Teaching STEM Entrepreneurship
Adaptability, creativity and financial literacy are core skills for American employees and critical assets to our community. If entrepreneurship education can create jobs, encourage students to stay in school, and provide economic rescue for people in our low-income communities, why aren’t we teaching it in every school?
I am two weeks into teaching 35 students (one class of 8th graders and another group of 5th graders) about STEM and Entrepreneurship as part of a summer course with Operation Shoestring, a local organization that provides year-round academic and social support to elementary, middle and high school children in central Jackson, Mississippi. Initially, I was a reluctant to sign up since I was just finishing up a tough first year and honestly I didn't think I'd be fun or qualified to teach STEM. After I was accepted, I discovered that I could create my own course and curriculum as long as it was related to one of the four areas. I was never interested in any of the STEM subjects growing up, but when I studied business and entrepreneurship at Ole Miss, I constantly thought about how I could've brought a myriad of skills to my business acumen if I had more k-12 STEM courses that were framed as you can use this to start a company, build an app, or solve major problems in the world. So I decided to 'pitch' the concept of a STEM class where students build a creative, tech-focused business idea in 6 weeks.
In these two weeks I've discovered that when young people are given the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship, their innate "street smarts" can easily develop into "academic smarts" and "business smarts." Through entrepreneurship, young people discover that what they are learning in the classroom is relevant to the real world.
I've tried to keep the flow of the class simple yet fun with plenty opportunities for the students to collaborate, share ideas, and reflect on the day. Here is a typical daily agenda:
- Half Baked Bell-ringer Activity (15 minutes)
- Mini Lesson on Business Topic/ Review a Startup Case Study (10 minutes)
- Teams Work on Weekly Challenge Checklist (1 hour)
Half Baked is a fun icebreaker activity I got from Startup Weekend where teams draw two random words and given 5 minutes to come up with a half-baked pitch to the rest of the class. Half-Baked gets everyone up and going for the rest of the day. It was nerve-wracking for them at first, but once they got going it wasn't overly perilous. There were a lot of innovative ideas on the first day — 'Operation Octopus' restored blighted homes and provided unhomed community members a place to live and work, 'Cage Proof' created soundproof dog cages, and 'Rest Park' was an outdoor technology-centered park built around city WiFi and local food trucks.
After Half Baked we dive right into a mini lesson on basic business concepts. A typical set of essential questions is what is marketing? in what ways can I use marketing in my business project? how to conduct research to understand my customers? Once they get a pretty good understanding of the week's objective (typically midweek) we do a case study where they analyze a STEM or business related article and discuss the business, the problem it solved, how it works, and what the entrepreneur had to do to develop the business. I pull articles from sites like NewsELA and TIME for Kids so they learn how other kids developed innovative businesses and realize it is never too early to be an entrepreneur. Our most successful case study so far was this article from TIME for Kids about a Jackson, MS middle school student named Chokwe who created an app that alerts drivers about potholes. The students were so engaged in the conversation. They came up with cool, new features Chokwe could later add to the app and were mindful of potential business roadblocks he might encounter with his mobile app.
The students spend the bulk of the class collaborating with their teams on the weekly checklist which is basically a list of things the team must complete and submit by Thursday. The checklist is designed to keep the teams on task so they do not rush to complete the entire project during the final week. Each teammate has a different role within the group creating accountability and clear expectations for everyone. By the end of the summer, each team will have designed a logo using Logo Makr, conducted marketing research, typed a mini business plan on Google Docs, developed a prototype, coded a story or animation of their business using Scratch, and pitched their business projects at TechJXN. Throughout this messy process, I mostly float around to help facilitate the learning while local business leaders I've invited frequently stop by to coach and mentor the teams as they work through the hard problems.
We're only a few weeks into the course so it is to be determined if this framework will work or if the teams will continue to amaze me with their creativity, teamwork, and grit beyond the honeymoon phase. Above all, I am incredibly proud of this group and I can't wait to see their ideas come to life! Follow their progress here. I plan to post my reflections, student video diaries, pictures and clips like like the one below.
"Operation Octopus" was the first concept that was community oriented. Loved their ideas of renovating blighted properties in the Jackson area and providing a place for homeless and displaced families.
Really cool idea to create a technology that provides free WiFi, food trucks, and music!