With entrepreneurship becoming such a popular term, it’s no wonder that so many students in Desireè Peterkin’s business education class dream about running their own businesses. Knowledge Matter’s Virtual Business - Management online simulation gives these kids a glimpse of what it really means to be the boss.
"Kids tell me that they want to be in charge of their own company someday," Peterkin says. "So we start up the Management simulation and I say ‘Okay, you got it–you’re in charge of a whole factory. Let’s see what you can do.’"
For the past nine years, Peterkin has taught business to grades nine through twelve at Chesapeake High School in Baltimore County, MD. She has been using the Knowledge Matters business simulations for the past five years. What she likes most about the sims is that they give her students a very realistic, very detailed look at how the world works. "A lot of the kids I teach have never known anyone who runs their own business or manages a big company. They don’t know about things like balancing a check book or opening up a line of credit or ordering supplies. The sim creates a little mini-world where these kids can see how it all works."
The Knowledge Matters Management sim gives her students a chance to transcend their immediate surroundings and do all of the things a factory owner would do, from hiring employees to determining profit margins, managing the supply chain, and setting salary levels.
"The students begin by posting a job on the simulated free website patterned after craigslist.org," Peterkin says. "They use filtering tools to screen applicants for relevant experience and read resumes. When I tell them to reject any resumes with spelling errors, you can just see the light bulb go off in their heads."
Once each student’s virtual factory is in production, the first goal is to run the business at a profit, and the second is to grow. But even if they’re doing everything right, they can still face real-world business problems.
By the end of this class, Peterkin’s students have gotten a very broad business education. They’ve learned how to design the factory floor for maximum efficiency, maintain an uninterrupted flow of parts and supplies, handle employee complaints, adjust prices for external conditions, and do risk management. As Peterkin says, the Knowledge Matters simulations create a very real world-sometimes a little too real for some students.
"Last year one of my students started yelling at his computer because one of his employees stopped working. ‘He stopped putting the bicycles together, Ms. Peterkin. Why did he stop?’ And I just said, ‘well, what are your working conditions like? Do you allow them to take breaks? Do they have ergonomic workstations?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t think it would be so hard to run a business! I thought you just made a lot of money.’"
Encourages Higher-Level Thinking: Peterkin says that the Virtual Business - Management simulation makes each student think like an executive. To run a successful business, students must learn to take the needs of others into consideration, weigh short-term versus long-term gains, and constantly find solutions to difficult problems.
Learning Cause & Effect: As with all of the Knowledge Matters simulations, the Management sim gives students immediate feedback on their actions. Speed up the production line, and employees slow down in protest. Increase your per unit margin, and fewer orders come in. Students learn that for every action they take, there is an immediate reaction.
Builds Confidence: Peterkin says that because of their life experiences, many of her students don’t have a great deal of self-esteem or confidence. But when she sits them down in front of the Management sim and tells them that they are in charge of running an entire factory, good things can happen.
“By the time we do the Management sim, my students have learned a little bit about employee management, production, financial management, and planning. Putting all of this knowledge together to run a factory kind of pumps them up, and they go, ‘Okay. All right. I see how to do this. I got it.’ It’s amazing to see them gain so much confidence in just a year. "
Improves Communications with Parents: An unexpected benefit of the Management simulation, Peterkin says, is the way it has opened up communications between students and their parents. And that has led more parents to become more involved in their child’s education.
Accessible Anywhere: Students get ample time in class to run the simulation. But some need more time. "I don’t close down the sim on the weekend. Since it’s web-based, I tell them ‘Look, you’ve got to work on this. If you’ve got a tablet, you can use that. Or go to your friend’s house, your cousin’s house, or the library. Do what you need to do to get it done.’”
Great support: After using the simulations for five years, Peterkin rarely has problems with them. But when she does, she knows Maureen Ginley is quick to respond to her emails: "she’s been awesome!" The Knowledge Matters support team is always at-the-ready.