Not your normal school project


Picture a room packed with 35-40 high school students eager to start working on a project, except you, the teacher, have no idea what the project will be.

Will they create pencil cases? T-shirts for school teams?

Will they design an app or a bot or an e-book?

Or will they make jewelry? Car safety kits? Coffee coozies? Public service announcements?

Maybe they’ll make nothing at all.

This is not your typical school assignment. Guiding teenagers — or anyone — through the process of launching a startup is one of the least predictable and most useful things we can do as teachers.

We have no idea where they will end up, and most of the time, their ventures will probably fail, but they will learn much more than they ever could from a textbook or lecture.

In the past few years, my students have started businesses selling the above-mentioned pencil cases, T-shirts, apps, bots and e-books, but that’s no predictor of what this year’s group will do.

At this point, their assignment is simply to interview potential customers and ask questions like:

  • What wasted your time today?
  • Who needed help today?

Next week, the students will narrow the survey responses to a few problems that sound interesting to tackle and begin brainstorming solutions they could develop. It’s all part of the Lean Startup method of entrepreneurship, and it incorporates skills like collaboration, communication, and problem-solving.

It also teaches resilience and a growth mindset, because unlike most school activities, there is no built-in expectation that you have to do it right. It’s all about failing fast — and learning from failure.

For many students, learning entrepreneurship is the most valuable experience they have in high school, and it shapes their outlook on the world. One of my students, Amy, is so sold on entrepreneurship that when she saw senior citizens at her grandma’s residence lacking a sense of purpose, she decided to start an entrepreneurship program for them.

She’s hoping the “seniorpreneurs” she meets though Skyrocket (her brochure is pictured above) will be as motivated by the chance to solve community problems as she is.

Other former students are working on medical devices, apps, fashion and food. There are some limits on what they can do in high school — we don’t let them sell medical products, for example — but once they graduate, the sky is literally the limit.

If you’re interested in cultivating entrepreneurs in your school or community, join More information about Teen Startup Trainers — and a sample lesson — will be available to subscribers soon.

Follow me on Twitter @MarthaSRush

Coming in November: Beat Boredom: Engaging Tuned-Out Teenagers