Friday, July 11, 2014

The Class Economy Series Finale

A while ago I started a series of posts detailing how I run a class economy in upper elementary. Today I'll wrap the series up with a fantastic finale! It will wrap up loose ends! It will really tie the room together!

It will blow your mind.
kind of like this. (1)

Here are all the posts I've written about my class economy so far:
1) An Introduction To My Class Economy.
2) Creating Meaningful Class Jobs
3) Managing Accounts, Writing Checks, Workshops, and Bonuses
4) What Does It Mean To Produce Something?
5) The Christmas Firings
6) A Study In Advertising Genres

Students selling their products during one of our class economy times

For this post I'll cover a wide range of topics, from welfare to patents, and a little bit of junk in between.

Welfare In A Class Economy
Whenever students start creating their own businesses during the second semester, there will be businesses that do well, and businesses that struggle. I try to encourage kids to buy from each other. One way I do this is by saying that for every product that is sold, the government (me) will buy something of equal value. Most kids understand then that its a good idea to buy, and not to horde their savings. But there will always be kids for whatever reason, can not attract customers. Most of the kids that can't make their rent have learned lessons in what it means to design and produce a good product. Those lessons don't help paying rent on their chairs for the current month though, and inevitably we have a class meeting about how we, as a class community, can support each other. A couple of options always are generated by the students from that meeting:

1) We can all pay a little bit more on our rent to support the students who can't pay for the month.

2) One or two students who have a large savings take it upon themselves to pay the difference in rent for the students who can't pay.

3) The students with the largest savings will buy the chairs of the students who can't pay, and the burden of collecting rent falls on them.

This is one of my most important meetings in class economy, because the students work together to solve problems of a few. I introduce some terminology when these ideas come up. When students propose idea #1, I tell them that the extra money is a tax that will support the students on welfare. 
It's class welfare, not class warfare (2)

It's a benefit for the whole community because without it, the students who can't pay rent won't be able to participate in the class economy, won't be able to have a shop because they can't pay rent, and more importantly, won't be able to be customers to existing businesses.
And then I paint a vision of the future. With less customers it will be more difficult to sell products, and thus more difficult to pay rent. Soon the entire class economy will collapse. No one wants that. The need to build and to create and the sense of accomplishment to sell things that are created to each other is too great, and inevitably all students pull together (with various degrees from year to year) to help support each other.
This is one of the lessons I try to bring out in my class economy; that it's important to support each other, not just because we are a class community, but because it serves everyone in the long run.

The Stock Market In A Class Economy
In the past, whenever I had a stock market integrated in our class economy, each student-created business had their own stock market symbol that went up if they had a productive week, and went down if they didn't manage to sell anything. 

The main idea was that I wanted students to pay attention to which business was doing well, and then invest in stocks in that business. That was fine and all, but I think misses a larger point of having a stock market incorporated in the classroom. Also it was too much work.

There are at least two essential math skills in life; being able to accurately estimate, and understanding the world's most powerful financial concept- compound interest. I'd like to have a class stock market that would focus on that. This year I plan to do something with it. I'll get rid of the stock certificates and stock codes and stock trackers. I'm still sorting this out in my head, but instead I'd like to simulate different paths of investment. Our class stock market index would give returns of a mighty 10% to make it easier on me.
So here are some ideas of my forced investment plans:

The first would be to invest 10 class crowns (because we live in the Czech Republic) at the beginning of the 34 week school year. 
After 10 weeks, the investment would grow to about 26 class crowns.
After 20 weeks, the investment would be about 67 class crowns.
After 34 weeks, the investment would be 255 class clowns.

The second investment plan is that you can wait 17 weeks. Wait the first semester. But at the beginning of the second semester you contribute 20 class crowns. 
At the end of the year the investment would grow to about 100 class crowns. 

And then maybe they can just choose to save their money in the bank, which would give a 5% interest rate compounded every month. The eventual returns would be close to 0. Not just because the interest rate is so low, but kids, just like many adults, have a hard time building a large savings. 

Something like that. And maybe with options to invest some of their paycheck at the end of each month during the first semester. I don't know. I'm still working it out. 

Online Banking In A Class Economy
This year I'm trying to enter the 21st century with our class economy. I was going to make a Google Spreadsheet, but just the thought of designing that makes me tired.

Tired... and ferocious (3)

So I looked online for anything that could help. I found something that looks promising:

Some of the features of MyKidsBank (from their about page) can be read after the jump break. The only knock that I found is that interest is always compounded monthly. But to be able to see the power of interest in a single school year I'd like to be able to set the interest to be once every week. If I could do that, I could have one account actually be my stock market managing system, and one account be the kids' bank.
I'm not sure how to get around this yet. 

Patents In A Class Economy
I've had a class economy in one form or another for at least 7 years now. In only one year did I have an issue with accusations of copying. I've had competitive students every year, but that was the only year where the competitiveness actually was creating a bad experience during the class economy. I wasn't sure what to do because the lessons I was trying to teach were undermined by this unhealthy sense of competition. Or the lessons I was teaching were feeding that sense of competition. I'm still figuring it out I think.

like this, but figuratively

But that year I introduced a patent system. As the students were applying to create new products, I added a couple of lines to the business/product proposal:

Are any of your classmates selling something similar?
If it is a new product or idea, would you like to apply for a patent
If you are applying for a patent on this new product, please give a detailed description of the specific design you want to protect. 

How I became the patent troll (4)

This cut down on the level of bickering among the couple of shops that were into that. If there was no existing patent, then they knew that anyone could sell that product. If there was a patent, then it was off limits unless they payed the creator a fee.
Its worth noting that I've included the option to patent products in future class economies, and not a single student has wanted to apply for one. It was only an issue in that one class. 

Bringing in the outside community for buying and selling

Since I've moved schools, my class economy is not officially part of the curriculum anymore. But I still have a scaled down version for several reasons. I think the concepts and vocabulary and math simulations are important, but more importantly giving kids the opportunity to create, to make something, refine it, scrap it, and start again is important if we value building, tinkering, creating, and innovating. But some things I just don't have time to do anymore. The film festival is one of them. I've featured my fourth grade film festival a lot in this blog. 
The posts that feature the 2013 film festival are here, here, herehere, and here

The posts for the 2012 film festival are here, here, here, here, and here

The history and the evolution of the festival can be seen here

The film festival was meant to show off the students' products in a creative way using one or more techniques used in advertising, and to draw in parents to inject (fictional) money into the class economy. After the festival I'd invite parents to shop in our class stores, and give them blank checks for currency. The shops had to have fixed prices that didn't stray from the market value of their products that they set during regular class time, so that they couldn't charge a bazillion moneys for a paper bookmark. 

It was a great way to stimulate all their business. Selling just among classmates isn't quite enough of a pool of customers to give the kids any type of savings over the few months that we do this. Opening the economy to the outside for this one day not only allowed them to sell outside their bubble, but gave them enough spending money to not only pay their rent but buy from each other during future class economies.

Okay. That's it. My class economy is still a morphing, shifting thingymabob. If you have any questions or advice, I'd love to hear them.

Summary of MyKidsBank Features

Each MyKidsBank artificial bank operates independently and has features similar to a real online bank.  The banker, bank tellers and account holders can independently and even simultaneously login to the bank from different computers.

The banker
  • add/delete/modify deposit accounts and their permissions
  • set a login username/password for each account holder
  • set and modify automatic/recurring deposits with customized terminology
  • make a deposit to one or more accounts in a single action
  • make a withdrawal from one or more accounts in a single action
  • set automatic interest for one or more accounts in a single action
  • set automatic deposit amounts to one or more accounts in a single action
  • inspect/create/modify/delete transactions of any account
  • set the name of the bank
  • modify banker password
  • set a login message to all account holders
  • add/delete/modify bank tellers and their permissions
  • transfer funds between accounts
  • view activity log with desired sort criteria
  • locale settings for local country customs and time zone:
    • Time zones: all countries and regions
    • Currency symbol
    • Currency format
    • Date format
    • Time format
Account holders
  • inspect transactions online
  • make a deposit online1
  • make a withdrawal online1
  • make a transfer of funds to another account online1
  • redeem a bank note online1
Bank tellers    (Optionally created by the banker)
  • inspect transactions of any account
  • transfer funds between accounts*
  • deposit to any account*
  • withdraw from any account*
  • redeem a bank note to any account*
  • transactions performed by the teller are identified as performed by the individual teller
*based on permission assigned by the banker

(1) source:
(2) source: South Park Season 15, Episode 12: The 1%
(3) source:
(4) source:

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