New York Elementary second-graders get creative with product pitches

It’s a little past 8 a.m. Monday at New York Elementary and Shane Heiman’s second-grade classroom is busy pitching ideas to JanSport.

The task at hand: designing a new feature for the company’s backpacks. Among the concepts tossed around: built-in video games, music players, iPads, pillows and in one of the more outlandish designs, a rainbow-tooting unicorn.

Tallulah Hennessy took a slightly more pragmatic angle: a special case for pencils.

“You wouldn’t have to sharpen your pencils every morning because there’d be a pencil sharpener in the backpack,” the second-grader explains to her teacher and classmates, her JanSport sketch illuminated on a projector screen at the head of the room.

“And that way, you’d be ready to go,” Heiman says, making note of the concept before sharing it with JanSport via Twitter.

A similar scene has unfolded every day since October in Heiman’s classroom, where he’s instructed kids to develop new ideas for different companies. Heiman came up with the exercise after noticing his students becoming bored with more traditional journal entries.

“We started the journal as a warm-up activity in the morning, but it’s turned into something bigger,” he says. “What’s neat is if you see the progression of their journals from when they started to now, they’re a lot more detailed and their ideas are just incredible. They come up with a lot of things that I would have never thought of.”

His first request — a new sandwich for Subway — gave way to more ambitious assignments, like designing a new car for Ford and Chevrolet, which sent back modeling clay, sketchpads and an Amazon gift card for the class.

When the kids were asked to draw up ideas for new shower faucets earlier this spring, plumbing-fixtures company Kohler had its designers create renderings of the concepts — with a personalized note for each student — and send them back to Heiman’s class.

“I tell this to the kids — just getting a ‘favorite’ from some of these places is pretty cool. They may not do anything with it, but they’ve seen it and acknowledged it,” Heiman says. “More than anything, it’s just getting that immediate feedback or response that social media allows you to do.”

A backpack with a rainbow-emitting unicorn may be out of the question, but not all ideas are too outlandish to consider.

Locally, staffers at Lawrence’s TCBY and Mrs. Fields are working on a new cookie based on Heiman’s students’ creative recipes, Heiman says.