3 Reasons Why I Always Have Students Do “Real World” Projects In My Class

In our culture we tend to equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work at a job. –Robert Greene, Mastery

I’ve been teaching at a Sask Polytechnic for the past Four years and at a University if Regina for one. Since my second year I’ve always incorporated class projects that involve real world organizations, here’s why.

The back story…. I think I subconsciously want to teach using projects because the classes that included real works projects were the classes I found I learned the most in. Whether be Al Derges unconventional approach to the class or Lorne Schnel giving us real examples from the company he was running at the time. One of my favourite classes was one where we actually got to pitch an insurance company out of Toronto a new marketing strategy. I only remember that because our commercial was incredibly forward thinking and probably would have made them millions. Sadly they didn’t use the Idea. I didn’t care, I got to work on a real problem.

I had this idea of creating a learning moment by helping students “experience” entrepreneurship. By experience I obviously mean failing at something, learning, retrying, and succeeding. Here was the video I recorded before I started my first class project. Little did I know I was stumbling upon a gold mine of possibility!

Students need to work on real world problems, they learn more that way. At least that was my theory when I was in school, it holds true 10 years out. What an amazing conclusion!! The best way we learn inside or outside of school is by doing.

The “marketing apprenticeship” was born.

After your formal education, you enter the most critical phase in your life—a second, practical education known as The Apprenticeship. –Robert Greene, Mastery

My top three reasons why I always do a real world class project:

1. Our brains learn more when we work on things that matter. 

Students learn a heck of a lot more when working on something tangible like marketing a company or non-profit.

I save the reviews I get some times because of what people have written. The learning transformation that happens when you work on a “real world” project is amazing to watch. I still get push back. My first Entrepreneurship class I still remember one girl in the class couldn’t believe we were going to start a company.

Me: For your class project you will be starting an actual company and selling a product or service.

Student #1: How can we do that? How will we pick what to sell?

Me: I don’t know, you guys will figure it out.

Student #2: I have some ideas on what we could sell!

Me: Great! we have a start.

Student #1: How will we sell our product?

Me: I don’t know, you guys will figure it out.

Student #3: I can help run our Facebook page and Twitter accounts

Me: Perfect! We’re starting to grow out company already!

Student #1: How will we create our logo, website and packaging?

Me: Again, I don’t know!

Student #4: I like designing things, I can help.

Uplifting T-shirts.ca

Student #1 didn’t ask anymore questions about whether or not it was possible. That class we created UpliftingT-shirts.com a self described, “A business disguised as an experiment disguised as a class.” They sold T-shirts, 60 to be precise, and raised $1,000 for Carmichael Outreach. What a cool project! It don’t get done without some pushback. Our first design was rejected by Carmichael on grounds of using the words they were uncomfortable with. The class had to make a difficult decision, I was proud of what they accomplished.

You truly learn something when you get to experience it first hand.

2. When you let go of control in the classroom, students always end up surprising you. When you give people freedom

When you allow students the freedom to create something on their own they create things you never could have dreamed of on your own. 

 

Very proud of my @saskpolytech Entrepreneurship class. $885 donated to the #imaginenobullying campaign and an unforgettable semester running our company MisMatched Mittens (Patent Pending).

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In the second year the class had a different idea. This time it was “Mismatched Mitts” sold to fundraise for the #ImagineNoBullying Campaign. Again, another moment of letting go of control of the class project. They had to conceptualize the company, the product, the “why” behind the sale, all very relevant learning outcomes.

When you let go of control you get chaos, but sometimes you get brilliant ideas. You have to let go of control now, empower people, help them make decisions, help them gain confidence, when your team gains confidence there’s no telling what they can accomplish.

3. You learn more about yourself. 

Couldn’t be more proud of these students from my @saskpolytech class, they raised $1,653 for @carmichaeloutreach for their project which consisted of a steak night, bake sale, and sold art made by members of the Carmichael family. Education is inspiring. What these students accomplished in a month and a bit is astounding and a lesson to us all. Nothing’s impossible (not even group projects!)

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I get so much more feedback from students during these projects. It’s like their brains are on fire and I get to help ignite parts of their mind they have never accessed. Every year the students seems to figure out ways to either get me in trouble or ask the faculty for help. These situations always, always, ALWAYS lead to the best learning moments.

Beg for forgiveness, don’t ask for permission

In our first year of selling the “Uplifting T-shirts” the students wanted to sell them downstairs at Sask Polytech in Regina. I said, “Of course” setup a table, make some signs, and sell them one day! They pick a day, we all show up, and then we learn you have* to book a table to be able to sell t-shirts in the front foyer of the school! I have “have” to, because we didn’t and had two different security guards tell the students they couldn’t be there. What a great lesson!

Are you covered by insurance when doing projects outside of school? 

Yup. Didn’t know that before last class. But for a project with Bright Eye’s dog rescue the students wanted to hand out Dog treats and raise awareness for Bright Eye’s at the Southland Mall one weekend. I had to ask the faculty, they got back to me within a day (the department head, Rick (great guy) talked to the corporate lawyer), because it’s a school project they were covered by the schools insurance. Again, what a cool learning moment!

Sometimes it’s incredible how students will surprise you with what they do. 

Hendersons cafe UofR

I believe we learn like our ancestors did, by doing. There’s a reason that we learn the fastest when we’re actually performing the work. In the Talent Code, Daniel Coyle talks about how we’ve lost a method of how we learn in the past 50 years. University never existed to our ancestors, you couldn’t “just go back to school” when you didn’t know what to do with your life. You hunted or gathered, there weren’t many other choices, and you think your job options are bad now?

All they could do is apprentice. When you apprenticed under a professional you learned their ways much faster than studying on your own. Why aren’t we learning like that still? You can though, by doing to work that matters. By constantly asking yourself if you should be doing what you’re doing currently, and by always being willing to learn something new. You can learn anything you want to, as long as you can apprentice along side someone who gets it.  

Want to turn pro? Practice like the pros. Whatever it is you want to get better at remember, the best people in the world practice between 3 to 5 hours per day, every day. They don’t want days off. They don’t complain about exerting too much effort, no, they work and work and work. You could only put in this amount of effort if you truly believed you could be the  best at it, that you could master it one day.

 

World class experts practice between three and five hours a day, no matter what skill they pursue

After you’ve taken my class some things will stick with you for a long time. Phrases like “that’s not Purple COW enough!”, “where’s the why?” , and “nothing’s impossible, just our attitudes”. I hope students never forget what they learned, I know I’ll never forget what I’ve learned from the students so far. That to me is something special.

(in memory of my favourite teacher of all time, Al Derges)