How To: Teach Real-World Entrepreneurship and Business Skills

 In Classroom Practice

Entrepreneurship is an area of study that is difficult to define. What skills does an entrepreneur need? How can they develop these skills in a typical classroom setting? There is a perception that many entrepreneurs today are self-taught and they have a natural knack for generating business ideas and bringing those ideas to life. However, upon a closer look, these people have developed the abilities to think critically, identify problems, and generate solutions – all while creating a team to fill in the gaps of knowledge or expertise. As a teacher, the question becomes, how can my students develop these abilities?

Identifying problems and thinking critically are key components of any challenging and rigorous curriculum. Through experiences such as Genius Hour, PBL, and Authentic Assessments, students are challenged to think critically – and creatively. They must identify the problem, and create the solution. What a great start!

Alongside the soft skills of thinking critically, identifying problems, and generating solutions, students must also be 21st-century literate, skilled communicators, and synthesize knowledge from across the curriculum. Today, we’re going to focus in on just that: moving beyond the classical educational model to help our students develop new skills for a new era.

21st Century Skills

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning identifies four outcomes that are imperative for students in the 21st century. These include: Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media, and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. The first and second outcomes encompass the traditional mission of K-12 education. More and more, the latter two outcomes are important to all students, not just those seeking entrepreneurial education.

Information, Media, and Technology Skills: require not only the development of literacy in each area but also the acquisition of experience. By encouraging our students to move beyond the classroom to research online, to encounter new forms of information as the news and print media shift to increasingly digital formats, and to access this information via a vast array of information technology is a challenge.

Some school districts have increased their subscriptions to such research tools as Gale, Ebscohost, or JSTOR to increase the amount of information that students have access to. Giving students access to updated, peer-reviewed resources provides current information but does not completely replace the text-based sources of the past. Furthermore, relying on a variety of media sources in the classroom can provide a model for students on how to approach such sources. Just as writing helps students create branded information and select how to communicate an idea, so too does the media curate an experience for its users. It is important for students to encounter this information. Lastly, technology increases exposure to information and media sources. Whether communication technology or social media technology, students must learn the parameters of their tools and how to best deploy them.

And, students can learn these things in the classroom! English, history, and science classes often require students to conduct research. Such experiences, although “traditional” can incorporate new tools and ideas. Moving beyond the encyclopedias and printed texts of old and into the digital world of research will allow students to experiment with how to find information, and how to use that information.

For instance, in a paper on the antiquated text Silas Marner, online sources can enable a student to find the early 1900s text, along with contemporary book reviews, and recent anthologies that critically interpret the text. A history teacher might incorporate media studies into a lecture on the Vietnam War, allowing students to review historical facts and data against media interpretations that affected the attitude of a nation. By exposing students to such information through modeling, students are being prepared to utilize such analysis in their own research. In the same way, a physics class or engineering class might create 3D printing models to highlight how design, material, and math can intersect. Giving students hands-on technology experience in a safe, risk-friendly environment teaches them to push the limits of the technology in new and creative ways.

Life and Career  Skills: encourage students to think beyond the walls of the classroom. For instance, providing enrichment experience to students interested in sports medicine by bringing in a career panel including doctors, physician’s assistants, physical therapists, and athletic trainers can introduce models of professionalism. These models can be resources for students to use to develop their own pathways through careers. Furthermore, integrating internship experiences into the learning environment through PBL is the most authentic assessment that a student could have! Learning through job shadows and reflection, executing tasks in a work environment, and learning new job-specific skills prepares students to apply the knowledge that they have already mastered while opening up new doors for exploration.

By preparing our students to master 21st-century skills, focused on readiness to contribute to the wider world, our students will become agents of their own successes. By empowering them in this way, they will learn valuable transferable skills – a hallmark of the entrepreneurial spirit!

A New Twist on the Classics

Just as our students develop 21st-century transferable skills, they must also develop deep content knowledge. The information learned in a classroom should be viewed as a case study. Certainly understanding the causes of WWI or how atoms bond in different ways are important pieces of information in their own rights, however, the process of learning and connecting these facts to other pieces of information is an even greater goal. By showing a student how to analyze connections between isolated pieces of information, by teaching a class to seek further examples of a given, we are challenging them to create new knowledge. This process of knowledge creation is the basis for all entrepreneurial ventures.

The Basics

Without reading, we cannot gain access to knowledge beyond those who speak to us. Without writing, we cannot generate our own ideas. Without quantitative skills, we cannot solve complex problems involving costs, mechanics, and parameters. Just as they were important a century ago, these cornerstones of American education hold an important place in entrepreneurial education.

First, students must learn to apply their critical reading abilities to a variety of texts. Technical manuals, arguments, scientific studies, and fictional prose all can inform and inspire ideas. By searching through such texts, students gain knowledge of the past and present endeavors of others seeking to solve solutions.

Next, students must write. Writing encourages a student to share ideas. Writing enables one to process ideas (particularly through the editing process if one can review and revise with others). Writing communicates goals and sets parameters. Writing helps to create a brand. Without writing, whether memos, emails, or research documents, an entrepreneur will be unable to move forward.

Lastly, students must be able to not only describe their work qualitatively but to also quantify success. In an age where numbers are often the most important element of a project – statistical significance, cost analysis, or mechanical specifications could make or break a product. Although these ideas are commonplace, it is important to reiterate that a student seeking to develop entrepreneurial skills must focus on the primary tenets of education. Achieving success in gathering information, communicating, and analyzing information occurs when these skills are mastered – and then applied in new ways.

Elective and Enrichment Education: A robust curriculum allows students to develop content knowledge outside of traditional subjects. Electives such as marketing, accounting, personal finance, graphic design, engineering, app development, or markets and management allow students to step beyond math, science, history, and English. Developing content knowledge in such areas is important in the same way that a student must learn in the traditional classrooms. Here, students of different backgrounds can collaborate to learn how to market a product, or how to analyze and forecast profits. Students might learn how to work as a team, but rather than creating a post-presentation on the Cold War, they build a hovercraft. Such electives can encourage students to take the time to develop and produce the products and foster the creative ideas that don’t quite fit into our traditional classrooms. Enrichment allows the same to take place but focuses more on the classroom topics. Where students in the classroom might study the birth of European nations, an enrichment program can expose them to the modern European Union and ask the students to compare the founding principles. Students could have the opportunity to not only read Shakespeare but also participate in producing a play. These enrichment experiences bring creativity and interdisciplinary work into the classroom, encouraging students who excel in a variety of domains to move beyond simply reading a text or studying a topic. Now, they have the opportunity to use and apply their knowledge. Such application models how to creatively produce solutions, and that is the basis for entrepreneurship.

A Final Word

Structuring an educational program around developing entrepreneurial-minded students is a difficult task. It adds one more focus to the curriculum. It challenges teachers to think outside of the box. And, it asks administrators to look beyond data and into creativity. But, it seems that the schools where this idea is most successful are simply schools that have created the space to do so. Entrepreneurship is driven by the individual or the team who has the skill to identify a problem, the desire to develop a solution, and the critical thinking to form viable products and ideas. When we teach our students to communicate effectively, think critically, and analyze the world around them, and then give them space, opportunity, and support, entrepreneurship education is born.


The following served as references for this post, but can also provide more extensive research and further suggestions for administrators interested in incorporating entrepreneurship into a curriculum.

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