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Creating Entrepreneurs in the Classroom

Thursday, November 17, 2016 -- Scott Sterling

Entrepreneurship can be an ambiguous concept—is it an inherent ability, or a learned skill? With this in mind, it’s easy to see why a few different concerns can come to mind for educators when they consider teaching entrepreneurship. Maybe you think that it’s a topic only relevant to high school students getting ready for life beyond the classroom, that it’s only useful if you want to create a roomful of Silicon Valley executives, or that it means rewriting your whole curriculum.

Although fame, fortune, and potential to change the world are certainly possible for entrepreneurs (and motivating factors for many students aspiring to be one), these individuals do tend to have traits and abilities that are valuable for students even if they don’t go on to start a business. Entrepreneurs are typically resilient, creative, collaborative, and strong critical thinkers—all key 21st century skills. Here are some ways to bring entrepreneurship into any classroom.

Create an Interdisciplinary Unit

Educators with experience teaching entrepreneurship often look for ways to work across multiple subject areas. A classroom unit where students are tasked with starting their own business can provide a great umbrella to support a cross-curricular approach. Students can investigate potential technologies in science, write a business plan in ELA, come up with a budget in math, and study economics and international business opportunities in social studies. Those are the kinds of real world opportunities that 21st century learning calls for.

Talk About Consumerism

A significant aspect of entrepreneurship is understanding the consumer. After all, who’s going to buy your great idea? And consumerism is another topic that can touch multiple subject areas. Students can study advertising in ELA, analyze their own spending habits in math, and look at economics from the other side of the coin in social studies. In higher-level science courses, you could even dig into how the brain responds to advertising and approaches spending. You can also touch on some psychology by have students design and conduct market research studies.

Always Incorporate Communication Skills

Although there have been entrepreneurs who were notoriously bad communicators, either publicly, interpersonally, or both, the road toward a successful business is much easier for individuals who are adept at getting their ideas across to others. No matter the subject area, students should be given tasks that help them develop communication skills. These might be as simple as “turn and talks” or as complicated as giving Shark Tank-like presentations during their interdisciplinary business unit.

Build Autonomy

Communication and collaboration may be key, but on the flip side, entrepreneurs do tend to be iconoclasts. They don’t meet their goals by following the status quo, and they’re not afraid to pursue their ideas—even when others don’t always agree. Great ideas only come through the ability to think and act freely. Consider how much autonomy your students have in the day-to-day operation of your classroom. How many open-ended decisions are they asked to make? How often are they given choices about what they will learn in the classroom? If there are creative ways to complete a task while still meeting the objective, let students explore those ideas.

Incorporating entrepreneurship into your curriculum is just one way that you can work to increase student agency and provide personalized learning experiences in your classroom! Looking for more tips? Check out this blog post for 10 steps to create personalized learning plans for your students!