Making the "Choice" for Economics "Changes" the Elementary Classroom

Article excerpt

I discovered economics when I was teaching 5th grade. I was getting discouraged by students lack of study skills, coming to class unprepared with assignments and the tools they needed to do school work. It seemed that few students were taking responsibility for what was happening in their lives. Parents were also blaming the schools and teachers for everything that was wrong with their children's lives. Teachers were seen as the enemy. I felt like I was not accomplishing anything and I was not having any impact on student's lives. When I learned about the Choices and Changes Economics program, I knew immediately that this was what my students and their families needed.

Economics is not an abstract subject with math and charts, but it is the life skills students need to succeed in life. My first year of teaching economics was exciting for me. It was fun to see a student squirm, and fret as he took responsibility of making the choices not to come to class unprepared. He chose not to bring a pencil and he chose not to work. Excuses no longer worked in my classroom. When a student says he doesn't have a pencil, I do not provide him with one. I ask them, "What would happen if their parents showed up to their work without the tools they needed to do their job?" They would have to find someone to loan them a pencil or they can buy one from me. Other students began putting a cost on their tools that they loan out.

My favorite part of economics education is the focus of work. For the first time I was able to establish with students the reason for their being in school. Every one works, including them! Right now, school is their work. School is their opportunity to gain the human resources they need to be successful. They come to school to gain skills and knowledge. They have resources, capital and personal, and they are adding to their resources. Having students keep lists of what they can do, help students become more aware of their human resources. When new knowledge or a new skill is learned, the student adds to their list.

Economics also puts the responsibility of their education on their shoulders. This is extremely important as we live in a society that is becoming more and more a society of victims. It is critical to teach the next generation to take responsibility for their lives. No matter what a teacher does, it is up to the student to learn. Education is self-service. I use the comparison of going to the gas station. The pump and the gas are there but it is up to >the driver to put the gas into the tank.

One of my favorite experiences that first year of teaching economics was with a student who was out of control. He did nothing productive in school. He did participate when we made paper puzzles. He practiced the new skill with the class and improved hi s work. He was able to make the puzzle faster and better with each practice. As part of the lesson, each student developed a lesson plan. The class then went to a 3rd grade class. Each 5th grader took a 3rd grader to teach how to make the paper puzzle. Back in class, this student was totally frustrated. He said, "My kid >didn't learn how to do it. He wouldn't listen to me or follow directions!" I asked, "Does it make a difference how a student behaves in how well you can teach and he can learn?" He agreed and then was quiet. I was hoping he was processing the new insight into his own life.

Another favorite part of economics is teaching about choices, decisions and consequences. Students learn they are in control of many aspects of their life. One is free to make any choice but not to choose the consequence. Students are taught how to make decisions by identifying costs and benefits. They learn to make choices based on the consequences they desire. …