How to Succeed in a Startup and Still Pass Middle School

PK-12 School Models

How to Succeed in a Startup and Still Pass Middle School

Next-generation school will give students an upclose look at starting a business

By Tony Wan     Aug 11, 2013

How to Succeed in a Startup and Still Pass Middle School

In elementary school, my friends and I would re-sell snacks that we purchased from Costco at a lower price than what the vending machines and lunch lady charged. Profit margins were low, but hey, making any money at that age was quite exciting.

Unfortunately, the school didn't appreciate such "disruptive" activity. We were (partially) shut down and left with a bitter aftertaste of the school system.

The Incubator School, set to open its doors in Los Angeles on August 13, promises to look more kindly on such enterprising antics. Backed by a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant, the school will kick off with a class of about 50 sixth and seventh graders and three teachers. The plan is to add one additional grade level every year until it serves students in grades 6 to 12.

Others in the community, however, have been as enthusiastic about the program as the lunch lady was about my grade-school activities. As the Los Angeles Times reported, wide-ranging concerns from the politically ideological to the practical threatened the school’s opening. The LA School Board ultimately approved the school, which has found a temporary home at Playa Vista Elementary School.

Launching any kind of business or organization is no easy feat, as any self-starter can attest to. So a bumpy start may be fitting for a school that, according to founder Sujata Bhatt, “is about entrepreneurship and founding startups.” Bhatt, who has taught for 11 years in Los Angeles Unified School District, wants “teachers to run classes essentially like a startup. They won't be wearing just one hat. They'll be wearing fifteen hats...[and] hats that haven't been conceived yet."

Speaking with EdSurge, Bhatt described how a “typical” school day will consist of three sections:

  • A two-hour, flex-model blended learning period in the morning during which students, who will have 1:1 access to devices (HP laptops, and iPads starting next April), will work on math and English curriculum via programs including StudySync, Khan Academy and ThinkThroughMath;
  • A "design studio," created with assistance of organizations including the New Learning Institute (of Pearson Foundation) and the Cooney Center, where students will focus on social studies and science subjects though projects;
  • A one-hour "incubating" period during which students will learn about mission statements, business plans, and related skills like financial literacy. Students will also have something similar to Google's "flextime" where they have about two hours a week explore their personal interests.

As a teacher who “has always worked hard to bring a variety of technology into the creative educational lives of my students,” Bhatt says she plans to use a range of online tools for the research and project-based learning activities to comprise much of the classwork. For group work, students will use collaboration apps including Google Apps for Education, Mavenlink, and Realtime Board. Games like Civilization IV will be incorporated into social studies lessons. LiveSchool will also be used to introduce students to the idea of behavior management within the context of an in-school economy. And paper-based exercises, she says, will help students learn concepts like agile development.

"Our goal, always, is for us to be a floor rather than a ceiling. Eventually, we want to create a badge-based universe so that any outside learning will go towards a digital portfolio," states Bhatt.

Students at the Incubator School will spend the first two years (sixth and seventh grades) learning the principles of entrepreneurship before actually launching businesses in the eighth grade. It’s too early to predict what kinds of ventures the students will launch, but Bhatt exudes confidence that many students already have a natural disposition for entrepreneurship.

Every school, she says, “already has an underground economy, whether it’s kids buying things at Dunkin Donuts or Burger Kings and re-selling it at school. So why not tap into this entrepreneurial nature of students?”

Perhaps one of her students will have better luck with that snack business.

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