Creating Future Business Leaders with Entrepreneurial Learning
There’s a lot of great things to be said about true project-based learning. Students learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They apply learning to authentic problems and grow their own agency as they become immersed in finding solutions. Entrepreneurial learning, one method of project-based learning, takes this type of critical thinking to a new level—one that applies to careers and the world outside of school.
Entrepreneurial learning is a growing area of curriculum development. You won’t find business classes at every high school across the country, and fewer still at the elementary level, but this growing trend brings with it many benefits for students, both now and in the future. Let’s take a look at how entrepreneurial learning impacts student success and how some schools are beginning to include leadership and business learning in the classroom.
Why Entrepreneurial Learning?
Think about the small business owners you know. What words would you use to describe them? Maybe traits like driven, savvy, thoughtful, hard-working, confident, intelligent, and successful come to mind. The truth is, entrepreneurs are all of these things and more, including creative, courageous, responsible, and innovative. Now compare this list of entrepreneurial traits with any twenty-first-century skill framework and you’ll see complete overlap. The skills identified as necessary for students to build to be successful in college and in careers are the same skills that small business owners practice on a regular basis.
But learning great habits isn’t the only reason to consider implementing entrepreneurial learning with your students, economics also plays a role. Our students will face a job market that we can’t even imagine. There are jobs that exist today that weren’t around 10 years ago. We aren’t able to predict what the future economy will look like, though we know it will be highly globalized and highly technological. We also know that freelancing, contracting, and other non-traditional work structures are on the rise. If we prepare students to start and run their own businesses, they’ll be the ones dictating the future job trends, not the ones having to work extra hard to figure out where they fit in.
Entrepreneurial learning is cross-curricular. It includes work in all major academic areas from math to language arts to history to science. It builds on necessary core competencies in communication like speaking, making arguments, and writing clearly. And it’s engaging. Entrepreneurial learning isn’t something you’ll have to convince your students to enjoy, they’ll be motivated by their inner drive toward the creation of something that is all theirs.
Examples of Entrepreneurial Education
In 2014, Alex Rappaport founded Big Idea Week and piloted it with fifth graders at P.S. 307, a STEM magnet school in Brooklyn. Big Idea Week is a week-long entrepreneurial education experience. On Mondays, mentors who are entrepreneurs from some well-known companies like Facebook and Etsy introduce themselves and talk to students about their big ideas. Then students work in small groups to learn about creativity and problem-solving processes. They think of a problem they want to solve and begin to design an idea. On Friday, students pitch their big idea to the mentors and their classmates.
Student at Acton Academy, a small private school in Austin, TX, participate in the Children’s Business Fair every fall. During class time, students develop their own brand, create something tangible to sell (a product or service), design a marketing strategy, and then prepare for customers at the marketplace. The Children’s Business Fair was founded in 2007 with just 7 young entrepreneurs. Now it hosts 115 entrepreneurs and attracts nearly 1,500 attendees.
How to Add Entrepreneurial Learning to Your Classroom
By now you can probably see the benefits of including at least some aspects of entrepreneurial education in your classroom. The authentic learning experiences meet several cross-curricular standards, as well as build on important social and emotional learning goals. There are a few ways you can get started with entrepreneurial learning.
Reach out to organizations who specialize in entrepreneurship in education.
Big Idea Week was mentioned above. They work with schools in New York, but their website offers a toolkit with guides, worksheets, and videos to help you put on your own event. You can also contact Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. They offer a 65-hour curriculum to teach career-readiness skills through the development of a business plan.
Consider adding content that you don’t normally teach. In math, create a financial literacy unit and include business lessons. In science, turn your lab into a maker-space and ask students to design and create new objects. In English, add a marketing unit to analyze how brands are built and how ideas are advertised.
Add some choice in your classroom routine to let student make decisions based on strengths and interests. This might include letting students decide whether to take a quiz or write a summary of content instead. It might be letting student choose where they want to sit during certain times of the day. It might be offering different types of workspaces in your classroom such as desks with chairs, couches, stand up desks, or pillows on the floor.
Teaching children and young adults about business now can have long-lasting effects on them and our future economy. Thinking creatively, knowing how to manage money, taking responsibility, and being intrinsically motivated are all huge benefits that come from entrepreneurial learning in school.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.