Three Want Ads

(This post was originally shared on ASCD’s SmartBrief. It has been slightly modified.
SCENE: Three strangers at a coffee shop, reading the same page of the want ads.
1. Business leader seeks educated students who effectively work independently and collaboratively to problem-solve by applying information in new ways to produce creative solutions. Contact: pie-in-sky?

2. Educator seeks a new set of priorities where my content is secondary to the 21st Century skills and attitudes my students will need in the future. I want to be judged by my results on the latter, not my test scores on the former.  Email.

3. Student seeking a relevant education. I am more than my test scores of recall on ubiquitous information; With the wealth of information and tools in my grasp, I am capable of creatively producing with knowledge today. Contact:

We’re losing the battle for relevance in education, and it’s getting worse.  The 2013 Gallop Poll found shows that only 44% of high school students find school engaging. That’s down from 61% in Middle School and 76% in Elementary. The longer they’re with us, the less involved they are. What’s wrong?
Coincidentally, the same poll shares that 45 % of students plan to start their own business – that’s “plan to” not “are interested in” starting a business.
Business and Financial Education classes are electives, if they are offered at all.  And classes in entrepreneurship are like bicycle horns – rarely seen and offered as add-ons.
Ninety-three percent of Americans believe all high school students should be required to take a class in financial education. While a handful of states have adopted varying degrees of financial literacy curriculum, only four states require high school students to take a semester-long course in personal finance.
That’s disappointing for a few reasons.
To function in today’s world, we needs students who are equipped with skills in entrepreneurship and financial literacy. According to Brian Page, an award winning educator and working group member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability,  ” Inequality has skyrocketed, and economic mobility, that is the likelihood of a child moving “up” an economic tier, is now worse in the United States than most advanced economies throughout the world.
We need a modern education system with equitable funding and opportunities for every child that prepares our next generation of everyday Americans for the complex reality of our new financial world.”

Again, Page notes, “K-12 financial education is in the infancy stages, the catalyst is often legislation mandates of the integration of financial literacy concepts rather than a dedicated course of study. As schools in impoverished areas are being defunded, the limited resources they have must be focused on new and high stakes federal and state education legislation and testing that rarely include financial education.”

As an elective class, this mean that most students will never be exposed to these concepts. But it also means that we are taking engaging topics that are holistic, multi-disciplinary, and authentic experiences and breaking them down into subsets of skills, taught in isolation of other subjects to a few students.

We need to foster entrepreneurial thinking; this goes far beyond business and financial literacy. Entrepreneurial thinkers apply the four Cs of 21st Century Learning (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) as they:
  • find and define problems, opportunities, and potential within an open-ended context
  • display creativity and adaptation in their solution
  • recognize the dynamic nature of situations. There is no “correct” answer that applies everywhere.
  • learn skills, content, and entire disciplines for the purpose of action in an authentic arena
  • are motivated to improve
For better or worse (and I would say better !), students have dreams of opening their own company and are asking to learn more about controlling their own financial destiny.   While we wait for legislation to catch up to reality, we have an opportunity to tap into that desire to make schools more relevant, provide an authentic context to learn traditional content, and produce a generation of entrepreneurial thinkers.
If we take advantage of this opportunity, we might just find that those three strangers in the coffee shop have more in common than they think.

Is standardized testing our curse or excuse?

Stepping back a bit from the teaching of entrepreneurship as a subject, we need to be equally or more concerned with developing an entrepreneurial mindset in students.

A great article by Thom Markham  @thommarkham  “The Innovation to Drive Innovation: Scaling Inquiry” does this well, providing a strong rationale for the way our school systems – not just classrooms – need to change in order to incorporate a 21st Century Teaching paradigm.

Our standardized tests have often been our excuse for not diving into Project-Based Learning (PBL) and emphasizing the inquiry mindset. Brain research tells us that if learning is to stick – even facts used in decontextualized standardized text questions – they have to be grounded in something real and relevant.  So, the argument that PBL and inquiry is more needed than ever in our “fake news” environment is made by Thom. I would add that the ability of students to retain and competently apply whatever facts are learned in their future lives is greatly increased in these inquiry-rich environments. They give our students the ability to question and solve problems while simultaneously providing the context for allowing these discrete facts (so beloved by our standardized testing advocates) to ‘stick’.

Are standardized tests really our curse or just our most convenient excuse for not trying to make this shift?

Making this shift happens at the classroom level, and also at the system level. For example, Thom does an excellent job of proposing some macro changes to teacher professional development. Check it out.

I would add one additional item.

Until our curriculum and resource providers embrace this shift, it will continue to an uphill battle.  To help our students get the learning environments we need resource providers to stop seeing themselves as information providers. They too need to re-imagine what students need to eventually “do” with the content they share.  If the only models of learning our curriculum providers can envision is a traditional one, then the materials that they produce reinforce that premise. Educators are faced with the Herculean task of looking at PBL learning outcomes as frosting (that only a few students or teachers will taste) on top of the content recall ‘cake’ espoused by the resources and learning environments our teachers regularly encounter.

If we want problem-solving thinkers who take with them an entrepreneurial mindset, it takes a village.

Entrepreneurial thinking is problem-solving

In a recent blog post entitled What if we let students produce with content?  Jetlag Learning’s CEO Derek Luebbe shares how our schools are trying to move away from content recall and develop environments where students have to use content to create and solve problems.

The more practice we give students with these environments – in chemistry, geography, or business – the more we foster an entrepreneurial mindset in students. They apply content and seek out new information in order to produce intelligent solutions.

Real world learning.

Welcome to Educating Entrepreneurs

Welcome to Educating Entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneurial mindset is much more than teaching entrepreneurship. In today’s world, this mindset requires problem-solving and creative thinking to dynamic, complex problems. This is a key component of entrepreneurship – but it is a skill-set which is broader than the business world.

We’re hear to help explore the challenges our schools are facing – and the ways in which those challenges are overcome – as they try to instill this entrepreneurial mindset in students within a system that values recall and algorithmic thinking.