Savvy Economists: Third Grade Classroom Economy Goes Above and Beyond

Savvy Economists: Third Grade Classroom Economy Goes Above and Beyond
Amy Barnard

Step into Kristi Classen's third-grade classroom towards the end of any given month and you'll see students working diligently through personal ledgers and writing checks for Ms. Classen to sign. Next they'll step into line at the banker's station and cash their checks, organizing their Minnehaha Money into wallets that get tucked away into a safe.

"We form a line and they have to be behind a certain point because their pay is private," Classen says, explaining that as much as possible they try to model true bank etiquette.

This process is all part of the third grade Classroom Economy, a year-long project Classen uses to help students understand the foundations of economics and explore buying and decision making skills.

Income Generation

Ms. Classen's classroom runs because the students make it happen. Line leaders, telephone operators, iPad chargers, floor sweepers...each week students rotate through jobs that keep the classroom and supplies in order.

Students quickly grow to understand how their role in the class impacts not only their income but others' experience:

"If you're the homework checker and there is a flyer that needs to go out and you don't do your job no one gets the flyer and they miss out," says Cole Binder.

Classen bases salaries on task difficulty and time required to complete the task. Each week students record their pay in ledgers, adding money earned for good behavior or hard work while subtracting any lost for missing the mark.

One of the more common ways students lose money early in the year is by leaving items sitting in the hallway instead of in their lockers. When this happens, they'll need to buy those items back with money from their ledger.

Trends and Decision Making

On store day students retrieve their wallets and purchase everything from pencils and rubik's cubes to certificates for extra recess or lunch with the teacher. (The store is stocked by items teachers pick up as well as donations from parents.)

    "We have an economist who walks around during shopping time and notices trends: what things are going quickly and what they should lower the price on," Classen says.

Classen preps the students in advance with a foundation in decision making skills.

"We talk about scarcity, opportunity costs, and making choices. They've all made decision trees to help them understand how to decide between two things they really want," she says.

The process sometimes surprises even this veteran educator: When students were preparing bags of toiletries and snacks to hand out to those on the streets, teachers added relevant items to the store. "Some kids used almost all of their money to buy stuff for Bags of Hope," Classen shares.

Making the Connection

The lessons students learn throughout this unit go well beyond "head knowledge."

Meta Calvin explains that she's started to make a connection between her behavior in class and how much money she has at the end of each month. "There are some things where you have to be a better student if you want to buy them," she says.

Mara Fielder shares: "I learned about responsibility because you are in charge of your own money. You're in charge of how much money you save, how much you spend, and it feels like you actually get to be the grown up this time."

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