Posts Tagged upper school

“Shark Tank” Wildwood Style

The stakes are very high the day I visit Deb Christenson’s Modern U.S. History class. Seven groups of students will present ideas for a start-up to a panel of Wildwood teachers and administrators—including me. Judging each plan based on a presentation, we’ll decide which student-led start-up has the greatest potential for financial success. We’re also here to make money—risking our own wealth as potential investors in the next billion-dollar business idea.

Sounds like Shark Tank, the trending TV reality show. But, it’s really the culminating event in a project, combining a study of U.S. economic history, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. (So, while our wealth isn’t real, we ‘sharks’ are here to lend authenticity to the proceedings.)

Owen L. and Benji M. make their pitch for Pythagoras Computing

Owen L. and Benji M. make their pitch for Pythagoras Computing

Each student group pitches their idea for a novel product or service. Maddy G. and Abby L. unveil Equilibrus—a start-up that synthesizes the ‘buy one, give one’ model of Tom’s Shoes with an online book store, donating books to a local public school for every title purchased through their service. Sunscreen Sprayers is the brainchild of Georgie M. and Anna R. Their business builds and distributes mobile sunscreen application booths that beachgoers or amusement park visitors use for a small fee, paid for through a smartphone app. Other students promote their visions: an environmentally sustainable restaurant; a mobile phone app to book babysitters; and an urban garden design service, are among the contenders.

At Wildwood and in other U.S. History courses, studying American entrepreneurs is pretty much standard fare. But today at Wildwood, there’s also an emphasis on teaching entrepreneurship—an added value of guiding students in developing their own entrepreneurial skills, to help them learn and lead in our complex, evolving world.

Clementine C. and Thomas E. pitch their start-up, Bird Words

Clementine C. and Thomas E. pitch their start-up, Bird Words

This year, Deb added design thinking to the equation to create the “Shark Tank” project—something new to her own teaching repertoire. Inspired after hearing Stanford Design School professor Tina Selig speak at a conference, Deb became intrigued by the idea of applying Selig’s approach to her Wildwood classroom. Deb read some of Selig’s books, watched her TEDTalks, and synthesized design thinking into a project for her course’s final unit—on the development of the modern U.S. economy.

“I’ve always been interested in designing authentic, performance-based projects for my students,” Deb tells me. “And the “Shark Tank” idea seemed to bring together that interest and design thinking.” So when starting this project, Deb’s students follow the design thinking process—defining a problem that needs solving, considering and creating a variety of solutions, and refining them. To execute their start-up each group spells out some essentials— including a mission statement, along with plans to address marketing, finance, and management.

Some of my fellow 'sharks' listen to pitch presentations

Some of my fellow ‘sharks’ listen to pitch presentations

After the final presentation, my fellow ‘sharks’ and I head to the room next door to deliberate and choose the winning idea.

After a lively debate, we ‘sharks’ agree to award $50K in mock seed money to Benji M. and Owen L. Their start-up idea: Pythagoras Computing. It’s a service that allows scientific researchers to purchase computing power from individuals’ idle laptops and other personal electronic devices—power that would otherwise be wasted. In true Wildwood fashion, Benji and Owen’s classmates congratulate them on hearing the news, with applause and high-fives.

Shark Tank, the TV show, is all about innovation, ideas and investment—the principles of entrepreneurship that Wildwood embraces. What’s more, at Wildwood many student projects pass on the additional value of focusing on social and environmental goals. So welcome to the “Shark Tank” Wildwood-style: Collaboration is competitive.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

 

 

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Pitch Fest, Wildwood Style

 

Final Draft LogoYou know, it’s kind of like Meet the Parents meets March of the Penguins.

I bet you figured my elevator pitch was a joke.

But here in LA, the creative work of adapting literature for the screen is no joke, it’s big business.

So the Literature to Film class here at Wildwood upper school is quite popular, and the work is real.

The dilemmas are authentic: the student writers and filmmakers are looking for creative partners whose style and sensibilities match well.

On the day I visit, writers Morgan V. and Brandon B. pitch their script based on Ray Bradbury’s science fiction tale, All Summer in a Day, to a jury of peers who will hear from five teams all hoping to have their script produced by the Digital Film students in arts teacher Laura Forsythe’s class.

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

The filmmakers have a lot of questions about the Bradbury script. Some seem dubious about taking on an adaptation set on the planet Venus. Morgan touts the script’s inherent relatability to viewers. “It’s set in a school, with teenage characters from Earth,” and he adds, “with teenage issues.” The story’s main character, Morgan describes, “faces an internal conflict about getting revenge on peers that have tormented her.” The filmmakers now see the possibilities.

The scripts are a culminating project for Emma Katznelson and Melinda Tsapatsaris’s students, who have been working for several weeks to adapt favorite short stories and books.  For Laura’s film students, the process and project will be a genuine test of their skills and creativity as they connect their own visions with the screenwriters’ creating finished products that will  “premiere” just before Spring Break.

Everett D. (center) and other filmmakers assess their peers' pitches

James D. (center-right) and other filmmakers assess their peers’ pitches

Kaiya K., Georgia P., and Quinn M. pitch their script—an adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman first published in 1892. “Would you be open to a more contemporary setting?” one of the filmmakers asks.  “I think we’re ok with it,” Kaiya responds, “as long as it stays true to the story.”

The filmmakers take in the other pitches, each posing its unique challenges and opportunities.  Mason A. and Clay K. describe their adaptation of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the eponymous short story in a 1982 collection by Raymond Carver, which is dialogue-heavy. “What kind of action do you imagine?” they’re asked. Mason relays their vision of lots of flashbacks and voice-overs, and the filmmakers nod their assent.

xxx, Sarah Bales, xxx, and Benji (l to r) make the case for their script

Lucy A., Sarah B., Sophie L., and Benny L. (l to r) make the case for their script

Other offerings range from the lighthearted, like Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, to dark comedy, with David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Across the genres, this collaborative learning experience is realistic— mirroring the real work and meaningful learning that students will do in college and beyond.

This type of story to screen project prompts students to develop some specific skills in the Habits of Mind: Perspective, which the writers develop through their adaptations and Connection, as the filmmakers seek to merge the writers’ visions with their own, to create something new, and ideally fresh.

Which brings us back to my idea about Meet the Parents.

JK. I don’t have a screenplay….

Yet.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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A Grant for Citizen Science

How can students observe high energy cosmic events that are invisible to the naked eye? From a cell phone of course! It might be a tad more complicated than that, but students in Levi Simons’ Advanced Topics in Math and Science class are more than up for the challenge.

Levi is the recent recipient of and principal investigator for a grant from the American Physics Society (APS). He will use this grant to fund “The DECO Project”—a new initiative with Wildwood students.

Levi’s project DECO stands for Distributed Electronic Cosmic Ray Observatory. In a flurry of excitement, Levi explained a little bit about cosmic rays, “they’re mostly charged particles that hit the Earth’s atmosphere which then creates an electromagnetic shower of particles that falls to the ground.”

Cosmic ray diagram provided by Levi.

Apparently a cell phone camera can do more than snap a photo. The underlying camera sensor is sensitive to radiation that isn’t visible to humans. Because of this sensitivity, the DECO app was created by Levi and some others in his ongoing partnership with Stanford University to detect and measure the sort of high energy events that cause particle showers.

Levi shows me the DECO app running on one of the project's test phones!

The project will, through this new app, upload and store real data observations to a central system server for post-processing analysis. It is Levi’s hope as the DECO project progresses, that Wildwood students won’t be the only ones analyzing the incoming data. That’s where “citizen science” comes into play.

Citizen science is a relatively new term for volunteer or non-professional scientists involvement in collecting and/or analyzing data and that is distributed to the scientific community. Under Levi’s guidance, his classes are not only learning how to be a citizen scientist and what it means, but they are actually becoming citizen scientists!

“It’s really important to get students involved in gathering and organizing scientific data because by taking on these roles, we free up time for the grad students and professional scientists to analyze the data in ways we’re not yet qualified to do,” Wildwood senior Steven W. said. “It’s also great because we gain more experience for our resumes and find out if these sorts of sciences are paths we want to pursue down the road.”

For those of us whose high school science classes are long gone, it’s likely our experiences involved a teacher lecturing from a text book followed by an experiment they’d been teaching for years. In Levi’s classroom the tables are pushed together and students are working in small groups constantly bouncing ideas off of Levi and one another. There’s palpable energy as brainstorming and exploration abounds. It’s a room filled with peers—a gathering of citizen scientists guided by Levi—their enthusiastic coach.

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