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Minnesota sixth graders learn about engineering while making Halloween tombstones

Every year Nadine Uremovich, a science teacher and Halloween enthusiast, teaches her students about engineering by having them design their own wooden tombstones with lights and moving parts.

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Jaymes Uremovich loads tombstones into the back of a 1957 Cadillac hearse owned by he and his wife Nadine Uremovich on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, outside Two Harbors High School. Nadine's sixth grade students made the tombstones as a special Halloween project. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS, Minn. -- Spooky skeleton heads were used in tombstone decorations made by Two Harbors High School sixth graders over the past month.

Every year, Nadine Uremovich, a science teacher and Halloween enthusiast, teaches her students about engineering by having them design their own wooden tombstones with lights and moving parts. Uremovich said the only rules for the design were that they had to be PG and have little or no black paint.


Uremovich said the students learned how to use screwdrivers and drill holes. They also learned how to measure the nuts and bolts to find the right wrenches to use. She said they talk about electricity, motors, levers and fulcrums during this project because each tombstone has to have some sort of motion.

“This project gives them a really cool hands-on project to do, and Halloween is so engaging for kids,” Uremovich said. “One of the things that I’ve really learned is that they are so proud of themselves that they built something like this.”

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Nadine Uremovich smiles while standing in the hallway at Two Harbors High School on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. Uremovich is a sixth grade science teacher. Her students created tombstones as a special Halloween project. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

The students put their creativity to use with their tombstones. There was a tombstone with a cow named Bessy being abducted by a UFO and one dedicated to Pennywise, the clown from the book and movie, "It." Winter Byrns said her group decided to make a change after they saw the other designs.

“We originally had red paint as blood dripping down from the top but we saw that a lot of groups had blood, so we painted it green and made it look like green slime coming down,” Winter said.

She said the hardest part of the project was collaborating as a group.

“There were some disagreements but we worked them out,” Winter said.

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Two Harbors sixth grade students Cade Norman, 12, left, and Vance Bruckelmyer, 12, look at the special tombstones students created as a Halloween project in Nadine Uremovich's class Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021 at Two Harbors High School. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Kaylee Loisel said working together was also hard for her group. She said there was a disagreement about the theme. The girls wanted Pennywise. The boys wanted “Star Wars.” The girls won because the boys were absent the day a theme had to be decided, Kaylee said.

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Emma McDonald, 12, said her group actually worked really well together.

“My favorite part was the collaboration,” she said. “We all helped each other out with the project and we each had our own jobs to do.”

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Sixth grade student Lilly Johansen adjusts the special tombstone Halloween project she helped create at Two Harbors High School Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. The project incorporates art, electricity and mechanical levers. Some of the students even created backstories for inspiration. This tombstone includes a moving skull and arm. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Their tombstone had a skeleton cowboy with a moving horse as well. Emma said the hardest part about the project was putting in the screws.

“I’ve used a screwdriver before, but it was just harder to do than I thought,” she said.

Lilly Johansen, 11, said her group’s biggest challenge was getting their skeleton's hand to move.

“The hand is just so heavy it has broken string and fishing line,” Lilly said.

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Tombstones that sixth grade students in Nadine Uremovich's class made as a Halloween project were loaded into a 1957 Cadillac hearse owned by Uremovich and her husband, Jaymes, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, outside Two Harbors High School. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Thursday, before the tombstone was transported away, the fishing line broke again and Lilly’s group brainstormed with Uremovich on how to prevent it from breaking again. Their solution was to put a screw in the board to stop it from going too far down toward the ground. Lilly used a drill to make a hole for a screw.

“This is the first time our hand hasn’t broken,” Lilly said, adding the screw had seemed to solve their problem.

Each group was given eight days to complete their tombstones. Once they were done they were given two to three days to create a presentation explaining what they did each day, what they learned, what were the hardest parts of the project and their favorite parts. The students practiced giving their presentations Thursday before the tombstones were picked up by Uremovich’s husband in their vintage Cadillac hearse.

The hearse transported the tombstones to Uremovich’s house where they will be added to her Halloween decorations for everyone to see.

Adelle Whitefoot covers K-12 education in northeast Minnesota for the Duluth News Tribune. She has been covering education in Minnesota since 2014.
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