Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

The Woodstock of K-12 education

By Steve Blank

Describing something as the Woodstockof has taken to mean a one-of-a-kind historic gathering. It happened recently when a group of educators came to the ranch to learn how to teach Lean entrepreneurship to K-12 students.


We Can Do Better thanTeaching Students How to Run a Lemonade Stand

Over the last few years its become clear that the days of teaching how to write a business plan as the cornerstone of university entrepreneurship are over. We now understand the distinction between startups whosearchfor a business model versus existing companies thatexecuteabusiness plan. Learning how to keeptrack of inventory andcash flow and creating an income statement and a balance sheet are great skills to learn for managingexistingbusinesses.

But to teachstartupentrepreneurship we need to teach students new skills. They need to learn to find answers to questions like: who are mycustomers, what product features match customer needs, how do Icreate demand and what metrics matter? Learning these skills requires a very different type of entrepreneurship class, best taught througha hands-on, team-based, experiential approach. (The Lean LaunchPad/I-Corpsclass is the canonical model of such a class, with versions now taught in hundreds of colleges and universities.)

In addition, most programs fail to teach students the distinction betweena lifestyle business, small business and scalable startup.While the core principles of lean work the same for buildingasmall business versus ascalable startup, there is a big differencebetween size, scaling, risk, financing, decision-making, uncertainty, teams, etc.

Entrepreneurial education in grades K-12, if it exists at all still focuses on teaching potential entrepreneurs small business entrepreneurship the equivalent of how to run a lemonade stand. This is fine if what we want to do is prepare our 21st-century students to run small businesses (a valid option), but it does real damage when students leave entrepreneurship classes thinking theyve learned something about how entrepreneurs who buildscalable startupsthink and operate.

On Fire With A Vision

In 2013, after taking the2-day Lean LaunchPad for Educators seminar, a few brave educators fromHawkenSchool, a K-12 school in Cleveland, Ohio, decided to change the status quo. They returned to Hawken on fire witha vision ofbuilding a completely different sort of entrepreneurship course in their school. They saw the future wasa course where students would learn by working on actual problems in the real world instead of sitting in a lecture hall. They adopted the Lean LaunchPad methodology because,as they said, it provides a framework for the chaos of a startup, where nothing is predictable. They found that they could approach teaching entrepreneurship likethe scientific method. They ask their students to develop hypotheses and then get out of the classroom to conduct interviews totest them. They learn techniques for innovation, analytical approaches to research, and evidence-based systems for decision-making and problem-solving.

Teaching Other K-12 Educators

I had blogged about whatHawken learnedimplementing something this radical in High Schoolhere, and in middle schoolhere. (Take a minute to look at the posts for context.) Honestly, I had never expected the Lean LaunchPadclass towork so well in high school. But an even bigger surprise was when Doris Korda, Hawkens program director, told me she wasgetting calls and emails from K-12 teachers across the country asking her to hold a Hawken Lean LaunchPad for K-12 Educators workshop.

So the Hawken teaching teamtook a deep breath and they offered this class here at the K&S Ranch so other educators could learn what Hawken is doing and how theyre doing it.Heres what they were trying toaccomplish.

Watchthe videohere

Thirty educators from 19 public and private schools throughout the U.S. attended their inaugural workshop.


Theseeducators arrived at the ranch with a palpable sense of urgency, eager for the tools needed to build their own classes. There are no established Lean K-12 curricula, textbooks or handbooks for entrepreneurship programs. The class offered the first set of Lean educators materials anywhere. Ittook the attendeesthrough the basics of Lean and how to buildthe classat their own schools.

TheHawken folks knew that in the back of the minds of other educators there was going to bethe question, Will this really work with my students? Can I reallyget them out of the classroom and expect real learning?In what I thought was a stroke of genius, theHawkenteam brought seven Hawkenstudents who had taken the leanentrepreneurship class to help teach this educators course. These students told the attendees real world stories of how the class changed their lives and offeredinput and advice about what worked and didntfor them.

The energy at the ranch was off the charts. Every minute was filled with talk about how to build this new model of learning and how to use LLP to encourage students to think creatively and analytically.

The attendees wentback to their schoolsarmed with a methodology and sample curriculum to develop their ownentrepreneurship courses andput what they learned into practice. Some will take what they learned and apply Leanentrepreneurial principles to create innovate STEM programs and/or to encourage the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems beyond school walls.

Heres what some of themhad to sayabout the experience:

Clickhereto watch the video.

Jeremy Wickenheiser, a high school teacher with the Denver School of Science and Technology, a STEM public school serving 6,500 students, summed up the remarks we heard again and again: This is the beginning of a movement to change how students learn.

Whats Next

Encouraged by the attendees, Hawken is developing a comprehensive educational program for educators, with workshops on the East and West coasts, an educators handbook, and codified systems to help educators build their own experiential, LLP-based K-12 programs.

To learn about the workshops and sign up, clickhere.

Lessons Learned

    The old ways of teaching entrepreneurship prepared students forsmall businesses

    We needed a new educational approach to prepare them forscalable startups

    Using the Lean LaunchPad, the Hawken School developed a successful entrepreneurship program for middle and high school students to do just that

  • Now they areteaching other educators how to do the same