If I had to encapsulate the purpose of running an entrepreneurship program with students into one sentence, it would be to give them a chance to find their place in a changing world. Running a business with students gives them the soft skills to successfully navigate the real world while keeping one foot safely in the classroom.
From the Ground Up.
A Business Curriculum
By: G. Grant
If I had to encapsulate the entire purpose of running an entrepreneurship program with my students into one sentence it would be to give them a chance to find their place in an emerging world. The world around us is changing so quickly, in so many ways. There are the obvious advances in technology which change everything from a doctor’s visit to a bank deposit. Consider what skills a 13-year-old needs to go to the corner grocery and buy a carton of milk. How long will it be before he can-or must– download an app, have a bank account linked to the store, and engage in any number of new-age proficiencies before actually purchasing the milk? This is not to condemn or give approbation-rather to highlight the fact that things will be different. I for one, want to prepare my students, and I feel that the best way to do that is through an entrepreneurship program.
I mentioned that it is not only technology that is changing our resident infrastructure. Our evolving global economy is rapidly influencing the accepted workforce norms. A typical path through our higher education system may not guarantee a successful career, as more and more jobs are outsourced, merged, and diluted. Now that our developing workforce must compete on a global scale, thanks to the incredibly alacritous access to skills and goods from all over the world, they must be prepared with more skills. We must help our students develop a competitive edge and the ability to adapt in this changing landscape. If we teach children what is written in the books developed years ago, they will become masters of an extinct knowledge base. Instead we must focus on teaching them skills. They must learn collaborative, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. They must learn to be innovative and also how to acclimate to new situations. Of course, they still need an excellent education to build the foundation behind these skills, but they also need to exercise cognitive and behavioral processes to their advantages.
I feel that entrepreneurship is an excellent way to allow students to experiment with the real world, while keeping one foot safely in the classroom. Students need a test run. They need a chance to see what skills they excel at, which need strengthening, and what they absolutely abhor. Is it powerful for students to see that they can innovate, produce, and sell a product? Absolutely! What makes it even more powerful is the exposure the student has to the emerging infrastructure that they will eventually belong to.
You see, business is an excellent venue for modeling the real world. Business takes place across time and space, all over the globe. Products and payment pass through hands of every color, and each business reflects a culture beget from the internal cultures of those who build it. Students have a chance to test their collaborative and social skills by running focus groups, determining target markets, analyzing demographics, contacting a myriad of people from a myriad of backgrounds for a myriad of reasons. The exposure is unlimited in its ability to create experiential learning.
In addition, a business is structures with many branches and facets. Students can have a chance to experience website design, graphic design, research, data mining, and many other areas that are sure to be impactful on the emerging society. Let students familiarize themselves now when the stakes are low and the takeaway can be so rich. Maybe a student will fall in love with financial analysis and orient himself to succeed in whatever futuristic version of that field blockchain has in store for us. Maybe another student will hate the same financial analysis, and invent an app to help those in the same boat! Let’s give them a chance to try out the real world, get their feet wet. Of course, things will be even more different and even more changed when they are ready to join the workforce; but they will have a taste of where it began, where it is headed, and where they belong.
My strategy is very simple, but detailed. I called my business curriculum “from the ground up”, because my goal is to teach as many aspects of entrepreneurship as possible, from the very foundation as far as I could go. Ideally, I would love for the students themselves to research the main aspects of beginning a career in business, as well as the many minutia. However, time does not always allow for an inquiry based approach, so in the interests of creating a situation where students could meet once a week for 45 minutes, (plus occasional at-home assignments), and have a successful business, I created this program.
The program aims to give the students lots of information and to help them use that information to make successful choices. The goal for me was to simulate the conditions of a real business as closely as possible, so that students could gain the most from the experimental learning. Students will help craft a mission statement, designate an outside ethics board to settle internal disputes, and write their own resumes. I was lucky enough to have a sponsor (thank you real world scholars!) and a very supportive administration. Together, we allowed the students to decide the culture of their company and redesign the library (we ended up with ping-pong nets and whiteboard painted tables!) as a business space. Although not mandatory, this extra step afforded the students the feeling that their business was “real”. Students will then learn about business structure, the many categories of jobs within a business, and then rewrite their resumes with a specific job as their objective. Then the fun begins! Product development will innovate, procurement and market research determine feasibility. Students discuss if they will pay a manufacturer or use an on-demand product. The CEO of the company will set tasks for each department for every meeting. We have goals to meet-no one wants to be reprimanded, and everyone would prefer a promotion to a decline in revenue. Students tackle crowdfunding, appropriate social media posting, and requisitioning supplies from finance. This program makes the business very real to students. They are not acting-it is functioning in the real world.
The teacher who is the guide for this entire project, is not left hanging. I have developed a clear and concise guideline for each lesson on how a business works. Teachers can use PowerPoints and handouts provided to help provide their students with information on the different aspects of how a business runs. Additionally, teachers are provided with resources to help run an actual on-demand product business with their class. I have enormous pride watching my students negotiate with each other, with packaging suppliers, with boutique owners, and even with me. They have taken ownership of the world around them and constantly suggest new avenues to explore that I have not even considered. I recommend that all teachers give their students the chance to explore their place in the emerging world.
Gittel Grant is the Science Chair at HAFTR and President of STEM Advancement Inc, a community-minded company that aims to make STEM accessible to all students. She was also previously the Head of Science Programming at the Jewish Foundation School In Staten Island, NY. She has over a decade of classroom experience, and expanded her horizons by delving into curriculum development. Gittel worked as a curriculum developer for Code Advantage - a company providing computer and technology education to elementary school students. After studying abroad in a STEM immersion program, Gittel began developing her own middle school STEM Curriculum. She currently designs STEM, PBL, and Innovation workshops for teachers, one of which was approved for graduate level credit as well as continuing professional development credit in several states. Gittel has presented STEM Curricula internationally, including India, Russia, and Columbia. Gittel also recently received a grant from Real World Scholars in recognition of her contributions to the education community in terms of PBL and STEM.