As a school board member, it has been my pleasure and honor to visit many of our middle schools and participate in the evaluation of their entrepreneurial projects. Middle school students and their teachers never cease to amaze me with the thoughtful, creative ideas they come up with. This is how the entrepreneurship classes in middle schools are structured.
Teachers challenge students to think outside the box and find a unique idea that they can ultimately market to their fellow students, after testing, refining, and improving the idea, and testing again to see if it improves the design . The ideas the students came up with were inventions that would solve problems in their daily lives, some as “simple” as finding a way to stop the pages on a music stand from turning on their own to prevent that the artist loses his place while playing. However, “simple” does not describe the thought process, analysis and evaluation that goes into a project.
Every time I hear her “pitches” (ideas), I wish I had had such experiences in my middle school. I would have been so much more aware of advertising and alert to the misinformation that seems to dull the senses and make us more vulnerable to scams/hypocrites/gimmicks to take money from us, the unsuspecting consumers.
Great news! Entrepreneurship studies have been extended to fifth graders at all our primary schools! This means that these students learn the fundamentals of problem solving, communication, team building, teamwork, and the preliminary aspects of problem-solving, perhaps not to the extent that they did in middle school, but they learn and practice the fundamental work before they delve into actual entrepreneurship -Middle school program.
Here are some observations from my visit to Tommie Barfield Elementary School and the classroom of Ms. Jody McCarty, a former Golden Apple teacher and current Computer Technology and Entrepreneurship teacher.
First and foremost, even after their fourth day of entrepreneurship classes, the students showed respect and listened to Ms. McCarty’s instructions. These fifth grade students were alert and excited to begin the day’s challenges. Before my visit, the students were divided into groups and had to determine each student’s role in the group – for example, one was chosen to be the writer, another to be the speaker, and so on.
After some preparatory activities, Ms. McCarty outlined the main challenge. While the group’s materials were presented, there was an attentive silence…until the challenge was revealed.
The tools of the challenge were six red plastic cups per team, one piece of string per team member, attached to a rubber band at equal intervals. The challenge was to have the team work together to move the six red cups using the tools they were given, to place three cups upside down on the bottom layer, and to balance two cups on top of the three cups, also upside down and the last cup on top.
The first reactions of the students were comments like “It doesn’t work,” “It doesn’t work at all” and total frustration at the challenge. As an observer, I had to admit my skepticism about solving this problem.
The first objective was to determine the method of picking up a cup, which required trial and error, and then each group perfected their techniques. Watching this effort was exhilarating. The team members gave each other encouragement and suggestions as the challenge continued. There were “whoops” of success and excited mods to improve their strategies. You could see that each team’s goal was to be successful before the other teams.
To say the competition was fun is an understatement. As the students perfected their techniques, the excitement exploded. As each group got closer to solving the problem, the euphoria grew until the first successful team started cheering and the others knew the challenge was possible and redoubled their efforts to succeed.
So what do they learn as prerequisites for more advanced problem solving and entrepreneurship in middle school? Patience, creative thinking, problem solving skills, communication, accountability, analyzing problems and generating ideas and prototypes for testing, along with debriefing skills/sharing strategies that worked. They all eagerly await Ms. McCarty’s next challenge. These fifth graders were very honest and open about their progress, and it was evident that listening to the group members who were successful at first drove them to completion as they redoubled their efforts.
Great things are happening at Collier County Schools, this is one of many. Shark Tank, here they come! Be sure and look at the photos.