Tales from Lower School
It was payday at Calhoun, and people were busy depositing their checks, paying rent and reconciling their bank accounts. But these weren’t your typical employees: the scene was being played out in Molly Cohen’s fifth grade math class, where students have been engaged in a classroom simulation as part of an ongoing project in financial literacy.
For this fifth grade economic construct, students earn pretend money through such jobs in the classroom as homework monitor, administrative assistant, banker and even loan officer. Students receive bi-monthly paychecks for their work (printed to look like real paychecks with tax deductions), and are responsible for paying for basic needs--rent for their seats. Once they’ve paid their rent, fifth graders can decide to save their remaining money or purchase coupons for certain privileges, such as having lunch with Molly or watching a video in class.
Fifth grade math topics come to life through the lens of the classroom economy: students practice working with decimals while balancing the withdrawal and deposit columns of their bank sheets; they work on percentages when calculating the interest of a loan; and through the simulated banker-client relationship, they learn to articulate these numerical concepts and work together to solve a problem.
The classroom economy also instills a key non-math skill: responsibility. “When [my students] get a check, they work harder to hold on to it than they would a homework assignment, since no replacements are given out for lost checks,” says Molly, who adds that they also learn the importance of preparing for unexpected life events. Early on, the class made a series of “Life Happens Cards.” When one is drawn, a student is faced with either a financial emergency (ex: “you tripped on your way to school and owe $75 in insurance fees”) or surprise (ex: “your grandma sent you $100 for your birthday”).
By bringing real-world situations into the classroom, Calhoun fifth graders are learning first-hand about the impact of their own financial decisions. But the ultimate aim of the classroom economy project goes beyond creating smarter spenders. “When math is hands-on, it resonates more with students,” says Molly. “They’re much quicker to do the math when it’s put in a real-world context.”
A great math breakthrough: fourth grader Baelee has uncovered an easier way to multiply large integers by six; check out this video!
Baelee made the discovery on her own while doing homework for her fourth grade math class, taught by Austin Applegate. Although Baelee’s assignment was simply to fill in a multiplication grid, her explorations of patterns during class activities—using manipulatives and number games—prepped her well to notice yet a new pattern....
When Baelee revealed her innovative approach to Austin, he had her present her findings to fellow fourth graders and colleagues. Baelee’s classmates and several Calhoun math teachers tested the method with a variety of integers, and were amazed that it works every time!
One of the teachers wowed was Michael Vercillo, who was doing his PEL teaching fellowship in Calhoun's Lower School when the fourth grader first revealed her discovery. In a blog describing Baelee's method, Michael writes, "This is the sort of curious, creative, exploratory mindset that Calhoun and other progressive schools are aiming to foster and encourage in their students.”
Austin agrees, noting that Baelee's discovery is a also a great example of creating new knowledge. “It’s about inventing a new way of looking at multiplication," enthuses Austin. ”And it issuch a simple, elegant trick that it makes you say, ‘What a great idea; why didn't I think of that?’"
Counting, Collaborating and Creating:
The 4's Recipe for the 100 Day Museum Project
By Danita Harrison and Elissa Kompanek, 4's Head Teachers
Every year the students in Little Calhoun put together a museum marking the 100th day of school by contributing a myriad of projects, items and activities that reflect the number 100. This year, on March 2, children and teachers from every cluster were invited to visit this year’s exhibit. Parents were invited to stop by during drop-off, as well.
Here’s a peek at the process for our 4's clusters:
Leading up to the 100 Day Museum
There was so much buzz around the room about the upcoming 100th day of school! One 4’s cluster was marking off the days on a chart in the meeting area, and periodically walked up to the kindergarten classroom to double-check that we were “on schedule.” When we realized we were at ninety days, we began discussing how we could help put together some projects to contribute to the 100th Day Museum.
We began to brainstorm ideas with the children to elicit ideas for the exhibit. Many good ideas floated around, like collaging 100 pieces of recycled cardboard, building with 100 Magna-Tiles, painting a box and gluing or placing 100 things inside, or donating 100 books.
The children were very excited as they worked alongside each other, painting a box to help fulfill the idea of one of their beloved friends. The project also inspired them to start counting whatever they could find in the classroom.
Although we had under fifty seats in the room (we counted the couch and stools as seats), the children enjoyed the group activity.
In meetings and around the room we continued to explore counting to 100—counting our cubbies, snap cubes and goldfish crackers! (That last one didn’t work out well, since the children would eat them as fast as they counted them and quickly forget what number they were at!)
One of the children thought there might be 100 chairs in the room; this led to a room-wide count-a-thon. We used numbered Post-Its on every seat (chairs, stools and the couch), lined them up in numerical order and counted. (There weren't 100 chairs, but the children had fun doing it!)
We then decorated all 100-numbered Post-Its and put them in groups of 3 to 5 each. These were attached to a long piece of recycled cardboard, with 20 in each of five rows. This was significant; through these cooperative explorations, the children were building a sense of number in a multi-sensory manner while they are counting, using one-to-one correspondence. Having the Post-Its in five rows also enabled them to notice patterns.This project so fascinated them that the Post-It construct is now a fixture in the room; the children continue to go over to it individually or in small groups.
In cluster meeting, we continued to explore the idea of counting in groups of tens as a way to count big groups of numbers faster. One child got so excited, he attempted to write numbers 1 through 50 by using the chart on the wall as a guide. For an art project, we put our hands to good use-- painting and tracing them for a mural of 100 hands to donate to the museum.
On the day of the museum, the children loved seeing their collaborative contributions to the museum as well as those of the other clusters, and many were seen practicing their counting skills as they circled around the room.
Choose groups to clone to: