The seventh-graders who reported to the Thunder Ridge Middle School library on Dec. 5 were full of good ideas.
Divided into presentation teams, the students who took part in the school's debut "Shark Tank" event were also prepared to allay the concerns of any skeptics. Modeled on the popular TV show that sees inventors pitching their ideas to hardened CEOs and entrepreneurs, the activity that included students from all seventh-grade teams in the building took a slightly different approach in its format and ultimate goal.
Students had to recognize a problem, prepare a solution and explore every facet of the argument both for and against their proposed fix. All of this work was designed to properly prepare them for their formal presentation before a group of "sharks," which, in this case, consisted of representatives from the Cherry Creek School District community. Parents, teachers, retired educators and other guests sat on a revolving panel that quizzed students about their ideas and ultimately chose the top contenders.
According to Sara Kerns, an English teacher at the school who helped organized the activity, the aim of the activity was to teach students how to formulate a convincing argument and develop critical thinking skills. What's more, the project saw participants engaging in teamwork to formulate solutions for real-world, applicable problems.
"We wanted the students to find evidence supporting why their proposed solution could work," Kerns said. "We wanted them to work together and to brainstorm, to bring the format of 'Shark Tank' to the Thunder Ridge level."
One group explored the concept of "smart lockers," a smartphone system coupled with the school's banks of lockers to ensure greater security and safety for students' storage spaces. Another floated a homework reward system, one that would help participants stay on track with their assignments and keep from falling behind. A third team explored the concept of replacing the school's disposable, Styrofoam lunch trays with a more durable, reusable alternative, an idea that would lessen Thunder Ridge's daily waste input and keep dangerous trash out of the environment. The students who proposed the reusable trays ultimately ended up winning the group's competition.
"The most important thing about this project is that these students know they have a voice," Kerns said. "They've been able to recognize patterns in problems, present their solutions and move forward."
Students came prepared with in-depth Power Point presentations and fielded real-time, pertinent questions from the "sharks." In defending their concepts, they cited academic research, real-world examples and carefully curated materials.
The depth of the students' arguments impressed Christine Price, a former CCSD teacher who served as a "shark" for one of the sessions. Price, who also has seven grandchildren enrolled in the district, said that students' ability to recognize pertinent, pressing problems was one of the most impressive aspects of the entire activity.
"I'm so impressed that students are able to spot a problem and come up with such innovative solutions," Price said. "A couple of their projects really stood out. This is the perfect age to get them using their critical thinking skills and coming up with applicable solutions."