Authentic Experiences in Education: Q&A with Middle School Entrepreneurship Teacher Courtney Douglas

When you’re a parent, or responsible for a child in any way, that child’s growth, happiness and success are always top of mind. When you send them off to school, you want to feel confident that they’re developing the skills they need to succeed in the real world.

But how can you be sure your child is developing the skills and the mindset that will take them to the next level? How can you be sure teachers prioritize the same things you do?

The best teachers are devoted to enhancing students’ learning through personal and academic growth—and doing can help them foster their own personal and professional success, too.  This mutually beneficial relationship can be especially powerful in authentic, entrepreneurship education.  Here's how...

Youth Entrepreneurship Education Enhances SEL Skills, Personal & Professional Growth


Involving students in authentic entrepreneurship experiences supports their executive functioning skill-building and SEL. Middle school students have the potential to imagine their futures—and through this youth entrepreneurship curriculum, teachers help them chart a path to get there.

One such teacher is Courtney Douglas, who teaches Entrepreneurship and Spanish at McClure Junior High School in Western Springs, Illinois.  Douglas is an innovative educator committed to teaching students how to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. Here’s a little about what teaching entrepreneurship means to her:

Q&A with Entrepreneurship Educator, Courtney Douglas

What was your initial reaction when you learned about mxINCedu?

Courtney DouglasI was really excited!  When I was told about the program, I was currently teaching a 'Shark Tank'-style class that I had created myself.  There were many parts of the curriculum I created that I wanted to change.  I wanted something more “real.” 

The mxINCedu program from Uncharted Learning included all that I was looking from a youth entrepreneurship program.  And, my district Administration has been so supportive of this program -- it's been great.

Tell us about the “Dog Tank” entrepreneurship class at McClure. 

2018-03-13 McClure mxINCedu - product 04Currently the program is a semester-long elective offered to 7th and 8th graders. The students begin by doing a small mock challenge by designing a boat that can hold pennies. Students practice being innovative, prototyping, collaborating, communicating, and presenting. Then they take these skills and identify a problem of their own to solve. 

Students have created products to solve problems such as water bottles constantly falling out of backpacks, stress during busy school schedules, tiredness from restless nights, and uncomfortable gaming controllers lacking adequate ergonomics!

2019-12-16 McClurePop-upShop1-1Over the last 3 years, using the mxINCedu program, there have been over 20 products created by students; some successful, some not as much. The course culminates in an ecommerce marketplace, and also a pop-up shop where student teams promote and sell their products.  Although some products do not sell as well as others, the feedback has been positive from every student.

Throughout the process each group has a community mentor, usually a IMG_3889parent in the district, that guides student decisions, and offers real-world advice. They help students review what was accomplished during the week and then set the plan for the next week.  The mentors are vital to this process and make learning authentic for the students. The mentors have many different backgrounds, from finance professors to intellectual property attorneys, and some are entrepreneurs themselves!  

What are middle schoolers like? In your opinion, how do they learn best?

This is an interesting question. Middle schoolers are all very different. They vary in their skill set, maturity, leadership, and motivation. Throughout the semester, it is cool to see them grow in some skills they were lacking and to excel in skills they already thrive at. 

In your opinion, what are the 3 - 5 most important skills you think students need to excel in their next stages of life? How does entrepreneurship cultivate these skills?

  • Perseverance & Resilience — This is done through the ideation of their product and the actual execution of the idea.
  • Time Management & Agenda Setting — Each day of each week, students need to determine for themselves what they need to accomplish to meet their goals.
  • youth entrepreneurship programCollaboration & Effective Communication — Every day, groups need to work together to make decisions for their businesses.
  • Problem Solving & Innovation — Students take a problem that is personal for them and find a solution. Sometimes there are many solutions, so their ability to use resources to find the best solution is an important skill. Problem-solving goes hand-in-hand with innovation.  Learning to be creative to solve a problem is a skill students will need to set them apart from their peers.

How has your community rallied around entrepreneurship? What are some of your mentors like? What has the student response been like?

The community member mentors are such an important part of the program. They bring the “real life” experiences to these students. They make the connections to the program and make the real world seem easier and more approachable by explaining to students how what they’re learning and doing is just like what they do in their job. It makes my job really easy, because no one ever says, “When am I ever going to use this in life?”

What are some of your goals for entrepreneurship at McClure?

My goal is that each student leaves the semester feeling proud of what they have accomplished. They can look back and reflect on where they started and ended. They can see growth and know they took a risk at some point throughout the course.

What’s your biggest takeaway from mxINCedu? Any big surprises?

I also teach Spanish, so one of my biggest takeaways is that given the right opportunity, some of these students will really surprise you. Students sit in my Spanish class and are really quiet and show no leadership, and then they come to the Dog Tank and they are so willing to take risks. They just shine!

How has teaching entrepreneurship influenced your career and professional development?

2019-11-20 McClure Production LineThrough teaching the entrepreneurial program I have the opportunity to help develop curriculum that focuses on soft skills. I really enjoy writing and creating lessons, so this is really fun, to make it my own. The students really challenge me and help me grow, as well. One group wanted to 3D-print their product, so we learned how together. I then wrote a grant to have 3D printers in the classroom, so now many groups have been using them.

What would you tell a school considering this program?

Do it!  This program provides students the opportunity to take risks, be innovative, and learn so many life skills without the fear of failure. For once, it’s not about a letter grade—it’s about them wanting to see their company succeed. 

Do you have any student success stories to share?

Many students say they enjoy coming to class, they don’t want the semester to end, that they can be themselves, and that they are proud of what they are doing.

Creating an Authentic Youth Entrepreneurship Experience

Students become young entrepreneurs by observing and responding to the world around them, by solving real-life problems, taking risks, and learning through failure.  Entrepreneurship teachers are empowered to learn and develop along with their students by pivoting from failures and bringing into the classroom real-life business professionals and opportunities.

2017-06-01 McClure - Recyclable Products

Today’s middle school students exhibit the same characteristics as successful entrepreneurs, so why wait?

In this student entrepreneurship program, students and educators take ownership of their learning—their failures, their successes, and everything in between—creating an authentic experience that benefits everyone.

Are you looking for new and innovative experiences for your students? Uncharted Learning offers entrepreneurship programs that can make a big impact.  See for yourself!  

See if mxINCedu is right for your school  Middle School Entrepreneurship Education Request Program Information