Teaching money concepts

I used to find the idea of money, supply and demand, prices, market price fluctuation, share trading etc. difficult to help students understand. That was until I developed a game that students can play to develop this understanding.

I created several items out of what I had in the class and set up something akin to a “Ye Olde’ market” with desks:

  • Wheat (Rolled up paper with the ends shredded)
  • Stone (From outside)
  • Flour (White sandwich bags with paper inside-I did real flour first up=mess=lesson learned= use paper)
  • Grain  (Brown sandwich bag with paper inside)
  • Jewels (Colourful maths blocks)

The item list can be as varied and interesting as you wish.

Students are broken into two groups:

Share the goods out among the stall holders and money out between the traders.

Group one are stall holders and the goal of their game is to make as much money as possible.

Group two are the traders they are given a certain amount of money (monopoly money would do) and the goal of their game is to buy all the items from the set item list. (Create the list and write it on the board)

Once the set item list is obtained by one group the game stops and you decide the two winners:

  • Group one the one with the most money
  • Group two the group that attains the items first

The learning here is all in the discussion. Talk about tactics, success and failure and reasons why. Talk about prices and why some items cost what they did.

For the second round, change the amount of items required for a victory. Discuss how this might affect the prices.

The great thing about this game is first and foremost it is really engaging as the students love to play and barter. This game also brings up something different every game. Allow students freedom after a couple of rounds, to merge, form companies, alliances and see how it affects the market, have just two stall holder and allow them to collude on prices.

Enjoy and good learning!

Changing it up

With a jam packed curriculum and the pressure of data this and results that, it’s easy to forget to change it up during your lessons. I had a lesson on perimeter and area I was teaching and threw in a quick perimeter and area video. It was catchy and interesting but I didn’t think much of it after playing it, unsure if the students “got it”.

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Twenty minutes into the lesson I asked a small group “What is the area of an object?”. To which one of my academically lowest, most normally disengaged students answered almost in exact tune “the area’s the inside”. And then proceeded to explain the difference between the perimeter and area, correctly I must add!

I could have been knocked over with a feather. It was one of those moments we teach for, pride exploding in my heart. A breakthrough. It was then I was struck with a feeling almost as powerful, shame, the shame that I have crumbled to the pressure of chasing data and pushing units through rather than putting these simple and powerful aspects of learning into my lessons.

Lesson learnt….for both of us!

Freedom from mistakes

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All those drawn to the teaching profession and those who have a sense of love and romance in the world are generally drawn to this quote (above). There are those who now find it a cliché, but even they would be forced to admit the first time they read this it stirred something inside, something of a dream for the person we all wish to be.

Why aren’t we that person? Why are we afraid to dance unless forced? Afraid to sing unless alone? Afraid to love unless we are guaranteed the love is going to be returned? Most of us live with a fleeting glance or hope of heaven once in a blue moon (or on school holidays). I think the answer is simple – Mistakes (or I could be wrong ;-/)

Mistakes – we are terrified of making them, we are terrified they hurt. What if that were different? What if our mistakes felt good? Secure in the knowledge that each mistake brings us closer to the resolution of a problem and a step closer to heaven on Earth?

Most of this fear of mistakes and feeling bad about making them begins at home and is then strongly reinforced in the classroom. As teachers we all know we can do little  about the home environment but within a classroom we need to celebrate mistakes. Celebrate the thinking and risk taking that led to the mistake that will eventually lead to the answer or the solution to a problem.

I reward my students for genuine thinking and effort and encourage them to have another go.

Language is the key to this. A simple dismissal in order to find the “correct” answer can lead to a student going back into their shell and not attempt to answer another question or take a risk for some time. Some of the language I use is:

“Oh, I love that thinking. Now let’s explore that idea.”

“I can see how you got to that, what a great idea, have you thought of this though……..?”

“I can see you were nervous taking a risk like that, I am so proud of you”

I also allow myself to make mistakes and point them out.

Work with student’s on perspective as well, discussing why they feel nervous and self-conscious of performance or classroom risk taking. This is great in a philosophy circle. Follow up these philosophy circles quickly with an activity that pushes the comfort zones of students with performance or risk taking.

Lets build a generation of:

Students who dance terribly but love it!

Sing woefully but can’t stop!

Love life and the world like they haven’t been hurt !

And help them truly find Heaven on Earth.

Philosophy-Powerful lesson

Update on practice
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This week being the first week of the school year in the Southern Hemisphere (Jan-Dec school year) I practiced my preaching and was heavy on the philosophy. My students completed a simple learning style test. We discussed how everyone is different and it went well.

Later in the week we had a great discussion on the inner workings of the brain when it came to processing information via our learning styles. I love how interested year 5’s are with the working of the human body. Then we talked about learning and how specifically it works in the brain referencing the neuoplasticity video I have posted in a previous article.

After some hearty and interesting discussions with my year 5’s I used one of my lessons I mentioned in an earlier post. Using this form: Learning dots I gave students a pattern to follow, say, green, black, blue, red, orange. Students had to put their finger on the dots in that order as fast as they could. I gave them one turn and asked how they went. Of course it was tough to start, then I gave them a second go, asked for feedback, then a third and then a fourth. After that we had a conversation about what was happening. One student replied “I can feel the wiring in my brain changing and getting faster” Of course with practice they all improved as the pattern became embedded in their heads. We then had a few more goes and finally a brief but rich discussion about how learning was happening in the brain.

The key!!!!!!
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Now here is the key! This experience I will use as a marker to draw on throughout the year as students struggle to understand concepts, reminding them that at first new tasks and ideas are difficult but with good practice you can lay the pathways in the brain.

Philosophy- Why we learn

Why we learn
In this section I am not going to cover ideas about rewards etc that are a part of every classroom. Rather than this external motivation I want to cover internal motivation, appealing to a student’s inner desire to learn and work. Please feel free to add in the comments section any other ideas you have used.

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Approach one “growing up”
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There is a strong desire in most younger students to mature and be recognised for this. This approach is not about telling a student to “grow up” but using older role models to provide motivation. In turn using your students as a role model for younger students reinforces the idea effectively.

Class conversations about how “year 5” should work and act are tools you can use. Take notes on these conversations and post the ideas around the room for later reference if a student is not learning or acting appropriately. Photographs of these same ideas in action are powerful tools for the more visual students in your class.

Approach two “work time”

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Comparing what students do at school as similar to their parents going to work appeals as well to the idea of growing up. Establishing the idea that their role at school is like their parents, having to go to work. They might not like it but you need to do your best.

Approach three “becoming an expert”
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Finding a student’s interest and passions should be something every teacher does in the first week or two. This allows you to frame ideas in the interest of the student and allow them to become an expert in a certain field. Without learning every detail of say motorbikes, including the maths on how to run one, the literacy of finding the best bike magazines, the science of how a bike works and the history of bikes how can you be an expert?

Approach four “the science”
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For the more scientifically minded students discuss the idea of learning as a process you must go through to “evolve”. The ability to learn is the single greatest skill that has raised humans to the heights of reaching the moon and Mars (in the future). Maybe leave out the bit about wars and what humans have done to each other! Hopefully we are learning that is not the way to go.

External motivation v internal motivation

Without doubt the most immediately successful tool for having students learn in your class will be external motivation of rewards, behaviour charts and critically, engaging lessons. However to truly make a difference in a student’s life an internal drive must be found to learn independently. These ideas like all philosophy are reinforced parallel to your regular lesson throughout the year.

Philosophy-How we learn

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How we learn

The environment
We learn when we feel safe, if we feel unsafe the old “fight or flight response kicks in“. This doesn’t just apply to physical threats. If students fear making mistakes, looking silly and losing face, the process of learning simply cannot happen, they will fight you or they will escape- mentally (sometimes they will try the physical escape too!). There are a number of reasons students can feel this way but generally it is a fear bred from past experience of being wrong and then being scorned or hurt in some way.

We talk about providing a safe environment for students to work in being essential for success. Students need to be safe to feel the freedom to make mistakes without negative consequences (this includes the teacher). With your class rules set down at the start of the year, should be something along the lines of “Encourage your peers to keep trying and support them at all times.” Obviously if students are ever found to be reacting negatively to others mistakes you should come down strongly on this, making it clear that the behaviour of not supporting your peers is totally unacceptable.

The idea that making mistakes is the first step to learning can be reinforced by some skills games where the students start off with a simple task like throwing a ball into a basket and over the course of a few throws improving as they adjust to the mistakes. This is exactly the same as a maths problem you try once, get wrong, try again with a new idea, get closer, try again with an adjustment, get it right. Anecdotes too like Edison finding 999 ways how not make a light bulb before he discovered the one way to do it demonstrates this idea well. Constantly reinforcing the idea throughout the year is important.

The Science
The idea above is classroom management but students need to understand the importance of making mistakes that lead to learning. Philosophy starts with creating this environment but discussing the idea of learning and I take firstly a scientific approach. I use parts of the following video:

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

From 35 seconds to the end of the video it describes in clear terms the idea of practice and effort improving our skills. It also discusses the idea that everyone and every brain can change with effort. This video does use higher level words that could confuse younger students, however the graphics are simple and clear and explaining the graphics in appropriate language would work.

Games can work as well. Teaching students patterns of music or tapping pencils, running a obstacle course in a certain way expands of the idea of learning something new and continual good practice improves overall performance.

I use pictures and explanations of making a track through a jungle and the more I walk the path the clearer and easier it gets.

This process can also be used when working with students who struggle socially and emotionally and you are trying to assist them with decision making.

Starting the year- Teaching the philosophy of learning.

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I find the philosophy of learning  to be central to any success I have in my classroom. Sometimes a student may not, over the course of the year, move significantly academically but will move forward philosophically and socially. This is still a very successful year as this philosophical and social movement will set them up for success in the future.

Philosophy of learning is not the “airy fairy” stuff I was once introduced to where a teacher allows their class to run amok and says “I am letting them find their own learning and not restricting their individuality by applying rules”. Takes a rare and gifted student to learn without guidance and structure.

A quick maths lesson. This idea of philosophy + a group of “regular” students=disaster.

I see philosophy of learning as the whys and how’s of learning and I make it a major focus for those students who need it most throughout the year. It is, like all learning, an ongoing process of introducing an idea and working with that idea throughout the year in a number of different ways.

Unlike regular subjects, much of the teaching is incidental, reinforcing the ideas during a maths or reading lesson, on the sporting field etc. Often it is good to present a whole class lesson (if time permits) but the gold work will be done in small groups supporting other lessons or individual work supporting the unmotivated and struggling students.

There are three main areas I work on when teaching the philosophy of learning:

  • How we learn
  • Why we learn (going to work)
  • We are all different

I will address each of these three in detail in further posts.

Teaching or assessing?

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Let the students learn!

We are teachers, teachers teach. Teachers should focus 90% of their time and energy into quality teaching. So why do I feel like an assessor?

If we can assess students simply and accurately but  efficiently why not do it?

Why is much of our assessment long and painful with “success” most often achieved by the students whose strengths are most organisation or have the most stable home life. Is this fair assessment?

I believe simple focused assessment would deliver a number of positive outcomes:

  1. More teaching time/more genuine learning time
  2. More accurate assessment of ability
  3. Lessen teacher workload-leading to high standards of teaching-more time for genuine pedagogical advances in the individual through mentoring etc.
  4. Lessen student stress at assessment times-leading to better mental health and student learning

I strongly believe an approach that focuses more on quality teaching and reducing the quantity but improving the quality of assessment would benefit students and teachers alike. 

How would it be achieved?

  1. Looking at the current units and focusing on the learning objectives.
  2. Challenging the team to devise accurate and simplified assessment delivered in the least intrusive way in the classroom.
  3. Structuring assessment times with all subjects in mind-stagger assessment due dates.
  4. Breaking down old habits and beliefs.
  5. Being courageous. The world is results and data driven-we all know this does not deliver the best learning outcomes for our students.
  6. Educating teachers and the community about the benefits of this adjusted approach to assessing and learning.

As teachers and professionals we all know this. I’ve written nothing new here. The challenge is to do something about it.

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