A Real-World Math Project from Desk Rental to Entrepreneurship
by Susan R. Nunamaker, Ed.S.
When I was in college learning to become a teacher, I pictured myself walking into a classroom full of kids who couldn’t wait to learn and wanted to please me at all times. You can imagine the shock when I entered my first classroom and realized that kids are, well, kids. So I asked myself, “How can I motivate my students to do their best while they are with me?”
The answer was simple. Professionalism encourages both children and adults to work harder. Motivation begins with a classroom payment system. Students are paid retroactively, just as we are in the real world. Each Monday morning I pull my behavior record from the week before and pay
students classroom money based on behavior performance. Those with no behavior issues receive $10. Those with behavior hiccups receive $5, and those who went through our judicial process known as Peer Court (a rare occurrence that serves as my class’s version of going to the office) receive nothing. Although credit cards become part of the classroom later in the year, I find it important always to pay students with paper play money. This is a tactile experience that helps to solidify the lessons in financial responsibility we are trying to teach.
Thursday, October 17. 2013
After receiving payment, students immediately visit the tax and rent
collectors. It is vital that we teach students that needs must be paid for before purchasing anything else in the classroom. Tax and rent are two great ways to teach students that money isn’t simply something used to buy treats in the school store. Taxes are $2 a week, covering classroom supplies, a teacher, textbooks, etc. I increase taxes to $3 halfway through the year. Students become irate, and our classroom government’s town hall meetings become quite a spectacle. Real-world learning at its best! The government must then develop a plan to accommodate their peers, which typically results in increased wages.
Students also decide throughout the year whether to “purchase” their desks or “rent” them. They all begin by renting because they haven’t had time to save up and make such a large purchase. Prices start around $45 and fluctuate throughout the year, so students must decide upon the right time to buy based on their individual circumstances. Rent is $2 a week at the beginning of the year. Net incomes dwindle as necessary expenditures, such as taxes and rent, are paid. The more you can earn through great behavior, the better off you are financially.
As you can see, great behavior pays off, which makes this an incredibly motivational tool for the students and teacher. This system takes a little more time to set up the first few weeks of school; but once the routines are set, the teacher has very few distractions in the classroom, giving him or her more time to teach throughout the year as students become responsible for their learning environment. The real-world classroom takes shape as students take part in experiences that range from classroom insurance to starting charities for peers on the “Debt Board.” Daily classroom routines can easily be transformed into real-world, professional classroom activities through…math! Here are a few unique ideas for you to consider.
Handshakes & Behavior Performance
Mathematical practices: Number & operations, algebraic thinking, counting & cardinality, money, fractions, statistics & probability
Students enter the learning environment shaking hands with the teacher each day. This teaches an important life skill and automatically forms a bond between the student and teacher. Try it once and your students will ask you to do it with them each day. They love to give and receive a handshake. It’s part of being a grownup in their eyes.
Students are paid weekly based on their behavior performance. The importance of math in our lives becomes vividly clear as students become dependent on payday for daily life in the classroom.
Side note on prioritizing needs vs. wants: As you work to build social responsibility in students, be sure to have students pay for needs with their money before you allow them to purchase things that they want. If we pay students and then begin offering things that they want like toys, candy, etc., without requiring them to pay for needs first, we are teaching them that needs are not a priority. Teaching children to prioritize is vital as we model social responsibility. Rent and taxes are a great way to teach our students personal and social responsibility, along with smart financial decision-making skills.
Fines & Bonuses
Mathematical practices: Number & operations, money, risk analysis
In addition to motivation through weekly paydays, you can create fines and bonuses to encourage certain behaviors and keep kids on track throughout the week. Here’s an example:
You can create fines for behaviors that you want to deter. The more you want to deter those behaviors, the higher the fine you can charge. The same goes for bonuses. Create bonuses for behavior you want to encourage. The more you want to encourage those behaviors, the higher the bonus. Our behaviors are shaped by potential fines and bonuses every day.
This strategy encourages great behavior and impacts math instruction at the same time. Students will constantly find themselves adding, subtracting, analyzing risk, and planning for the future through mathematics in your classroom. As I constantly tell my own third-graders, “Understanding how to make math work for you is key to a successful life in this world!”
Lottery Tickets/Raffle Tickets
Mathematical practices: Statistics & probability, money, number & operations
With the help of a double roll of raffle tickets you can motivate students to aspire to greatness. Students earn lottery tickets (which can be called raffle tickets if a lottery isn’t appropriate in your school) for academics and/or outstanding behavior. Here’s how you can use lottery tickets during an academic review.
Ask a question only one time and then call on a student to answer the question. If the student was listening to the question, then he/she will be able to answer. If the student answers correctly, he/she receives a lottery ticket for the drawing that will occur after the review. If the student called on was not listening and asks the teacher to repeat the question, he/she will be told that questions are only called out one time and the teacher will move on to the next student for an answer and a chance to obtain a lottery ticket. This will increase listening ten-fold during your review time.
You are creating a real-world probability project. Presenting authentic vocabulary by using the word “probability” with your students each time you utilize the lottery system will help to build the mathematic concept. Count the number of tickets in the drawing and talk students through the probability of winning based on how many tickets they have acquired. Tickets can also be sold to students for the money that they have earned in your classroom. I usually place a few tickets in the drawing that don’t have a match so that some drawings have no winner. Welcome to the real world!
So now you are probably wondering what kids do with the money that they earn, right?
Life Happens & Classroom Insurance
Mathematical practices: Statistics & probability, money, number & operations
My favorite student quote is, “It’s important to save your money because sometimes life happens.” During “Life Happens,” a good or bad scenario is given (ex: your child needs $5 for a field trip) and a random name will be drawn. The student whose name is drawn at random is responsible for either paying the fee or collecting the winnings.
Students who do not have the savings to pay the fee must go into debt and pay when possible. This is a great way to instill coping skills in your students. It teaches kids that life has ups and downs. They learn to enjoy the ups and accept the downs, as well as how to bounce back from the downs, through math. They also learn at a young age that you have to put a little money away just in case “Life Happens.”
I offer classroom insurance that students can purchase to lower their risk. Property insurance covers accidents involving desks (aka “homes”). Car insurance covers accidents involving students’ imaginary cars. And health insurance covers “Life Happens” events as well as providing a co-pay option for visits to the bathroom and/or nurse for those students who constantly ask to visit those areas of your school. This leads to a dramatic decrease in requests to leave your classroom, creating more time for instruction.
Mathematical practices: Number & operations, fractions, decimals, money
Charitable giving provides a great opportunity for teaching fractions, percentages, and money. Students enjoy being able to give a fraction or percentage of their total worth to peers in need, so it is important that they are taught to give in appropriate ways. Students should not give money to whomever they please at any time that they please. This would disrupt all of the work that you are putting into students’ incentives to behave. With that in mind, it is imperative to allow guided opportunities for charity.
Students are given the opportunity to donate to peers on the debt board. Students who receive donations thank the donor(s) with a formal thank-you note. Students tend to be happy to write thank-you notes because they realize just how hard the donor had to work in the classroom for that money. This makes students feel special as both the giver and the receiver. The student who gives money receives intrinsic happiness and the student who receives the money feels loved by his/her classmates. This builds community and peer respect.
Mathematical practices: Number & operations, data analysis, fractions & decimals, money, algebraic thinking, counting & cardinality
Student-run small businesses are an excellent way to practice and enhance social skills. They help students apply math, language arts, social studies, and financial literacy skills. Students will write business plans, make change, calculate sales tax, graph profit margins, create commercials, hire and manage employees, and use their own talents to sell goods and services to their peers. The most amazing effect is the confidence that students build in themselves as they seek out and discover their own personal talents.
Over the years my students have taught me that real-world experiences create the best possible model for socially responsible, highly motivated students. Math provides a foundation to hook, engage, and motivate all learners in your classroom to reach their full potential.
I sat down with Lisa one day and asked her, “What is something you are really good at doing?” It took this struggling third-grade student a long time to think of any talent. Lisa had earned so many failing grades on reading and math assessments over her years in school that she had come to terms with the idea that she was not good at anything.
Lisa finally came back to me with an answer. “Well, I’m really good at braiding hair.” So I told her to try it on my hair. She braided a strand of my hair in less than a minute. The braid stayed in my hair the rest of the day, and I woke up the next morning with the braid perfectly intact! There was no rubber band holding it in, only Lisa’s tight braiding skills. She had discovered her gift.
Lisa saved up classroom money for a class business license and proudly opened “Lisa’s Salon.” She was in such demand, a waiting list hung from her desk. She quickly realized that she needed to improve her math skills to collect payment, make change, and pay her business taxes. She also needed reading and writing skills to create a business plan and marketing materials. Once Lisa made the realization for herself that she needed to improve her reading and math abilities, her classroom performance improved. Lisa found motivation to take responsibility for her own learning and was determined to better herself for the sake of her own future.
Susan Nunamaker is a National Board Certified Teacher with a passion to help students discover their talents and a love for learning. Susan currently teaches third grade at Clemson Elementary School and is a 2012 finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (crossing her fingers while awaiting the results in 2013). She is the author of Backpacks to Briefcases, in which readers may learn more of her real-world teaching ideas. The book and more information can be found at mc4k.com.
Copyright 2013, Peter Li, Inc. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any form without permission, except for use with your classes or families.
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