Use of the Shark Tank model to solve a current conservation issue

What is the strategy?

The strategy is to use the model of the television show ‘Shark Tank’ as a way to illustrate a solution to a current conservation issue.  The ‘Shark Tank’ model is one where entrepreneurs have three minutes to pitch an idea to millionaires who have available start-up capital.  I used this as an exercise in a Conservation Biology classroom in the Spring of 2015.  Critical thinking and creativity are emphasized in this strategy. Students are required to research an issue, devise a possible solution (or use a solution to fundraise), determine project costs, develop a project timeline, create a sample press kit, and present the idea to the class.  The class are the millionaires with the $100,000,000 venture capital to enable the project.  After all presentations, classmates vote on the project they wish to fund. The project that ‘wins’ receives two extra points toward the final grade.

Why should I use it? (How are they useful for the students? How are they useful to the instructor?)

To benefit the student, this exercise involves critical thinking, allows the current literature to be accessed and reviewed, and allows the student the freedom to be creative.  Creative solutions are often the best choices for complex conservation issues.  Students work with a partner or in a group of three, so teamwork and organizational skills are practiced. Lastly, students present or ‘pitch’ the idea to the class, which allows students to practice public speaking.  The pitch is only three minutes in length, so students need to get their points across convincingly and quickly.  This type of communication is becoming increasingly important in the sciences.

To benefit the instructor, this exercise fulfils many of the course objectives (topic content, presentation skills, and critical thinking).  It is also a beneficial exercise to assess understanding of an issue by not only the presenters but by the other classmates. 

What is an example (or two) of the task?

A few of the topics chosen this semester were: a non-profit organization that brings together the scuba diving community with local restaurants and a local college culinary school to develop ways to capture and prepare lionfish for the local restaurant market.  The kickoff event was a weekend cook-off with educational materials at the tables explaining what lionfish are and what they are doing in terms of habitats and predation; a second example was the creation of a mobile phone app which tracks one’s carbon footprint throughout the day, making it a game similar to the 10,000 steps counters.  App users compete online and can purchase offset credits similar to other app games, and all proceeds benefit renewable energy research; a third example was for an experiential and service-learning college credit course in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS). Venture capital would only be used for insurance and initial start-up costs, and the project would be self-seeding based on college tuition rates. Students in this fictional college course work alongside NPS Rangers to learn about the ecosystem, gain experience working with the general public, perform service activities and some general basic administrative duties for the NPS. 

How do these tasks fit into my class?  How long will they take? Should I do these problems in groups?  How big?  Who chooses them?

The strategy involves a single class period (or two depending on the size of the class). Students work with a partner(s) of their choice outside of class to develop the project details.  The media packet is the physical deliverable of this task. 

For which topics should I assign them?

Students were not assigned topics, but were allowed to choose from any current issue in Conservation Biology.

How should I grade these problems?  Should I grade these problems?

Students are graded in three categories: 

  • The Media Packet:
    • Thoroughness of project plan
    • Timeline well planned and reasonable
    • Potential obstacles identified in the business plan
    • FAQ sheet has sufficient, appropriate detail
  • The Pitch
  • Ideas presented in three minute timeframe

What is issue? Why should one care?

What will this idea do to help?

  • Was the project funded?

What pitfalls do I need to avoid? What do I need to explain to my students about this new classroom activity?

Pitfalls to be avoided would be to explain the media packet fully in the beginning.  Students may have seen the television show, but had many questions regarding a media packet and business plan. The general pitfalls seen regarding group work and time management of in-class presentations should be avoided.