Crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular way for the masses to get behind a compelling idea or project. Each investor gives a little bit of money in exchange for the story of its development, and ideally, a product at the end.
In schools, we don’t give kids money, but we do provide them with time and grades. The challenge for many educators is to change kids’ motivation from being just about delivering a product to get a grade, to actually delivering a product that they believe in. We want to allow kids the time and the guidance to develop their passions so that they can pursue creating products and passions beyond the limits of our class or school.
Crowdfunding Your Approach to Classroom Projects
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo raise funds for promising projects, but they are also selling a story. Backers learn the story of the product’s development, told through updates from the project creators, and of frequent delays as novice creators struggle to make their projects a reality. As educators, we can take inspiration from these crowdfunding campaigns to inform the design of our own classroom projects.
At Punahou School in Honolulu, we often take a crowdfunding approach to classroom projects. But our form of currency isn’t Money. It’s Time. By giving our students time throughout the semester, we “invest” in their goal of turning their dreams into a reality. We require them to pitch their idea, and expect them to provide frequent updates on their progress. Sometimes their projects don’t turn out as expected or proposed, and that’s okay, but we expect there to be an ongoing learning dialogue about their work throughout the campaign.
Design is the New Cursive
Students have traditionally spent many hours perfecting manuscript and cursive handwriting in the elementary grades. The ability to print and handwrite has always been seen as an essential communication skill. Today, it is the ability to craft a pitch video or visual presentation to communicate new ideas. A good pitch explains the problem concisely, presents the solution, and explains why you should invest in no more than three minutes. It’s difficult to craft, but a good pitch demonstrates an understanding of the problem far better than pages of writing.
At our school, we spend at least a week or two studying a problem and developing empathy for the people for whom we are designing. For example, some of our engineering students visited a local children’s hospital. They interviewed nurses and patients, observed and took notes, and even helped out during some of the recreational activities. This helped them understand what a typical day is like, and gave them ideas about how they could help.
Challenge your students to pitch their idea or product in less than one minute. Ideally, their idea should be the result of a process like design thinking or challenge-based learning, both of which start with research into the problem, and guiding questions that develop empathy and understanding for the people your students are trying to help.
When creating a pitch, students like to use visual tools such as Haiku Deck or Visme to quickly develop a visual presentation that explains the problem, the audience, and the proposal. This allows students to focus on building strong content while remaining confident that the finished product will look beautiful.
A term from design thinking, failing forward is the idea that even though we might fail at a task, we are still making progress. Pete Docter, who worked on Pixar classics such as Toy Story and Inside Out, sums it up this way: “If you are afraid to fail, you’ll never try anything new.” At Punahou, we often tell students that FAIL is an acronym for “First Attempt In Learning.” In the design process, we use our prototypes of products to get us closer to understanding the end-user. The more times we “fail” the more feedback we are getting about what our users want; we are honing in by paring away the non-essentials.
In crowdfunding campaigns, it’s a given that unexpected delays and obstacles will crop up during the design cycle, Good creators keep their backers up to date with the details of the setback, what they learned from it, how they plan to address it, and how that might affect the ship date. Although backers are rarely happy to hear about issues, they do appreciate updates.
In your project-based classroom, insist on regular updates. Students should expect issues to crop up, and they should be empowered to write updates for you, their backers, because every obstacle is part of the story, and the story is the process of their learning.
Real Artists Ship
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was notorious for enforcing deadlines. All of the designing, iterating, and re-designing isn’t worth anything if you aren’t able to ship a product. Accustom students to meeting milestones and turning in iterations regularly. If students wait until their ideas are “perfect” before putting them out for feedback, they will never see the light of day. Consider having a “beta” date when projects are expected to be 85% – 95% complete at least one week before the final deadline. Students can give each other feedback on their projects and incorporate that feedback into the final version. Then have a release party when their projects are finally done! Consider inviting parents, school administrators, and other students to celebrate their success.
Make Meaningful Things
To develop students who are creators, entrepreneurs, designers, thinkers, and artists, they must be encouraged to develop their ideas in a feedback-rich environment. They should be creating and making artifacts of their learning, and they should be supported by their school environment with the time and resources to make meaningful things in exchange for regular updates and plot points in the story of their progress. In doing so, we support them and kickstart their journey toward building resilient and resourceful learners who will change the world.