The Lean LaunchPad Goes to Middle School

While the Lean LaunchPad 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 was about Hawken School’s experience using the Lean LaunchPad curriculum for high school seniors, this post is what happened when they used it for 6th- to 8th-graders.

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6th  to 8th Graders: from Pitch to Prototype
We believed that we could teach entrepreneurship at Hawken to the 6th to the 8th graders, so the week after Christmas Break I taught a 35-hour, one-week course in our Middle School Insights Program. Boys and girls ages 11 -14 pitched ideas on Monday and then worked through the week to pitch their Minimum Viable Products to VCs on Friday — StartUp Weekend style.

Hawken Middle School LLP classBecause it is important for kids in North East Ohio to understand what high tech is and why and how a solution may be scalable, students were allowed to pitch any idea that could be solved using a mobile/web solution.

The Week
Monday students pitched, voted and joined teams. By Tuesday morning, students fleshed out what they believed to be their value proposition and customer segments. We spent a lot of time defining an MVP and steering them away from multiple features for the user. Scrum boards went up detailing everything they needed to accomplish by Friday afternoon. Tuesday afternoon they got out of the building and headed to a local mall to begin the customer validation and development process.

Wednesday morning they tabulated data and brought their original hypotheses to a grinding halt based on what they learned outside the building.  With new hypotheses and the help of a local UX Designer from Cleveland’s agile methods experts, LeanDog, the pivots began. Using paper templates, students worked out user experiences and taped them to the wall next to their drawings of customer archetypes. The energy in the room was electrifying.

In addition to regular lunch, the kids consumed 16 boxes of dry cereal, a crate of Clementines and an untold number of juice boxes. On Wednesday and Thursday, splash pages were launched; email addresses captured, cost structures and revenue streams explored. By Thursday noon each team knew, through hypothesis testing and customer interviews, the single feature behind its MVP and they headed out of the building one last time.

Results
Teams conducted 20-40 face-to-face interviews that week. They drew customer archetypes and storyboards, tried emailing, phone scripts and face-to-face conversations. We instituted the “Great Idea Gong” (GIG) that they thwacked every time a teammate wanted to share a “Big Idea” with the rest of the class.  We didn’t blog, but kids submitted an exit ticket at the end of each day. They answered Steve’s prompts: “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… “

“I thought everyone at the mall would want to talk to us. I learned that people are in a hurry and busy and they may not care. Next time, I am going to talk to people without my partner so it’s one-to-one. And, I am going to change where I stand,” wrote Max, an 8th-grader.

Students even watched a little Shark Tank, which explains why on Friday, when they pitched local VCs from Cleveland’s business accelerator, JumpStart they declined the celebratory cake and ice cream and spent their last hour of class time grilling the judges not only on what their financial terms were, but about what level of expertise they would bring to the particular team? “If we move forward, we don’t just need a big check, we need someone who is really knowledgeable and experienced in creating partnerships. We don’t know much about that when it comes to clothing brands. Without that help, the money won’t matter,” explained Stephanie, a 7th-grader.

Lessons Learned:

  • When stuck with “no ideas,” instruct younger students to become detectives and identify the things that bug their friends, family and themselves. Next ask, “What is a possible solution to that problem?”
  • For each block in the business model canvas, have the students focus on only one or two questions
  • Reword the questions in age-appropriate language. Asking, “What do we need to do to make our solution a reality?” and “What are the things/people we need to make our solution a reality?” helps students who are stuck completing a business model canvas
  • Encourage an atmosphere of sharing with everything from food to great ideas
  • Scrum boards are a huge success for kid teams
  • Worry less about covering content and more about students developing the skill and willingness to take a risk, fail, makes some changes and try again.
  • Interrupt work every so often with something physical like dancing to loud music or running around outside. Ask the kids to teach you a new game
  • Teachers should check their own egos at the door

Summary for the Lean LaunchPad in K-12 Education
We are learning how to use the Lean LaunchPad model to build our entrepreneurial program for high school and middle school students, and will soon use it as the basis for developing an entrepreneurial program for our youngest students as well.

Our educational Goals for Hawken Middle and High School students is to:

  • Develop and apply an entrepreneurial mindset in all their endeavors (inside and outside of entrepreneurship class):            
    • 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 . . .
    • Acquire real-world experience outside the classroom
    • Identify the key components of high-tech scalable businesses, not common in our geographic region.
    • Develop project management and team communication skills.
    • Become better and more empathetic listeners through the customer development process.
    • Embrace failure as an essential element of success.
    • Understand the ever-evolving relationships among the 9 BMC blocks.

We are finding the Lean LaunchPad curriculum to be a powerfully relevant and inspiring educational tool for students of all ages.

For additional information and/or resources, contact dkorda@hawken.edu or nchor@hawken.edu

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