George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Entrepreneurship Education Stresses Learning by Doing

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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In a recent opinion piece for The New York Times, Michael Ellsberg created a stir by asking, "Will Dropouts Save America?" After dropping names of illustrious dropouts -- the late Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, among others -- he argues that school as we know it does little to prepare students to be entrepreneurs whose creativity will create jobs.

"Simply put, from kindergarten through undergraduate and grad school, you learn very few skills or attitudes that would ever help you start a business," Ellsberg writes. The author of The Education of Millionaires says he spent two years interviewing entrepreneurs about how they learned what they know.

What Ellsberg overlooked is the growing number of classrooms where learning about entrepreneurship is a thriving tradition. By simulating a business launch, students engage in critical thinking and deepen their financial literacy. They gain experience collaborating with team members and networking with outside experts.

"This kind of experience teaches students important life skills," says fifth-grade teacher Francie Kugelman from Dahlia Elementary in Los Angeles. "For some, it's also planting the seed that someday they'll want to start their own business."

Ready-Made Projects

Kugelman is among some 5,000 educators worldwide who have used entrepreneurship education resources from the Biz World Foundation. Her students use ready-made materials to "launch" businesses that produce friendship bracelets. The project is a simulation, "but they believe in it," she says. And the friendship bracelets are very real -- and wildly popular.

Students have to apply for roles such as president or chief financial officer. They make strategic decisions, such as whether to borrow start-up funding from a bank or solicit venture capital. They prototype bracelet designs and also decide how to produce their products -- on an assembly line or by individual artisans? They develop marketing campaigns, host a bracelet bazaar (with fake "bucks"), and track profit and loss. "When I'm deciding whether to invest in their businesses," Kugelman adds, "it feels real."

April Bond, a former teacher who is now Biz World's vice president of education, says more than 350,000 students have taken part in the program since it launched in 1997. Bond compares learning about financial literacy to learning a second language. "The earlier the better," she says.

Biz World Foundation, with a board of successful entrepreneurs, has always sought to encourage entrepreneurial thinking. The current economic climate makes the topic even more relevant. Events like Occupy Wall Street "have kids asking questions," Bond says. "Families are making decisions based on the economy. Students see the value of knowing about finance as something that extends beyond the classroom."

In addition to BizWorld materials, the foundation offers two additional simulations. BizWiz has a focus on investing. In BizMovie, students run their own movie-production companies. BizMovie also teaches object-oriented programming skills, which students apply in the creation of animated films. BizMovie was developed in collaboration with the National Center for Women in Information Technology. Currently, classroom materials are available for free to interested teachers in the U.S.

For many teachers, resources like these provide an accessible entry to project-based learning. "It's PBL in a box," says Tristan de Frondeville, a long-time PBL advocate and Edutopia contributor who serves on Biz World Foundation's education advisory board. For teachers who are new to PBL, or who don't have time to develop standards-based projects from scratch, this kind of resource "can lead to high-quality work," he says.

Some teachers build on the ready-made materials to develop more open-ended projects. For example, students might follow up on the friendship bracelet simulation and design a campaign to raise money for a real community cause.

Thinking on Their Feet

Mike Harris has been using BizWorld with sixth-graders at Northstar Academy in Redwood City, Calif., for the past eight years. He typically introduces the project early in the school year as a way to find out "who the kids are and what they can do. It's a chance to watch them work together." The project naturally builds teamwork skills, as students work in small groups to develop business plans for their start-up companies. Harris keeps formal instruction to a minimum, which challenges students to think on their feet. Within the project structure, students encounter a series of open-ended questions that cause them to evaluate different scenarios.

Northstar Academy happens to be located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Harris takes full advantage of the setting to engage with local experts. When his students pitch their business plans, they pitch to real venture capitalists.

Throughout the project, Harris adds, students have opportunities to learn and apply a range of important content, ranging from math to language arts to digital media. They also learn systems thinking. "They're growing up in a capitalist system," adds Harris, who came to teaching after a career in business. "They need to understand how it works."

Global Entrepreneurship Week takes place this year from November 14-20, with projects underway around the world. How do you engage your students in entrepreneurial thinking?

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April Bond's picture
April Bond
VP Education, The BizWorld Foundation

Thanks for this great article, Suzie. With Arne Duncan's push for financial literacy this week and Global Entrepreneurship Week coming up next week, I hope that teachers across the country will be able to take advantage of the opportunity to bring our no cost project-based programs to their schools. Collaboration between organizations and individuals inside and outside our schools is what's going to help prepare our kids for the challenges of tomorrow. I hope this article will inspire more teachers to use PBL so our kids will be more ready for the real world than we were.

Robert Ryshke's picture
Robert Ryshke
Executive Director of Center for Teaching

While I understand where Michael Ellsberg is coming from, I don't fully agree with his premise. Sure Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg are three examples of innovators who did not graduate from college, there are probably 100 x as many innovators who did graduate from high schools and colleges with an education that helped them innovate. I am not a complete defender of "traditional education," but I do recognize good teachers helping interested students learn is a recipe for success. However, I do believe traditional schools are not doing enough to promote students' creative thinking and creative talents. I also believe that schools need to innovate their practices.

Bob Ryshke

Lisa's picture
Business and Marketing Management Teacher, Ohio

Thank you for making more people aware of the fact that we do indeed teach Entrepreneurship in schools. I have Junior Achievement come in to my classrooms and they are a wonderful resource. They have connected me with people in the community that are willing to talk about their own entrepreneurial spirit. Through JA, we go through several programs: Be Entrepreneurial, Ethics in Business, & yes even: Business Plans! The students love it, and are really engaged when they participate in these type of activities. We are actually attending the JA, Yes! Seminar that is all about Entrepreneurship tomorrow as a way of celebrating the conclusion of a great week in entrepreneur education. Not to be confused with the fact that we will continue to work on Business Plans through-out the year, and are even connected with our Massillon Chamber of Commerce to do so. I love what I teach, and the students who I have in my program are the future Entrepreneurs!

Brock d'Avignon's picture
Brock d'Avignon
Real Client PBL EdTech Industrial Arts Social Sciences Teacher 7-12

Meaningful and Life-saving Project Based Learning with major CEOs, nationwide and national leaders is founded on George Lucas' Edutopian idea of presenting a problem to be solved, then all technology, mentors, money, and cooperation follows. PBL is now important to opinion leaders. My students have designed:
Central Asian TRAADE routes for prosperity, peace, and freedom with pipelines carrying water, oil, gas next to road and railways going north and south where none exists now.
Red Cross Robotic Search and Rescue Ambulances (SARA) vehicles for firefighters and DARPA Grand Challenge. Research contacts given to university students winning $2M prize.
Flood ending half-buried porthole pipelines carrying water elsewhere where needed.
Asteroid Detection Deflection Development (ADDD) solar system wide with banking collateral value to pay for it all at 6% discovery rights to title, 1/10,000th of dollar severe discount equals $1.9 Trillion in assets for California schools and colleges; 145T for US & A; more for other countries with telescopes; parcelization of 5 moons to every human with individual property title; and a Space Property-title and Asteroid Resources Company (STARCO).
New Island Creation Consortium (NICCO) pizzahedron truss structures, electro-deposition of sea mineral hulls, and Freedomaxium new country projects and open deep ocean fish-farming.
Identifying Moammar Ghaddafi's deep space rocket capability with nuclear batteries for space rock renavigation as WMD plus launch disguise, satcom interference, and satellite blinding alliances.
Resetting global economy to personally held space resources instead of oil, and achieving property title for all humans on Earth using Percentage As You Earn (PAYE) finance of houses and farms ending repossession vulnerability.
Achieving free market curative and preventative care for all as an outcome of a new charging method of percentage-of-income medical finansurance. Adding Quality Immortality (QI) percentage of income PAYEments while students decide to crack the supergene that controls aging.
Historical examples of income contingent business models in immigration of redemptioners of debt replacing indentured servitude and slavery; privateers; mountain men; old country doctors reckoning of percentages of income to take care of all; rePAYEment of college tuition with the outcome of equal opportunity to attend college while achieving the Separation of Higher Education and State in 11 years. Non-property tax based revenue cycle replacement with anywhere on the globe rePAYEment from college students to either taxpayers or Human Investors in a Career Futures Exchange.
Leg protection motorcycles.
Earthquake Preparedness-box Towers (EPT) on Wheels for all school homerooms including water bottles, MREs, rubble tools, warmth and personalized medical supplies; revision of disaster plans at schools to meet law, insurance, and civil defense shelter needs with Red Cross and sponsors, not taxes.
Creation of franchise images for Flying Saucer Pizza and Yellow Submarine Sandwich Galleys as examples of Communications English for local businesses.
Historical character relationships for screenplays The Star Spangled Banner and The Bear Flag Revolt.
Not bad for 7-12th graders some people think can only be janitors for some pocket change. Education should give something back to the businesses, community, and civic leaders that support it. Thank you George, would you like to help schools and students with licensing dealmakers and lawyers like universities have to reward intellectual achievement via property rights to all involved? Like to set up a CAFEX with me? Would you like to make a few movies about all the PBL and CBL teachers and students you've collected best examples of over the last few years? Ready when you are! Brock d'Avignon 831-512-6572

Jared Rand's picture
Jared Rand
Founder, SAT Instructor, Tutor at The Knowledge Roundtable

I'd like to add an additional perspective as both an entrepreneur and an educator. For me, entrepreneurship IS an education. I am constantly learning and adapting as I grow my business. The educational benefits of entrepreneurship continue to be a primary motivator in my personal decision to run my own business.

I am in the business of educating, through tutoring and test prep, but I also share the skills I have acquired as a business owner with friends, colleagues, and the community. Through collaborations and through blogging I aim to encourage other potential entrepreneurs to take the leap.

For the interested reader, here is an article of mine discussing how entrepreneurship can serve as an education:
Entrepreneurship as Education

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