Saturday, October 08, 2011

Young AmeriTowne

I was subbing in a fifth grade yesterday and for social studies, they worked on a curriculum called Young AmeriTowne.  It is a curriculum written for 5th and 6th grade age students (10 through 12 year olds), that helps teachers teach about business, economics, and free enterprise.  I was only there for one lesson - the penultimate lesson before they take a field trip to the bank site, which has been set up to simulate a town, in which their "shops" are set up.

For the lesson I saw, the students in four 5th grade classes were sorted into various shops.  The shops in my room dealt with travel, containers, a market, and investments.  Students, who had applied to work in those shops had assigned roles, some of which they had applied for with job applications.  The project managers ran the meetings for their shops and the accountants prepared the financial information.  The students decided on such things as the shop name, the shop logo, advertisements for the radio, newspaper, and television.  They applied for a loan to start up their business when they get to AmeriTowne, and the accountant wrote out salary checks, so they would get paid when they get to the site. 

So much for the basic design of the project.  What impressed me most was what happened when the project managers took over the management of the projects.  As a substitute teacher, I knew less about what they were doing than they did, so I basically just wandered around the room, watching and listening to the progress of their meetings.  Most of the groups had fairly strong managers, but sometimes other students seemed to be very helpful to the management, too.  The accountants, who presumably had been chosen for their mathematical confidence, seemed comfortable in their roles, but occasionally they seemed stronger than the project managers.

The program says that it helps to teach leadership skills, and, if the day I was there is any indication, they are correct.  The project managers had a long list of objectives for the session and they seemed to figure out how to get their teams working on them.  There were enough jobs and things to do that each person could be involved.  There were a few passive students, who seemed uninvolved or disinterested, but in general, I was impressed with the interest and task-oriented behavior.  The groups varied in size from four students to six or seven.  The group with only four students was very focused and hard-working, but they were the last to finish, because there were fewer students to do the work.  The other groups were done sooner.

All in all, I was impressed with the program.  I have often thought that schools need to include more economics in their curricula, and this is a good start.  I have seen other methods of doing this, including classroom based shops or economies, but this is one of the better examples of economic curricula.  I liked the level of active involvement for every student.

I wonder a bit about the cost of the program.   Another teacher said that the program cost each student $25.  I am not sure how the money was raised.  This school was in a relatively wealthy area of the school district.  I wonder if the program could be implemented in the much less wealthy school I had been in the previous day.  That school was less than 5 miles away, but had an entirely different demographic.  I hope that isn't part of the lesson:  the richer kids get to learn about economics; the poorer kids can't afford it.

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