Episode 39 – Doris Korda and Alison Tanker
IN THIS EPISODE, WE TALK ABOUT WHAT STUDENTS PRESENTED TODAY AS THEIR SOLUTIONS TO THEIR SECOND BUSINESS CHALLENGE AND WHY THE LEARNING HAS BEEN TRANSFORMATIVE.
Doris: Okay, so Alison we just…students just presented their solutions to their second business to the CEO. What’d you think today?
Alison: I was pretty impressed with where they ended up today. I had my doubts for the past three weeks.
Doris: You and me both, yup.
Alison: It was really a moment where last week we started to feel that shift had taken place that they really were clicking in, but today validated that for me. Watching their presentations and one-by-one seeing each of the teams get up there with the markets that they had explored and ones that they ruled out for specific reasons and communicate that effectively to the CEO, it was powerful knowing where they started. Being able to see where they ended today and the messy path they took to get to their solutions was an exciting moment for me.
Doris: Yeah, if mean there were four teams. Two of the teams didn’t actually start doing good work until a week and a half ago. And then they’ve been working their little tails off since. And as we saw today, anything that they presented they had a lot of research to support. Some of them, the two that really only started good work a week and a half ago, didn’t get nearly as far but what they had was validated and they’d done…
Alison: There was actually quite a bit of quality in there, in the amount of work that they were able to accomplish once they kicked themselves into gear. Because with the partner organizations they presented, I was actually pretty impressed that they had made up for some lost time in the past couple of weeks. Sha wasn’t confident it was going to end up as well as it did today. Really they impressed.
Doris: Well, one of the…I don’t know how to articulate this well enough but when you’re taking a test in a history class and the test has, you know, you’ve been studying a unit for however long, and the test has an essay, some short answer, and some multiple choice. And you come into that test and you know you haven’t really done as much as you should. You haven’t learned it deeply, but you get through it. You get through the essay somehow citing some things. You have your short answers. Probably you missed the most on the multiple choice because…whatever it is. And you come out and you go, “Phew, okay, got it. I got my 82. I passed,” or “I got my 72,” whatever.
Doris: Coming into this assessment, today was an assessment. Okay, what have you done? What do you have to show? How is it? They’re coming in with real things based on the real world. They can’t BS their way through it. So if a team actually hasn’t done very good work until the last five and a half days, the way it shows up is there’s much less that they can show because they didn’t have time to research it so that they can really stand up there and say, “No, we’ve really done our homework. This really would work. Here’s why. Let us show you the data behind it.” And what it does is it immediately eliminates any discussion about what do I need to have in this to get my A?
The point is anything you present as part of your solution to the CEO about what she should do and why and how, you better have done your homework because she or we are going to say “Okay, so why did you choose that of all the things you could do across the globe? Why? What’s that based on?” If you choose Niger instead of any other country or spot in the world, on what basis did you choose it? Do you understand the needs of the people locally in terms of purified water? There’s no way to fake that stuff. And they feel the right kind of pressure. They don’t feel the pressure to get the A. They feel the pressure to have done their work well. And…
Alison: Offer a meaningful solution to the CEO who needs…
Doris: Yeah, meaningful and sound and based on real stuff. And so it isn’t about charming your way through it. It isn’t about personality. It isn’t about covering with a really hip slogan or cool graphics.
Alison: Or a nice hashtag in student campaign or something.
Doris: And yes, they learn a lot about communications. They learn a lot about design. They learn about how to present well. But you can do all those things communicate well, design your slides beautifully, have a great story and if you didn’t do the work to know that what you’re talking about makes sense, none of the rest of it matters and everybody can tell. So it really it gets the four of them working together for the cause in a way that is really powerful. And the students we have who many of them, who a week and a half ago, we basically said, “Okay, what you just shared out demonstrates you could not have done any good work given what you just presented. I don’t care how the slides look. I don’t care… you couldn’t have. And talking to us about the effort you put in or how much time is pointless.”
Alison: Yeah, because it was quite shallow.
Doris: “Because can’t believe that you’ve been working for two weeks on this particular challenge and you don’t know the following baseline starting facts about water purification, about physical pathogens, about what this filter does and doesn’t do. You could not have been doing a good job if you don’t know these things.” And so they scurried back, got really like a big kick in the pants, and spent the last week and a half doing everything they could do. And they were really proud of themselves today. And they should be because what they did in a week and a half while not nearly as thorough, and deep and broad as the other two teams, they came up with something that they know is quality thinking and quality work. And now those students really…I had this conversation with a few of them today. Now you know what it feels like to do good work. And they understood exactly what I meant.
Alison: Well, even in the after meetings once they gave their presentations, they sit down and do the 15 minutes with the CEO one-on-one per team. So they have an opportunity to go deeper into that research. And when a couple of the students on those teams where we were worried they weren’t going deep enough started to speak up and really go back and forth with our CEO in those 15 minutes, showed how they started to internalize this at that deeper level where they understood not only what the data points were or the stats around infant mortality in that country or what types of infectious diseases are contaminating the water in x country.
They understood, therefore, how to take that information, synthesize it and give her a recommendation, be able to really talk a meaningful way to say, “We are really concerned if you’re going to start in this place if the scientific limitations of your technology are actually going to fulfill that need. So, therefore, given that, we think you should start in India or in Bolivia.” I mean, each of the teams had a different specific place. But it was based in them doing the hard thinking and really go into that decision filtering. And we talked about that earlier as well and how they had to understand the need, the urgency, the demand and what that, therefore, meant for Shanice moving forward.
Doris: Well, it’s interesting. So we talk about, we see that this kind of course or this kind of learning is really transformative for students and it really is. And if I had to use just one word, the word I’d use is it’s empowering. The reason it’s empowering is that every student who really engages in trying to come up with a good solution for the CEO or for themselves at the end of the class or whenever it is, every student who engages in this starts to discover their own abilities. That’s really what…they learn, “Oh my gosh I actually can do a lot here. I can learn a lot. I can be creative and I can be…I can do a lot of stuff.”
Doris: And in regular school and traditional classes, there are crazy, passionate, brilliant teachers all over the world who come in and do extraordinary stuff with students. And it isn’t that anybody’s saying the problem is we don’t have good teachers, or we don’t have great teachers, or that the education system is broken because there aren’t enough people out there who are passionate or know a lot. The reason school, traditional school, isn’t working as well as it needs to is it’s not engaging students in the way that they need to be engaged to learn the skills we’re talking about. And what happens here is at one point or another, and it takes some of them a lot longer and some of them less time, at one point or another, along the way, each individual student makes this huge paradigm shift, “Whoa, this really isn’t about what do I need to do to get the A which is what I’ve been used to for all these years. This really isn’t about this. This is really about the work itself. It’s about the work itself. Do I care about the work itself? Yes, actually I do. And do I think I can actually contribute in a real way to solving this challenge that is this real thing that nobody’s figured out yet? Oh my gosh, I’m 17. I have no background in any of this. I do think I have something to say here. And by learning more and more about it, I get even more excited about what I’m able to do.”
So in this crazy weird way, it actually gets every student in a perfect world, our hope is and so far, experience is, it gets every student to discover that they’re actually really interested. They’re actually really interested and that if they’re interested and they work at it, they can actually contribute a lot. And that’s really where the power comes from in this.
Alison: It’s true. They have to do the work and go through that experience alongside their teammates. And I’ve really appreciated as well as in the past three weeks with these teams and how they were set up and the dynamics that were happening on those teams. It was starting to show each of the students as well what was possible when you mix the four of you together. I remember we kept trying to get that whole thing we were really constantly talking about it’s this the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or whatever that idiom is.
I feel like they’re finally getting it, that they are working collaboratively in a way that they recognize “Wow, I have a lot to contribute that would not show up on this team if I weren’t here.”
Alison: That, you know, certain people might be diving deep into the science portion of this. And one team brought in a 900-page research document. They might have done more.
Doris: But it was organized by category and like it was pretty impressive. It wasn’t just a 900-page…it was… I looked through that thing. Yeah, it was pretty impressive.
Alison: It was a well-organized, “light reading” one of the students said for the CEO as she passed it to her. But the truth was that each of them had natural interest, I think, they were exploring whether it was the science or the market side of this or the creative portion, maybe design. But what they realized over the past few weeks was really how to contribute in a meaningful way the knowledge, and interest and skills they were developing to their specific teammates that allowed them to develop a much more sophisticated, thoughtful solution that felt dramatically different than this one. I mean…
Doris: Oh, totally different. You know what’s funny, so think about it along the way when we were asking a bunch of questions from particularly the teams who really weren’t doing their work at all, it doesn’t matter if they were doing it or not. It was horrible where they were. They hadn’t gone deep. To say they hadn’t gone deep is an understatement. They hadn’t even done the really baseline.
Alison: They didn’t start with the right questions is what we realized when we really started to unpack. How did you get so lost? How are you here after two weeks? And we went step by step backwards through their process and realized that instead of starting in a place where their big questions were related to contaminated water, what is contaminated water? Where is contaminated water? And therefore, we should…They just made assumptions from the beginning about contaminated water happens around natural disasters and then went really deep into that area but landed somewhere that was…
Doris: I’ll disagree with you on one part of that. They didn’t ever go deep on anything. They didn’t even go deep on that. They had hoped this is a very different kind of class. They’re first-semester seniors, they’re busy applying to college, they’re busy going to homecoming. They’re…
Alison: Going to college visits.
Doris: Whatever they’re doing and they hoped that “Oh, this class maybe I can fudge my way through it,” which is fine. It’s normal. They’re teenagers. And what they discovered is you can’t fake this thing. And so as we asked questions, they had no answers. And one of the students after that particularly hard session where I said, “I actually don’t know what you’ve been doing for two weeks if you don’t know the following things yet. I don’t know what you could have been working on.” She actually followed me and said, “I haven’t been doing the work.” I said, “I know.”
Alison: She was mad at herself about it.
Doris: And she was really mad at herself. And I said, “I know.” And I said, “I’m not saying this to, you know, okay, now thou shall get an F. It’s not about that. It’s like I know and you’re not going to be able to come up with something of any usefulness. And it’s actually hard to do this. This is really difficult.” When parents today, you know, who were in the audience of the presentation, I had a number of parents come up to me individually and say something along the following lines one who said that literally in the last week and a half, it’s been the first time she’s seen her son do homework at night.
Doris: Yes. Another who said, this is…that their child, I won’t even use gender so that it’s not recognizable, was so nervous and the mother said, “I’ve never seen my child nervous like this as he/she was coming into today.” And I said, “Yeah, they were nervous because they really cared about the work itself.” It wasn’t about “What you have to do to get an A? Did I fulfill the checklist the teacher gave me for the…” They’re nervous that they’re giving something that is of quality and makes sense and was good enough.
Alison: Because this is Shanice’s life. This is what she’s doing. And this is her purpose right now and that these students had the opportunity to not only get up there and show everything they had researched and engage in that meaningful conversation with here after the fact. They got to hear from Shanice and it, just for our listeners to describe from Shanice’s perspective, she was very wowed by what the students did. She had, along the way when the students were emailing her questions day to day when things were coming up she was saying, “I’m pretty surprised that they’re asking these types of technical questions or science related questions.”
But today she was really wowed she said, “I never expected that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds would understand this better than a lot of adults I’ve talked to who are constantly trying to persuade me to go into domestic markets or things that they think would be best.” But she said, “These students have spent real time over the past few weeks to understand the different markets and understand my product and came in today with something that is going to keep me busy for the next six months.”
Doris: Well, she also said that she’s paid businesses to do this kind of work, and they didn’t come close to what these students did.
Alison: She was very much moved by all of their work and she actually acknowledged the one team, one of the two who was behind, and she had come in one day to sit down with a couple of teams. And during her sit down with that particular team, was pretty concerned about how shallow they were approaching just the questions they were asking, the questions they weren’t asking. And I know she pulled you aside and said something about her concern. And after that, you initially went to that team and filled Tim and I in and we went in the next day. And the students very appropriately today put it that they had a breakthrough that day.
Doris: Yeah, they didn’t have a much of a choice but to have a breakthrough.
Alison: But as Shanice was sitting there, she said when that team, in particular, was presenting and were able to go into the level of detail, and really walk-through from the scientific perspective and all of the things related to her technology all the way to the market application which markets you should go to first, whom she should partner with, the directors they had spoken to in those partner organizations, she said she was she got overwhelmed and started to tear up because she thought if this team is here where they are, I can’t wait to see where all the teams have gotten to with their research because she knew where they were coming from and that they weren’t initially doing the depths of the work they needed to.
Doris: Yeah, and you know the bottom line is every single student individually…I think we’ve been in school eight weeks, and the day when I turned to you and Tim and said, “Okay today was that day this semester,” was about a week ago. And there’s a day every semester when you can tell, you can see it and feel it that okay, the entire class of students is now fully engaged in the real work and thinking. And we had that about a week ago. And the bottom line is that instead of looking for what’s the path of least resistance so I can do what I need to do to get my A, instead of that, what they’ve been thinking about is the work itself, the thinking itself.
They’ve been getting more, and more and more interested in the details, into thinking in what is happening in Bolivia, what is happening in Sierra Leone, and why is that a better market than others? Who is doing what there? What are they doing well? What’s happening? What’s not happening? The statistics around infant mortality in various countries and what that’s based on. And what do we do when they get to that point a week and a half ago where they’re connecting? What we do is push them hard with questions. What are the questions? We don’t know the answers. But we can big time, big time push with the questions. And then they’re the ones who make this empowering and transformative. They are transformed because they experience, each one in a different way and at a different time, what it feels like to really, really do hard thinking and care about what you’re learning about. That’s what’s transformative here.