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?’"
Choose groups to clone to: