CINCINNATI – Matt Madison could have relied on his own expertise or a downtown marketing firm to dream up a new summer flavor for his growing Madisono’s Gelato brand.
Instead, he turned to junior executives – very junior.
A sixth grade science class at Kilgour Elementary will be charged with choosing the new flavor in a 10-week case study that begins this month. They’ll taste test, conduct market research, review production costs, supplies and all the other factors that go into choosing just the right flavor combination to please patrons while turning a profit. They'll use the same principles in a simplified format that Harvard Business School MBA candidates are learning about launching a successful product.
“Flavors pop out of a lot of unique places for us. So why not listen to some kids to see what flavors appeal to them,” Madison asked, noting that using school-aged kids may expand his market if they choose a flavor that appeals to children more than some of his existing adult-oriented flavors.
Kilgour’s is one of 18 science classes spread across Cincinnati Public and Milford Exempted Village schools that will benefit from a $1 million grant that the two districts won as part of Gov. John Kasich’s Straight A Fund, a $250 million pool of money set aside by the state to fund innovative ideas that aims to boost student achievement, reduce spending or maximize use of existing resources.
The goal of the Milford/CPS collaboration is to create STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes that engage students more effectively than traditional science curricula by challenging them to solve complex problems as a group. They’ll integrate any number of other disciplines into their work, depending on the specific project, and be asked to think creatively to accomplish their long-term goals. The model was developed by Partnership for Innovation in Education and will be implemented in cooperation with Cincinnati's Mayerson Academy, the education consultancy Smarter Schools, Northern Kentucky University and the school districts.
“Our job as PIE is to facilitate the development of those cases, said Mary Welsh Schlueter, CEO of PIE, who piqued Madison’s interest while talking up the project while the two watched their daughters play soccer at Walnut Hills High School.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to work with Mary given her dedication to STEM education and things like that. It’s really kind of a no-brainer,” Madison said.
PIE created a pilot program at Kilgour two years ago that the grant-funded initiative is expanding that challenged students to create an app that helped teach STEM skills. They came up with a game called Lemon Smash that Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics developed and offered for sale. All sales proceeds go to Kilgour.
Another class will study ways that the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center can improve attendance and secondary uses like attracting more private receptions, a study that will be modeled in part on a plan that boosted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s fortunes in Cleveland, Schlueter said. Which school tackles that project was still to be determined.
The kids learn how to develop a project and work through a problem. The answers are not cut and dry. They have to winnow out and divine the answers amongst competing information,” Schlueter said.
The project will give teachers the ability to boost their repertoire through creating and teaching the case method. They’ll work with student in one-hour clases over 10 weeks on programs developed in conjunction with PIE and Mayerson evaluators.
With the goal of scaling the project even further, both districts and the participating schools will collaborate with Smarter Schools to tell the story of the successes and challenges involved in implementing the projects. Teachers will share insights about how to turn their work into a model for others.
NKU’s Center for Applied Informatics will work with both districts to create another software application that helps teach STEM subjects. Students will have a say in what goes into the program. The completed app will be posted on the Google Android app marketplace with the potential to generate revenue for the schools.
Dr. Jill Chin, Milford’s director of elementary curriculum and instruction, said the timing of the grant is perfect for her district because it is revamping its science curriculum this year.
"We do have quite a few initiatives regarding STEM, including inquiry-based lessons in fifth grade,” she said. Inquiry-based learning poses questions, problems and scenarios to challenge students to find answers instead of lecturing on or assigning reading of established facts.
“We have not done case-based studies, and Milford chose the sciences (for a grant application) because we do have a keen interest,' she said.
'Really Fun Project'
Madison is looking forward to what the students create.
“I have every confidence that a sixth-grade class will be in a position to
create a great flavor,” he said. “I think this is going to be a really fun project. This is a really big thing for them, and it’s definitely scalable – not just for us but for all of the other business partners involved in it. These are really exciting opportunities.”
The grant may be prelude to a far more ambitious set of projects in 2015 if PIE and its partners get their way. They hope to bring in more universities and STEM advocates for projects that bring PIE's case-based science curriculum to more schools in more school districts and recruiting more business and institutional partners to participate.
Greater Cincinnati won a second Straight A Fund grant for $14.5 million, to be shared between applicant Princeton City School District and CPS to help the districts prepare for and welcome fast growing populations of students whose first language is not English. At least 900 teachers in the two districts will be instructed on how best to teach and accommodate an estimated 14,500 students and families.