Monday, January 12, 2015

Behind the Scenes: A Classroom Economy

I write a lot about individual lessons and activities, but sometimes I forget to talk about the deep routines in the classroom. One thing that I love is a classroom economy! It runs totally in the background of the classroom (well, usually) and solves many daily problems. Basically, kids earn tickets in various ways and then can use those tickets for different purposes.

How do kids get tickets?

The basic way to get tickets is to do a classroom job. For other ways, the answer differs as the year goes on. Early in the year I would give kids tickets if I accidentally called them by a sibling's name--much to the delight of my younger son! Sometimes I also give tickets for random tasks, like stapling book orders or cleaning up from a science experiment.

As the year has gone on,  students also get tickets when they remove 5 vocabulary cards (you can read about the vocabulary system here).  But most students earn tickets through contracts. How do they get the contract? Students see a problem in the classroom and write a contract to fix it. Right now students are passing out reading binders, doing the lunch count, taking care of the bird observations and bird feeder, erasing the whiteboard, and, yes, keeping track of all of the contracts!

Kids write the contracts themselves, which makes for interesting conversations and an authentic reason for writing. What do you intend to do? How often will you do it? Once their contract work is complete, they fill out an "invoice" that I sign.

How do kids use tickets?

So here are the things on our class poster:
-Switch seats for the day: 2
-Special chair: 3 (I have an old teacher's chair that they can borrow for the day)
-Stool: 2
-Stuffed animal for the day: 2
-Extra copy of a paper: 1
-Returning to class to get a forgotten item: 1
-First choice of recess equipment: 1
-Laptop use (kids have assigned days, so this is for extra): 3
-Popcorn Party for the class: 50 (kids can donate into an envelope)

I also auction things off once or twice a cycle. These things include donated little toys, books and bookmarks, school supplies, and other randomness. Such a great way to get those odds and ends into good hands!

What else happens?
A student wrote a contract for making the
morning message.

Well--it's different every year. It's always interesting to see how kids make the system theirs. I don't allow students to bring things from home to sell for tickets, although kids do try to do this every year. Sometimes kids start businesses. Right now, some students are making friendship bracelets and "selling" them during indoor recess. Another student is selling drawings. One student purchased the rights to a fancy set of fine line markers, and rents them during recess.

When students kept forgetting to move their lunch cards in the mornings, the student in charge of the closets proposed a win-win solution: If you don't move your lunch card by announcements, you have to donate to ticket to the Popcorn Party envelope.

During indoor recess, we found that we were going through construction paper at an alarming rate. A student came up with a tiered payment system. Now, using recycled classroom paper is free, while construction paper has a ticket cost.

The area by the door to my classroom is covered with student-created posters, advertising their various goods and services. Students are even considering marketing and how to connect with customers. After the Hour of Code, one student even offered computer programming lessons!

Potential problems

...are not actually a big deal. I say to students early on--this is supposed to be fun. And students really treat it as such. We talk about safe places to keep tickets and the need to be responsible. There are minor problems with dropping tickets here and there, but nothing major so far. And I've done versions of this for four years.

Some fun

All in all, our classroom economy is a great routine to have going on in the background. Lots of fun and room for discussion and growth!

News and notes
-I finally finished Exploring Point of View! This includes two original stories--one written in a shifting point of view, and the other written in first person point of view.

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