Jennifer Salzmann, a Learning Support educator at Phillips Elementary in Pittsburgh always wanted to start a student-run business but didn’t know where to start. At first, the idea of building a business seemed daunting. After doing research, Jennifer and her class started by creating a mission statement, investigating product ideas, and prototyping with new materials. Through the journey so far, Jennifer has trusted the students, engaged their voice, and enabled the momentum of their work.

Establishing their Mission Statement

Early on, they decided to focus on recycling or upcycling in their product approach. The students brainstormed, discussed, and drafted a company mission statement which helped to keep their focus and guide their decisions as they began.

“Often we refer back to our mission statement to check if we really think we are making the right decisions.” ~Jennifer Salzmann

Mission Statement
Phillips Green Machines creates Mission Statement for their business.

Making the Work Meaningful

As the students got further into developing their business, Jennifer noticed them getting more comfortable with the work, really making it their own. For example, as the students brainstormed product ideas to combat the waste problem at their school, they developed a questionnaire and asked to interview the school janitorial staff to gain more insight.

Even a struggling reader took on the challenge of interviewing. The team turned the written questions into visual cues, turning his “But I can’t read the questions” into “I can do this.”

With each interview videotaped, the group wrote out each interviewee’s answers and then typed the responses, first in sentences which became paragraphs, and ultimately ended with an essay about their interviewing process. When complete, one student asked if they could do it all again as they celebrated their success.

“I love when they spontaneously encourage and celebrate each other.”

~Jennifer Salzmann

Plarn making
Students experiment making plarn from plastic bags.

Product Prototyping Pros

After the interviews, the students researched product ideas and came upon the concept of Plarn – upcycling plastic bags into braided material that can be used for making various products. They experimented with making Plarn and also learned how to make “beads” from cereal boxes cut into strips and wrapped around a straw. They created several prototypes on their way toward a final product idea.

While Jennifer and her students continue building the business, they are also collecting their work in a portfolio on Seesaw and sharing their progress on Twitter, which gives them the chance to get real-world feedback on their work!

“Slowly, I’m seeing these students come out of their shell, being more willing to try things, being more responsible and not blowing things off, while working together. These experiences have been the most rewarding aspects of building the EdCorp.”

~Jennifer Salzmann

To find out more about their EdCorp journey, follow Jennifer Salzmann on Twitter @JSalzmann2, and visit the website at www.phillipsgreenmachines.com.