What We Learned Teaching Entrepreneurship to Elementary Schoolers

By Eliot Kersgaard

Winter 2018-2019, I led an 8-week impact entrepreneurship program at Jarrow Montessori school in Boulder, CO. I had the chance to help guide the creativity of eight bright, caring and motivated students from 4th-6th grade. A project-based program, the students formed four teams to tackle pursue ideas of their own invention: Imagination Creation, a game company to help people strengthen their imaginations; Albatross, a project to use collected trash to make public works of art and advocate for creating a cleaner world; CF.com, a website to help kids learn to code; and Beluga, a nonprofit to raise awareness about ocean pollution.

Students playing the Imagination Creation game the last day of class

Needless to say, things did not proceed quite as I was expecting. Despite a lifetime of reading and experiences that taught me that direct instruction with this age group is an attempt to fit square pegs into round holes, (especially in an after school setting with students used to Montessori methods), in the beginning, I tried to use direct instruction at the start of each session. I was simply so excited to condense my five years of an entrepreneur into sound bytes of wisdom that would inspire the students. To convey this wisdom, I  broke the class into a set of themes and each day we would explore one of the themes through worksheets, activities, and discussions. They were not impressed, and were barely interested. My stories, lessons, and even the hands-on activities were distant and unrelatable for them.

The Beluga presentation

After a couple of classes it was obvious something would need to change, and I decided to let the students work on their projects for nearly the entirety of each session, although I did introduce some icebreaker games to keep things interesting. I quickly became so impressed by the students’ unique visions, team dynamics, and their intense focus on their projects. Each of them was excited to bring their imaginations to life in the service of helping people and the natural world. It was clear they would have much more to learn from one another and from their own explorations than what I could offer. I invited a few guests into the class to demonstrate how entrepreneurship manifests over years of work, and so some fresh faces could share their games and interactives with the students. The students were amazed at how Steven Dourmashkin of Specdrums had managed to invent his app-connected rings, and greatly enjoyed Tyler Manning of ForMo’s song-creating workshop in which we created a collaborative song themed around entrepreneurship.

As my role switched to one focused on mentorship, each week I presented every group with a couple of challenge questions to help them gain focus and improve their projects during that week’s session. These questions were intended to widen the groups thinking around the problem they were working to solve and the approach they were taking. This method was a great improvement over me simply sharing what elements I was expecting them to include in their projects since it brought the discussion of what it takes to create an entrepreneurial venture much more in touch with their direct experience. I also invited the students to study one another’s projects nd offer feedback and constructive advice and questions.

In the end, I was amazed by many of the student’s projects, and I think they impressed each other as well. It’s amazing what children are capable of when the adults are able to step out of an authority role and into a friendship and mentorship role. I am fired up knowing the potential of what we can create as a unified culture, using the combined knowledge of adults and the optimism and creativity of our youth. Until next time.   



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About the Author:

Eliot Kersgaard is an artist, educator and entrepreneur working to facilitate a cultural shift emphasizing justice and play. He is the founder and director of Myra Makes.

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