What do you do on your first day of class?

I invited my son, Doan Winkel, to share what he does in his Entrepreneurship class on the first day of class. Doan is The John J. Kahl, Sr., Chair in Entrepreneurship, at John Carroll University in Cleveland Heights OH USA.  Here is what he does.

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What if the first thing your students did in your class was to get up and leave? Because you asked them to? Borrowing from the idea of Jeffrey Stamp, I start my very first class in Entrepreneurship I by writing the following on the whiteboard. I give no verbal instructions, I don't attract attention to what I have written, I just write it and wait:

Step 1: Get up and walk around the building

Step 2: Come back

Step 3: Tell us what you saw

Step 4: Pitch us an idea

Students are initially unsure what to do. You can see the gears turning - "When will we review the syllabus?" and "Are we supposed to do that now?" Eventually one brave soul stands up and leaves the room, whereupon the rest of the students consider it safe to follow the instructions I wrote on the board. About 15 or 20 minutes later, students start to wander back in. They are usually a cacophony of observations and ideas. As they trickle in, I begin to ask random students to share their idea, and then to share what they saw that led them to this idea. 

I wrap up this introductory exercise by asking students why I start an entrepreneurship class with such an exercise. Most who answer fumble around with something having to do with ambiguity, with independence, with ideas, with pitching. I point out the fact that I want them to develop the skill of being aware. I stress how important to entrepreneurial thinking awareness is, and that they can ask better questions and develop better ideas if they are better at being aware.


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I believe what Doan is trying to do in developing his students' sense of awareness can help in all subjects.  In fact, awareness in all things, e.g., read chapter in the text; do problem 3,5, and 9; break up into groups of 3 and work on this project; consider the following differential equation(!), can serve our students very well and would make them deeper thinkers while moving them to a higher level of cognition.  Maybe not asking students to walk around the building for your students (although it would seem to help both the particular and the general aspects of a course), but something to grab their attention, move them off their comfort zone, and given them practice in increasing and using their awareness. Be aware of this approach! 


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