As an industrial technology teacher at Mora High School, Josh Norby looks to bring real-world experience to the classroom. So when his friend complained that the drags he’d used to groom his driveway weren’t up to par, Norby assigned the challenge to his students. (A drag is a tool that is pulled behind an ATV or tractor to scrape and smooth a gravel road.)
Students and staff of the Mora Industrial Technology Department including Norby, Dean Sand and James Simpson, collaborated to design and build a promising product. The new drag caught the attention of other landowners.
As word got out, orders flooded in and roughly 150 students and teachers from multiple classes chipped in to cut, weld, grind and paint the new product, which the class named the Driveway Shark. Between tracking inventory, managing purchase orders and enforcing safety practices, Norby described the last two months of the 2018-2019 school year as an incredible learning experience for the students.
Mora High School doesn’t want the Driveway Shark to be a one-hit wonder. Assistant Principal Nick Bakke hopes the students’ innovation spurs community investment that will allow the school to update and buy equipment so that it can offer more classes to meet the needs of residents and businesses.
Weighing about 75 pounds, the front section of the Driveway Shark measures 3’10” wide; the rear drag is one foot wider. The total length is 4’10”-smaller than most drags, which makes it easier to handle. Gravel gets chewed up by the front section and then smoothed by the Shark’s back end.
The Driveway Shark resembles its namesake with its triangular shape and jagged teeth. Norby admits that his 3-year-old’s love of the hit song “Baby Shark” may have also influenced the name.
Driveway Sharks sold for $175. Norby hopes students will be able to make and sell them again this year, with future proceeds going to update and expand the department’s equipment.
Driveway Shark’s overnight success made the school and community curious. “We had staff visit our shop who’d never set foot down there,” said Norby. “I lost count of how many tours I gave to community members who wanted to see what was going on.”
Steel for the Driveway Shark was purchased from a local welding shop and hauled to the school with a shop teacher’s trailer.
Once inventory was counted, students and teachers planned which pieces to use for each part in an effort to minimize waste. Next came the cutting and grinding: “We’d grind and bevel the edges so the weld would be stronger and not just a surface weld,” explained Norby. “It’s remarkable that kids are making such a high-quality product with very little experience.”
Process Makes Perfect
After the front, middle rack and back were formed, the teeth were attached. Excess splatter was ground off and any ugly welds were redone. Then the Driveway Shark was taken outside to be painted. Finally, a label was added to the front.
Students who had previously struggled with classroom math concepts were suddenly faced with their real-world application. The hands-on learning made a difference for many. “There were a lot of ‘aha’ moments,” said Norby. “They used geometry to figure out angles or worked with fractions on a tape measure.”
Welding instructor, Dean Sand, said these light-bulb moments were key to helping the students build confidence in themselves and see their own potential.
“The students are fantastic to work with,” he said.
Bakke hopes Mora can grow its classes and show students that manufacturing is innovative, interesting and provides a good income. “We tell the kids about former students who make impressive incomes as welders and carpenters. We need to emphasize that skilled labor. This is what the future of education looks like.”
The students’ excellent welds have held up, even under surprising conditions; customers have used the Driveway Sharks for everything from ripping up sod to tilling ground for a food plot.
Reprinted with the kind permission from the Initiative Foundation, publisher of IQ Magazine. The Initiative Foundation exists to improve the quality of life and to build stronger communities within its 14-county region of Central Minnesota by offering business loans, nonprofit grants, donor services, including hosted Partner Funds, and leadership training. Learn more at ifound.org.