The Lean LaunchPad goes to high school

Steve Blank 2011 PhotoWhile the class has been adopted by Universities and the National Science Foundation, the question we get is, “Can students in K-12 handle an experiential entrepreneurship class?”  Hawken School has now given us an answer.

Hawken is an independent school for grades K-12 in Cleveland, Ohio, committed to the idea that students learn more “by doing than by listening.” Experiential education is threaded in the school’s DNA.

Doris Korda, spent the first 15 years of her career in the high-tech industry and is now the Associate Head of School. Natasha Chornesky, who ran a publishing business, is the Director of Entrepreneurial Studies.  They both attended our latest Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. These two posts are what they did when they returned.

Part one is about Hawken School’s experience using the Lean LaunchPad curriculumfor high school seniors, part two is what happened when they used it for 6th- to 8th-graders.

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High School Entrepreneurship:  Choosing the Lean LaunchPad over a Mini-MBA Program
Adopting the Lean LaunchPad instead of a “mini MBA program” for Hawken students made good sense pedagogically, (we knew that searching for a viable business modelis the core of entrepreneurship,) though it presented some challenges in perception:

  • None of the neighboring high schools was using the Lean LaunchPad
  • Most of these schools have entrepreneurship classes focused on students making crafts and selling them
  • Other schools curricula were steeped in traditional management and economics texts

Having taught grades 6-12, survived two “tours of duty” as a middle school principal, and designed curriculum for grades 3 and up, it was obvious to me that Steve’s Lean LaunchPad provides an accessible framework for young students to searchsuccessfully. We started with a few hypotheses, and iterated and pivoted to a successful program.Hawken High School Students

Hypothesis 1:
High school students will come through the door burning with passion to transform an idea into a business.

Reality: My seniors arrived to class with no ideas and no idea that they needed an idea. They thought they were learning about other people’s ideas in case studies and articles. They didn’t think they’d be doingentrepreneurship.

Practice:  We created time in class to share ideas. I framed the search for a viable business model as the focus. We determined as a class that we wouldn’t pass judgment on ideas until we dove into the customer development process. I stressed to the students they would be assessed on their ability to move through the Customer Development process, rather than be graded on an idea’s perceived worth. How quickly can you test hypotheses, learn from the tests, iterate?

Currency in my class became the ability to quickly test hypotheses, iterate and pivot.  It would be several months before my seniors, obsessed with college admissions, embraced this methodology, which felt so foreign at the onset.

Still apprehensive about working on their own businesses, I connected them with local entrepreneurs, but with a twist. Following Steve’s Golden Rule that entrepreneurs were not allowed as guest speakers in class, I went out to the community and located entrepreneurs who needed help with their customer discovery process. I worked with the entrepreneurs to craft a deliverable that was both helpful to them and with which my students would be successful. One of the requirements was that my students had to get out of the building and start talking to customers. Students blogged using Steve’s four prompts, below. The more they were out in the field, the stronger their entrepreneurial mindset grew, which was reflected in their posts.

  • This is what I thought . .  .
  • This is what I learned . . .
  • This is what I am doing next . . .
  • This is what I am keeping in mind . . .

Result: By the end of the first semester, the world opened up, questions and opportunities popped up everywhere, even where kids previously had seen failure or disappointment. Students’ entrepreneurial mindsets had permeated the most unlikely places.  “I don’t know what is going on in your class, but these kids have changed. Their entire mindset is different and the way they are showing up in the college admissions process is really different—in a great way,” remarked Director of College Admissions, Andrea Hays.

Hypothesis 2:
Hawken’s entrepreneurship class needed to look and feel familiar to students, parents and others in order to be successful.

Reality: A local school that is held as the pinnacle of entrepreneurship education uses Harvard case studies, so I thought we should, too. We were three-quarters of the way through the year and we hadn’t touched one. We didn’t need them.

The customer discovery and development process provides real experience, and real experience trumps case studies.  Plus, kids will tell you that the cases are the same old problems and they’ve already been solved.  Reading and discussing problems is never as meaningful as experiencing the problem, which can only be achieved by getting out of the building.

Practice:  Throughout the entire first semester, I maintained a routine of weekly take-home quizzes. Quiz questions asked students to use their favorite businesses to flush out business models using the Business Model Canvas. While the students aced these quizzes, they quickly forgot the information.

Initially students craved a syllabus, a checklist and the opportunity to easily memorize and regurgitate facts and concepts, and wanted to be told what to do. By second semester, they outgrew these needs. “We’re biased toward action and the action is always changing,” explains senior Peter Labes, adding, “We’ve learned to prioritize based on urgency, which is a lot different than operating off a teacher’s checklist.”

Iteration: I “flipped the classroom” by switched from assigning chapters to read to assigning Steve’s Udacity videos. Understanding, enthusiasm and retention increased. I abandoned the weekly quizzes and instituted weekly “here’s what I learned for customer discovery” presentations from the students , followed with a class Q&A session. The presentations demonstrated their hypotheses tested, results, customer interactions and iterations. I graded the presentations and I graded the verbal feedback students offered one another.

When the quality of the verbal feedback became such that there was too much great information for kids to just remember, I introduced the use of Steve’s live feedback through Google Docs. At first my seniors giggled and snickered and told me I was nuts to put this tool in their hands. We talked about the value of immediate meaningful feedback. They quit giggling. We’re never going back. The quality of feedback and the quality of the presentations has increased exponentially.  “I opened up the Google Doc to review the commentary from my classmates about the slide decks. The variety, complexity and creativity of ideas were impressive. Some people touched on concepts that our four-person group hadn’t even thought to consider. There really is strength in numbers,” writes a senior in her blog.

What’s next: Having completed in-depth customer discovery my students will be the first to tell you that “Being an entrepreneur is a TON of work!” Returning from spring break, the entire class will break up into teams and commence their own search for a viable business model for a passion-driven idea. It’s going to be dirty, messy and lots of time outside the building.

Result: “At the beginning of the year, we were scared to commit ourselves,” explains senior Emily Leizman. ”We worked, but not 100%. Now, we’ve worked the customer development process for three companies and we treated them like our own. We’re working at 110% commitment now, so it’s time to do it for ourselves. We’re ready,”

Lessons Learned

  • The Lean LaunchPad methodology is proven. Go 100% from the start.  Don’t phase it in.
  • Be transparent with your students. Your class is in Startup mode. Embrace failure.
  • Kids have less to “unlearn” than older students and they are naturally excited by Lean LaunchPad 100% experiential methodology.
  • Be clear in your mind that the skills acquired through Lean LaunchPad methodology trump content and act accordingly. Act tough, too.
  • Remind kids that they are being assessed on how quickly they learn from testing their hypotheses and how quickly they iterate and pivot.
  • Leverage your local entrepreneurship community in meaningful ways, instead of using them as guest speakers.

In the next post, 6-8th graders use the Lean LaunchPad at Hawken School.

 
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