Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Importance of Problem-Solving - and Reading (of course!)

This week I think my kids gained a new appreciation for how important reading non-fiction text is. Not just reading, really, but understanding what you're reading. They do love reading fiction already. They engage with characters, make connections with each other through books, and find it important to understand fictional stories, the plot lines, their characters, and so on. However, sometimes with non-fiction text, I find them being....well, lazy. And I think perhaps it's because they either don't see the point (it's just school work) or someone has typically explained things for them so they don't have to figure it out on their own.

This Wednesday our fourth graders will be running a mock city for the entire day. We've elected a mayor and judge, and the kids have all filled out applications and had interviews for their jobs. They have each been "hired" in the job that best suits them. Their salaries are varied, according to the responsibilities and skills required for each job. Each student works in one of the businesses with others from our two fourth grade classes. This past week, the various businesses met together often to develop their advertising plans, to figure out their budgets (including taxes, advertising, utilities, health care costs, etc.), determine their pricing, their inventory needs, and even their daily schedule, which includes their break times.

This is a lot for fourth graders. The curriculum is actually designed for fifth grade and up, including high school.  However, economics is part of our state's fourth grade curriculum content expectations and having done this project with fifth graders, I wanted to give it a whirl. "Doing" economics through this experience is certainly giving them an unforgettable opportunity!

Each lesson comes with an opening introduction about a concept in economics. Advertising, business (and personal) budgeting, supply and demand, scarcity and abundance, and a host of other crucial elements for building a successful community are part of the whole. I'll teach and model first, give examples, and then we'll have a classroom discussion. Then the kids are given a hands-on task that directly relates and affects their businesses. In each step, the kids have to read and follow very specific directions given for their unique business in the city. At the beginning of this project, we had many students asking for help rather than reading the information they'd been given. Through the messiness of this learning experience and realizing the teachers aren't going to jump in and rescue them, however, the kids have learned to work together, to read more purposefully, and to problem solve. There are bumps we're experiencing and not all teams are truly working as a unit, of course, but their "level of concern" for reading and understanding has risen tremendously, and that's such a cool thing to see.

You see, every student has to own his or her job. There's no one else who is or can do it. So every student is finding engagement at a deep personal level. The kids are asking important questions. They're thinking about what they need to know in order to have a successful day in the city they're running. With approximately 60 students, each having their own unique responsibility, it's impossible to give one-on-one help to each one! The importance of reading and understanding non-fiction text really hits home.

Decisions have to be made that will affect how much profit their business will make. They've experienced having to correct mistakes in figuring out payroll and costs. They've become better at cooperating when it comes time to name their company and create their advertising logos and slogans. They are discovering talents and skills in unlikely classmates that will benefit their businesses. They are building character in themselves and each other.

My hope in all of this is that my kids will gain confidence in their own ability to read and understand non-fiction text. I want to see them work through problems without giving up easily, and to gain in their ability to work as a team, even though sometimes it's hard. We want to get rid of some of the learned helplessness that's crept in to their thinking and see they are smart learners, able to help themselves achieve amazing things!

Thank you to Enterprise City for this amazing program and to our building principal, @benjamingilpin, for being a terrific cheerleader!

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