Middle Schoolers Take on Big Brand Packaging Projects

Challenged to invent packaging systems for the likes of Apple and Ford, these middle schoolers impressed both in the pack designs themselves, and their ability to communicate their reasoning.

Packaging engineers from Ford, Apple, Lumi, Pfizer, and Kalamazoo Gourmet got the benefit of a fresh view of their own packaging efforts through the lens of 45 fifth grade remote students at Highcrest Middle School in Wilmette, Ill. In December, representatives from the brands had challenged the students to come up with ways to package their respective products, and were rewarded with a presentation of the results in May. Schematic for a iPhone starter kit, as imagined by middle schoolers and presented to a packaging professional from Apple.Schematic for a iPhone starter kit, as imagined by middle schoolers and presented to a packaging professional from Apple.

The students’ virtual presentation capped off months of material research, consumer understanding, idea-generating, and prototype making. In conjunction with the Michigan State University School of Packaging, the engineers also delivered a presentation about packaging as a career choice. They then challenged the students by offering a unique packaging problem for them to solve with one or more of their products. A variety of items, including glass vials, disposable masks, grilling accessories, candles, and even an iPhone Welcome Bundle were offered up, and the students chose which challenge excited them the most.

“During our unique year of online learning, this was the perfect project to get students into teams and problem-solving,” says Matt Aho, math and science teacher at Highcrest. “Not only does this activity align with our science standards, but it hits all the 21st Century Skills we want students to have, especially critical thinking, creativity, information literacy, and flexibility.” Aho, a packaging degree holder, had previously worked with MSU and engineers at KraftHeinz to have students redesign packaging for some of their existing products. “That project was a real highlight of my teaching career, so I knew we had to try something like that again.”

Kurt Jaworski of Ford Motor Company says, “From the beginning the class was very inquisitive and asked detailed questions about the product and project during our Zoom calls back in December,” he says. “They showed a real interest in packaging, creating viable solutions, and while being conscious of potential environmental impact.”

The engineers were also impressed with the students' creativity and ability to present their ideas in multiple formats. “The students were really innovative, demonstrating their ideas through several media forms including presentations, prototypes, and videos,” says Lisa Rodriguez, VP of Sales at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “The students showed their understanding of the Kalamazoo brand, challenges with current packaging, packaging solutions and marketing considerations. How refreshing to be able to conceive packaging ideas unhindered by cost, manufacturing limitations and/or history.” New package design plans for Kalamazoo Gourmet, as engineered by Highcrest Middle School students.New package design plans for Kalamazoo Gourmet, as engineered by Highcrest Middle School students.

Adds Jacob Kowalski, Packaging Program Manager at ButcherBox, “The project took me back to the college days, where solutions were driven by practicality and fun, without many outside constraints. The fifth-grade approach really stood out with practical, yet whimsical, solutions."

Students were appreciative the engineers were willing to donate their time to present such a unique learning experience. "We got to put our minds to work and do something that actually affects the world. We got to make things no one else had made before, and that's something more schools should teach,” says fifth-grader Nate Butkus.

The projects may have even sparked the passion of future packaging engineers. “The project was really different from anything I’ve done previously, it had a combination of engineering, art, design, and brain power that I’ve never really had a chance to experience on any other projects. I think I could consider packaging as a career," says student Lexy Geraci. “There are so many opportunities and so many different products you can work on. The possibilities are endless.” - PW

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