Economize This!

Economize This!

It’s time to prepare for students to return to the classroom while also thinking about which new ideas you learned over the summer, you’ll try to implement this year.  It’s overwhelming, but I’m not going to be very helpful because here’s another idea.

One of my favorite things to do in my classroom, and something the students connected with and thrived as part of, was a classroom economy system.  This system went far beyond stickers and behavior charts.  It was a currency,  a way of doing business in our world, the world of  fourth grade.  The money, which was made with some Photoshop magic, was the foundation of a system that encouraged desirable behaviors while allowing for a great deal of student agency and choice.

I used as my classroom bank, but I didn’t do much of the work after I set-up the student accounts.  The students themselves ran the bank serving as bank tellers, processing deposits, withdrawals, and transfers.  Students earned money in a variety of ways, many of which were behaviors I wanted to encourage such as having planners signed by parents at night, making sure notes went home and were read, and of course appropriate treatment of substitute teachers.  They also were paid for classroom jobs which they had to apply for and were hired by a student HR department.  Rent was paid for desks and chairs and a variety of other things.  Students also had the opportunity to spend money as they wished.  At the beginning of the year this could only be done from the teacher’s store whose menu included snacks, pencils, erasers, a gum license, sitting in Mr. A’s chair and the all important, and expensive, business license.  The business license made up a considerable amount of the “student buy-in.”  With this license a student could run their own business, selling merchandise or services during store time, which was bi-weekly.  My store became nearly obsolete once a handful of students bought business licenses and had their own stores up and running.  There was a variety of businesses including duct tape merchandise, paper airplane manufacturers and art galleries.  Before Holiday Break about 40 students had their business licenses and store time resembled a third world market with people yelling out prices and mobs huddled around the hottest stalls vying for merchandise.  It was awesome to witness.  We would often discuss “store time” during class or use examples from it during math.

Additionally students could earn money through projects that were integrated with the economy system.  My favorite was the farmer lab.  Student “farms” were given $200 to spend for initial supplies.  Each team had to decide how they would spend their money.  At this point we had already done inquiry learning into what plants need to be able to grow.  Here’s the menu I handed out to inform them of costs.  Some teams bought as many seeds as they could, while others chose fertilizer pellets.  Not every team could afford the best location for their plants, but they decided having more seeds was a better choice.  At the end of the project one team harvested over 80 seeds and were paid over $2,000 to split between the 3 of them which was a considerable amount of money and set them up as the wealthiest kids in fourth grade for most of the year.  Some teams didn’t make a thing and were in debt because of their initial purchase choices.

Every other week we ran a supreme court as part of the classroom constitution created by the students.  Nine student judges were elected from their classrooms and heard a variety of cases.  I offered a law school that students could choose to pay to attend and learn how to represent clients when court was in session.  Upon completion of law school the students received a certificate after passing the bar test.  At that point they could advertise their services and start making money.  Their rate was up to them and in no way resembled their real world counterparts.  I was really hoping one of them would create a hallway billboard that enticed anyone hurt on the playground to retain their services, but it never happened.

The Council for Economic Education offers National Standards for Financial Literacy which I used to guide some of my classroom economy.  You can download them here.

I have some ideas for blowing this idea out in the future.  I’d like to encourage…

  • Student companies to “go public” and sell stock.  Students could buy stock in a company and get paid dividends or lose it all depending on the how the company did during store time.  This would be a great introduction into the stock market and possibly the Stock Market Game, in which my class also participated.
  • Banks set-up by students to rival the classroom bank.  Mr. A’s Bank didn’t offer loans, but that would make for some very teachable and interesting moments.
  • More competition between companies.
  • Better marketing, preferably a student marketing company.
  • Social media integration.  Tweet out sales and coupon codes.
  • Outsourcing.  If a student has a duct tape wallet business maybe they pay another student to build the wallets or do the advertising.
  • Migration into real world economics, a.e. we have a school farmer’s market where we sell the produce we grow, hitting both science conceptual understandings and financial literacy, while generating revenue.

Classroom Economy Menus and related

Mr. A-mart menu (this didn’t upload into Google Drive very well, but you get the idea)

Farmer Lab menu

If you’re interested in any or all of this, contact me.  I’d love to talk classroom economics with you and share resources or even help you set it up at your school.