Rolph Street students take the Micro Tyco Challenge

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A group of Grade 6 Rolph Street Public School students have taken the Micro Tyco Challenge.

The WildHearts Foundation in the UK sponsors a Micro Tyco competition every November and February. You choose a month, you get seed capital (one English pound), and you try to turn that investment into as much money as you can.

Money raised by school and business entrepreneurs is donated through WildHearts to people in developing countries around the world in the form of micro loans to help them form their own businesses, and business training. It's a hand up, says WildHearts' website, not a hand out. Basically, entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs.

At the end of the month, the team with the most money wins. Categories include "international", which was recently won by a team from the University of Guelph. That's where Rolph Street teacher Craig MacDougall learned of Micro Tyco and decided to try it with a group of his and Tricia Gebel's Grade 6 students.

Starting in November, Rolph Street's Micro-Tyco students have been making marble mazes, cutting wood and gluing the parts together. They average 20-30 mazes per session.

The marble maze is a 6x6-inch hand-held game that tests dexterity and patience. You tip the wood to move your marble through a maze trying to avoid the holes, holding it at just the right angle to advance the "marble" (a ball bearing) around the obstacles.

"You have a start and a finish and you try to make your way through the maze, from Point A to Point B, with a track to follow," said student Brady Rangel.

The maze appeals to children, said Rangel, but it can be "fun for anyone."

It is a challenging game, said student Amelia Cull.

Rangel agreed. "Yes, challenging because there's holes throughout the thing that you can fall in. So it can be challenging. But if you can be quick with your hands... it's easier. If you're kind of slow and want to get it right on the line, it can be a little harder."

Rangel rated himself as "decent" playing the maze.

"It usually takes me a couple times to get from start to finish though."

Each game comes with one marble, noted Cull, although replacement marbles can be purchased for 25 cents.

Cull demonstrated her hand-eye coordination with a quick run-through. Nine seconds later, she had finished.

"Close, landed in a hole here, but not bad."

Maze assembly takes place at the school three times a week as an after-school activity.

"We had some people cutting all the pieces, but we have all the pieces mostly done now," said student Claire Craig during Wednesday's maze-making session. "We've got people cutting the corners so we can have the borders. And Mr. MacDougall, our teacher, is drilling the holes. And we have a lot of people gluing them."

Rangel and Cull were sawing corners using a pair of handsaws instead of power tools.

Rangel described himself and another student as "sort of head management for building."

"So we have to say who's going where," he said.

MacDougall explained the management selection process.

"They were in my (Grade 5-6) class last year, so they're familiar with the tools."

In less than two weeks, they students hmade and sold 126 marble mazes at $5 each, surpassing $880 in sales (including two extra fundraisers). On Nov. 8 they sold out at St. John's Christmas bazaar, and on Saturday added more than $180 at the St. Paul's United Church Christmas bazaar.

"We've pretty much tapped this (school) market out," MacDougall admitted. "We're still hoping to get into the Down Home Country Christmas Craft Show (Nov. 29-30)."

The WildHearts entrepreneurial competition is a win-win-win scenario for the students: they learn business skills, help a worthwhile charity, and have fun competing.

"It's mostly for the charity," said Craig.

Students handle the banking, purchase supplies and make all the sales. There have been some donations, MacDougall noted, including plywood from Tripp-Vogt-Trottier, after Tim Tripp visited the group.

"When we need marbles, Amelia gets a requisition from the office, goes to TSC," said MacDougall. "They fill out all the deposit envelopes. They're running a business."

Early in production, the students had some trouble drilling holes. It was hard to adjust the depth of the cut, so they "contracted" that job to MacDougall.

"Anything they can't do, they contract out," he said. "But they tried."

When they realized they needed more help, students "hired staff", recruiting friends.

To get a booth at St. John's Church bazaar, the students offered 20% of sales. It was part of their book-keeping to figure out how much that would be. The church ended up donating it back to the students.

"But that was part of the math," said MacDougall. "We're trying to keep it real."

The initial fundraising target was $250 CAN, which they easily surpassed, but some schools in the UK have raised $30,000 -- entire schools, noted MacDougall, not a small team like Rolph Street.

Cull said she was surprised at how many marble mazes were sold.

"I didn't expect to sell so many this fast," she admitted. "At first I thought we weren't going to sell many, then we ended up selling out."

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