How to Host a Student Business Expo – Creating an Authentic Audience

briefcaseJunior Achievement came to work with my gifted and talented group this winter.  The volunteer taught 6 lessons over 6 weeks. Each lesson gave the students more information about creating a business. Filling a need and knowing your customer are foundations of a good business.

During the process, the students studied various businesses and designed a youth center.  The youth center was particularly fun, since we then held a “Shark Tank” like panel where the students had to convince us that we should invest in their business.  They were challenged to persuade us that they had considered possibilities and had planned for as many problems as possible.

shark tank form

We completed our business study with an exposition.  The students worked singly, in pairs or small groups to create a business.  Some students had an idea of a business they wanted to actually start, others used this as an educational exercise.  Either way, they researched start up costs, other similar businesses and materials.

Each group was challenged to create a display for our expo which would convince investors to take a chance on them.  Some groups used a tri-fold display with printouts of their information, some used technology.  We had a group do a prezi and another create a video with a green screen background.

GATE Business Expo

businessAs the expo approached, I coached the students in good presentation strategies: dress nicely, hold out your hand to shake those of the investors, introduce yourself.  This part made the students very nervous, but they were willing to do what they were being asked to do!

We invited local business owners, the school board, the administration and the press.  Even the mayor attended!  Everyone was extremely impressed with what the students had put together.  I set high standards for my students any time, but when we are inviting dignitaries to see their work, the bar gets set even higher.  They not only reached the bar, they exceeded it.

Each investor was given pretend money to invest, which they did.  The students were so excited – some received more investments than their start up costs!

In the end, it was one of the most successful events I’ve hosted.  The students were proud of their work and the community had the chance to see what middle school students can do.

Starting a Book Club

Our after school program has started a parent child book club.  The idea behind the club is to give students an opportunity to read with their parent and help the parents with some reading strategies they can use at home.

For our first book, we chose IFunny by James Patterson.  We decided to go with a humorous book because it draws students in.  This particular novel is geared towards middle school, but interest and reading level.  It’s about a boy in a wheelchair who wants to break into stand up comedy.

Worth reading!

Worth reading!

What’s great about Patterson’s books is that they have lots of things going on.  Not only does he have the comedy routine challenges, the wheelchair challenges and generally being a middle school student (which is always challenging!) but he is living with his aunt and uncle and the biggest bully in school is his cousin.  There are a number of scenes with the bully going after him, but he handles all of it with poise and charm.

For the first meeting, we put together a powerpoint of pictures of scenes from New York City.  Since our students live in a small, rural town in Michigan, they don’t have much experience with big cities.  Our tallest building is the grain elevator at 2 stories.  🙂  By giving them some background on the setting, we made it easier for them to visualize what they were reading.

New York City sites

The second meeting will include some youtube videos of old-time stand up comedians: Groucho Marx, Abbott and Costello, and Victor Borge.  Some of these people are mentioned in the book, so giving them an idea of who they are and what they were like will help them better understand the reading.

In addition to discussing the book and its ideas, we order in a pizza to share.  There’s something about food that makes everyone more comfortable.  It feels more like a party and less like a class.

As we go forward, in our next few meetings, we’ll do some read alouds to demonstrate to parents that kids are never to old to enjoy being read to.  We’ll also try out our own stand up comedy and see how we do.  We’ll finish with a trip to a bookstore to learn strategies to choose a book you would enjoy.

I really believe that a lot of reading is about enjoying the book, so the main focus in our book club has been how to find a book you like to read.  Once a student wants to read, half the battle is over.

Do you hold any sort of book club for your parents/students?  If so, I’d love to know what you read, what you do and how it goes.  We’re just starting, so we’re still figuring things out!

Genius Day Part 3 The Day has Arrived

Working HardGenius Day was a HUGE success!  As we started the day, students streamed down the hall carrying posterboard, large trifolds, books, clay, marbles and all sorts of assorted materials.  You could feel the excitement in the air.

After our interventions (we never mess with the reading/math interventions or related arts!), the students moved to the areas they had signed up to use.  I expected to do a bit of redirecting, motivating, pushing, etc to get things going, but there was no need.  I quickly found myself just staying out of the way while students got busy.

We offered the following locations for students to use: an art supply room (a series of three rooms with the walls folded back to give plenty of space), a computer lab, a science lab, a food lab and two classrooms.  A couple days prior, we had students sign up for the different locations they thought they would need in half hour blocks.  We also had them use their planner as their schedule and write down where they were supposed to be at each time segment.

As the half hour marks approached, I gave a 5 minute warning, in case students were moving to another location.  Some students used the same room for multiple time slots, others moved around, it all depended on what they were working on.

We did find, as the day went on, students found they needed to change their locations, based on what they accomplished.  For instance, some students finished their computer research more quickly than expected and needed to work in the art rooms sooner.  Luckily, we had planned for this and reserved some extra spots in each location.

By the afternoon, things were taking shape.  Almost every student was fully engaged throughout the day.  We did have a few students (they are sixth graders, after all!) who got confused about where they had signed up and were in the wrong spots, requiring us to do some tracking down.  However, once they were found, they were working, just in the wrong location.

The quote of the day was when I told three boys who were standing together chatting that they needed to get going on their project.  One young man, who usually never says a word, turned and said “We’re bouncing ideas off each other.”  That MADE MY DAY!  The fact that he was able to articulate what they were doing was the best example of why this was a good idea!

During the final half hour, the fifth graders were invited to come and see the projects.  It was very interesting to see the students proudly standing with their displays.  I walked around making notes so I could grade their participation and each student eagerly explained what they had learned that day.

Projects included:

how chemicals react to each other

what is the Higgs Boson?

Can you power a lightbulb with produce?

solar system models

rocks and minerals

a model of the Sears Tower

mixing perfume

building an app

what jobs are available with video games

All day long, students asked me if it was going well enough to be able to do it again.  This was an easy question to answer: YES!

If you haven’t tried a Genius Hour/Day, I encourage you to do so.  The students loved it!

What Do You Do That Makes Your Students Happy To Be In Your Class?

What do you do that makes your students happy to be in your class?  This question, in one form or another, has been cropping up a lot lately.  At first, I smugly thought of the jokes I make when I teach, the excitement I try to put into my voice, the happy smile I greet my students with in the morning and felt like I do a great job.

However, while I was out running, I did more thinking about this.  Running can be a very humbling experience.  You’re out there with nothing but your thoughts for mile after mile.  It’s hard not to be faced with uncomfortable truths out there on the lonely road.  So, anyway, as I was trudging along, it occurred to me that even though I try to be entertaining, my students probably don’t look forward to my class.  They probably don’t wake up in the morning, excited at the thought of another day learning how to find the main idea in a passage, or identify the transitive verbs in a sentence, or bubble in multiple choice answers related to vocabulary they are forced to learn.

Next, of course, I tried to convince myself that it’s “not my fault”.  It’s the curriculum I’m forced to teach.  We are currently following a very scripted curriculum, which involves a lot of repetition.  However, that seems like kind of a cop out.  That’s the easy road to take – blame factors outside your control.

It’s a sad day when you realize your students dread sitting in your classroom.  So, as my feet continued to pound the pavement, I considered the question as honestly as I could.  Unfortunately, I didn’t come up with the perfect solution.  However, I did  decide to address what I could control.  So, here are the ideas I’ve come up with, which I plan to implement immediately:

1) I will encourage more talking to each other.  While I do some of this, a lot of the textbook is me, standing up lecturing.  I am going to make a point of having the kids talk to each other, then share their ideas.

2) I will have great ideas written on the board.  Often, a student comes up with something really wonderful.  In the past, I would comment on what a great thought that was, then move on.  Now, my plan is to have the student write that thought on the board (or on the window – that seems like a fun thing!)  I will share this plan with my class, so they can help me spot the “great ideas”.

3) As the weather warms, I’ll look for times we can hold class outside.  Even if it’s just for the last half hour as they work on grammar and writing, getting outside is always enjoyable.

4) I will ask my students for ideas.  This is the best idea yet.  My students ALWAYS have better ideas than I do.  So, I’ll go to the experts.  I’m sure they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how they wish class would go.  Maybe they will share some of those thoughts with me.

So, now I put this question to you (be hones!): What do you do that makes your students happy to be in your class?

Genius Day Part 2

We are getting ever closer to our first ever Genius Day!

Student workLast week, we had the students create a plan.  We had them fill out a form with three ideas they would like to pursue (trying to push them to think beyond the first idea that pops into their head).  Each student was asked to list the big question they are trying to answer, the reason they would like to learn about that subject, the planned final product and the materials they will need.

Another example

Another example

This was a very interesting exercise.  Helping students generate a “big question” was not easy.  They have gotten very used to those standardized, multiple choice test questions which have one right answer.  Opening their minds to the idea that a question can have multiple answers and lead to more questions was not easy for some of our students (some took to it like a duck to water!)  In fact, I’ll be revisiting some of their plans after spring break to help them reframe their ideas.

Student workAsking them to explain why they would like to learn about this topic was also a new task for many of our students.  I work with a gifted and talented program during our intervention time, and during that time, I have pushed them to do this sort of thing for the past year.  For those students, this was not too difficult, but for the rest of the students, we might as well have asked them to pull out their own teeth! I definitely enjoyed seeing some of their reasons.  It gives insight into them as students.

Student workThe other place where creativity has taken a definite nosedive is the final product spot.  They pretty much filled in the uniform answer: a poster.  This is another area that I’ll need to push them on.  While a poster is a fine way to display your work, it’s not the only way.  Hopefully, I can convince them of that.

Student work

We invited our fifth grade students, as well as the principal and superintendent to view the results on our Genius Day.  We hesitated to invite the school board, media, etc, since we’re not sure how everything will turn out (this will take some doing for the students to learn and complete a display in one day).  Once we see how it goes, we can expand our guest list.

This student only listed 2, but he definitely gets a prize for most out-of-the-box for his build an app idea!

This student only listed 2, but definitely gets a prize for most out-of-the-box for the build an app idea!

Check back in a few weeks to see how it all went!  And let us know what Genius activities you are doing.  We all need to learn from each other!

Here are the forms we have used (and one we plan to use after Genius Day):

My Genius List of Things to Learn and Do

Genius Hour Self Evaluation

Genius Hour Evaluation

We also used several websites – these definitely helped us prepare.  Sorting out exactly how we wanted to do this was tough, so these websites are worth checking out!