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Member Spotlight: One Entrepreneur’s Inquiring Mind

As a particularly tense election comes to a close, one innovator blames the polarization on a system that is failing to teach kids to think critically. Of today’s elementary schools, DK Holland said,

“You’re in a space that’s highly regulated. You’re supposed to be teaching kids to be innovative, free-thinking, spontaneous, thinking outside the box, design thinkers, but none of those words work in the system that is set up.”

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Holland’s education startup, Inquiring Minds USA, designs processes and products to encourage learning through inquiry so kids become lifelong learners and active, engaged citizens. Inquiring Minds works with teachers and students in New York schools, and its website explains,

“When kids take charge of their learning, teachers innovate in their classrooms. We’re developing tools and strategies to open up channels (and keep them open) to encourage curiosity and innovation — inquiry.”

Inquiring Minds aims to help prepare young students to develop entrepreneurial mindsets in the digital economy. Holland began working on how get kids actively involved in citizenship right after President Obama, who has paid a lot of attention to entrepreneurs, took office.

On ways to equip students to work together, think for themselves, and contribute to their communities, Holland said,

“To get kids civically engaged, they have to care… If we can’t motivate them to be creative, critical thinkers, then shame on us.”

Inquiring Minds’ student government strategy has led shy kids to take charge and bullies to promote collaboration. The project helps kids relate peer to peer in a way that positively affects learning, and any student can run for any of the offices on the fourth- or fifth-grade school councils.

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The Learning Wall is a huge pin-able, writable, black, sound-deadening canvas that helps focus the class on essential questions related to the curriculum. Inquiring Minds helps the students and teachers co-create the canvas and helps the class get the most out of the unit by integrating disciplines and encouraging the entire class to interact collaboratively with the wall.

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Nurturing how much students care and become civically engaged can have lasting benefits, and Holland’s theory is that those are key components often missing in the existing K-12 public school structure. She posed the question,

“How do you solve this thorny problem that no one has been able to solve?”

Short of adopting the tribe model in schools nationwide and ceasing to design schools for predictability, Holland thinks that mandating free time after school for elementary students wanting to solve problems in their schools is a feasible first step government can take to give kids more control in an unstructured, safe space with opportunities to be free-thinking. She said,

“The future is about cooperation, not about working in isolation, not about working in assembly lines. So, if it’s about cooperation, you have to learn to work in a team and with other points of view.”

New York City has contracted Inquiring Minds to run workshops to get more innovative strategies in more classrooms, and Holland has set up shop in 1776’s New York City campus. She said,

“Now that I understand the complex bureaucracy of the school system, I know that nothing would work if I didn’t have 1776.”

Holland plans to grow her startup from the office that sits on the same land her ancestors owned during and after the American Revolution (the family had a farmhouse that overlooked the British prison ships moored in Walkabout Bay in the 1770s and sold all 35 acres of the land to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1835). You might say that freedom is in this founder’s DNA.

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More and more New York schools and their students are likely to hear about and benefit from Inquiring Minds’ work, and the startup will continue making sure students discuss important issues.

Most recently, 100 fourth- and fifth-graders that Holland works with voted on “what values make a good or bad president” with astounding results, which the students are now analyzing to present to the entire school and parent-teacher association right after the presidential election. Next, the students will develop a research and voting process to improve the cafeteria.

The future can be hopeful that these kids will learn how to thrive in the times to come.

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