The RIS “Shark Tank” Project
In the middle of last semester, the popular 7th grade “Shark Tank” project began. These middle school students were tasked with using skills and concepts they’ve learned in math, science, and social studies to develop a tangible product that they could make and sell at school. While doing so, they had to answer this Essential Question: “How can we, as entrepreneurs, create a viable product to put up for sale at a market that leaves a positive impact on the world?”
The idea for the project stems from the concept of Genius Hour “… a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides [them with] a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.” (geniushour.com) At RIS, it’s a way to give MS students an opportunity for agency; they get to choose and work on something they have a vested interested in.
The main steps
The “Shark Tank” project entails following a series of steps: ideating, building a prototype and getting feedback, conducting market research, producing and selling a product, and, finally, pitching that product. Now in its second year, the process has been restructured so that all of the teams give their pitch to a series of judges, which functions as an elimination round. Six teams make it through to the final round where they get to make their pitch to a panel of “Shark Tank” judges. Only one team can win the 10,000 baht prize, which they use to grow their business and make more of their product to sell. This not only mimics the TV show but also attaches a bit more incentive to be successful.
The role assignment
To begin, the students were grouped into teams of three—those whose ideas had a common theme, as opposed to being grouped with their friends. Then the students assigned roles within their team: a lead brander (marketing), lead manager (to keep everyone in check), and lead journalist (responsible for documenting everything). The 7th grade teachers worked with each team to be sure they were following the process and the timeline.
The learning process
Throughout the project, the students learned about real-world topics, ranging from idea iteration to economics to the environmental impact of human-made products. Each team had to create a survey for their target market and use their math skills to analyze that data and apply their findings to their product ideation. They also collected and analyzed data from the sales of their products. In addition, they conducted research, made presentations, held board meeting discussions, and recorded the whole process in a journal.
A wide range of subject areas
The students were assessed on several aspects of the assignment, covering a wide range of subject areas. During their research, for example, each team had to produce an Impact Report that detailed what the main ingredients of their product was made of, including the product’s packaging, and show how it minimized humans’ impact on the environment. Through their sales pitch, they were evaluated on their speaking skills, eye contact, and the clarity of their main point.
The Shark Tank Marketplace
One of the highlights of the project was the Shark Tank Marketplace. At the end of April, all 33 teams of eager entrepreneurs set up their impressive displays of goods in the ES/MS breezeway. The students were engaged and lively, happy to tell potential buyers about the thinking and reasoning behind their products. It was easy to see that a lot of careful thought and creativity had gone into their product development. Although each item was unique, a good deal of the products were related to climate change and recycling/upcycling. This was partly because the students were following the directive that their products needed to “leave a positive impact on the world,” but it became clear that our 7th graders are forward-thinking, eco-friendly, community-minded young people. Several of the teams also chose to donate a generous portion of their profits to charities or companies who support disadvantaged or underserved populations. Many of the products were very popular and some sold out completely, much to the disappointment of teachers and parents.
The live Shark Tank judging
The pinnacle of the project was the live Shark Tank judging. Based on the format of the “Shark Tank” TV show, the six finalist teams had to pitch their idea in a creative way. The students talked about how their idea progressed, what problem it solved, its environmental impact, and how much money it made in sales at the marketplace. The competition was stiff; all of the ideas were good and the judges had a hard time picking a winner. But ultimately the makers of Mossy Balm—Pear, Jan, and Look-Pear—won the coveted prize. Their team had made topical insect repellent that “moisturizes, soothes, and protects” because it also includes properties that soothe insect bites. Mossy Balm even comes in several scents! The team plans to reinvest their 10,000 baht winnings to make more product to sell at upcoming school fundraising events.
The final outcome
At the end of the project, the students completed a survey to gather their feedback. Overall, they loved the fact that there was a single winner and a monetary prize that every team had the opportunity to win. The overwhelming majority felt that the project should continue so that the next year’s 7th graders would also have the opportunity to experience the entrepreneurial process. It’s safe to say that the project was a triumph!
by Elisia Brodeur, Communications Specialist