One of the highlights of my week is watching the new episode of the hit ABC television show, Shark Tank. Regular people, bright ideas and big risk! If you haven't seen it, Shark Tank is a show in which small business owners go pitch their product or business to a celebrity panel of investors, called Sharks in the show, in hopes that an investor might believe in them, guide them and partner with them to build their business. I get a rush from watching the show because you can watch as someone life-long dream is realized on live television!
As I watched Mikaila accept her investment offer I thought about the phenomenal support system she must have at home and school to pull something like this off. A year later, I found myself swiping my debit card at Whole Foods to purchase some of her organic lemonade sweetened with honey. As I finished my first of the three bottles I'd just bought I began to think of ways to inspire my students to think big and dream even bigger! The Shark Tank project was born in the checkout aisle of Whole Foods.
The Shark Tank ProjectI think the most difficult job of a teacher is to prepare students to fit in, augment and change an unknown future. In other words, we must prepare students for careers that do not exist yet. Surely no one in the 1970s prepared students to become app developers. There were no classrooms in the 1980s preparing students to design a self parking and driving car. Technology is changing, students are changing, the world is changing. All of this change means the classroom must follow suit. We, as teachers must prepare students for careers and a world which does not yet exist.
With this in mind I designed the Shark Tank Project to teach several skills at once which students can use for the rest of their lives. The project teaches students to think critically about the world around them and the world they would like to see in the future, teaches them to collaborate and create with others and teaches them to communicate ideas effectively.
This project involves a ton of planning, teaching and re-teaching from me. But it is worth it to give students a fighting chance in the world. For the project I organize students in groups of four. Their task is to brainstorm an issue which currently exists or that they anticipate existing in our city, Austin, Texas. The problem they define can be as large as the fight against pollution or as small as frequently lost keys. Then students are to design some product or service which will remedy that issue. Once their idea is approved by me, they begin building a working prototype, determining the cost to manufacture, figuring the cost to consumer, creating a business pitch and defining a business valuation. I then assemble a panel of five "Sharks," consisting of me, an administrator and three business professionals from the Austin community. For the presentation my students wear their best suits or design shirts with their company branding on them.
In the tank, I have watched my students create, learn and grow. I have even had two groups of students get a real investment! This project changed the way my students think about the world and their place in it. It teaches and inspires. If you teach math, history or economics I recommend using this project. It will change your students and change the world.