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Stop Asking Kids What They Want To Be When They Grow Up

Educators have an impossible job: preparing students for an unknown job market. Think about that for a minute. No economist in the world can tell a child what the job market is going to look like after they graduate college. Jaime Casap, the Global Education Evangelist at Google, often challenges people to STOP asking kids what they want to be when they grow up and start asking them what problems they want to solve. I couldn't agree more. Entrepreneurship is a problem-solving muscle that can only be developed by pairing theory with practice. That's why Noble Impact partnered with Up Global to produce the first-ever High School Startup Weekend, a 54-hour learn-by-doing educational experience.

Photo of Eric Wilson
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The future of education will not look like the linear process we have known for generations. Everyone agrees that it should be personalized to the individual. For that to happen, we need an ecosystem approach, one that gives students a platform for their ideas to be heard. 

In the Kauffman Foundation's research on the most successful entrepreneurship educational programs in the U.S., they discovered 7 common elements within thriving ecosystems.

Admittedly, the Kauffman Foundation's research ( CLICK HERE for white paper) focuses on higher education, but their conclusion on the common elements applies accross the board and can inform high school administrators on how to strategically engage the community.

Experiential progamming like Startup Weekend plays a critical role in the ecosystem and compliments the theory-based knowledge being shared in the classroom. But even more importantly, it gives students an opportunity to act on their ideas and discover their voice.

"If you would have asked me a month ago, 'What could you do to change the world?' I wouldn’t be able to answer that at all.  But now I’ve learned that anyone can make a difference no matter what age, what size, what color, what anything."
     - High School Sophomore in Noble Impact Course

Another important reason to advocate for an ecosystem approach is the student engagement cliff. According to Gallup's annual survey, students become less engaged with each school year. By the time they reach high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged. Even more disturbing is the growing disinterest in course offerings in key occupational areas.

Education shouldn't start and stop within the four walls of a classroom. It should be designed on top of a bridge of engagement between the classroom and community. Therefore, if formal education is going to play a significant role in solving the youth unemployment crisis, it needs to start incorporating additional elements within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, giving students an opportunity to develop their problem-solving muscles in preparation for an unknown job market.

Noble Impact is a new education venture in partnership with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service that works with high schools to build bridges of engagement between the classroom and community, giving students access and opportunity to develop knowledge-based skills and a portfolio of experience.

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Photo of Geordie McClelland

This is a really inspirational program Eric. While I love the focus on entrepreneurship and civic service, I wonder if you also have or have seen any research on the impact of a problem-solving based curriculum in general on learning outcomes with high schoolers? I've always wondered about the impact on engagement, retention and conceptual thinking of programs focused on solving real-world problems, including public service, but also private enterprise challenges that demand a cross-disciplinary approach to propose solutions (similar to the case format used in Business Schools). Intuitively I've thought that early exposure to the context in which skills may be deployed is as important as teaching the practical skills themselves, but I haven't seen any studies that test that theory.

Photo of Eric Wilson

Hi, Geordie. Thanks for the feedback. In the past, experiential learning has been reserved for grad school (e.g. medical residency, legal clerkships, business fellowships, etc.). We've seen this type of engagement with community businesses/organizations begin to occur in college, but it hasn't trickled down to K-12 yet.

I would recommend checking out New Tech Network ( There seeing some great results with their 100 percent project based learning curriculum.

Photo of Geordie McClelland

Thanks for the intro to New Tech Network - I hadn't heard of them, but their approach and the outcomes that they cite do look really impressive. I'm excited to dig in more...