5th Grade FABLab: Are You Too Young to Start Something?

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This post, written by STAB K-8 Computer Science Coordinator Kim Wilkens, originally appeared on techkimstab.tumblr.com

That was the question we posed to 5th graders this past trimester. Ten of them joined us to prove that, in fact, they are ready to start something. I have been super inspired by the She Started Itfilm and it’s message for women, girls and really anyone who wants to pursue entrepreneurship. Last fall I helped organize the She Started It ESTEAM Summit which saw 150 K-12 girls join mentors and role models throughout the region to take part in a film screening, panel discussions and hands-on workshops.

Recently, She Started It developed curriculum material and so I started looking for an opportunity to take it on a test drive at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. We are fortunate to have something called FabLab, which is a 75-minute block of time each week where students get to explore something they are passionate about. Sarah Fitzhenry, the school librarian, and I made a pitch to the 5th graders to join our FabLab:

Backpack Buddies, a non-profit that provides school supplies to children in need, was started by a student from the school when she was 9 years old. Another student in Charlottesville created Strikey Sensors, a sports training product, when he was in sixth grade. Can you follow in these young entrepreneurs’ footsteps and start something?

What did it look like?

The She Started It curriculum guide is geared toward 6th through 9th grade students, but we were able to adapt for 5th grade and I feel confident it can easily be used with students in 10th-12th grade as well. The curriculum places a big emphasis on discussion and because some of it will be around sensitive issues like gender and race, the guide offers many facilitator tips for creating a safe space for discussion. The guide is laid out in six sections with a theme for each: 1) Intro & Screening, 2)Theme Discussion, 3) Exploring Interests, 4) Getting Started, 5) Building a Pitch, and 6) Presentation Day.

Because we were working with 5th graders, we felt it was important to get them engaged with a hands-on activity right away, so we actually started with lesson 3) Exploring Interests. This session included a clip from the film featuring one of the entrepreneurs pursuing their interest to solve a problem. This leads nicely into an interest mapping activity for the students.

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Next up is lesson 4) Getting Started, where students create a project statement based on their interests and do some prototyping, sketching, brainstorming and/or researching around their ideas. The students were so engaged in this activity, that we made time for it each day during the rest of our time together.

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Now that the students had explored their interests, identified a problem to work on and started prototyping a solution, they were beginning to recognize themselves as entrepreneurs, so we went back to lesson 2) Theme Discussion to take some time to reflect on roadblocks like bias and stereotypes that they might face. The discussion that happened was one of the highlights of my year – deep, thoughtful and thought provoking.

What did they create?

In lesson 5) Building a Pitch, the film offers an excellent example of a pitch going through the process of refinement and improvement. It’s a great opportunity to have students recognize the do’s and don’ts of presenting while watching the clips and discussing their observations. We gave them a template for their pitches and they were off and running, incorporating the things they learned about presenting in this lesson.

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We brought in a local entrepreneur to give students feedback on the final pitch day and that really helped amp their engagement up to another level. His pre-pitch advice was perfect: be clear, be confident and make sure your audience knows what you are asking for. The pitches ranged from addressing obesity in kids with camps to promote health and activity to helping anyone create music with a music making website to protecting the environment with solar race cars, reusable energy, and biodegradable material for 3D printers as well as prototypes of helping injured animals with a portable rescue unit, helping kids in need with an activity box and helping the older generation stay in touch with a “simple” watch. We cannot recommend enough the power of inviting a guest in to provide students with authentic feedback and there are so many entrepreneurs out there who want to help the next generation.

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What’s next?

These students now know what entrepreneurship is. They have been given tools for solving problems and pursuing ideas that they are passionate about. They recognize that there are some barriers they will need to overcome, whether it’s bias, stereotypes or just the pushback one gets when trying something new. They have practiced giving and getting constructive feedback and gained confidence in public speaking.

We will look for opportunities to bring the She Started It curriculum to more students at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. We highly recommend the film and this curriculum as a great way to begin exploring entrepreneurship with your students too!

For more information about the film and curriculum visit www.shestarteditfilm.com and/or e-mail screenings@shestarteditfilm.com.

Photo credit: Sarah FitzHenry & Kim Wilkens

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