Hands-on economics lesson across classes
A pair of educators in the Woodburn School District – a husband-and-wife team – demonstrated how a touch of creativity can deliver a unique, vivid, hands-on lesson for students.
The teachers, Erich and Emily Van Bergen, teach high school mathematics and a third-grade class respectively. At first blush the two charges would appear to have little in common, other than they are in the same district. But a closer look demonstrated that a half hour's interaction between the two groups inspired lessons practical economics and decision making.
WSD produced a short video of that interaction titled "Classroom Market," which depicted the Erich's Success High School students as entrepreneurs and Emily's third graders as consumers.
"My husband, more or less, comes up with his own curriculum. He thinks about standards, and he thought about what they were learning in their math class," said Emily, an alum of North Clackamas School District's Rex Putnam who studied education, teaching and Spanish at George Fox University. "And he realized that it would be a really neat opportunity to learn about supply and demand and about scarcity – and learn about being consumers and producers and what it would be like to be an entrepreneur."
The students' interaction took place earlier this month. Prior to that Erich, who hails from Newberg and studied at George Fox and Pacific universities, spent a portion of his lesson plan urging his algebra students to think about: 1. How can I use numbers to be convincing? 2. How can I make a profit?
"We spent a portion of the cycle talking about economics -- concepts such as scarcity, supply and demand, and some principles of a free market -- in order to establish some background knowledge about markets and how and why people buy and sell certain products," Erich said, noting that Success goes by 7 cycles rather than semesters.
Once the background knowledge was imparted as a base, the next step was applying it.
"We then spent some time doing market research -- we asked questions about third-grade students and what types of products they might like to buy," Erich explained. "Once the students had decided on good products, they submitted a formal 'order guide' to me with a budget, and then they developed a pricing and marketing scheme based on the principles of economics that we had previously discussed in order to make the highest possible profit."
Erich stressed that the activity put lessons to use, providing interaction and thought-provoking amusement within the paramenters of a scholastic process.
"It was a fun way for my Algebra students to get some real life practice at engaging with young people, ordering and assembling products, and doing a lot of the 'behind-the-scenes' work that is involved with doing business that they may not have thought about otherwise," he said.
"We're learning about the quantity and how to sell stuff to get our money back (and profit)," Success High School student Pricila Cruz-Mendoza said in the video.
"Compromise," her class-project partner Rebeca Guerrero-Guzman interjected.
As for the third graders? They each received some scrip, or funny money, and an opportunity to spend it.
Each member of the class of 24 was allotted $10 in scrip. Erich noted that the total, $240 in the consumer market, juxtaposed with roughly $100 worth of product to sell, which developed a sense of scarcity that the Algebra students needed to navigate.
The third graders received a shopping experience and practice at budgeting for their preferred purchases in a comfortable environment.
"The crafty ones even got a chance to practice some bartering," Erich said.
Erich shared some noteworthy statistics.
"My highest profit group made $20.03 per person in the 30 minutes that they had," he said. "They sold slime."
WSD Board Member Eric Swenson watched the video with delight. A seasoned educator, Swenson taught one of Erich Van Berger's graduate classes at Pacific University's Woodburn campus.
"That is everything that good education should be: lots of student discourse around a meaningful purpose that elicits higher level thinking skills and mirrors real world content, and multi-age to boot," Swenson said.
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