Take your kids into the Shark Tank


Shark Tank isn’t just a TV show for entrepreneurs to get their big break. The same format of pitching to a panel of experts can be a great culminating event for any project.

Last week Ted Malefyt and Nate Alkire, teachers of the integrated math and science STREAM School class at Hamilton Middle School, took their students into the shark tank.

To add a level of awesome to the experience classes made the short trip to the world headquarters of Haworth Inc., an office furniture manufacturer in Holland, Michigan.

Students had to pitch their solutions to the driving question “How might we minimize the impact school groups have on the high school wetland?”. A diverse panel of sharks assembled and asked poignant questions of all thirteen  groups. Not only did the kids deliver a number of well researched and practical solutions, they also had an intelligent answer for anything thrown at them by the sharks.

This was a true display of deep learning and not just the recitation of facts from a study guide. Make your kids dig deeper, take them into their own shark tank experience.

Below are nine-and-a-half minutes that capture just a taste of the hard work and stellar presentations on display last Thursday.

Shark Tank STREAM School Edition – Hamilton Community Schools – YouTube.

Elementary Market Day: A great ‘maker’ experience

Two  of the really cool events that happen at the elementary school where I teach and the elementary school where my daughter attends are the student-led market days.  The two schools put their own spin on market day, but the premise is the same.

IMG_5017It is a mini maker faire, DIY entrepreneurial experience where students develop, market, and then sell handmade wares to classmates. My daughter used unwanted upholstery samples to create microfiber computer/smart phone screen cleaners and cloth book marks. Other projects kids made included root beer floats, pvc pipe marshmallow shooters, and laser cut metal letters painted in popular university colors glued on a magnet. I have even seen a massage booth and a miniature golf hole complete with volcano.

What an amazing outpouring of creativity was on display in those gymnasiums!

Products have to be pre-approved by staff but created primarily by the students themselves. Each school has students advertise during the days leading up to the big sales day either via poster or promotional spots they deliver live during morning announcements.

At Douglas Elementary, Market Day works as a fundraiser where proceeds go toward the end of the year 5th grade celebration at a local fun spot. Raising money this way gives the kids a stake in the efforts and builds a sense of giving and working toward a shared cause. Items are sold to other kids and nobody ends up with ugly wrapping paper and overpriced cheese logs like the average fund raiser.

At Blue Star Elementary, teachers use Market Day to build meaning around economic concepts like operating costs and profit. Students have to use their own money or seek a loan from family members. All costs have to be detailed and recorded. These students get to keep all of the money from their sales but must re-pay any loans immediately.

Talk about authentic assessment when it comes to whether kids developed and marketed a successful product.

The thing I like most about the Market Day concept is that it lets each kid develop something they enjoy from their own interests and background. These are just a couple of ways to hold Market Day. I am sure with a little more creativity, there are lots of other ways too.

Spend a little time on design…and gain a lot

logos designed by 4th and 5th graders
logos designed by 4th and 5th graders

For too long we have pushed creativity and artistic design in school off to the Friday afternoon back burner or for when the important “core” work was complete. There is a lot though in fostering creative projects that feeds directly into enhancing mathematical and literary pursuits.

This year our fourth and fifth graders are working in groups of four or five on a very lofty goal. Each team will cover a number of different school events from classroom activities to field trips to the Fun Night carnival. The groups will produce multimedia news segments that ultimately will be compiled into one long video yearbook.

In order to insure that we meet our “Real artists ship” mantra the students and I have flipped our mindset from treating our time together like school and instead treating it as if we are all working at video production companies. The first task was to form a production company name, complete with a logo.

The students’ learning target was “I can create a company name and logo that convey intended feelings.” We began by looking at a number of existing artistic companies’ names and logos like those from Pixar, Dreamworks, Orion, Warner Brothers, and Bad Robot. Next as a class we discussed what feelings these names and trademarks elicit. The outcomes of inference as well as an understanding of “visual grammar” were immediate. As teams got to brainstorming, these concepts were front and center as each group paid close attention to what type of feelings would be associated with their potential names and designs.

From a teaching standpoint, I made several rounds to check on each group’s progress and constantly challenged each team with questions like “If I had $3,000,000 to invest in a serious film about slavery ending in the 1860’s would I choose a company called the ‘Flaming Fireballs’?” There were some groups that started waaaaaay out past the left field bleachers but I eventually reeled them into at least short left field. As more and more teams honed in on a name we switched gears to designing logos. Each team had to create an old-fashion crayon and pencil concept that was our digital starting point as I conferenced intensely with each group.  I consistently helped teams simplify and asked, “What if?” seemingly over and over again. This was my chance to teach in small groups advanced Keynote techniques. I didn’t want to override their creativity with my own but offered a suggestion here and there that most students really didn’t know was possible. On many occasions I would add something as a demo and then delete it after showing it. Next,  I would leave the group to check on others. This allowed the group I had just left time to decide whether that was something to recreate themselves or stick with an original idea. The completion of each design was an electric moment for the kids and me.

In purely random order, here are some of the concepts and skills students developed and benefits experienced during this process.

  • Collaboration
  • Accountable Talk
  • Showing rather than telling
  • The way different fonts and colors affect a message
  • Math concepts like proportions and scale
  • An appreciation for the work
  • An escape from the way school is always “done”
  • Creative expression
  • Compromise
  • Motivation to tackle a big task
  • Fun

The concepts of design and creativity may not show up explicitly written in any curriculum manual but spending a little bit of time on it will prepare students to tackle any part of the Common Core with the mindset of someone working on projects at Apple, Google, or Herman Miller. They will bring a keen eye and will expect to create with excellence.

Teach the Path to Innovation

edheadsWe want  our kids to be creative and innovative. What do we do beyond hope and roll the dice that activities we give them generate creativity and innovation?

In a true serendipitous moment I discovered  this great Edheads.org activity: Design a Cellphone. I was at Edheads looking for an activity that a substitute teacher could lead to keep students engaged. I thought that a cellphone link would be a good place to start. What I learned is that the activity has a much big picture it helps teach.

Students learn that in order to be a successful designer, engineer, or a challenge-based learning problem solver  they need to

4)Evaluate their results

The effects of the lesson really translate to future teaching and learning as it provides a great reference point to different stages of projects and challenges.