Can you develop the next Gates or Zuckerberg in high school? Combining computer science and entrepreneurship

I think almost any high school kid you meet is interested in making money. Though I bet most are thinking about it more in the context of the new Xbox game they want, or maybe buying a car or some other more immediate gratification. Doug Bergman, a computer science educator from Porter-Gaud High School in Charleston, South Carolina decided to harness this natural drive with a much more forward thinking approach. Why not build entrepreneurial skills into his computer science course?

There are plenty of good coders out there, but when you mix savvy software development with business acumen – well that’s what books, movies and Silicone Valley/Redmond lure is all about. The super-smart savvy software developer, hatches a great piece of software and uses their business skills to shift the technology landscape [insert your favorite story here].

Doug submitted his application in Round 1 of the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum (IEF) and it was a fascinating and inspiring read. The story begins with a goal of wanting to retain kids through a multi-year computer science curriculum (i.e., he needed a hook) and for this 11th grade course offering I believe he found just that. He challenged kids to develop a game or a simulation for the Xbox based on a subject area they were passionate about, which could be an extra-curricular area, or an idea that helps makes the world a better place. Then over the course of the semester students take that idea and create a game or simulation that teaches, demonstrates, and generates interest in the area they have chosen. He takes this one step further by placing equal emphasis within the course on the entrepreneurism. Taking advantage of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurism (NFTE) Mr. Bergman weaves in the fundamentals of what it takes to build a successful business, including researching the marketplace, working together in teams, and finally, experimenting with and utilizing advanced programming skills to try to produce the highest possible quality product they can.

So to briefly summarize: 11th graders are collaborating together, developing business plans and creating a video game for one of the most popular gaming platforms in the world based on a subject they are passionate about. How’s that for 21st century learning in the classroom?

Like any good teacher Doug is already reflecting on what he learned from the project (pardon my paraphrasing):

  • He was surprised that the concepts that they struggled with the most were not the complex programming code that their games required, but more so the entrepreneurial material. He found that many students have never really had to "sell" something, so the skills such as market research, marketing, financial analysis, and promotion are not concepts that they have a lot of experience with and it was crucial for students to understand how they can take Computer Science skills that they have developed in the classroom and use them to create and market something in the real world.
  • The XNA Game Studio and C# language are very powerful and complex. There are ample guides, tutorials, and other help available, but there is really no way a student can get far before having to ask another student for help. As students work together learning new skills, they also give each other ideas that they can bring into their own games and simulations. In fact, Doug notes that numerous times students who had all been working together to help one person would all celebrate when the student would finally get something to work.
  • And perhaps the most telling reflection is best left in Doug’s own words: “What I love about programming projects like this is that we encourage mistakes; in fact they are crucial to success. Whereas in another subject a student might get -5 points for making a mistake, students in Computer Science fail 20 or 30 times each class period, and they see those failures leading to their successes right in front of their eyes.”

In the final steps of this semester long endeavor, Doug makes this all very real. As students develop their business plans he places the added challenge of requiring them to present these plans to local business and academic leaders, parents, teachers and their peers effectively having them combine their semester’s work into a “product launch presentation.” Now he doesn’t leave them in the dark on how to get there. Over the course of the semester he arranged to have professionals ranging from game creators, marketing experts and programmers speak to his class to share their experiences, prompting one his students to presciently note: ‘Mr. Bergman, I am noticing it is not so much about the technology, it is about the people.’

Attention Mr. Bergman’s students, if you are reading this post, you can find job postings for Microsoft here though perhaps we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but our college internship program is good too. Smile Seriously though, these are the types of projects employers want to see as do college admissions counselors. This is the real-world (albeit with a techie slant).acc class 002

Doug worked across subject areas and within his school building to make this project a success. He credits a close partnership with his IT Director, Phil Zaubi, in helping him create this class and further he consulted his college counseling department for input as to how the project could best help his students in their college application process.

It is hard not to be inspired by an educator like Doug Bergman. Doug’s application along with the others I’ve highlighted in a previous post are incredible examples of how teachers are taking their profession to a new level.Teachers are innovating in their classrooms striving to engage students with real-world, authentic challenges that are directly relevant to students today, and to their futures.

We still have a little over a week left and we continue to receive amazing applications for the 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum. The final deadline to apply is May 15th. We would love to hear what you are doing in your classroom.

If you’d like to see a few pictures of Doug’s students at work, checkout TeachTec’s SkyDrive.



(aka putting the “Teach” in TeachTec)

Comments (1)

  1. Jo says:

    Why the formatting of this article is so poor?

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