Beaver Country Day School, an independent school for grades 6-12 outside of Boston in Chestnut Hill, MA, offers unique opportunities to students. From an entrepreneurship course that ends in a pitch competition to internships at leading Boston companies, Beaver students graduate with a robust set of skills to help them start and run a business.
Beaver’s trimester-long entrepreneurship class where students research, plan and develop comprehensive business plans for potential startups, has caught some major media attention for it’s final project, which has students pitch business ideas to a panel of venture capital startups and entrepreneurs, similar to the format of the popular television show “Shark Tank.”
Beaver’s Head of School, Peter Hutton, and Assistant Head of School, Nancy Caruso, joined Education World for a conversation on their work in using education technologies to advanced students’ entrepreneurial abilities leading into college, their own future companies, and beyond.
Hutton is a technology adoption advocate with a long history as both a teacher and administrator at independent schools. His leadership is supported by Caruso, who develops strategic academic initiative programs that she implements with the faculty. She also works in recruiting that faculty.
What separates Beaver from other schools? Describe how experimentation and hands-on learning act as cornerstones at Beaver, and discuss what embracing non-traditional teaching methods encompasses.
Hutton: Beaver recognizes that students live in a very different world than 25 to 30 years ago and that education needs to respond; just as it did in the late 19th century in the face of the Industrial Revolution. We believe that students need to develop essential new skills.We call them the “New Basics.” [They include] creative problem solving, collaboration, iteration, visual communication, empathy, tech and media literacy, [and] presentation skills. And we believe that the development of these skills needs to live everywhere in the classroom. In 7th grade math, in 11th grade English, in science; particularly in science! In art … everywhere. In science we focus on experiments, not labs; real work, not realistic work. This approach lives everywhere in the school. When students understand the real world applications of their work, their engagement, and as a result their understanding, deepens. They become more excited about directing their own learning.
Caruso: Beaver puts students at the center of everything that we do. We recruit, hire and develop teachers who love teaching kids and who are committed to getting to know each student, they are skilled at utilizing multiple tools to set kids up for success. Students are active participants and developers of their education. We challenge them to engage with real problems in all classes and expect that they will come up with solutions that we have not even anticipated. Students are routinely working collaboratively and appreciate the effectiveness of working with a diverse group of thinkers whose collective work is often richer than what an individual might produce.
What have been the reactionary results of integrating coding into the core curriculum? How has it worked out for teachers and their students?
Hutton: For us it just seems like common sense. To look at coding as a stand alone “thing” makes no sense. It’s a problem solving tool, a mindset and an outlet for creative expression. Big picture: we love it. For students, it’s another way for them to access real-world creative problem solving. For teachers and students, it’s another way to expand the boundaries of the classroom, and for teachers it’s another platform to explore curriculum design (for example, a 7th grade science teacher and a 10th grade history can have these conversions together as they are discipline neutral) and raise the depth and sophistication of student work.
Caruso: Coding has become another tool to enhance learning and help students solve problems. Our teachers, who are comfortable in their roles as facilitators, learn alongside students about how coding, among other tools, might be applied to a particular challenge. We have found that students use coding as another way to demonstrate learning, to communicate, [and] to solve problems. One of our teachers new to Beaver likens our approach to coding as a language immersion program, where coding is incorporated in teaching and learning, rather than isolated in one class.
Beaver is a founding partner of NuVu Studio. How did Beaver become involved in a magnet innovation center where students solve real-world challenges in a collaborative, hands-on environment? How has it worked out so far? What’s been successful? What hasn't?
Hutton: We were having internal conversations about ways to involve students in real-world creative problem solving when a mutual friend brought Saeed Arida (NuVu co-founder) and me together. Saeed’s vision and ours were in alignment and we launched the program together five months later. Working in the NuVu Studio, embracing ambiguity [and] engaging in non-linear learning, has been a transformational experience for many students: an experience that makes them look at their strengths and interests in new ways. Now, we need to [be] better at providing ways for students to continue their relationship with NuVu when they leave the program.
Caruso: Our partnership with NuVu felt like a natural extension of the kinds of experiences students encounter in their classes at Beaver. The partnership has been enormously successful as a majority of our upper school students have participated in NuVu . One of our students said of her experience at NuVu that it helped the creative thinkers explore their technical thinking side and challenged kids who saw themselves as technical thinkers to develop their creative side. NuVu reinforces for students the importance of taking intellectual risks and pursuing topics and ideas that are unfamiliar. We hope to continue to find ways for students who develop interesting projects at NuVu to continue back at Beaver and at times, the schedule and facilities make this more challenging. Happily, we are working hard and thinking creatively on how to make this more seamless.
What are the biggest hurdles in fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in students grades 6-12?
Hutton: At least two things: high-stakes standardized testing is a big problem as it disincentives the entrepreneurial mindset. To prepare for these tests, students are taught to hold on to the linear, industrial approach to problem solving. The other hurdle is the adherence to either/or zero-sum thinking. Education needs to think both/and. Just because we embrace the entrepreneurial spirit does not mean we need to abandon content or the development of conventional skills. We should drop labels like traditional, progressive, and non-traditional. It means we need to think differently, to rethink our approach to curriculum design, to think deeply about what is best for students in 2015 versus 1985.
Caruso: One of the biggest hurdles in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in students is getting them to reframe some of the messaging they have received about who they are and what they can (or can’t) do. Often, conventional benchmarks of student success in school tend to limit rather than open possibilities
Discuss your internship program, and explain how students are able to gain competitive skills in aggressive job environments before college. How hard is it to land a good gig? Do they go anywhere afterwards? What are the biggest benefits, and some of the downfalls, of this program?
Caruso: Seniors apply for internships which run 20 hours a week for five weeks. Beaver has worked hard to canvas alumni, parents, thought-leaders, [and] partners to offer substantive internship opportunities in a range of fields. Among the benefits are students’ gaining exposure to a real work setting in which some challenges and activities are really hard and engaging, and sometimes mundane. Some students have sought out internship opportunities which will give them early exposure to a subject they plan to pursue in college or a field that they think they want to enter into after. No matter what the intention, the internship experience helps solidify students’ thoughts about what they might want to do and how to get there. A perennial obstacle to internship opportunities for students is that they are typically unpaid. We are fortunate to that through our Hiatt Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, students can apply for grants to fund internships.
You can learn more about Beaver Country Day School here.
Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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