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Last week, I had the opportunity to go back to my old high school (after, well, we won't mention how many years) and teach a class for four days. Each February, The University of Illinois Laboratory High School holds a week-long "Agora Days" where students, teachers, alumni and other friends of the school teach classes on subjects not in the usual curriculum. My class was entitled, "How to Start Your Own Business."
It was a great opportunity to reconnect with my high school Alma Mater. Entrepreneurship is not a class they currently offer, and it seemed to generate genuine interest for this four-day session. We used some of the materials from Strategyzer to frame value proposition development and overall business model design.
In offering this class, I have discovered myself an advocate for offering entrepreneurship in secondary education. Like we say with many other parts of high school student life, entrepreneurship classes create the business leaders of tomorrow. Beyond that, thought, entrepreneurship classes at the high school level have several significant benefits, including the following four:
- Entrepreneurship is a great interdisciplinary opportunity in secondary education. It is intensely integrative of social sciences, STEM, the arts, English, and even foreign languages.
- Entrepreneurship is a great opportunity to motivate students to look beyond the immediate or the next-to-immediate, and develop a vision for making the world a better place. This could be particularly effective in economically depressed or disadvantaged areas: students could become motivated to learn by the need to gain skills for a project that might actually become their own business. The vision of seeing a problem and applying ways to find solutions could help to overcome the poverty tunneling that reduces neighborhoods' transformational capacity. Vision can raise students' eyes above just completing school, or just getting to college, or just getting by day-to-day. It can motivate in ways that are often measurable, albeit often indirectly.
- Integrative subject matter, with Entrepreneurship as the example, could transform the student metrics conversation. Instead of teaching to more and more tests, students could demonstrate mastery by book-ended integrative projects - say at the beginning and ending of high school. Mastery will be much more than just facts and figures; it could be application, and we could see new technologies emerging along the way.
- Entrepreneurship classes can make for a stronger democracy: students engaged in entrepreneurship will have a deeper understanding of economics, government, finances, foreign policy (tariffs vs. free trade; geopolitics and natural resources), and the motivations of people in different contexts and situations. This will likely lead them to greater engagement and participation in the democratic process.
- Entrepreneurship, when done well, is almost always done in teams. Helping students learn how to work together well, with different motivations and personalities, could strengthen students' soft skills as well as raise their emotional intelligence.
In truth, I have already received some small degree of pushback that curriculums are already crowded, that this is a luxury for students already proficient in the basics, and that it would be hard to do group work with individualized education plans involved.
To those challenges, I would suggest that if standardized testing days could be reduced and swapped for integrative project days, there's still a lot of room - even without new courses. Second, I suggest that integrative projects like entrepreneurship could motivate students to greater proficiency and mastery of the basics, since they will have something they really want to engage with and accomplish. Third, I suggest that projects like these might help students with individualized plans because they (and their instructors) could discover approaches to learning that could work around learning difficulties.
Related: Conversations and Learning
In the meantime, check out this article about the balance of action and reflection.
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