“After five weeks of making and selling, they are starting to feel how much work it is to run a business. They are still engaged, creating new products and coming up with new strategies to sell them, but I think they are really feeling the stress, which is interesting and very real.”
The use of technology in the classrooms of Fox Meadow Elementary School has grown tremendously over the past few years. All the 3rd - 5th grade students have their own internet-connected computers to work with in school and they are very comfortable with technology. Collaborative tools are key, according to teacher Katherine Marshall: “It helps students to access more information, create more expressions and share their discoveries with others. It's a great time to be a teacher.”
Using Yammer and SharePoint, Katherine’s students are able to see what other children are doing – and they are inspired to do more, as well as learn more about different countries. With OneNote, they are able to keep all their documents in one place, which allows for seamless collaboration. “They learned how to do things that I didn't know how to do, just by keeping at it and trying different things until they got it working,” says Katherine.
Her focus is on teaching her students how to be learners, rather than teaching subjects, and considers the Global Enterprise Challenge to be perfect for teaching 21st century skills: “They need to be problem-solvers and work collaboratively with people they might not ordinarily hang out with. They also need to be able to use technology without fear, knowing that it will sometimes be a struggle, but worthwhile. In all my lessons, I am the orchestrator, but the students are the ones doing the vast majority of the work.
“I am a creative person - I think most teachers are. Technology is a tool for creativity, which is why I am so passionate about it. But it's also so much more. I am able to do things I never could have done 20 years ago and I am excited to be growing students who will go much farther that we can even imagine."
“I hope my students, and all students, will discover the joy in learning, creating and problem-solving. I hope they learn to benefit from, and contribute to, relationships with others as they work together, moving forward, creating a better world.”
Katherine’s students have benefited from the worldwide collaboration using the tools on the GEC website. Communicating with students who were in the same company, but in a different country, they bounced ideas back and forth, gave advice and just socialised, learning about other children’s way of life.
While the students have not used Skype, the teachers did, and they gained a lot from the conversation they had with the GEC leaders and some of the school leaders in other countries, asking questions and getting clarification when they were starting out: “This was important,” says Katherine, “because, as teachers, we have many other responsibilities, so taking on something additional like this could be very intimidating. Having them ready to help was awesome.”
At Fox Meadow, each GEC company sells its products in the lunch hour on a different day of the week. The students have to make sure they have all their inventory ready the week before, or make things at home over the weekend. They have to count all the items and take inventory before they sell. All the prices have to be set, the merchandise set out and clearly labelled. Each group has a money box with change, and one person is designated by the group to take the money and give change to the customers. Other people have the job of making an announcement so that children will come to the store, and still others are busy promoting and explaining the products to customers. At the end of the hour, they must again take inventory, count the money and figure out how much profit they made for the day. Then they have to clean up and make plans for what they need to get/make by the following week.
Katherine recognises that it has been a big challenge for the students to work together, boys and girls, friends and not, all working for the good of the business. They have had to create roles for themselves and struggle with issues of leadership and power. And there is never enough time to do the things they want to do in the way they want to: “After five weeks of making and selling, they are starting to feel how much work it is to run a business. They are still engaged creating new products and coming up with new strategies to sell them, but I think they are really feeling the stress, which is interesting and very real.
“They are learning to work with people who were not in their ‘friends group’ before. They report that their commitment and drive to succeed in their business made them struggle to get along and solve problems, where they might ordinarily have just walked away. I think this sort of adaptability, drive and acceptance of others has the potential to transfer to all areas of their lives.
“Overall, this has been a great opportunity for growth and maturity that I don't think they would have gotten otherwise. I have been surprised at how independent they have become. They have really taken ownership of their enterprise.”
“The students have surprised us with their artistic talents and organisational skills. The products they are developing are incredible, yet the students are able to produce them efficiently while maintaining quality.”
Technology opens many doors to young children, both positive and negative. Erica Maliszewski and Mandy Harvath, teachers at Birmingham Covington School (BCS) in Michigan, teach students the importance of the appropriate use of technology, as well as the dangers that can result from irresponsible behaviour: “When students feel success with technology in the classroom and use technology to collaborate, they truly understand the seriousness of good character and appropriate use of technology. The technology in our school has enabled both teaching and learning to be more engaging and meaningful. Students are very connected to technology and incorporating it into teaching and learning keeps them motivated and interested.”
Microsoft 365 has opened the door to global communication among the BCS students. They have particularly enjoyed receiving feedback from other students around the world via Yammer, as well as seeing the pictures of the other students and their products, which has motivated them to work even harder. They also enjoy scrolling though the various Yammer sites to provide feedback and learn about the progress of others.
Erica and Mandy strive to give their students opportunities to become creative and independent workers while fostering global communication and collaboration: “As students are working in teams, it is critical to prepare them for 21st century job skills in this manner; we cannot imagine a profession where people do not collaborate and work as a team to some extent. We also strive to teach our students that if you believe in yourself and work hard, amazing outcomes will result.
“Our biggest hope for today's students is that they learn to collaborate, reach consensus and communicate effectively, learning from the feedback of others and also providing respectful and constructive criticism. We hope that students have a desire and passion to grow and learn as well as never give up.”
For many MCS students, participating in the GEC is the first opportunity they have had to collaborate and engage in global conversations. Through their enthusiastic use of Microsoft 365, they have learned problem-solving and perseverance. While they were already familiar with Word and PowerPoint, the Challenge has given them the opportunity to also learn to explore and navigate tools like Excel and Yammer.
According to Erica and Mandy, the GEC has been a very positive experience in collaboration: “Students have learned that in a group of five or six, it is often the case that more than one person wants to complete a certain task. They have learned the value of dividing the workload in the most effective and efficient ways possible. They have learned the importance of deadlines and accountability; our three trading events would not have been possible without their hard work and dedication in getting products ready to sell. They have learned lessons about constructive criticism in both providing and receiving feedback from others with regard to their products. Lastly, we have noticed such a positive feeling of excitement from the students when it is time to work on the GEC. It continues to grow as we progress through the competition as the students are definitely seeing the importance of every team member's contributions.
“The students have surprised us with their artistic talents and organisational skills. The products they are developing are incredible, yet the students are able to produce them efficiently while maintaining quality. The three sales events we have held have been very successful and the students are extremely proud of the positive feedback. Many people are in awe of their products and we are surprised at the consistent positive feedback that the students continue to receive while trading. Their patience and willingness to work with others has also been somewhat of a surprise. We anticipated conflict (and there has certainly been some) but more often than not students are able to resolve conflicts on their own.”
The students have reserved Friday mornings before school sell their duct tape crafts (bookmarks, jewellery, media cases, pencil toppers and recycled goods). On Wednesday and Thursday of each week, they evaluate their inventory and add to it based on the previous week's sales and the demand for certain products, and they then manufacture accordingly. On Fridays, they arrive at 7:40 am and set up three tables, bringing their products and getting their displays ready by 8:00 am. They sell from 8:00-8:18 am.
They also set up their displays during the evening performance of the school play at the end of January, selling before the play began and then again during the intermission. After their 12 February sale date, they will determine if they need to explore other events to increase their sales.
The students themselves are very pleased with their achievements: “We made a lot more money that we expected and the teachers were very surprised!” said one. “Getting organised and making a quality product was a problem but we persevered and eventually solved the problem,” added another.
While most of the students enjoy making and selling their products, some have found it a challenge to learn and understand the importance of reports, presentations and keeping detailed records. In addition, one of the biggest challenges the children face within the GEC is the use, and value, of resources, as Erica explains: “It can be a challenge for students to understand that if they lose an item they purchased, scissors for example, they cannot just find another pair without deducting the cost from their bank account. Learning that we must pay for every item we use, down to the printer ink and pieces of paper, has been a challenge. Students overcome this by keeping their supplies organised in bins. They are further challenged to determine what supplies and materials are essential. For example, when a student asks something like: ‘Can we make another poster?’ We have to remind them to determine if they are prepared to deduct the cost from their account.
“The students are embracing the collaborative elements of the Challenge as they understand collaboration is critical to the success of their group. They have grown to look forward to working on the GEC as often as possible and they wish we had more time each day to devote to it. Initially some were displeased with their group assignments, but the GEC has taught them to respect their group members, reach consensus and make decisions as a group.”