schools in the future, perhaps shipping the packages as far as California.
Slifka shipped the packages to New Jersey last week, and they received them on Thursday. The class plans on opening the boxes they receive from New Jersey today or Monday during a live video chat session with the other students.
Whether or not the chips arrived unbroken, “It was fun to experiment,” Wilson said.