Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teaching Economics (and my 5th grade version of centers)

We started teaching economics this week. I must say this is usually one of my least favorite things to teach. Primarily, it's because it can be very hard for the students! There are so many unfamiliar terms for them to learn, and I find they often get them confused. On the other hand, it's a very important topic to teach, and it's also a great lesson in cause and effect.

In an effort to make this a more enjoyable unit, I started looking for some "fun" activities for starting off our economics unit. Here's what I chose to do.

I teach a reading/social studies combined class, and I start the day off with 20-30 minutes of silent independent reading where students read books of their choosing. I check in with students about what they are reading in an individual conference each day during this time. After that, I have been doing "rotations" for the remaining hour and a half of class.

I put the word "rotations" in quotation marks because I have never liked doing centers with my fifth graders. It just seems too babyish. And truthfully, I hated making centers with all those dang file folders and little pieces. I'm just not that kind of a gal. So I've avoided that like the plague.

However, I've found that if I just call them "rotations" and do away with all the file folders of little pieces that get lost or are too cutesy, it really is a good system.

Here's what today looked like:

Rotation #1 - Teacher Table. While we are starting economics, we are still working on some map skills. So at the table with me, students worked with two different types of atlases to review the locations of major events from our social studies standards. I sat with the students, but they led the conversation and worked together. I was primarily there to guide them if needed. (This is from a pedagogy known as Instructional Conversation.)

Rotation #2 - Computers. Students played Money Metropolis. This is an amazing game! Click here to read one of my student's reviews of the game. Here's the basic premise: you want to save money for some goal (there are 3, one costing $200, another $300, and one $400), so you have to get jobs to make the money. You can deliver newspapers, fill gas tanks, bag groceries, mow lawns, etc. You could also choose to spend your money as well. There are some great decisions students are forced to make along the way while playing this game. The kids LOVED playing, and they are begging to do it again. I even played this past weekend and enjoyed myself!

What the game looks like when you visit the website

kiddos playing - both girls on the left are filling up tanks at gas stations, and the girl on the left is deciding which job she wants to do next
My favorite websites chart

Rotation #3 - Spelling. Students used their Greek & Latin spelling words to play hangman on dry erase boards in partners. They had a blast, and as a bonus, I didn't have a piece of paper to grade! (Don't ask me why I didn't take a picture of this rotation... I honestly have no idea!)

Rotation #4 - BrainPop. Usually, students will watch BrainPop videos on the Promethean board (as pictured here). Sometimes, when my old Dell laptop is not working (often), they watch the videos on my iPods (I have three in my room). Here, students watched the Budgets video twice. They made a bubble map while watching the first time. After it was over, they discussed what they wrote and added any new ideas to their own maps. The second time they watched it, they were listening for certain vocabulary words from the standards to define. Once they came across the word, one of the students in the group would pause the video, they would discuss what they thought they should write for the definition, agree upon a common wording, write it down, and then continue. Many times, the students will back up the video to listen again. I love how they are taking charge of their own learning this way and move at their own pace! Once they finish, they take the review quiz. If they still have time, they are encouraged to pull up the "Read More" sections.
*You may wonder if having this play while the other students are doing something else is distracting for the other groups. It hasn't been a problem in either of the two classes I teach. The students are all pretty engaged, and they all know they'll get to the video eventually.

this group of boys is using my Promethean pen to take the quiz... There's some magical power in the pen, I believe...

Rotation #5 - iPods & iPads. In addition to the 3 iPod Touches, I have 2 iPads. Here, students played Financial Football, a free app! It's also available as an online game here. The kids love this. It has WICKED hard financial questions, but I don't care about that because the kids are exposed to a lot of great vocabulary. Kids can choose the teams and the plays they want the teams to make. If the kids get the question right, the play is executed well. If they get it wrong, the play is executed poorly. They love it! There is also a Financial Soccer game on that website as well.

The opening screen for the game

About to execute a play

The teams that were chosen to play

These kids are focused!

So far, I have been really impressed with what the students remembered after one day of doing these rotations. They are having a great time and learning a lot. What more can I ask?! If you have to teach economics, I would most definitely recommend having your students play Money Metropolis and Financial Football. The BrainPop videos are a great educational tool as well!

For any of you out there who also teach economics, what do you find informative and engaging for your students?