Entrepreneurial spirit added to math class

Sam Nadolsky, Lake Bluff sixth grade accelerated math teacher, added a new project to his students’ curriculum this year: the opportunity to create their own business plan.

In order to teach his students about tables, graphs and equations for the Connected Math Program curriculum (CMP), he redesigned an already existing project. His class of 19 students were given an assignment to invent and implement their own small business.

“There was a project that the curriculum suggested. It was a business plan kind of thing, except the book told them how to do it, it already had the business set and it didn’t get into sort of the business specifics,” Nadolsky said.

This new project, instead, required the students to invent their own business, not following a textbook’s specific directions. Nadolsky, a creator of three small businesses, did this for two reasons: to give the students the opportunity to enhance their knowledge in the mathematics, and to give the sixth graders the chance to learn about businesses in the real world.

“Really I thought the business project was important to students because it creates business literacy, it gives them an idea of what it takes to do a business, and I think in general it encourages an entrepreneurial spirit,” Nadolsky said.

The students enjoyed this real-world application.“I liked the feeling of understanding it and knowing the … [lessons] were actually used in an every-day life situation.” said Isabella Lozier, sixth grade.

Nadolsky also thought that, in order to succeed in their future career, the upcoming generation will need to expand their occupation opportunities and enhance an eager anticipation for businesses-creation.

“Everyone is so focused on telling kids [they] can do what ever they want, and I think that falls into the bubble of ‘you can be a doctor or a lawyer or an astronaut’ and I don’t think anyone is ever telling kids that you can start a business, and you can make a company and be extremely successful,” Nadolsky said. “Our generation is much more entrepreneurial. I mean the numbers are just astounding – the number of people that start small businesses – especially with the Internet; it’s the new way to work, it’s the new way to make money and have an income.”

The project consisted of three graded segments: branding, competitive analysis and a mathematical component. The final step included graph and table creation, as well as an inclusion of income, expenses and profit equations.

“I felt like it was difficult at first but once you got the hang of it, it actually became quite fun,” said Rueben Berkowitz, sixth grade student. “It was difficult because there were a lot of different parts to it … but I actually liked how there were so many different parts to it, so you had to work very hard.”

According to Nadolsky, the branding stage was generally the students’ favorite aspect of the project. They had to design their own logo that would attract a customer base.

“They had to create a title for their company, they had to create a slogan for the company and they had to create a logo … This was probably one of the fun parts of the project that they just enjoyed doing,” Nadolsky said.

The students also enjoyed the competitive analysis. This element of the project gave the students an introduction to business literature in itself, and included an introduction to value proposition.

“We talked a lot about how important these two pieces are — the competitive analysis and the value proposition — to a business plan because there are a lot of [businesses] out there. If you are going to start a bakery and you need a loan … you need to prove that you are different than the others and that you’re going to be more successful,” Nadolsky said.

The third, and strictly mathematical, element taught the students to use technology in order to create a visual representation of their income, expenses and profit. “We had to use either Microsoft excel or Google Sheets, and I think that it was really helpful to learn,” Lozier said.

For the final product, there were plenty of industries invented; acupuncture shops, bakeries and truck-rental companies were just a few. In addition, the students took a field trip to the Colectivo on Humboldt to learn, in even more clarity, how this subject matter relates to their surrounding community. They toured the roastery as Lincoln Fowler, owner, explained some business basics.

“It was more of a real way to see what we had been talking about and actually see it in action,” Lozier said. This trip did receive a few mixed results.

“I enjoyed the actual trip; I didn’t learn a lot about [business-creation], although we did learn a little bit about fixed costs and variable costs, which were helpful to our companies,” Berkowitz said.

In the end, Nadolsky was content with the outcomes of the project.“I would definitely, 100% do the project again,” Nadolsky said. “I think it’s important that the kids have a basis in what it takes to not only start a small business, but the business terminology that goes along with it.”

(Elena Cruz)

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