Thirty-eight percent of high school seniors in Rhode Island test as “substantially below proficient” in reading or math, putting their odds of graduation at risk, writes Julia Steiny. At a summer “cram camp,” math haters got motivated by crunching numbers for business plans.
Teachers spent the first day asking students what they don’t like about their community. Answer: plenty.
Okay. So get into teams and pick one problem — like, no place for teens to hang out, bad public parks, a need for animal rescue shelters. (Yes, many shelters exist, but so what?) Then, build a business model with a plan that will solve the problem. Don’t whine; take an entrepreneurial approach. With your idea in hand, research the costs of rent, labor, utilities, equipment. Prepare multiple spreadsheets that explain income and outflow, start-up costs and maintenance. Develop “what if” scenarios for unanticipated expenses. Talk to local business leaders, provided by the program, about your calculations.
Local businesses offered $1,000 to fund the winning plan. Students pitched their ideas to a panel of superintendents and business leaders.
A group of girls proposes eco-friendly electric mini-buses to chauffeur kids around. They’d wanted a cost-free service, but crunching the numbers ruled that out.
Business planning showed what they could do with math skills, says Christine Bonas, a math teacher turned guidance counselor. “The light dawned on them that this is what math is for.”
“To teach them a slope, we (math teachers) put a formula on the board, give them graph paper and show them the rise over run. There’s always one kid who says, When am I going to use this? The teacher says, uh, well, see that roller coaster? Parabolas are how to keep them from crashing. That’s no answer. They don’t care. But if you ask a kid to show me how your business is going to make a profit, they can show you time on the “x” axis and increase in cost on “y”, suddenly we’re looking at a negative slope. Oh!, they say. Because we’re teaching in context. Parabolas have to have something to do with their lives. Making a profit is something they can care about.”
Students won’t learn the skills if they don’t care, says Bonas.