VERNDALE, Minn. (WCCO) — In tiny Verndale, just a few miles east of Wadena, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

“In the beginning, we didn’t have that many people ordering, but now we got a lot of people ordering like crazy,” high school junior Eric Blaha said.

In Verndale High School, the social studies classroom has been turned into a bit of a factory. It’s where students such as Blaha are learning lessons in economics by pouring plastic resin in a silicone mold.

“When we started out, we didn’t know what we were doing very much,” Blaha said. “But now we know what we’re doing, and we can make 20 in a morning.”

What he and his fellow students are making are plastic fish heads — from gold fish to perch to walleye to trout. Each one is a colorful, handmade Christmas ornament that is sold by the time it is cast.

“We have sold about 150 of them so far,” freshman Zach Johnson said. He’s among the half-dozen students who are taking the applied economics course that turns a profit out of learning manufacturing principles.

First, they will carefully paint the interior of their silicone molds with colorful “dust,” which will adhere to the plastic resin.

After the ornament is taken from the mold, they’ll dip it in a clear coat and dry it for that seasonal touch. The clear coat drips off the bottom of the ornament to resemble icicles clinging to the fish.

“We put it (ornament) in a light box that has ultraviolet lights in it,” Johnson said. “That cures it, as it’s dripping and it looks like icicles below it.”

The resulting product is a highly colorful and icy fish head. High school instructor Matt Parker says it’s making learning both fun and profitable.

“Having that creativity, problem solving and forethought is something that a lot of times in core academic classes they don’t get a lot of exposure to,” Parker said.

Along with instructor Sam Schmitz, the teachers are combining lessons in chemistry to help explain the reactions of the two-part epoxy. Marketing comes into play as students learn how to sell the ornaments for $5 each.

The money generated will cover their costs and leave enough left over to help pay for students to take a fishing trip next summer to Lake of the Woods.

They are spreading the spirit of learning with a quirky but seasonal flair.

Sadly, the class cannot accept any more orders for their ornaments this year – it’s just two days before winter break.

They promise to get back into production in time to satisfy the expected heavy demand for their ornaments before Christmas 2013.

Bill Hudson