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Why we play games in YE

Youth Entrepreneurs offers an innovative and interactive curriculum through educators who passionately invest in their students. Our experiential educational model features activities that bring entrepreneurism to life, including plenty of games. While games aren’t typically part of a traditional classroom, they’re central to Youth Entrepreneurs. Here’s why we play games in YE.            
“So much of our traditional educational model is designed to happen only mentally — memorizing facts or learning how to solve math problems in your head, for example,” says Jon Bachura, National Outreach Director at YE. “But we know that the longest-lasting lessons come from actual experience. If we can build neural networks in these young brains that are adrenaline-rich, engaging experiences, they’re unlikely to forget.”        

Another missing element in education is an understanding of when students will apply what they’re learning, Jon explains. “In most classrooms, students learn knowledge they’ll need in the future, always in preparation for some undetermined date,” he says. “YE’s activity-based learning gives teachers and students a way to bring lessons to life in the here and now. YE’s lessons can be applied today.”

YE’s Market Day activity, for example, combines a micro-loan program with a pop-up market. Students are not simply reading about an economy and imagining how it could work hypothetically. Instead, they’re diving into a real economic experience in the classroom, complete with its own currency. “This equips the teacher to not only discuss principles and intellectual things, but to bring it to life for their students,” Jon says.

Another example is the classic game PIT. Not only does it help students learn the value of responsibility, it also helps students learn through live commodity market simulation. 

“In the original PIT game rules, players are not allowed to verbalize what commodity they’d like to trade,” Jon says. “But this is incongruent with the way business really works. In our free market system, that’s called advertising and free speech.” YE teachers guide students in talking about the original rules, then help them develop an understanding about why free speech is important in business. “When we play PIT, we can talk about all of these things, including history, philosophy and business, all at the same time, literally around a deck of cards.”

And there’s another reason games work in the YE classroom: it’s fun! “The kids just think they’re playing, they think it’s fun, but they’re learning huge life lessons at the same time. We put cauliflower in their mashed potatoes,” Jon laughs. YE alumni agree: 97% of students report that they enjoyed their YE experience.

Unique to YE’s activity-based approach is not only the games themselves, but the format in which students play. “In a more traditional setting, the teacher would say, today we’re going to simulate a commodity market, then define it and discuss what commodities are available,” Jon explains. “We’d tell the students everything they need to know to play the game. In contrast, YE allows students to play the game first, and then they explore from there. The students have an impact on changing the rules and it becomes more real to them.” 

YE’s approach allows students to learn how to thrive in the face of uncertainty. “In the traditional classroom environment, much of learning is orderly and they know just what to expect,” Jon explains. “Playing these games helps students get an understanding of chaos and feel comfortable in that. Students learn that they can thrive when everything isn’t laid out for them. To be a successful adult, you’ve got to pivot, to make adjustments on the fly, to deal with chaos in your life and not be anxious about it. The YE experience helps students build confidence.”

The YE experiential model gives students confidence in themselves, knowing that they can go out and be successful, no matter what they decide to do. “We’re absolutely about helping students start businesses,” Jon says. “But starting their own business is just a part of what entrepreneurship is about. Entrepreneurship means taking charge of your life and of your destiny. We’re not only building businesses, we’re building people.”