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Thinking outside the syllabus

Innovation, entrepreneurship, lifelong learning and even failure are changing the way teachers teach and kids learn.

October 4, 2018

min read

Today’s teachers know challenge. They experience it with every new class of students at the start of every school year, each more bright-eyed, eager to learn and technologically savvy than the class that came before.

The challenge educators face lies in finding the best ways to reach them. Because it’s no longer enough to simply prepare students for tests in core subjects. When provided the opportunity to explore ideas like innovation, entrepreneurship and even failure in an educational environment, students are better prepared to succeed in a world that’s evolving faster than ever.

To help provide teachers with access to supplemental training opportunities and curriculum built around these critical concepts, Koch supports and partners with programs and organizations like Youth Entrepreneurs, the STEMIE Coalition, the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Bill of Rights Institute.

Here are just a few of the ways these partnerships are making an impact inside the classroom while creating new opportunities for both teachers and students.

Entrepreneurial education

At the national level, one of Koch’s oldest and continually growing educational programs is Youth Entrepreneurs (YE). Since the program began in 1991, YE has provided business education and principled entrepreneurship training to more than 370 educators. 

“Typically, the professional development that elective teachers receive is pretty much catered to core teachers, or teachers who teach math, science, English and social studies ... those subjects that are required for standardized tests,” said Renate Matthews, a YE educator in Detroit. “With YE, it allows business teachers to be professionally developed in areas that we teach every single day. Because it’s so strategic in nature for us, it allows us to really tie in and be engaged with it ourselves. And, of course, then we can make it more engaging for our students.”

More than just another business elective, YE gives teachers the necessary tools and resources through its unique curriculum to make entrepreneurship a vital part of students’ educations, providing an opportunity for them to pursue their passions and become contributing members of society.

For Adam Power, an assistant YE instructor in Casa Grande, Arizona, the program’s content is complementary to students’ core subjects and critical to their creative development.

Mandi Sun Valley High School Teacher Youth Entrepreneurs
Mandi Bolinger

Sun Valley High School

Mesa, Arizona

World History, Economics, Youth Entrepreneurs

Adam Power Mission Heights Prep Teacher Youth Entrepreneurs
Adam Power

Mission Heights Prep

Casa Grande, Arizona

Game Design, Art, Government, Youth Entrepreneurs

Kara Glenview College Prep Teacher Youth Entrepreneurs
Kara Glithero

Glenview College Prep

Phoenix, Arizona

Government, Economics, Youth Entrepreneurs

“The YE program starts saying, ‘What can you as an individual do, and what unique things can you bring to the table?’ Yes, you’re going to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but let’s get beyond that. That’s not enough anymore. What can you create? And I think it’s that creative spirit that helps it not just be another school program.”

Inspiring innovation

Koch also recently partnered with the STEMIE Coalition (which stands for STEM plus Invention and Entrepreneurship) to sponsor the organization’s 2018 National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE) – an annual K-12 invitational competition where students pitch their innovations to a panel of judges.

Although a relatively new initiative, STEMIE already has more than 15,000 educators on board – teachers who value the corresponding training and opportunity to bring innovation education to life in their own classrooms.

Christine Lawlor-King, director of education for the Connecticut Invention Convention, has seen the impact and importance of invention and entrepreneurship education. As a former educator in an urban school district for 10 years, she witnessed the impact of invention education firsthand when it was it integrated into her own classroom.

“Invention education reaches every child,” she said. “It doesn’t matter your intellectual ability, it doesn’t matter your socioeconomic background. So, when I first implemented invention education and introduced it to my own students, there was 100 percent engagement. That is rare in school these days.”

Jim Bruner The PAST Foundation syllabus
Jim Bruner

The PAST Foundation

Project Manager, Designer and “Sultan of Systems”

STEMIE Coalition Partner

“Education is one of the only industries that has done (things) the same way for 150 years. It’s got to be transformed or it’s going to implode.”

Nancy Soon Helen O'Grady Asia syllabus
Nancy Soon

Helen O’Grady Asia

Executive Director

STEMIE Coalition Partner

“One of the most powerful things I saw with the STEMIE curriculum is it helps students develop confidence, good interpersonal skills, and these are very essential life skills.”

One of the critical lessons in the invention process is how to fail – and how to recover from failure. It’s a skill that Lawlor-King admits students struggle with at first, but she considers it an essential lesson in not only preparing them for higher education, but for a future workforce that will demand adaptive, entrepreneurial thinking.

“I think one of the great things about this program, which is difficult for children, is that you need to fail. It’s important to train everyone that this is about trial and error, this is about challenges. If you get it right the first time, what have you learned? You need to have gone through a process to really build the skills you need.”

Lifelong learning

Locally – right in the backyard of Koch’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas – the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation supports organizations like the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Bill of Rights Institute. Both of these organizations host educational seminars geared toward teachers throughout the calendar year.  

Michelle Social Studies Teacher Syllabus
Michelle Rowley

Robinson Middle School

Wichita, Kansas

7th and 8th Grade Social Studies

Paul History Teacher Syllabus
Paul Kitchen

Northwest High School

Wichita, Kansas

U.S. History, AP U.S. History

Chris History Teacher Syllabus
Chris Kemp

Heights High School

Wichita, Kansas

AP U.S. History, Honors U.S. History, AP Government

Curtis History Teacher Syllabus
Curtis Carter

Hamilton Middle School

Wichita, Kansas

7th Grade World Geography, 8th Grade U.S. History

For Paul Kitchen, an AP U.S. history teacher in Wichita, Kansas, that support allowed him to pursue an advanced degree in history so he could then pass that knowledge along to his students.

“In 2005, the Teaching American History Grant through Gilder Lehrman … they started a relationship here in Wichita,” recalled Kitchen. “They had, I want to say, a cadre of 30 teachers that were selected to take classes and earn a master’s degree through Friends University, and I got to be part of that group.” 

Kitchen believes the past 10 years of training and seminars he’s received has allowed him to better serve his students and elevated the content he’s able to share with them.

Fellow Wichita teacher Curtis Carter, a middle school history instructor, values these sessions like Kitchen, and sees them as opportunities to set an example for students that education never truly ends.

“As educators, as the ones who are guiding the young people coming up, it only makes sense that we continue to better ourselves,” said Carter. “Because if we’re going to better them, then we should continue to better ourselves and be those lifelong learners. That way we’ll give them more that they can use going forward.”

As a history teacher, Carter sums it up with a quote from James Madison, whom he’s quick to remind was the father of the U.S. Constitution.

“The advancement and the diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”