Do School Better Season 1

This is Radically Different: Hawken’s Entrepreneurial Studies Program

By February 7, 2016 No Comments

Episode 2 – Doris Korda and Alison Tanker


Alison: So Doris . . .

Doris: Yeah?

Alison: What is this program? If you had to really describe it in totality, what is this?

Doris: Yeah. It’s funny because like many things, the term entrepreneurship has now got so much baggage associated with it. It is an entrepreneurship program, yes. But what does that even mean? What it really is, is an educational model that focuses on mastery of skills. That’s really what it is.

Again, even that was full of a lot of jargon. But the point is I really don’t think, like many people now, thankfully, I don’t think traditional school has done a good job at all or isn’t doing a good job at teaching students skills. Right now, because of technology and the world that we live in, the skills matter more than anything. The skills matter the most.

Skills include knowing . . . the world doesn’t need humans to spit back from memory the date of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. They don’t need that. Does it help if people have enough context to understand that there was a Treaty of Versailles and why it happened? Of course. I’m not suggesting that learning history and content and science and math—they’re hugely important.

But equally important is the learning of skills and the development of problem solving skills. It’s a crazy world and things change so much and are so unpredictable that being able to know what questions matter most, those are the kinds of things that the world needs humans to do that we still don’t have any better vehicle for than a human being. We don’t develop that well enough in school.

So what this is, is it’s a completely different approach to doing school so that the students learn the skills they’re going to need in the world that they’re going out into.

Alison: If we dive a bit deeper into that too to describe how you’re actually fostering some of those skills, what is your process or your approach to doing that?

Doris: Yeah. So again I learned what I think kind of was always obvious for me because it’s true for me also, that if I care about something, if something is meaningful to me, then I’ll work like crazy because I want to. I don’t have to be convinced to. I don’t have to be prodded or tricked into.

Everything I did as a math teacher for all those years was about how do I get these students . . . there are students, many of them, who come into a traditional classroom and are motivated to get the good grade. They’re motivated to please the teacher or their parents or they’re motivated by what they think they should be doing and I get that. But there are so many students who come in and say, “I don’t know why I should learn this thing that you’re having me put all this time and energy into that I just don’t care about.”

What I’ve done with this is thought about how do you, if you know the learning that you’re hoping to happen . . . so, I very much think that the skills that are skills that are crazy important for students to develop, that they’ll need for the world they’re going into are how to solve problems that don’t have answers in the back of the book. How do you do that?

As a math teacher, I had all these students who were very well-trained at practicing the same kind of problem over and over with different numbers and then spitting it back and doing it on the test at the end of the week. But the minute I gave them a question that required some thought—they called them story problems back then—that they didn’t have any example or experience with, they literally shut down.

They were so totally and completely not prepared or willing even to just think about something and take their own resources and look at something they had no experience with on the surface and pick it apart. They had none of that. I spent a lot of time developing, working with students to develop those.

This was about, how do we give students the ability to learn with creative problem solving, really learn how to do that? Another, critical thinking, how do students learn critical thinking without a template or a recipe or a set of instructions and nothing more than their very able mind to go at that? How do we teach really, really good communications? Of all types, written, verbal, everything. How do we get students to really develop that? How do we get students to learn what it means to collaborate, to be really generative with others?

When I was in the working world back in the day, probably what mattered more than anything, was my ability to work well with others. Even if I wasn’t particularly good at problem solving, if I worked well with others, I had to find somebody who was and I could contribute what I could contribute. They could contribute what they could contribute.

We don’t really teach students to collaborate well. Then they get out of college and they go out into whatever they’re doing and they fall apart. They’re shocked because they’ve gotten straight As. All these years of school where someone is giving them a grade on their individual thing, the world and all their teachers and parents have told them, “You’re awesome. You’re an A+. You’re perfect.” And then they go out and actually what matters most is their ability to work well with others and they have no experience.

That doesn’t come naturally to people. Some people are gifted and it comes naturally. For a lot of people, they have to learn through years of trial and error and working with different kinds of personalities and learning about themselves. Having to start that at age 23 and that’s the beginning of your education, let alone 28 or 29 and find out when you’re in the hot seat, that you’re unsuccessful.

That’s what this program is. It’s about having students master these things. It’s crazy-rigorous and by the way, academic. We’ve defined academics and what is academic and what isn’t. And we’ve defined these disciplines in such narrow ways in school and we’re so used to it that we don’t even question this system that we have grown up in.

If you’re solving a problem that doesn’t have an answer in the back of the book but you care about solving it, then you want to solve it well. To solve a complicated, challenging, difficult problem that no one has yet solved and solve it well is going to require you to work really, really hard. And it’s going to require a certain quality of your output and of thinking and of analysis and all these things.

The program we’ve developed, which, as you know, there are so many different sets of systems and parts to it.

Alison: Right.

Doris: What I think people . . . you asked, “What is this thing?” When you say it’s entrepreneurship education, people think business. Often people think, “Oh, they do pitches. They do fun stuff sitting in a room having ideas for a startup and then pitching them.” If it’s an entrepreneurship class or even if it isn’t, those things can come into play. But that’s so not what this is.

This is about how do you structure and guide a path for students to learn? Really, really develop these skills by giving them problems in a way and the guidance through the problem solving a way that makes that learning.

Alison: What I love that you’re talking about here is we’ve seen entrepreneurship used in developing countries for economic development purposes. We’ve seen it used in terms of gender inequality and creating more opportunities for women to be empowered and go out there and bring value to their communities.

Doris: Right.

Alison: We’ve seen a lot of approaches. Those are things I’m very passionate about and I’ve had experience in as well. I love the work that you’ve really been building here is all about how we can also use entrepreneurship as a tool for education reform. For helping these students gain the meaningful skills they need for the real world.

Doris: Yeah.

Alison: And really applying this in a much different way. It’s not about the content of entrepreneurship as much as it is about the process and building that mindset.

Doris: Yeah. Exactly. This is an entrepreneurship class. But I’ve been working with educators from all over who are teaching humanities classes, science classes, math classes—whatever it is. Really, whether you want to call it using an entrepreneurial mindset or some of the processes, those come into play. But more than anything else, it’s about how do you use something real, a real problem that the students in your room are going to care about. There are ways to go about structuring that so that they are problems they care about so that the learning will happen.

In our entrepreneurship class, students as a byproduct learn a lot about business. In other classes, as a byproduct, say it’s a social entrepreneurship class like Robert’s teaching, they will learn entrepreneurial processes. But they’ll also learn a lot about cultures and social issues in developing nations. It really isn’t content-specific. It’s not about entrepreneurship, actually. It’s also not about the content.

Alison: Sure. That makes sense. I think it’s exciting to know a number of schools have taken interest in entrepreneurship, that a number of high schools, middle schools, certainly colleges have been developing programs. But this shows the versatility of the work and it doesn’t have to be siloed in the same way that we’ve thought all subjects in school have to remain in their own individual silos, that this is actually applicable because it is.

It’s more of an approach that you’ve built out here that’s about real problems. Entrepreneurship, as we define it, is about really seeing through opportunities and bringing ideas to life that address real problems in the world. I think it’s exciting to know this can be replicated in a multitude of settings and isn’t entrepreneurial-specific.

Doris: What are some of the things that . . . so, first of all, it’s trans-disciplinary. Design plays a huge role in an awful lot of the approach because in the world design plays a huge role in solving problems. We use whatever parts of things that are relevant and helpful and useful at the time. Lean Launchpad, whether you’re entrepreneurship or frankly you’re teaching science, it’s the scientific method made real. So it’s very useful in, I think, any entrepreneurship class but also in some other classes.

Design Thinking is a toolkit. They’ve done a really nice job of packaging these things up so that educators can use them and there are techniques that depending on the moment and depending on the question come into play.

But it’s not about teaching business. It’s not entrepreneurship being taught as some religion. It’s about mastering skills. It’s about learning skills. That’s really what it’s about. We happen to have created a vehicle for doing that really powerfully by having students working on whatever the class they’re in, problems that are meaningful to them.

Then the teachers have a highly developed set of systems that help them guide the students through it. It isn’t just throwing a problem in the room and leaving and coming back three weeks later—which I’ve seen happening sometimes. It isn’t that the students don’t learn some things during that three weeks, but this is highly developed.

We’ve seen it. We have a highly developed set of curriculum for the problem solving part, for reflection, feedback, teaming, communications—students learn. They write more, read more than they’ve ever done because they need to in order to have quality results and in order to solve the problems they’re solving.

Alison: Right. I know a big part of the course as well is to partner with real startups, real entrepreneurs. That’s bringing that truth into the classrooms, where you’re working on real problems and, to your point, it’s not, “Hey, we throw a problem into the classroom and leave.” It’s also not a teacher constructed problem. It’s a problem that we’ve gone out to identify.

Doris: That’s huge. That’s absolutely huge. It isn’t a teacher-constructed problem. So one of the things that happens when you start a conversation with educators and you’re talking about using real problems that matter is that because of the way we do school, very often an educators go-to place is to start themselves thinking of what problems should we choose. If there’s no student choice in the construct of the problem, none, or if it isn’t real, if it’s just teacher constructed, it actually doesn’t feel much different than traditional school.

But let’s say what you want is you want students to learn Chinese history. They’re American students and you want them to learn something about Chinese history. How do use what we’re talking about here to do that? Well, if you start with the idea that anything that is an important, interesting, complicated, contemporary issue is only evaluated well if one knows its historical context. You can’t look at today and divorce what’s happening today in Chinese governance from history.

This part is actually like traditional school as a teacher. You start with, “What are my learning objectives?” So if a teacher sits in front of me and says that, “My learning objective is that my students learn Chinese history.” We can still and we have come up with ways to use real contemporary problems that matter to someone that students will engage in, be excited to solve because no one has yet solved them and have them learning Chinese history as a result.

Alison: In addition to some other things, I’m sure, as you said before, trans-disciplinary. I know we saw it come up in the course. They hit on statistics. They learn about psychology. They learn about all these different content areas in order to solve the problem.

Doris: Because they have to. They also learn a lot about themselves.

Alison: Absolutely.

Doris: They learn what it is to yourself care about history. Why do I, Doris, care about history? Not, “Why does my teacher tell me I should care?” but, “Why do I care?” Well, if I’m working on something that’s meaningful to me and the only way for me to do it well, to solve it well or to address it well, whatever it is, is to know something about the history. No one has to tell me why history matters. If you don’t know history, it repeats itself or whatever. We don’t need to beat on somebody.

If you’re working on a problem you care about solving it, you better know something about statistics, which you see in our program happens all the time. I don’t start with a lecture on what standard deviation means. I don’t start with that. But do they end up learning that? Absolutely. And they own it. They don’t learn it because I told them this is going to be on your test. They learn it because they can’t do what they want to do, what they care to do well if they don’t get it. So they learn it.

It’s the kind of learning that, as adults, you’d think about what are the biggest learning moments in your life. You always remember an experience you had of some sort where you had to learn whatever it was for whatever reason.

Alison: Absolutely.

Doris: If I gave you now the history tests that you took in tenth grade, you would fail all of them. So what was the point?

Alison: I think it’s been amazing to see how you can really take experiential education to the next level in that way, that it hits the important skills. But you’re able to do it academically as well, where you’re bringing in a lot of important content that’s really the students bringing it in themselves in order to solve the problems.

Doris: Well, and you can construct it that way. If you want them to learn nuclear physics and you have learning objectives, content objectives, these are the things that a student must know coming out of my class. You can construct the learning in such a way that you can construct the course and the curriculum and the path in such a way that they must learn those things.

Does it mean there’s never, ever any lecture? No. Are there any absolutes in this? No. When people tell me, “Oh, I believe there should never be anybody lecturing.” I don’t even know what that means. Our programs could not be more flipped.

The work happens online, all kinds of stuff happens outside of class. I don’t come in, in the mornings, and lecture. But are there moments when students need me, when they’re asking for, “Hey, will you teach us this?” And I stand there with a whiteboard and say, “Here we go,” and for 15 minutes or whatever, that’s a lecture.

Alison: Sure.

Doris: Now it’s an interactive. It’s what they asked for.

Alison: Right.

Doris: There’s a lecture. Do the students know nuclear physics on their own? Can they figure out everything they need to know about statistics by themselves? No. So you guide them through that and there are all kinds of ways we do that. You don’t have to know everything. But it’s really academic and it’s really rigorous. It’s just different.

teaching collaboration
Doris Korda

Author Doris Korda

More posts by Doris Korda

Leave a Reply