I firmly believe that anything worth teaching cannot be taught only within the four walls of the classroom and the limits of the textbook, because most of life's great lessons are learned through experience. As educators, we have to create a context for students to understand new ideas, analyze information, and form their own judgments based on their own experiences. We must realize that we have the power to frame and facilitate these experiences for our students and help them grow, flourish, and reach their full potential. The right balance of theory and practice will help us engage students and obtain astonishing learning outcomes in the process.
Every year I get grade 11–12 students who aspire to be the great leaders and entrepreneurs of the future. They are at the stage of their lives when they have both the impressionability of children and the struggles of adults who are seeking adventure and challenge—and have a quest to discover themselves in the process. The theoretical aspects of business bore them, because they mean nothing without being tied to real-life applications.
So, I wondered, how could I deliver the content in an engaging way?
Eureka! I had a brilliant idea. My students would participate in the Galaxy Bazaar, a social entrepreneurship event held at the school. Hosted by the business students, groups decide which products to sell to their targeted customers (the student community). The bazaar is held just before Diwali (a grand Festival of Lights celebrated in India).
As my students prepared for their participation, I witnessed democracy in action. They were given the autonomy to formulate their own teams, choose leaders, assign responsibilities, and delegate authority. The group dynamics of the class changed drastically. In some cases, the academically high-achieving students had to take a back seat and learn skills from the more "street-smart" students, who otherwise kept a low profile in the classroom. It was a different ball game altogether. And all of the students were learning from one another.
They conducted research to discover what their potential customers thought was "hot," and they tested this information against accepted business ethics standards.
Next, they scanned the Yellow Pages, contacted wholesalers, and maneuvered through the city's nooks and crannies to purchase their products. Some of the wholesalers even allowed students to purchase the goods on credit. Agreements were drawn up with the wholesalers as well as the sponsors, which even included international companies.
Students created a furor on the campus by preparing banners, advertisements, and posters; creating event pages on social networking sites; wearing event badges; and recording a special song.
Students learned almost all the concepts any business or management book would offer: learning to manage cash and time, motivating team members, maintaining stocks and accounts, listening to their customers, setting prices, understanding the concepts of supply and demand, handling successes as well as frustrations—the list was endless. I also enjoyed seeing my quiet students develop into savvy, convincing salespeople.
So, how did I assess my students' learning? Assessing such activities is a bit tricky, because although students may be learning, a teacher has to focus on certain predefined learning outcomes. I had the students write an introspective essay about what they learned from this event. And believe me, the results were as varied as the students' personalities.
What did we do with the profits? Well, the bazaar offered a great opportunity to deliver a lifelong lesson in character education as well. In the year 2009–10, we managed to earn profits worth 200,000 rupees (approximately $4,000), and we donated the funds to Rotary to start a project to bring those children back into the school system who are working as child laborers in the outskirts of the city. The money was used to hire teachers, rent space, and buy equipment and school supplies. Also, my students could visit these children to teach them and learn from them.
Though a small project, it left a lasting impression on the minds of my children and helped close the gap of social disequilibrium. These future entrepreneurs also learned a valuable lesson in corporate social responsibility. And believe me, as a teacher, it's magical to watch usually disinterested students transform into active and engrossed learners and responsible citizens.
Want to learn more about the Galaxy Bazaar event and other project-based learning opportunities? Check out these online resources:
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