Fostering Problem Solving in a Real-World Sense through High School Entrepreneurship

Peter Hostrawser

(Updated from September 2019) Peter Hostrawser is experienced in building engaging, authentic programs for high schools. As a high school business ed teacher and administrator, he has a passion for bringing authenticity to academia. He is invested in bringing new and disruptive ideas to education to bring back students' passion and purpose for learning.

We caught up with Hostrawser at the INCubatoredu National Summit in Chicago.  With his experience and involvement in our professional development and training, I took the opportunity to pick his brain about the his experience with INCubatoredu entrepreneurship curriculum for high school.


How would you describe INCubatoredu?

The INCubatoredu program is all about attaching academia to reality. Students who go through the INCubatoredu high school entrepreneurship program start to understand how their Math, Science, English, and all of the core subjects come to life through starting a business. Students learn soft skills like teamwork and building a network. The students are connected to a network of professionals by the time they complete the class at 15, 16, and 17 years old. That’s amazing to start your network at that age! Students become creative problem solvers in a real-world sense. And I don't think you can find that type of education anywhere else in a traditional high school setting.


How is this different from a traditional high school class?

INCubatoredu classroom with studentsAll the things that school traditionally has struggled with -- the INCubatoredu program actually puts it all together. It does so around a product or service that students create. Students create something to help or interest customers, and that’s powerful.

I have a 14-year-old son. I suggested that he choose his electives first, because this way, he can actually build on his interests. The INCubatoredu class allows and encourages students to build on a passion, and then use the new skills they learn to make their idea a reality. 

I would tell any high school student that this is an opportunity that most people don't have at this age. And you have it right here in your high school!


What can a teacher expect from this class?

Actually, to put ‘school’ aside. It’s a totally new perspective. A teacher must step out of the realm of becoming the main source of knowledge - the student becomes the source of knowledge, and they have to find their own answers. The teacher becomes the facilitator, the connector. There’s no ‘answer key.’ The students do the heavy lifting and problem solving. It's a mindset - a totally different approach to school.


How does this work in a school setting?

All this different thinking is fueled and enabled by the classroom environment we’re in. Our classroom transformation is awesome – our classroom is more of a workspace for collaboration, sharing, ideating. It's something that we're actually looking at doing for all different types of classes and subject areas.  INCubatoredu classroomIt's an innovative space that our students kind of understand – it’s how they’ll be working! Look, this isn't desks and rows, this isn't ‘sit and get’, this is actually ‘go out, be assertive, take risks, try to figure things out’. And, actually, I've adapted that into other classes as well, and it just works. The best thing is that students get a real look into what college and career workspaces really look like and they feel more comfortable when that transition happens. 


What do you, personally, get out of the Program as an educator?

I think there are a lot of educators like myself who think that the traditional way isn't always the greatest way to do things. We can do better. What INCubatoredu has done is bring this community of educators together to share ideas, build on successes and learn from failures. All this we develop as innovative educators. There are Slack groups and different communities of teachers and administrators working together … We're in Chicago right now, learning from a variety of people from universities, industry, and even student alums of INCubatoredu. That’s really powerful because now we have what we call the INCubatoredu family that we can call on. Those relationships are one of my favorite aspects of this initiative. 


What does ‘failure’ mean in this class?

Students in non-traditional classroomWe had a student team that was creating a rack of some sort for the top of a car. The group did all their research, and then at the last minute, found out there was a product that was exactly the same in the market already. They felt defeated. They felt like they failed, and had to give it all up. In the INCubatoredu class, there is a quick mindset change. Instead of just giving up, we ask, ‘ok, what next, what are you going to do to make it better or successful?’ That changes everything. When we start talking failure with these young people, it's not in the framework of an ‘F’ grade, and ‘oh, you're going to have to retake the class’. We start talking about failure as a celebration of cycles of learning. This class teaches you that failure is actually a great learning opportunity. That is a skill that is super-high-in value, and is a skill that both students (and educators!) can benefit from while in high school, or college, or life.


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