Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Updated Workshop Presentation For Digital Literacy

Today I got the news that I've been chosen to present at the NESA (North East South Asia Council of Overseas School) Educators Conference this Spring.

I decided I'd spend the afternoon updating my presentation. I'll go into it in depth in later posts, but below is my updated "Developing Digital Dendrites: Teaching Internet Literacy" Prezi.
The changes I made are primarily from feedback I got from my initial presentation at Lincoln, but they're also from some new blogs that my kids and I were trying at the end of the semester. They are:

- Added selected posts from both student blogs and our class blog.
- Trimmed the embedded videos to be much shorter and relevant.
- Added duckduckgo's tracking page to the presentation.
- Dropped the Play It Off Cat video showing the dad yelling at the son. Some people were uncomfortable with it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Class Economy Part 5: The Christmas Firings

On December 25th, I'll send my class a mass email outlining how they were each an invaluable resource during the first semester economy, but I no longer need their services. In short, they're fired from their classroom jobs. They'll receive a small severance package upon their return to the classroom in January. Good luck and Godspeed.
Trust me.
This is not as nearly as cruel as it sounds.
Or cold. Or hairy.

In fact this might not even warrant its own post. But the Christmas firings of all classroom employees marks a fundamental shift in how I run my fourth grade class economy, and I thought it was important to highlight not only it, but the shift in thinking that occurs in my students.
During the first semester all students are my employees. I call them government employees, and I represent the government. They all get more or less the same salary, which varies slightly according to their work. The bankers work the hardest, so they get paid a little more than the rest, but it's not a huge difference. That changes second semester, because the security blanket of a steady paycheck evaporates. 
My Objective Was Never To Recreate Joe Versus The Volcano

The sole goal for the first semester though is to prepare my students to be entrepreneurs. That means to teach the kids how to deposit and withdraw money, but also give them the tools and lessons to help them succeed on their own.
By the time we have our last class-economy-class in December, most everyone is begging to be fired. Not because they don't enjoy their jobs. But because they're ready (or they think they're ready) to venture out on their own. To help with the transition, I provide business grants for startup businesses in January and a couple other opportunities for grant money.

My Christmas Email To My Class

Despite how I prepare them, here are some lessons that can't be taught, but must be learned with experience:

1) Don't Partner With Anyone.
No matter how many warnings I give or cold hard numbers I throw at them, my students want to partner with each other to open their own business. This is because partnering with someone does two things that will hurt a small business in our small microcosm economy. 
- It takes away a potential customer, since that customer is now your partner, and
- It forces that business to make double the amount of money to make rent.
Partners 'Til The End

The second point is the key. Instead of the business having to make 700 moneys for rent, it now has to make 1400 moneys in a month. This is a crazy amount of moneys, because no one knows how to price anything in the beginning. Up until January, no matter what a child did, they would get a paycheck at the end of the month. To go from that to the harsh reality that you now have to make your own money is something that has to be experienced to fully understand. 
Partners do expedite my discussion of welfare and taxes however. As soon as someone doesn't make rent, I introduce a tax on rent. The students that can afford to pay rent have to pay a little more to cover the students that can't. The alternative is that the entire economy collapses. The more students that can't pay, the higher the tax is.

2) Spending Money Is The Best Way To Make Money
I artificially encourage buying when we do start selling to each other. If I didn't, no one would dare buy anything, and I'd be stuck with a buch of hoarders on welfare. So I have the following mechanism built in for our second semester class economy:
For every product that you sell, the government will buy something from you of equal value.

Shut Up And Take My Money!

Collectively if this rule was fully realized, everyone would make a ton of money and probably create a class of millionaires. It's never fully realized though, and the rule does what it is supposed to do: encourage students to spend and make deals with each other to scramble enough to make rent. 

3) You're First Entrepreneurial Idea Won't Sustain You
Customers are a finicky lot, and there are only so many bookmarks you can sell to one person. If your customer base is only between 11 and 20 people, you'll need to diversify your product.
Gaze Upon My Colorful Wares

In order to succeed during the second semester, a student entrepreneur will go through several reincarnations of their business. Those that get stuck into selling only one product are usually the ones that suffer in March.

4) You'll Never Make Bank If You Price Your Bookmarks/Stickers/Pictures/Comic Books So Cheap
In the beginning, students have no idea how to price anything. Many will start by pricing their products between 10 and 20 Moneys. This means to make rent, they'll have to sell between 35 and 70 products each month. There are two problems with this: 
- They don't have 35 - 70 products to sell.
- They don't have a customer base that will buy that much. 
The biggest class I have had the past three years is this year's class of 21 children. My previous years I've had 11 and 12, respectively (I know, that's crazy). But figuring out the right price model- what people will pay and how much they will buy- is an important lesson that can't just be taught. It must be experienced. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Class Economy Part 4: What Does It Mean To Produce Something?

During the first semester, besides working and getting pay checks and paying rent, we also start looking at what it means to produce something.
We start on UN Day in October. One of the things we do is watch and discuss The Story of Stuff.

We talk about Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption, and Extraction.
A few days later we take field trips that emphasize two different sections; Production and Extraction.

This field trip focuses on Production

We also start reading books about entrepreneurship. I've used Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies in the past (which I think is excellent), as well as Lawnboy by Gary Paulsen and Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill. The last two titles didn't really serve my purpose so well.

Great! Good Not So Much...

The best book I feel though that teaches not only the value of putting quality in production, and appeals to a greater good is Lunch Money by Andrew Clements.

Mr. Z's Toilet Theory is one of my favorites

We make the comic books just as the main character Greg outlines in the book, have several discussions on the arguments that the main protagonists, Maura and Greg have, and discuss Mr. Z's Toilet Theory with regards to wealth and big houses: Most people can only use one bathroom at a time

By the time we finish reading and writing about and discussing the book, many kids have already started researching on their own different ideas for making their own products.  The children are primed and ready to be fired, and itching to start their own business.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Twisted Journeys With Book Buddies

This is my 100th post! I want to thank the Academy and this blogging platform for slowly sucking the life out of me over the past year and a half.
My young, vibrant self before I started blogging

For my 100th post, I thought I'd take a short break from the "My Class Economy" series to write about something really cool I discovered this week. Every Wednesday for the past five years, I've had a "Book Breakfast" in my class. The idea came from my cooperating teacher in Ann Arbor, who used Time for Kids for a "News Breakfast." Neither Sudan nor Nepal could get regular shipments in, so I adjusted the magazines for picture books.
The idea is that one family each week brings in breakfast for the class, we partner up, read together, and eat.

This year my 4th grade teaching partner moved to third grade, but we still wanted to do the breakfast together, so we made it a Book Buddy Breakfast.
This week I decided to try something different. Instead of picture books, why not graphic novels? And why not Twisted Journey Choose-Your-Own-Adventure graphic novels specifically?

I thought this would be a great way to share books, since Twisted Journeys are fun to watch and read, and you have to collaborate and make decisions throughout the storyline. I've written about Twisted Journeys before, but this is the first time I considered using them with Buddy Reading. 

It was great! There was a level of involvement that I hadn't seen among the boys especially. 

But everyone loved the interaction and the stories. There are about 19 different Twisted Journeys. The reading level is actually pretty high (Level U/V using Fountas and Pinnell level system), but because the stories are so interesting and interactive, they draw in both low level and reluctant readers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Class Economy Part 3: Managing Accounts, Writing Checks, Workshops, and Bonuses

During the month of September, after everyone has gotten a job, we have special "workshops" that do two things:
1) Expose the kids to extra ways to make money outside of their monthly paychecks, and
2) Teach them how to deposit checks and write checks.

Each child gets their own bank book. The bank book looks like this:

Except it's nice and folded...

The bank book lets each child keep track of their bank accounts, and it helps them keep track of Math Bonuses; extra ways to earn money. I used a modified template from Adobe's InDesign to make the bank books.
The first step is to give each child some free money. I tell them that this is for our special workshops, and they won't be able to use it to pay rent.
I give them each a check for 60 Moneys. This covers three workshop costs, at 20 Moneys a piece:

Except that the check is signed.

I teach the kids to endorse the check and fill out a deposit ticket:
They update their bank book, and hand over the check and deposit ticket to their banker. The banker keeps track of the individual accounts as well. This helps out a lot. Sometimes the banker makes a mistake, and sometimes her customers make mistakes. Being able to have two written records of each bank account fixes this. 

Our first workshop is Sudoku. I teach the kids how to do it, and they practice. I have a Math Bonus Box where I keep the sudoku puzzles. They can also be downloaded from our class website.
After the kids learn Sudoku through a practice puzzle, it's now time for them to pay for the workshop. They each get a blank check, and we go through the process of how to write a check and update their bank book.

Throughout the month I introduce them to other ways to make money. These are some of the ways children can make extra money:
Sudoku Puzzles
Tangram Puzzles
Scratch Projects
Logic Puzzles
Kakuro Puzzles
- Drawing Fractals ( Sierpinski triangle and Apollonian Gasket)
- Something called a Zoo problem. I picked this up in a Thai book of puzzles. It's a geometry problem where you have to arrange square "cages" around animals on a grid.

We also have our "class economy" time during the last period on Friday. This is the time when everyone works at their job. At the end of the month each student gets a pay check that they deposit:

And the next day they write me a check for rent. We go through this routine throughout the first semester.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Class Economy Part 2: Creating Meaningful Classroom Jobs

The first stage of my class economy is to introduce "government" jobs, i.e. jobs that I have created and defined for the children. Since I'm the government, I'm also the students' employer. They work and they get paid. At the end of the month they get a pay check which they deposit in the bank. The next day they pay rent with their own check.
I wanted to create jobs that the children would be excited about, and that appealed to different areas of the brain. I've come up with the following jobs:

Banker: The heart of the class economy, and also the hardest job. The banker has to keep track of everyone's money, and make sure that everyone is keeping track of their money in their personal bank books too. 

Room Boss: The room boss orders supplies and organizes are common spaces. If there are visual aids that need to be displayed, or schedules that need to be created (for example, a schedule for who runs our afternoon routine), the room boss is in charge.

Desk Jockey: The desk jockey helps organize the semi-private spaces; the desks, the bags, and the cubbies. The desk jockey doesn't do this alone. Instead (s)he will schedule times to look at the spaces with whoever is using it.

Graffiti Artist: The graffiti artist draws on the windows, glass doors, and fish tank.

Paper Maker: The paper makers are our recycling center. They make new paper from old. 

Hollywood: Hollywood chooses a class agreement, writes a script that shows it off, and makes a movie out of it. They edit it in iMovie.

Biographer: The Biographer chooses someone in class, sits down with them, and asks them questions about their life. They film and edit the interview in iMovie.

Fact Finder: The fact finder reports on two facts each morning during our morning routine.

Morning Reporter: The morning reporter tells current events twice a week during our morning routine.

Class Clown: The class clown tells two jokes each morning during our morning routine. 

Game Master: The Game Master learns the games in the game center, writes directions, and holds game workshops during break.

Lucky Librarian: The Lucky Librarian takes care of the class library. They also get to check out twice as many books as everyone else.

Read Aloud Reporter: The Read Aloud Reporter keeps an up-to-date Shelfari widget for our class read alouds. They also poll their classmates and find out which books to order to expand the class library.

Postmaster: Makes mailboxes for each of the elementary classrooms, teaches everyone how to address and send letters, and collects and distributes the mail.

Grader: Grades spelling tests, math homework, and Scratch projects.

Here's the presentation I show the kids on the day I give them the job applications.

There is an error when I imported it into slide rocket; some of the text repeats itself.

After I present the kids with the jobs, I ask them to apply for multiple jobs. It's never a problem. The children are always excited by at least two of the jobs.

After the break, some example applications...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Classroom Economy Part 1: An Introduction

When I was in 5th Grade I took part in Exchange City, a simulated grown-up town in a warehouse. It's not nearly as creepy as it sounds, and it looks like the company is still working with kids today. Longevity proves legitimacy- or so I'm told.
In the month leading up to the simulation, our class learned how to balance personal checkbooks, apply for jobs, and vote for elected officials. I was voted judge and was busted by the policeman (who I employed) for eating popcorn out of the designated area.  It was fantastic!
In 2005, when I was the math and social studies teacher at Kasintorn St. Peter School in Thailand,  I recreated the experience with my 5th and 6th graders.
While I was working at Khartoum American School in Sudan, I started using bits and pieces of Rafe Esquith's model:

But there was something lacking in these approaches. At the time I wasn't sure what it was, but it was something big- an entrepreneurial embrace and cultivation of spirit.

It wasn't until I got to Lincoln here in Nepal though that I started really thinking about a year long unit about economics, and I started combining not only these experiences, but other things I was already doing in the class as well. The change came because I knew it was necessary, but also because my class challenged me into thinking outside of traditional class economies. If it wasn't for that group of kids, I probably would have been too afraid to give them so much choice. The overview that I came up with after that year is something I posted before. It's this presentation:

But this series of posts will attempt to get into the specifics of what my classroom economy looks like today. Here are the posts that I am planning:

Part 2: Creating Meaningful Classroom Jobs
Creating classroom jobs that kids will be both interested in and learn from

Part 3: Managing Accounts, Writing Checks, Workshops, and Bonuses
Learning how to deposit and withdraw money from our bank.

Part 4: What Does It Mean To Produce Something?
Videos, Books, and Field Trips to help us prepare to be Entrepreneurs

Part 5: The Christmas Firings
The mid-year switch from "Government Jobs" To Entrepreneurs

Part 6: A Study In Advertising Genres
Critically looking at advertising genres, and creating our own.

Part 7: The Stockmarket and Welfare
Introducing two important concepts at an elementary level

Part 8: The Fourth Grade Film Festival
Bringing in the outside community for buying and selling

Part 9: Where We Need To Go
Plans for a flower farmers' market with our sister school.

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