Recent Posts

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dollars and Sense for Students

When most of us hear the word economics, we think of either our present precarious financial circumstances, or of world financial issues far beyond our own understanding, let alone the understanding of our students. But the fact is, a number of variables from economics (supply, demand, surplus, and profit) are important components of simple financial literacy which our students, comprising one of the largest consumer groups in the world, need to understand in order to function and succeed in society. If they can avoid even half of the mistakes adults have made, we'll be much better off!

Understanding Global Economies

A simple picture book such as One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference concisely illustrates how planning, hard work, and determination can equal success. At the story's start, young Kojo and his mother just barely survive by gathering and selling firewood. When Kojo is granted a small loan, he chooses to purchase a hen. The hen not only provides eggs to eat, but additional eggs to sell, With the profits, Kojo buys more hens. What's really wonderful, and only revealed at the book's end, is that Kojo is based upon real-life Kwabena Darko, a man who literally changed the economy of his entire village through a microloan. Katie Smith Milway's patient and informative narrative is perfectly matched to Eugenie Fernandes' bright, mural-like illustrations. Kids Can Press provides a free teaching resource for One Hen, and the Heifer Village game (see below) would be an excellent extension for this book.

Similarly, Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming (written and illustrated with photographs by Jan Reynolds) shows how people can interact with the environment, providing for their own needs while respecting natural resources. From the water temple system to the farmers' fields, the Balinese people rely upon predictable cycles for their survival. What happens when these cycles are threatened by nature's forces or human progress? Like One Hen, this book presents just a microcosm of world economy, perfect for a class study. See the three-part video series on the sustainability of rice farming at the Lee and Low Books site.

In looking at history through the eyes of economics, both The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History and We're Riding on a Caravan present child-friendly views of the complex economy of the Silk Road, which not only accounted for the livelihood of thousands in the Far and Middle East, but also largely drove European exploration efforts of the 1500s. If you're reading about Columbus or any of the other explorers seeking shorter routes to the Indies, it's important that students have perspectives from both sides. (It should also be noted that the latter book provides many wonderful details of Chinese cities through maps and descriptions. Now that China has pretty soundly reestablished itself as a giant in the world of commerce, this book couldn't be more meaningful).

Exploring Everyday Economics

How do economics work in our everyday lives? That question is answered through Lerner Publishing's excellent Exploring Economics Series. Do I Need It? or Do I Want It? by Jennifer S. Larson helps students see many of the variables involved in making budget choices. With sections such as Spending Money, Making Choices, Budgets, Wants and Needs, and Saving, this title is a perfect reading and comprehension level for elementary students. While it's as colorful and narrative as a picture book, it's also as organized and informative as a textbook. Larson's liberal use of questions, text boxes, and photographs will engage students from beginning to end. One recommended web site for extension of this title (found in the Additional Resources at the book's end) is the PBS's My Life feature on Money.

Who's Buying? Who's Selling? is another title in this series which helps students understand consumers and producers. This terrific examination of supply and demand is supported with a glossary and index, which can additionally be used to help students practice reference skills. Explore the entire series list at Lerner Publishing. Highly recommended if you're seeking to put a financial literacy program into place in the lower grades.

Finally, we can't talk with students about buying and selling without also discussing advertising. One of the best titles on that topic for upper elementary through high school students is Shari Graydon's Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know. Cartoon illustrations by Warren Clark, fab facts, quotes from the marketers themselves, charts, graphs, lists, and Try This at Home features make this book extremely attractive for this age group. The solid facts, delivered in a fun yet informative way, make it a winner with teachers. If you're looking for a consumer awareness title for this upper group, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Know, too, that if you're teaching persuasive writing to students, this book is equally valuable for that purpose. So many tricks of the trade that are used to "create demand" for products are reliant upon persuasive writing! This book would serve as an excellent sourcebook for any Language Arts or Tech teacher looking to design creative and original assignments for persuasive writing and presenting. (Be sure to check out the free lesson plans for this title at Annick Press; they'll also give you a good idea of the book's "look." Also, check out their cool thematic list, where you can click on a theme or topic to get related books, many of which also have free lesson plans).

Making Money is Kids Play!

The following web sites present simple simulations designed to help students understand the basics of any economy (supply, demand, capital, inventory, surplus, variables). While talk of economics may sound both complicated and intimidating, these sites make it easy! From the serious Heifer Village to the primary-level Bake Shop, there's something here for every student!

Heifer Village is a somewhat serious simulation which follows a native girl's efforts to secure her own goat, and in the process, her own means of livelihood. Older students will instantly recognize and appreciate the realistic game play. This one requires a bit of time, but students will soon get the hang of it. This is a natural extension of the idea of self-sufficiency found in One Hen. Your students may also enjoy providing feedback to the game's designers, as this is a beta version for which they're seeking suggestions.

Coffee Shop is just one of several math games which can be found at Cool Math. Like the other sites here, it requires that you take a look at all the possibilities to see what best matches your students' abilities and your teaching needs

In the Coffee Shop simulation, students must use their knowledge of controlling variables to run a successful business. They use a base amount of money to purchase supplies (4 variables there), and adjust their recipe (at least 4 variables) based upon past sales and the predicted weather for the following day (2 variables). In my first attempt at the game, my coffee recipe needed more cream. Some old lady (who looked a lot like my second grade teacher) wasn't too happy and poured it out on the sidewalk.

Like coffee itself, this game is addicting! It's a great simulation involving real-world variables in a highly entertaining way.

The Bakery Shop is designed for younger students. While it has some elements of The Coffee Shop, it's not nearly as "math rigorous," uses fewer variables, and is a little less realistic (that is, brutal) than the more demanding and unforgiving Coffee Shop. (Students above third grade will likely find Bakery Shop too easy).

Online Interactive Learning

These sites contain interactive learning which is less game-like and more content explicit. (And for the record, sites for teaching financial education to students are some of the ugliest and most confusing on the Internet! It took me a while to separate the wheat from the chaff! But I think you'll dig the ones below!).

Sense and Dollars is an informative yet engaging set of games for older students. It challenges what they know about earning, spending, and saving money through three interactive games (Check It Out, DreamProm, and Charge). Charge, for example, lets students choose luxury objects and pick a payment plan. It then calculates the object's real, eye-opening cost once credit card interest is added on!

The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute-long video which pretty creatively and accurately portrays our obsession with "stuff." It's appropriate for older students, but isn't exactly "rainy day matinee" material. Check it out for yourself and decide if it's right for your purposes.

Two great books to present with this video? If America Were a Village and If the World Were a Village, both written by David J. Smith. Each book uses a the limited scope of a village to compare the larger scope of the U.S. and the World. If America Were a Village, for example, asks, "How wealthy are we?" The answer:
In our U.S village of 100:
  • 5 people have more than half of all the wealth.
  • The one wealthiest person (and remember, 1 person represents 3 million people in the real America) has more than 30 percent of all the wealth.
  • The 60 poorest people share only about 4 percent of the wealth.
Analogies like this make both books excellent resources for helping students see world economics in a more mathematically comprehensible way. Be sure to visit Kids Can Press to get free downloadable teaching guides for If the World Were a Village and If America Were a Village.

Don't Buy It: Get Media Smart! is a PBS site that helps students "see the ads" when they're hidden in plain site. Advertising Tricks is the first of four modules, followed by Buying Smart, Your Entertainment, and What You Can Do. This site is a great extension activity for Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know.

Did You Get the Message? is just one of the lessons available at EconEdLink. Even if you don't incorporate these lessons into your teaching, you'll still find some awesome links offered there.

So, what did I miss? Leave a comment below and let me know!


abi said...

I've given you an award. You may pick it up on my site.

Best wishes.

Playing by the book said...

I'm sure you know this site, but other readers might not:
"A blog about teaching elementary math, science and socials studies, with heavy emphasis on the integration of children’s literature across the curriculum."
You'll find lots of economics themed books there, and it's written by students of Tricia aka Miss Rumphius Effect