Thursday, May 17, 2012

Last Kid Picked

For all the years that I've taught, Economics has always been the social studies unit tacked on to the end of the school year.  It is the proverbial last kid picked to play ball. And I'm not even entirely sure why.  I mean, is it because we think it's EASY, and therefore thrown in at the last moment and no one cares if you really do that good of a job on it?  Or do we think it's too HARD or BORING and we've dragged our feet getting to it?  Maybe I thought all those things at some point.  Kinda kooky though, because I am a sucker for consumerism.  It really should be right up my alley, when I come to think of it. But I've never done a good job with it, and I don't think I've ever been able to come up with a conceivable plan to make it interesting- until now.

So, I had that goal last week to make of a unit plan, and I did, just under the wire last Sunday night. Presented it to my team on Tuesday, and it was favorably received.  Don't know if they're doing it too, but since I got the green light on it, I'm already well under way.  And learning about how to do-it over better for next year along the way.

To begin with, my school is applying to be part of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme. And honestly, I really don't have a clear idea on what that means- I am attending training this summer- but in the meantime, it basically translates into "we don't do worksheets EVER".  Now, I taught nine years at a different school in a different district where worksheets ruled.  I had file cabinets full of detailed labeled folders of worksheets for every SOL and topic and situation.  Two year break, didn't keep any of it, start in new place, and pretty much I'm the example of a meth addict forced to go cold turkey.  I remember asking about worksheets one of the first few days on the job, and after the rapid blinking and cricket noises ended, there was a sideways smile and a "yeahhhh, we don't dooo that here".  All year I've lived with an itchy phantom limb sort of feeling like I can't possibly be doing my job without a worksheet.  But strangely, I somehow have managed to do without.  So- if you were hoping for worksheets with this economics plan, I am so terribly sorry- but there just aren't any.

I'm going to number the steps, but it's just to split it into sections, and is not indicative of how many DAYS you should actually spend on any one thing.  Some topics have meshed together, others will undoubtedly take a few days. Thus far, I've only done steps 1 - 4 and part of 5 already.  I'll update as we progress.  I still don't know if #10 and 11 will be a go or not.  We'll just have to see on that part.  But so far, the town is coming along nicely.


1. Read Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran.  Use this as a launching point for children to imagine that if they designed a town, what sort of businesses would it need to have in it?  Students create individual lists, or can work in partners or teams.  In my room, there was a little of all three going on, even the kids making their individual lists enjoyed talking about the subject with others and they all got ideas from each other.

2. Collect the lists and prior to the next lesson, write the names of any businesses, specific or general, on index cards.  Do not duplicate any entry.  Have the students take the cards and sort them into categories.  What categories will they pick?  You just don't know.  It's a student lead inquiry moment.  It's fascinating what they come up with, and what makes sense to them.  My kids put church and school together because they said they were both places where you went "to learn".  We went with it.  But after they've done their initial sort, you can still guide them into making decisions about rearranging the cards so that it reflects a general division of goods versus services even though you won't necessarily use those terms yet.  Use these categories to develop general terms for what the town needs. As the unit progresses you'll want to rely more on generalities like "hardware store" rather than a specific like "Home Depot" to help them create their own original stores.  Look for gaps in their thinking and add them to the list.

 We put all our cards up on the Promethean board. It worked out well for me that I had originally put their ideas on colored cards, and then when we added more in we put them on white.  As it turned out, they were very good at thinking up places where you had to buy an item, but hazy at first on the places where you paid for a service.  Once I led them a little with the ideas of barber shop and beauty salon, they started to get the idea and were able to spout out many more ideas along those lines.  We grouped the cards by purposes as well, so we have a great long string of stores that sell items, we separated places where you buy food you take home to cook from restaurants, they put emergency services in a column, and learning establishments in another. Their favorite column is the places you go to be entertained column.  It was hard to get them off of that at first to talk about services.  But they did, eventually, the sweet lambs.


3. The next thing we did was talk about creating a town hall, like in the book and electing a mayor.  This went better than expected.  We made formal nominations, rising form our seat and saying "I nominate _______ for Mayor" and then I'd turn to that student, have them rise and say "Do you accept this nomination?" They all said yes. But that's ok.

I was thinking they'd just vote for the most popular boy or girl, and it isn't that they didn't nominate them, but when it came time to vote we talked about making a responsible choice, and out of who was nominated, who was a consistent model of a quality student, rarely got in trouble, was kind to everyone, and that they felt would listen fairly to their problems? I gave them post-its to write their secret votes on.   Sweetest Karen won by a landslide.  And it turned out that a student from each table ended up as a runner up, so I made them "district representatives".  Now I've renamed my tables District 1, 2 and 3, call all of the students "citizens", and make the representatives in charge of different tasks.

The first vote was for a town name.  I handled it this way: A) The district representative asks each of his/her citizens for their suggestion and writes it on a dry erase board.  B) the representative then takes a tally vote where the only rule is that you cannot vote for your own suggestion. C) The representative reports their district winner to the Mayor, who creates a town vote board with the three district suggestions and takes a town tally vote. This gives the citizens an opportunity to chose an alternative if they didn't like how their district vote turned out.  The mayor can break any tie vote. Now, next year, in Super Teacher year, I think I will alter this to make the town vote a secret ballot vote, because I think there was some social swaying that went on. But live an learn.  This year our town is going to be GeovanniTown. More voting on other things in a later step.

 4. Print color photographs of natural, human, and capital resources- glue onto index cards and laminate.  When looking up natural resources on Google images, I came across a picture that listed twenty different natural resources, so those are the words I typed into Google to search for pictures.  This also worked out well because I have twenty students and I knew I'd have at least one card per kid.  For the human resources, I had asked my kids prior to this if they new what their parents did for a job.  Using this list, I found picture examples of those jobs to be my human resources.  Not all of the kids knew what their parents did, and I had some folks who had the same job, so I filled in the holes with jobs I thought they might be interested in - like a clerk at a toy store and candy store- and also jobs that they may not even think about- like being a coal miner, or a dispatcher.  For the capital resources I simply found an item that each one of my human resources would use- so that the cards could be used double duty for a matching game during center time.  I separated the cards into four even packs and then had small groups investigate their cards to see if they could put them into three categories.

Within about five minutes, one of the groups had figured it out and placed them in three groups.  They called their categories outside, people, and things.  But this is part of the inquiry process- what are the kids thinking?  I gave the other groups another minute to sort their cards into three piles, and then had everyone bring their separated piles back to our gathering spot on the carpet.  I used the group who had sorted them correctly as a starting point, and simply named each card and taped it to the board in three different sections.  I asked the kids what the cards grouped together might have had in common, and had their group made a similar category?  It took about fifteen minutes to get the rest of the cards put up on the board- and at that point I was able to tell them the names Natural, Human and Capital Resources.

5. Further discussion on how every product utilizes all three resources to come to be.  And that when they create their stores to go into the town, they will have to consider what resources will be necessary.  So then we begin the voting process for planning out the town site.  Using our district voting model, we vote on what land feature we want to be prevalent in the town.  I gave four choices for this one; Ocean- comes with beach front; River- equipped for water tubing; Lake- boating; and Mountains- skiing.  Each district voted for ocean so we didn't even have to have a town vote.  Then we voted for our major crop.  This one I let them take fruit and vegetable suggestions from their citizens and then vote it out.  The town vote came down to oranges, watermelons and bananas with watermelon beating out oranges by just four votes.  And then they chose a power source for the town.  I gave them four choices on this one as well.  Coal, Oil, Wind and Hydro.  Next year- I am going to do this differently, and actually spend more time explaining the different power sources so they really understand the concept.  After hearing twelve of them keep saying they wanted "cold" power, and showing them the picture of COAL and explaining it was the rocks that old trains used that created the black smoke - they just blinked, one girl asked if I meant charcoal in the grill- they still voted for coal power.  So I'll have to put a mine in the town.  And on the way home I realized I forgot to have them vote for a meat source.  Tomorrow I'll have them choose between cattle, poultry, pigs or fish.

*So now the plan is to draw a basic land map with these four section to it and some blank space for them to make roads and stores. That's my big job in the morning.  They will use this new info to create a town seal that has to include the town name and the four elements, and then come up with a town mission statement.

6. Immerse kids in selections of nonfiction text with the "start to finish" pretext of how a product goes from a natural state to a consumable one.  Then we'll use the town features - the crop, the power source, the meat source, and then we'll decide on something for the beach front, to label it's steps and make a foldable for it's natural human and capital resources.  Students then add a fifth page by thinking of an item they think they might sell and track it's resources.

7. Goods vs. Services.  I'm going to make another picture sort inquiry, and also use the cards we created with all of our shop ideas to press the point of the difference between a good and a service.  Then we're going to make a open jacket foldable with a self portrait on top showing what good and services our families use.

8. How are you going to pay for that?  Barter vs. Money.  Look at the historical use of barter in the ancient cultures we've already studied this year and the evolution of money today.  Then create the town currency.

9.  At this point the kids will select what type of business they want to design for the town.  I found a cute hanger pocket chart template that I'm going to soup up with some flaps so that it looks like a store front.  On the outside they'll draw their business, the inside will open so that one flap shows the three resources used, the middle will be a labeled diagram or floor plan of their shop interior, and then the other flap will have a brief description and a menu or catalog of what their store offers for sale.

10.  Consumer/producer/scarcity discussion.  Create a product for their modeled business for a market day.  They cannot make more than 15 so that it is impossible for everyone in the class to get one and therefore produce scarcity into the market. Kids make the product and also a sales brochure or sales pitch persuading others to buy it.  I'd really like to try to video these in quick clips, and play it like a home shopping network reel for the kids to make their purchase plans that way, rather than milling around in a great big mob.

11. Side idea for "earning cash" behaviorally- use the attitude punch cards- punches equate to cash.  The cash is used to create their residence in the town.  Each kid starts with a one room shack and an outhouse and then it is up the them and their behavior as to how and if they can upgrade. Who ends up in a trailer park and who in a mansion? Da da dahhhhh.  And the money used from market day could be used for this as well, so maybe that would motivate them to make a really nice product.

And with that- I bid you adieu.

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