Tag Archives: socratic method


by John Jonelis

What happens when you invite the community into your high school and send your high school students into the community?

Amazing things! You create a THIRD SPACE in people’s lives.

[Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer at IMSA.]

Britta – “You have your home and you have your work and you have third spaces in your life where you feel comfortable and find a community. Robert Putnam believed in third spaces. He has a book called Bowling Alone 1. It used to be that bowling leagues were that third space. People at the bar. Cheers. We want IN2 to be that third space in people’s lives.”

“Look at the ceiling. Look at the lights. Do you see the pattern?

IN2 – Symbolism in Architecture

It’s that intersection of outside and inside. Community coming together to make this a real learning laboratory experience. We want to come in and work on real-world problems and opportunities.

“People can bring problems and opportunities to us and say, let’s figure out how we can work together. Like the State of Illinois with the hackathon we just did—finding solutions to childhood lead poisoning.

“Think about all the things kids are doing that are not helping. Here’s a great place. I hope IN2 can be a third space in people’s lives.”

[The grandness of the idea and the imaginative scope hit home, but ask Britta how IN2 will implement it.]



“We can’t stand still. Education—if it’s doing the same thing over and over and over—is not moving ahead—it’s falling behind.

“IN2 is the intersection of what we do at IMSA and the community. We’re partnering with Invest Aurora, the Woman’s Business Development Center, the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center—they are all resources to help what we’re doing here grow and scale.

Business Mentor

[Britta anticipates my next question and gets even more specific.]

“We’ve opened up a cohort of LINKubators 2 These are actual startup companies.  We have three working in the space as a pilot.  Our students intern with them and our network can help them grow.  Our MENTORS, our IDEA BARISTAS, our SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS can all help them grow. 

“Next fall we hope to have ten LINKubator startups working in the IN2 space during the day when the kids are in class. We’re trying to see what we’re good at and get a rhythm to the space.

“So whether it’s somebody in the community with an idea or a problem—whether it’s students that want to accomplish something new—whether it’s mentors from the community coming here to help the next generation of learners—whether it’s subject matter experts helping a non-profit grow—we want IN2 to inspire students and community to go on and be entrepreneurs and develop their ideas.

“Our goal at IN2 is to blend in with IMSA and be that resource for students and community beyond the classroom. That’s what this is all about.”

Student Entrepreneur


“I think one of our signature programs is our STUDENT INQUIRY AND RESEARCH program or SIR. That really distinguishes us because we don’t have class on ‘I-DAYS.’ Those are inquiry days—that happens most every Wednesday. Traditional class shuts down. We have class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“‘I-DAYS are meant for independent exploration—inquiry or research. On ‘I-DAYS, student go down to 1871 and other locations to intern for startups. Now, with the new IN2 facility, our students can work with entrepreneurs right here as well. Either way, through the SIR program, they’re doing research with mentors and business teams.”

Sue Fricano & Tami Armstrong

[I’m joined by Sue Fricano—IN2 site coordinator, Tami Armstrong—Director of Public Affairs]

Sue – “MONDAY NIGHT LIVE is an event put on by Dr. Carl Heine each week. He brings in speakers and he develops programs for entrepreneurs.

Carl Heine

“He puts external students on his TALENT board—entrepreneurial students coming in to learn the different stages of building a business and different skills used in building businesses.”

Tami – “A lot of the students here are part of that as well as members of the community that come to learn more about entrepreneurship.”

Sue – “At IN2 we are trying to give them the expertise to go out and make the initial steps of developing.”


[Betty Hart is the Innovation Center Program Manager.]

Betty – “We have girls in the STEM program, which is a mentoring peer-to-peer program for girls in 6th to 12th grade.  We have events such as IMSA DAY OF CYBER, which focuses on encouraging students to seek cyber security careers.” 

Betty Hart

Betty – “We have TEAM STEM CAFE, which is a network of local high school students who host quarterly events focused on STEM related topics. And we have THINK CAFE, which is a community initiative that invites organizations to come in and pitch a problem or an idea.”

Britta – “Our charges really are this: The first is to be a STEM teaching/learning laboratory for our best and brightest students across the state. Then we have the FUSION programs.3 These are after-school programs at schools, grade 4-8, all around the state. And we also have the charge of educating the educators. We bring the teachers in and give them professional development, which helps them in science and math.”


Bring Back Socrates

[I pose a thorny question:  Why teach entrepreneurship at such an early age, rather than prepare the students for college or jobs?]

Tami – “What we’re doing is launching the students so when they leave here, they’re prepared. There’s a big demand for ideas and innovation. Innovation is valuable, and very coveted. We’re supplying that to the workforce.

“We’re also launching research. How can students advance the human condition and solve the world’s grandest challenges?

“That’s what comes from IN2—the ability to make very difficult innovations. When you can harness them, bring them to a place like this, and connect the students with business and industry, dream and idea become reality.”

[Suddenly I get it. I asked the wrong question and now realize the goal is really quite straightforward—to encourage students to think for themselves—to let them discover how to learn. IMSA does it the same way it was done almost 2,500 years ago—self-directed inquiry and innovation—the Socratic Method.]

Student Entrepreneur


Britta – “People think we’re just this gifted school for 650 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from around the state, but we’re not. And people think we’re a private school and we’re not—we’re public. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Illinois.”

“And we have a student team called IMSA ELEMENT that teaches the lean startup methodology. Build—measure—learn. Students developed a whole curriculum and teach it to each other. We’re entertaining possibilities.”

  • “We need to be open to ideas, be able to move quickly, and say YES.”
  • “And have FAST FAILS.”
  • “And move toward SUCCESS and ITERATE.”

“We’re not afraid to do that here. In a world where you’re dealing with high-caliber students who don’t fail often, failure is a difficult concept. But once they get the hang of it, they actually become quite good at fast fails.”

Entrepreneur with a solution

The 17%

Britta – “We’re not looking for the vast majority to really understand this space, because we can’t hold everybody. But about 17% in the world are innovators. That’s who we’re looking for—that 17%. Once we get a few of those, they bring their networks. Those are the early adopters, innovators, and they see things much earlier.”

Those are the people IN2 was built to serve.


This is the final article in this series.

Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Go to Part 2 – POWER PITCH

 Go to next series – TOP OF THE LIST



  1. BOWLING ALONE – Robert Putnam
  2. IN2 Launches LINKubator for Fox Valley Startups


IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu


Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Impact Investing, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, Mobile App, new companies, Public Schools, Social Entrepreneur, Social Media, Software, Startup, startup company, Venture


Impact Engine – Part 3

VERBATIM by Loop Lonagan – Investor and man about town,

as told to John Jonelis

Impact EngineLoop Lonagan here at IMPACT ENGINE Investors Day. I got an exciting report on the education of our kids. This’s real interesting stuff—and real important.  Ever’body knows dat education is the difference between living in poverty and not.  To tell the truth, maybe I didn’t pay so much attention when I was in school.  But that’s the whole point.  Lotsa kids in dis country is fallin’ behind the world bigtime

To fix the problem, forty-six o’ these United States already adopted the new CCSS standards fer their schools. That stands for Common Core State Standards ‘n’ they’re goin’ into effect real soon. So ever’body’s scramblin’ to get ready. Every student, every teacher and school is gonna get held to the same standards as ever’body else nationwide. This’s gonna mean a major shift in the way students learn.

Meanwhile, schools don’t know just exactly how the CCSS program is gonna get done ‘n’ they’re lookin’ fer answers. Seems like a big opportunity to me.

Hey, I’m all for anything that blows away the status quo in American education. What we got is broke. Ever’body knows it’s broke. And we’re fallin’ behind the rest o’ the world. Even Cuba’s got a better educational system fer heaven sakes.

Eileen Murphy 2

Eileen Murphy of ThinkCERCA

That’s why Eileen Murphy, a classical Irish lass, started ThinkCERCA. CERCA stands for something I ferget—maybe I’m gettin’ old—I dunno. Anyhow, IMPACT ENGINE launched this company ‘cause it’s gonna solve the education problem in the good old US of A. I think that’s worth doing.

Note to Editor – Hey John, you never edited my copy on them other reports. It makes me look kinda bad. This one’s on education so gimme a hand here.

Note to Loop – Quit whining about the way you talk. You made all those millions. You earned a Masters from the U of C. You figure it out. As always, I’ll print exactly what you send—but keep it clean.


Da Problem

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah—turns out the US is less competitive fer a good reason: Way too much focus on lower-level skills.  No critical thinking. Not enough rigor. Not enough engagement. Mosta what kids soak up is ethnic media outsida school. The result? Our kids ain’t career or college ready. So whadaya gonna do? Here’s three options:

OPTION #1—THE STATUS QUO—Schools keep tryin’ to cram facts down these kid’s little throats.  It’s a complete waste o’ time. Always was. Always will be. Lookit me.  I never sat still fer it so whadaya think’s happenin’ in classrooms today? It don’t work. It don’t prepare nobody to go out ‘n’ solve real problems.

Look at it from the teacher’s side. Say you’re tryin’ every day to control six rowdy classes—50 kids each. All usin’ the same syllabus. The same text. The same boring lecture. Maybe that works for summa dem, but lots is strugglin’ and others is bored outa their gord. Enough to turn any class into a riot scene.  So lemme ask you:

  • How ya gonna do any face-to-face with individuals when yer time’s all used up controllin’ an unruly mob that don’t even listen to yer lecture?
  • How ya gonna custom-design dynamic lesson plans fer every student when yer stuck with one textbook that most of ‘em can’t even read?
  • How ya gonna set up an unbiased assessment that meets CCSS standards—uniform across all states?

Answer—You can’t. But that’s what the new rules are gonna require.

OPTION #2—SINK OR SWIM—We could chuck ‘em all over the side ‘o the boat and see who can swim ‘n’ who can’t. That’s the school I went to. So what’s the problem with that?

  • Maybe I figured out how to succeed or maybe I just got lucky—I still get complaints from people about the way I talk.
  • Alotta kids I knew never made it to shore neither. Not so good.

OPTION #3—ThinkCERCA—Kids learn critical thinking skills to equip ‘em fer life.  That raises a couple questions:

  • How does ThinkCERCA teach that?
  • How do they measure the results?

Aha! Turns out them’s THE questions!


Da Method

Turns out the ancient, Socratic method is the way to go. It’s been around fer like forever,Eileen Murphy of ThinkCERCA right? So you might say ThinkCERCA is goin’ back to fundamentals—but they’re usin’ technology to do it.

They replace a school’s antique paper system with easy-to-use technology. The technology helps keep kids at their own individual pace. It don’t replace teachers—it helps ‘em.

The result? Teachers spend their time on face-to-face instruction. Kids collaborate with peers in real-life critical thinking exercises. Everybody shares and debates. Learning gets a whole lot more social. Here’s the 1-2-3 of it:

  1. DYNAMIC CONTENT—New material will constantly come online. They start with stuff created by their team of national experts. Then two million Grade 6-12 teachers will share and add to a common library. Collectively, those 2M teachers have the answers that get missed by traditional publishing. This I like.
  2. CONCEPTS FROM LEAN MANUFACTURING—One o’ the first rules in LEAN is to stop batching things. What you got in the classroom is a big batch of assorted kids up against one rigid, unyielding program. That’s gotta change. In the 21st century, students is gonna design their own learning experience and teachers is gonna curate the content. I like this, too.
  3. EVIDENCE-BASED ARGUMENTATION—This’s how ThinkCERCA teaches critical thinking. Students learn to gather evidence, build an argument, tie the two together ‘n’ explain it to another kid. The goal is to help students create viable arguments ‘n’ also analyze the reasoning of others. Bottom line—kids learn critical thinking. They can figure out the right answer all by themselves. I like this a lot. Lemme give you an example:

Here’s the old kinda question:

A car averages 27 miles per gallon. If gas costs $4.04 per gallon, which of the following is closest to how much gas would cost for this car to travel 2,727 typical miles?

  • A. $44.44
  • B. $109.08
  • C. $118.80
  • D. $444.40

I don’t care. Do you care? Ever’body remembers those kinda questions and we all hate ‘em.

Now here the new kinda question:

5 swimmers compete in the 50-meter race. The finish time for each swimmer is shown below.

  •  Swimmer 1 – 23.42
  •  Swimmer 2 – 23.18
  •  Swimmer 3 – 23.21
  •  Swimmer 4 – 23.35
  •  Swimmer 5 – 23.24

Explain how the race would change if each swimmer’s time was rounded to the nearest tenth.

Whoa! Makes you think, don’t it? And that’s the idea!


Da Technology

ThinkCERCA is a web-based platform that gives teachers the tools ‘n’ content they need to create and deliver personalized critical thinking instruction for ALL students. Here’s what you get:

  • Teachers get web tools to create quick lesson plans tailored to each kid—just a few clicks o’ the mouse ‘n’ yer done! And these lessons are geared fer critical thought! In other words, kids learn to think ‘n’ they learn to express their knowledge and back up their ideas with real evidence.
  • Schools get a library o’ web-based content insteada old fashioned text books. The library is dynamic so’s it keeps growin’ and improvin’.
  • Students get their lessons right on a tablet computer. Hey, it’s actually fun, ‘n’ that frees up teachers for quality individual face-to-face education. And it frees up students fer critical interaction ‘n’ debate.
  • Lessons connect-up all the different subjects so kids see the whole meaning of learning every subject.
  • Ever’body follows a uniform standard across all states. What you get is an unbiased assessment fer each kid that meets CCSS standards. Principals are gonna love that.  And the reports is clear to ever’body—even parents.

Pretty good, doncha think? Then I hear Ray Markman comment so I prick up my ears: Ray Markman“This is a shot across the bow of America in terms of teaching people,” he says. “I wish I was going to school now.” And that from a guy who attended Erasmus HS in its heyday. [For more about Ray Markman, see the link at the end of this report.]


Da Credentials

Eileen Murphy of ThinkCERCAThese CCSS standards are mired in technospeak ‘n’ ya gotta be an expert to decipher it all. Eileen’s an expert. She’s got credentials up the whazoo. This gal’s smart with a distinguished history: Teacher at Whitney Young HS who influenced their climb to the top. Founded Walter Payton College Prep, which is huge. In charge of 115 schools in city of Chicago. Consultant for the national council of teachers—a highly respected group. Member of the blended-school design team.

A web search turns up lotsa scholarly papers—and here’s something interesting: Some o’ them’s focused on poetry as a tool fer teaching critical thinking.

And Eileen wrote the highly acclaimed book—360 Degrees of Text.

See it on Amazon

Da Business

This is a “B to G” business model. (Business to Government) It’s a proven product with proven demand (teachers ‘n’ principals) and a customer with lotsa money (the public schools). Hey, we’re lookin’ at a 1.3 TRILLION DOLLAR MARKET with government regulation holdin’ their feet to the fire. I think we’re gonna see some real money change hands here.

Government is holdin’ the school principals accountable ‘n’ they’re holdin’ the teachers accountable. At the same time, teachers are finally looking fer resources that actually help their students. So the demand works both ways. That’s a combination I like.

The ThinkCERCA system is simple. Alotta schools already adopted it ‘n’ it’s working. It actually teaches critical thinking. It helps set up lesson plans. It tracks success. And it creates reports that satisfy the new regs. This is the way our kids catch up to the world.

I think this one’s a winner.



Go back to Part 1


Da Links

Here’s a couple animations to give you an inside look:


Here’s a terrific video of Eileen presenting her company: http://vimeo.com/channels/thinkcerca/55798073


Find ThinkCERCA at – www.thinkcerca.comThinkCERCA logo


Find IMPACT ENGINE atwww.theimpactengine.com


Here’s that article on Ray Markman as promised


Impact Engine

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


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