Students from Japan and Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School work together on challenge


The gap between high schools in Japan and Waukesha might seem far, but for one day last week, the bridge between them was tangible, and almost buildable.

Students from Johoku High School visited Catholic Memorial High School on Friday, Nov. 11, to learn more about CMH’s premiere engineering program and continue to build international relationships.

But there was a hands-on activity that offered a practical measure of their learning.

The challenge

Students from both high schools were paired together to conduct a STEM challenge, which involved fastening a boat made of tin foil, straw, Popsicle sticks and other items. The students were given 10 minutes to brainstorm and generate ideas and then to create the boat.

Small weights were placed on the boats to see if it would keep afloat. If the boat sank in the water basin, the students would go back to the drawing board. The students discuss what they could have done differently and then try another method.

CMH engineering instructor Mary Petrie said the point of the challenge is to learn how to apply a design thinking process in a short amount of time.

"This leads to higher level thinking skills, which will enable them to eventually design a bridge," Petrie said.

Typically these type of challenges are done with the freshmen classes to get them used to collaborating and communicating as a group – soft skills that are often missing, at first, she said.

Despite the obvious language barrier, Petrie said the Japanese and CMH students actively engaged each other in the task at hand.

"The hardest part is the time restriction – they have to start testing out their boats," she said, also noting that the challenge incorporates assessment and evaluation.

Student reaction

CMH student Austin Young said it was fun and working with someone from a different culture. Kouki Yoshida and Young worked together during Friday morning's exercise.

"It was a good experience to see their thinking in Japan and our thinking in Wisconsin. We got both sides of the spectrum," Young said. "It was fun to work with someone from across the world. it was awesome."

Matt Wilson shared Young's enthusiasm, saying it was thrilling to complete the boat with his boat partner, Takuto Kodama.

For Wilson, a challenge was making sure everyone's voice was heard. He admits the language barrier made this challenging but he worked around it.

"It is engineering, which incorporates design and ideas. It transcends those barriers," Wilson said.

In training, too

Strictly speaking, the students from Japan didn't make the trip to solely interact with their CMH counterparts.

They were in Wisconsin for Trainfest, a large national model railroad show held Nov. 12-13 at the Wisconsin Expo Center at State Fair Park in West Allis, to display the prize-winning miniature model railroad module they created. The students' train module showcases the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

The students were among 200 teams from Japan competing in the model train contest. The competition and travel prize was sponsored by Sekisui Kinzoku Co. Ltd., headquartered in Tokyo, but even that firm has a not-so-distant counterpart in the region. Sekisui is the parent company of Kato USA, based in Schaumburg, Illinois. Kato produces a variety of N scale and HO scale model trains of American prototypes.

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