Daniele Manni was one of the 50 finalists of the Teacher Global Prize in 2015. He teaches computer science in the city of Lecce in the south of Italy at the Istituto Galilei-Costa. He encourages creative thinking in his classes setting 25-30% of his lesson time aside to engage his students in long-term projects from a variety of topics, such as social inclusion, pollution and start-ups. In this interview he explains the steps he followed to bring entrepreneurship into his classroom.
It’s not the goal to make one entrepreneur from every student but they all got great benefits in this process
«The thing that characterises my teaching is that I have always been both an entrepreneur and a teacher, a computer science teacher. And I have done this, till 1999.
In 1999 I transformed my professional formation and I left entrepreneurship outside school, so I quitted to be an teacher. I started bringing inside school to my students all my experience as an entrepreneur.
I tried to push my students to invent or create what now we call start-ups. These are little enterprises, micro-enterprises made with no money but with creativity to invent a new product, a new service, a new application for computers.
This activity is very enthusiastic. It’s about 20 years now that I am teaching entrepreneurship and it is very satisfying. One of the important things in these first years is that I thought I had to make 25 entrepreneurs from a class. But then I found out that it was not possible. I found out that only two, three or four students became entrepreneurs. I asked myself if I was doing something wrong because I was forcing something that students didn’t need.
Then later on, all the students came back after years and even if they had done university or they started working somewhere, all of them told me that it was very important doing that path in entrepreneurship because they noted differences with other students. They noted that they were good in problem solving, they noted that they were more practical in solving problems, they noted that they were more enthusiastic about the future and even more self-confident, they felt more secured going towards their future.
So I started to say, «Ok it doesn’t matter. If even one or two become entrepreneurs is important that they do this path.»
«I forced it but in a very soft way»
In the first years it was very strange to me that nobody talked about entrepreneurship in schools like our school, which is a business oriented school. We were teaching economic science but we didn’t practice entrepreneurship. So I thought it should be in this way, and even if the Ministry programs didn’t imagine that we could do it, I started to force this.
I started introducing entrepreneurship with all the subjects that come with entrepreneurship, which means creativity, technology and innovation and change making. I forced and I saw that the students got many advantages from it I continued this way. All this work has been done in a very soft way, very slow voice.
Then something happened in 2015 because my name came out among the 50 finalists at the Global Teacher Prize, it’s a sort of Nobel Prize for teaching, international Nobel Prize. Our story came out and this was fantastic because other teachers from other schools, even from abroad, from France and from Germany, I got contacted by them and wanted to do the same in other schools, and this was the very nice part of it.
So my advice is that business oriented schools have to teach entrepreneurship. My advice is that every school should do it. From the age of ten, eleven years old, because it’s true that children of eleven or twelve years old don’t think about work and jobs, but they have creativity and if they understand that their creativity can be transformed in something practical they should do it.
How to develop start-ups with the students step by step
A motivating brainstorming
Talking about how it works in the practice. In September when we started schools I had new students, fourteen year old students. I went into the classroom and after saying hello, the second word is “what are we going to invent?” “what are we going to create?”.
So the first lessons are very about brainstorming. Give me your ideas, any kind of ideas, even if it sounds stupid, tell it, because although it may sound stupid maybe another girl or boy will hear this idea and have a different way of thinking.
Selecting the best ideas following some rules
We «loose» three of four lessons just to explore what we have to create. It can be a new product, a t-shirt, a service to offer to the citizens in our city or maybe an application. Obviously I have to select the ideas. These ideas have to follow some rules:
- They don’t have to cost any money. We don’t have money so we have to invent things without money.
- Second it must be practically makeable, you cannot invent something that you cannot make it.
- Third, it has to have a market. It must interest someone, not everyone but someone.
Creating complementary groups
Then we go ahead with the selected ideas. Most times we create groups in the class: who is best at computer science will make the website, who is best at marketing will start studying some plans for the marketing, who is best to talk to people, we will use them to sell the product. So for every student we look for his/her most characteristic things, put them together and make them a team.
The most beautiful part of it is that we create start-ups with a whole class. Almost always three, four or five of them at certain point tell me “Teacher, we want to create our own start-up”. This is fantastic, because they are motivated and believe in what they do and if the school gives them the practical help to create it, it will be a success.
Looking for the practical side of each subject
In our school we have normal subjects that are the same as in all the Italian schools, Italian, English, maths, science, physics…and then we have particular subjects, which are economics, law and computer science. We practice start-ups especially in my hours, in computer science hours. But all my colleagues know that the students have the start-ups so when they have to teach an economic lesson, they try to teach it considering what the students need.
On the other hand for the students who are trying to create their own start-ups, they have their ears turned-on when they hear the economic teacher speaking because they want to personalize those lessons on their idea of what they need.
When a teacher talks about marketing, he/she is already thinking about how those lessons can be useful for his/her marketing. The same thing for the law. So they are absolutely more turned on at these lessons, instead of normal students that get those lessons in a very general way.
Communicating your ideas, a gym to open up
Another feature of teaching entrepreneurship, which is very important, is that students have to show other persons what they are working on. So it happens very often to have public speaking for example. We train them in public speaking, first talking to other students, explaining what are their ideas and trying to convince them that the idea is a good idea.
Because they have to be well trained when they have to explain what we call the pitch, which mostly is an explanation of your idea to people who may finance your idea. So they have to pitch very well and convince people that their idea is better than another one to have their money.
We noticed that talking a lot to other people helps them a lot to open up. We have students in the first year that are shy and don’t want to talk. Then they follow this path and find out after two or three years that they got unblocked and they talk very well because they had sort of gym in having exercises in this. And it helps them in their future it whatever they have to do.
From the idea to the final product design
We have some macro steps about the project and product design.
First macro step is brainstorming. We have to decide which idea to take out.
The second macro step depends on the first. If we have to plan a new product we have to follow a path that leads us to the prototype of this product.
Before the prototype we have to do a research in the market to understand if this would be a good idea or it won’t be a good idea.
So it’s very fluid, it’s not very precise. I know that many entrepreneurs would jump from their chair when I say this, because I know that many entrepreneurs and many schools say that they have to follow a certain path to go on. You have the idea, the business canvas, then you have this model, business plan…it’s kind of disrupting in the school. Every idea has its specific path. Maybe we go wrong but it’s ok if we go wrong because we understand that we did something wrong and we can correct this.
I would like to say that another important feature of teaching entrepreneurship is failure.
Here in Italy, to fail is something very bad, nobody wants to fail. We think that failure is important. Americans say that the faster you fail, the faster you will reach the good solution and especially in students with 14, 15, 16 years old, they have to fail. They have to fail to understand what it is failure and to learn to face failure. How to stand up again, learn something important from that failure and to go on with more strength.
Advices for teachers who want to teach entrepreneurship
I think that a good entrepreneurship teacher has to have a lot of experience because you have to have lots of experience to say if one idea is good or bad.
Then he/she has to look at what is happening. He doesn’t have to guide everything, he has to give freedom to the students to develop their ideas and when they have wrong ideas he has to shut up and say “Ok, test it, try it”. Because if the teacher says immediately, “No, it’s a bad idea, don’t do this marketing because it won’t work”, the students won’t learn anything.
Instead if the teacher says, “try it and see what it happens” and when it happens and it was a wrong plan, the teacher must explain why was a bad plan. He can say, “I knew that it couldn’t work but I wanted you to test it on yourself so you can discover with your own hands what is going wrong.
Then it’s very important to encourage continuously, we must always encourage them to go ahead, if they are wrong, tell them that they are wrong but tell them to try again. And when we see that they are going to give up say “Don’t give up absolutely. I will give you again the help to start and go ahead and never stop”.