Episode 36 – Doris Korda and Alison Tanker
IN THIS EPISODE WE TALK ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS CLASS WHEN THE STUDENTS COME OUT OF THEIR FIRST DAY OF THEIR SECOND BUSINESS CHALLENGE AND ARE FACED WITH A PROBLEM THAT IS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE SOPHISTICATED AND COMPLICATED AND CHALLENGING THAN WHAT THEY FACED IN THE FIRST PART OF THE CLASS.
Doris: Big day, Alison.
Alison: Yeah, it was. We went to see Biz 2 today.
Doris: Yes, we did. Yes, we did.
Alison: It was a big moment for the students too, I think.
Doris: Well, I think this is the day I feel like saying, “Okay, welcome to the class.”
Doris: That’s what I feel like saying because…
Alison: I love those moments and that happens when you see the light bulbs.
Doris: So it makes a lot of sense. So the business that they visited today, Endemic Solutions, CEO, founder who’s a really dynamic, very smart young woman, scientist, gave up great-paying job, gave up everything to start a business where she designed a water filtration system using the technology the manta ray has for feeder filter. Is that what they call it, feeder filtration? And it’s a very exciting technology for healthcare and medical applications. And she doesn’t know which applications to focus on first, how should she launch this, lots of science, lots of technology, lots of understanding where things are and aren’t, domestically, internationally, where having pathogens in water and having to remove those when you’re mobile, when you’re out and about in the field, where might the best applications for that, that kind of thing. So really, really, really rich problem, really hard. Their heads were exploding at the end of it.
So they…you know, they come out, and they say, “Whoa, this is important. This is like gonna save lives. I’m totally intimidated. This is crazy.” This one feels like a real challenge and a real big challenge, and why didn’t we have more of a problem like this for the first one, right? You heard that.
Doris: And so, as usual, I ask them questions. I said, “Okay, you think about it. Why is it that the first business is always something…” I find something that’s a product they can easily relate to. It’s not complicated. And it’s a marketing kind of challenge, and it’s actually not that challenging. And they hummed and hawed and etc. But what they finally get to, which is we, of course, know, is that in the first business challenge, we find them a real problem to work on because it makes their work relevant. And it’s real and there’s no answer in the back of the book, and it’s urgent, and it’s current.
And in the process, because of the way we structured the whole curriculum and everything they do in solving a problem like that, they have to learn the basics. They have to learn those basic tools and techniques and research approaches, all that stuff, and they understood that. So they come out of the first one, they’ve now experienced it. And the next thing we do is we give them a challenge where now, the challenge in the work…
Alison: Is more sophisticated.
Doris: Much more sophisticated. And the learning train…the first one, the learning train that we want them to cover is process-related. What is the process of problem solving about? What does the process of…
Doris: …yeah, collaborating look like? What does it mean to do market research? What’s the difference between qualitative research and when you want that versus quantita-, all those basic, basic things, market segmentation, you know, basic things. And getting them to learn to think about the questions more than the answers, which takes the whole first three and a half weeks, right?
Doris: To understand that the hard thing and the important thing is thinking together about what is the most important next question that we have? And they’re teenagers, and they’ve been in regular school. So it takes some three and a half weeks to get all that. And along the way, of course, they get their first experiences at presenting and communicating and…
Alison: Receiving feedback.
Doris: Oh, big one, right? Distilling a lot of stuff into simple…etc. So they get a lot of that. Now, what we really want, now, what we want is for them actually to start getting into the kind of learning where they’re really going deep. They’re having to gain deep knowledge about science, about the developing world, about things they know nothing about. And they’re primed out. They’re ready for that. They’re ready to go to the next level in problem-solving and designing process and anticipating. And using these tools, you know, there’s all these tools like you guys came up with, you know, the slack and how to do their project management this time. And you and Tim came up with all this stuff. They’ve now practiced with it. Using those tools well to really, really support their work is gonna be massive in this next one, right?
I mean for them to accomplish something that is really, really well-researched and grounded in evidence in what is it? Three and a half weeks?
Alison: Well, and I think today as well as they’re, you know, sitting in this room with the CEO who’s going through all kinds of details regarding this market, the business, her technology, healthcare-associated infections, infectious disease, biomimicry. I mean there was a lot of content that was heavy and above their heads, really.
Alison: And I appreciated in that moment, as always, you continue to push them deeper to ask questions and pull them together and their teams and even have them do a bit of a brainstorm of more questions because this really is their opportunity to talk to the expert in this field and ask those questions, not be afraid. There was still a little bit of hesitation…
Doris: Oh, a lot, right? At the beginning, a lot.
Alison: …at the beginning where they…you know, they didn’t know the difference between filtration or purification or why that mattered or how it was useful to the value prop of her technology.
Doris: Of filtering out chemicals versus pathogens versus whatever.
Doris: And the standards and…
Alison: I think it was really…it was eye-opening for them how much more they were being shown today and therefore knowing how much they were gonna have to step up their game in this round.
Doris: Yeah, and actually, what you just said so reminded me of something else here, which is really, really important. So she’s presenting a lot. And I had told her in my most recent conversation with her before this, I talked to her about… And one of the things I had said to her is “Oh, no, no, no. Don’t dumb down how you describe things. Like literally, you describe it as you would describe it to any audience.” If there are technical terms and scientific terms and jargon that they don’t understand, one of the things they’re gonna need to learn is to ask and to figure it out and to research and to decide when is it important for me to say, “I don’t understand that. Could you explain it?” and when is it not. So she did a great job.
Alison: Even at one point, when one of our students raised their hand and asked a question that was more specific, and she said, “That’s for you to determine.”
Doris: That’s your job.
Alison: That’s your job. I love that moment that she could determine, “Hey, I’m not gonna give you…” not that she was holding the answer back.
Doris: She just doesn’t know.
Alison: She doesn’t know the answer to that question, and that’s what they have to figure out.
Doris: Well, and that leads…so the first part, she presents, and they’re just sitting there and kind of semi-paralyzed, right? And then we’re standing behind them, and I’m seeing what they’re writing, the notes they’re taking. And the notes are all…everybody, the notes I see are literally just taking some of her sentences and writing them down as is. And I can see on the faces, it’s going over their heads. They’re hoping that somebody else on their team understood what she’s talking about better than they did.
Alison: Well, and if we can just say here too how, again, with school often working from that place of deficits, there’s this mask they wanna put on like “Oh, of course, I know what a 501(c)(3) is. Of course, I know…”
Doris: A B Corp.
Alison: …what a B Corp is or that purification is different than filtration, duh, who wouldn’t know that?” They all have that kind of air about them initially until you poke and say, “Hey, guys, this is the time to ask questions. Let’s talk about it.”
Doris: Yeah. Exactly, because she did exactly what I asked her to do. She just talked to them about her business as if they were any audience. And I knew this would happen, right? I mean it’s a very sophisticated product that she’s got and technology. And so she’s stirring all that out there. They’re not asking. They’re not asking. And you know they’re completely missing it.
So, yes, so then what I did was said, “All right, let’s put you on your teams.” I asked Shanice if she had 15 minutes more. She was very generous. I said to the teams, “You have 15 minutes to process together what your challenge is. And my bet is when the four of you get together and talk, as you think about together what your challenge is, you’re gonna come up with some questions. And let me remind you she’s a scientist. She’s been immersed in this work for years. You came in the door at 17, 18 years old, and this brand new to you. You’re not supposed to know it. You’re not supposed to even know the most basic terms. Ask anything. But we have her now. We’re not gonna have her again. And when we leave her, you’re gonna have to figure out what the heck it is you’re supposed to…” Actually, we gave them 20-some minutes. And sure enough, afterwards, they start asking the questions that they need to be asking to understand what this is and to understand what their challenge is and what the work is.
And there’s a lot of learning that happens even in today. We can say until we’re blue in the face to any human, let alone a 14 or 18-year old, “Ask questions if you don’t understand. There’s no shame in that. Don’t be embarrassed.” We can say all those things all we want. But unless and until they experience something like this where they come in, this is the thing they’re gonna be working on for the next three and a half weeks in a class that has three honors credits, they don’t understand 95% of what this woman says to them. And they process together. They learn. Nobody else understood it either. Then they come out of that and they start asking very, very basic questions. And they find that it’s actually not embarrassing. It’s not a painful experience that the conversation that comes from that with her is not only really useful and rich and helpful, but she’s not in any way offended or making them feel stupid. It’s a normal thing.
Alison: It is actually funny. There was a side conversation happening at one point. And today where Natalie [SP] raised her hand and she said, “Ms. Tanker, are we gonna be able to ask questions in front of the whole room or is it just in our teams?” And I looked at her kind of confused. And she said, “Well, I think it’d be really useful to all of us if we could hear each other’s questions and how she responds.” And I said, “Of course it’s useful. Absolutely. Why would we have any kind of competitiveness happening at this point? None of you know this. None of you.”
Doris: Well, and what’s great about you bringing that up is this is again and it’s… We had a conversation, you and I recently, where you said this. You said you were blown away by the massive jump between Biz 1 and Biz 2.
Alison: Oh yeah, the shifts that happens, yes.
Doris: And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now, right? Really internalizing, for each of them to internalize, whoa, these are real. This is real. They really don’t know what the answer is or have it written somewhere or the teachers know what the answer is or Shanice know…it really is real.
They took a big step today in feeling that. It felt so academic yesterday in one of our work circles. At the end of the day, I had a session with the students where I asked them questions about the last challenge they did. And I asked, “If you were Evan and you were one person, you know him, you know the important work he’s trying to do and where he is. You spent three weeks researching. If you personally were Evan, what would you do next? Talk amongst yourselves.” And then I said, “Okay, you’re Evan. You’re one person. You can only do one thing in the next two to three weeks. What would it be?”
And out of the 16 students, 14 of them gave a frankly pretty lame answer about, which I told them, so I don’t mind that, you know…I’d do more social media. I’d do more of this. I’d do more of…that kind of thing. And I won’t get into it because it’s…you know, you’d have to get into the whole challenge and the business and the whatever. But I pushed and pushed and pushed, because it isn’t about doing better at social media. Anybody can do social media. That’s not the answer to the real business problem he has right now.
Alison: It’s not a solution. It’s a tool.
Doris: It’s a tool, right. So I pushed and pushed and pushed. And as I pushed, just by asking questions back, they got to a place… And you could see it on their faces. I didn’t have to say it. They got to a place where they realized how completely shallow and useless what they came up with was, that there was nothing in there that was actually useful in any significant way.
Alison: But they presented last Friday.
Doris: But they presented last Friday. And what is it? Today’s Wednesday. Yesterday was Tu-, right? And they read the book “Mindset” coming in. It’s the only book we…the only thing we assigned coming in the door. And the reason is because that book is the entire framing of this course and should be of education in school anywhere. And the idea is that if you work at something, you can get better at it. That’s it. So the fact that they did this thing for three and a half weeks, it’s their first project, they presented it in front of an audience including their parents, the business, the teachers, some administrators, and they come out the other side, and two days later, they’re realizing, “Oh, yeah, that was…
Alison: Pretty shallow.
Doris: “That was pretty shallow. We didn’t do much.” And it’s like “Okay, you’re right. Yeah, it wasn’t much at all.” All right, let’s do this again. And that’s a good life lesson too, right?
Alison: Absolutely. And I even think Shanice touched on a number of those points today just because of who she is and naturally what she was sharing with the students about her journey. And that she even said to them at one point, “Listen, I’m the CEO, and I’m always learning. This is continued learning. You’re forever a student. It’s not just now that you’re sitting in high school. You will continue to learn your whole life.” And to share with them, therefore, that she’s open to…you know, she’s clearly the expert in the room here. Out of all of us, she knows way more about biomimicry and all of these things. And for her to be a bit humble there and say, “Hey, we’re all learning. You’re not expected to in your life always have the answers,” I think it was important. I hope they heard that along with all the other contents, stats, everything she went through today, you know?
Doris: Well, and when I talked about…when I use edgy jargon and I talk about the fact that this is really not about business, this thing, it’s not even about entrepreneurship, it’s really a very, very different model for academics, for learning and teaching. And people talk about PBL, it’s the big term and it’s a very important one. But it’s really about this. This is a perfect example, this business. They have three and a half weeks to come up with the solution. And they do not know anything about filtering technology, about the physics, about the chemistry, about the health issues. They don’t know anything. So they come out of this and, you know, as Hannah said to me, “I’m totally overwhelmed.” And as I said to Josh, “You’re a teenager, and you’re human, and your impulse coming out of this once you wrap your head around the challenge, all of you, your impulse will be to start coming up with solutions. And before you can even think about what might be a good idea, you’re gonna have to learn some stuff. You’re gonna have to gain some knowledge. You’re gonna have to have a passing, working understanding of some stuff that is technical and dense,” and da da da.
And you know what? They not only will learn that stuff to varying degrees, but they’ll go hard at it starting tonight. You saw them. They are gonna start looking into water filtration sys-… And we have students in this class, like any high school you go to, who think that they hate science, who think that they hate math, who think that they hate school, who think that they hate reading. But they’re gonna go and they’re gonna learn a lot of content that it’s learning on demand. And the most important thing they’re gonna learn is not the specifics of this pathogen versus that pathogen. They’re gonna learn how to learn, how they can learn and how well they can learn. And then when they start getting into the next phases, and we’re gonna guide them. We have the curriculum. We’ll guide them through it. But when they start getting into the solution mapping process, solution creation process, we’re gonna challenge them with questions. And they’re gonna have to know their stuff. It’s not gonna be “I had this idea.”
And so the quality of the thinking and the thought in the work comes not from a teacher saying, “Here’s your assignment. Here’s how many points per, you know, short answer. And we’re gonna have a multiple choice, and here’s how many points those are. And you either get it right or…” The quality standard and the expectations in terms of rigor, which are crazy high in this, come from the way we guide them with questions that forces them to support their…
Doris: Yeah, like how do you know that? Where did that come from? Based on which, show me where you got that. Well, what about this? Did you think about that? Hey, look, this is contradictory with that. What do you think? Which is what happens in the real world when data and information isn’t…there’s not dearth of information. It’s…
Alison: How to navigate that and apply it to come up with a real solution.
Doris: Yeah, it’s what are the questions and then once I have the questions that matter most, next, how do I find the next step? When do I know that I know enough to do the next step? And they’re headed into…wildly excited, as you can tell. The first part of the class is so annoying, because they’re so in school mode. Today’s the day, the class, I feel like “Okay, now they’re there. Now, they’re really gonna be learning in a crazy way developing their skills. And they’re gonna be so hungry to learn how to collaborate well. They’re gonna be so eager to find out how do I use all four of us in a smart way?” And so all this curriculum we have around teamwork, reflection, feedback, identifying the strengths, bringing them in, focus, all that stuff, they’re gonna be crazily going after it because they care about their work, and it’s meaningful, and it’s real.
And what did the one kid say to you about…?
Alison: Yes, that in looking at the first challenge coming into the second, they said, you know, the first one had a lot of social missions tied to it. You know, they’re creating jobs for people in the Amazon. They’re creating jobs for people with disabilities locally in the area who are manufacturing the product. It’s a health food snack. There was positive stuff. So a lot of that. But they said, “This work where this water filter purification, this can be used in a medical environment where people can wash their hands or clean wounds with clean water.” This isn’t for drinking water. This is for medical purposes, can actually reduce the number of deaths that happen every… I mean Shanice went through all kinds of statistics with us today. And that this student said, “I realized we can really save some lives doing this work. This work will save lives.”
Doris: And here’s what’s interesting about it, so people… I was just talking actually. I was just talking to one of the educators we’ve trained in one of our workshops who doesn’t… He’s a teacher. He doesn’t know anybody in business. He doesn’t know anything. And he was talking about how easy it was for him to find a business to use in that class. And I said exactly. It doesn’t matter. You could find the division of some business that has a new nut and bolt design, and you can construct a problem for the kids to solve that they will care about because of what’s that applied to and how that mat-… I mean it’s not…whether you’re teaching humanities or entrepreneurship or physics or…
Alison: That’s true. I mean the secret sauce is that it’s real and urgent to that entrepreneur. I mean Shanice stood up there and her son was with her, and she told us that she left her job. I mean it was real where she said, “I need to figure this out. I don’t know which market I should be pursuing first. And it could be a real risk if I choose the wrong one.”
Doris: And she’s in school, one person, right?
Doris: That’s really cool.
Alison: It’s exciting. So yeah, I really look forward to these next couple of weeks and where these students get to…
Doris: It’s gonna be crazy.
Alison: It will be fun.
Doris: It’s gonna be crazy. Okay. I had fun looking at our new Facebook group, at some of the posts from educators doing this elsewhere, like Sarah’s today, was absolutely brilliant what she did to get her students to wrap their heads around Rogers curve of innovation. I thought that was really…that was great.
Alison: It was. And it was from a whole thread of the conversation where she initially asked, you know, I don’t feel like they really understand this concept of how to get to the early adopters. Is there other strategies that you use at this point in the class? And you jump in with some things. I added to a couple of things. And then she came back and shared what she actually implemented based off of your methodologies. I thought it was pretty remarkable.
Doris: It’s very cool. It’s very cool. I hope people listening, if they’re interested in this stuff, they join, because the more people who engage in this conversation, the more interesting it is.