Students in the Shark Tank

The ABC television series Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs present their business models to investors, served as the inspiration for a recent project-based learning experience at the ECS Out of School Time (OST) program. Three groups of middle school students assembled detailed business plans.

The student’s ideas couldn’t have been more different: A school-based lunch delivery service, a downtown cupcake bakery with event space, and a social services organization all vied for the support of potential investors.

“They learned a lot more than we anticipated. Of course they learned about being an entrepreneur, but they also realized  how a lot of the basic skills they are learning in school fit in,” Program Coordinator Chalet Willis said.

The winning team’s Sweet n’ Petite cupcake shop business plan was extremely detailed with a proposed Northern Liberties location, square-footage requirements, and both retail and catering menus. Their proposed event space for birthday parties and community gatherings set them apart from the competition in their chosen location and they printed their logo on t-shirts for their Shark Tank presentation. Their excitement about the project has inspired the OST program to feature a real-life version of the business this summer.

Project-based learning is core to OST’s after-school and summer curriculum. The goal is to foster critical thinking and decision-making skills. Students drive the process with staff in a support role. Providing activities that are both fun and intellectually engaging is a hallmark of ECS OST, which has made strides in educational outcomes among children served while building stronger student retention.

“Project-based learning has come a long way since they first introduced it to our program,” Willis said. “I think the students accomplished all the things they set out to do. They came up with the concepts, they came up with everything. And they clearly had fun doing it.”