Lower School students are strengthening their communication skills by making sales pitches modeled after a popular television program.
Their project is Genius Hour Shark Tank, which is a resource class for Lower School students this school year. To understand the concept, think Shark Tank, the popular series in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to industry experts.
The Lower School version has variations: Norfolk Academy's ideas aren't limited to the business world, and sharks are not choosing winners and losers. They're also not handing out large sums of money to jump-start these young entrepreneurs.
Much is the same, though. First, students are choosing topics, with guidance from faculty. Next, the students are pitching their plans to sharks - curious faculty and staff who are making surprise visits to classrooms. After each presentation, the sharks ask questions and help students fine-tune their plans.
Students then take that feedback and go to work, again with the help of faculty.
As an example, Drake, a fourth grader, chose rugby as his topic. During his presentation, he said the sport intrigued him but acknowledged he doesn't know much about how it is played. Sharks asked him how he'd learn more, and how he'd present his findings. He said he'd do research online and through interviews with coaches. He'd then make a poster that would explain what he learned, which he'd present to his class.
Ideas run the gamut. One sixth grader is building her own jewelry company, with proceeds going to charitable causes. Another sixth grader is inventing a new sport. A fourth grader wants to see if there's a way to make cars float on water. A fifth grader is trying to launch a miniature rocket.
Genius Hour is designed to allow students the opportunity to dig deeper into their passions and interests, said Lower School Director Michelle Alexander, who helped introduce the program at Academy this school year and is guiding the fifth grade entrepreneurs. The goal is for them to figure out ways to answer questions that arise once they've started exploring.
“Genius Hour is the place where passions come to life," Mrs. Alexander said.
This program strengthens a number of skills. It allows students to test hypotheses, make note of their processes, and celebrate their successes. It teaches brainstorming techniques, how to formulate questions, and how to refine presentation skills and techniques.
Feedback also gets them to think critically when a pitch isn't quite right.
“Learning comes from failure," Mrs. Alexander said.
Right now, students are making their pitches, absorbing the feedback, and starting work on final presentations, which will take place later in the year.
Early indications are positive. Students say they're gaining valuable practice making speeches, and the feedback they're receiving is helping them refine their ideas.
In one way or another, those skills will come in handy in the future.
“Doing the interviews is good training, if one day I wanted to go on Shark Tank," Drake said.