The Island of Ablai (pt. 3)

Pt. 1 Planning
Pt. 2 Creating the Environment

Pt. 3 Money Matters

With the physical world in place, we were ready to start adding layers of human abstraction.  Before we continued on with that, we needed to develop a common language around money.  I needed to know what they knew, and how they perceived money.  The last thing I would want is to make an assumption about their ideas and then learn later that we were operating on different levels.

Prior to anything, I oriented the kids attention to the fact that we were ZOOMING OUT of our inquiry, and not talking about Ablai, but rather investigating what we know.  It was time for US (the people we are day-to-day) to think about what WE know.  Suspend the drama of the imagination.

We went through the following two provocations, kind of as a tuning in to what they think/know about money (I originally planned three, but after the quality of discussion had in the first two, I decided the last would be unnecessary, and we were ready to move on).

What is money?

For this question, we did one of my favorite activities.  I first learned about it in a Poetry workshop with Larry Swartz at the University of Toronto.  I can't recall what he called it, but I call the routine Growing Definitions.  It reminds me a great deal of the visual thinking routines in Making Thinking Visible.

1) Write a definition of money on your own
2) With a partner, use your definitions and write a new definition
3) With your table, write another new definition
4) As a class, agree on a joint definition

It allows kids to see their ideas grow through interactions with their classmates.  When they see the final definition, they can see a little of their original thought in it.  At the same time, they can be aware of how much the class has added to the collective knowledge.  Finally, we are left with a definition, that was negotiated by all in a safe space, that we can all connect to.  It is truly taken-as-shared (see the work of Paul Cobb for a deeper look at this term).

The main aim here (from the teachers perspective) is to orient the discussion, and not take over and dictate the terms.  The definition has to come from them.  That doesn't mean you can't ask probing questions or push the thinking in other directions.  Being open makes it so much easier.  It is hard though.

This is a pretty good definition.  Some things "I" might change (but it is not my inquiry), but they certainly understand the basic premise.  I think they are missing the bit about value, but that should come out during one of the next couple activities.

It was really interesting to see how their first round of responses was almost completely based on the physical definition of money, and how slowly it evolved into a really solid group write.  They also negotiated things like grammar, spelling, punctuation.  I stood in front of the whiteboard and just pretended I had no idea what was going on.  In hindsight, I should have let them control the whiteboard...

Some great conversations came up; the difference between a want and a need, how buying and trading are very similar, the concept of earning.... these are all parked on our board, waiting to be explored in more detail...

Here is one example of their evolution of thought:

Individual Definition: Money is Paper and metal that you can buy things with
Pair Definition: Money is paper and metal that is important to us and we need it for our lives
Group (4) Definition: Money is paper and metal that is important to buy and trade things that we need everyday
Class Definition: Money is obtained by working and then traded for objects that we need or want for our daily lives

Where do people get money?

This discussion was amazing.  I had an activity planned but they just kept asking questions, so we talked for close to 45 minutes.  It was very much me standing in the front, answering their questions as expert.  There wasn't much interaction from Ss-to-Ss, it was more Ss-teacher-Ss.  Still it was enlightening for me to find out what they know, and amazing for some of them as they learned a great deal about how money works. I'll give a rough outline below;

Ss: People get their money from the place where its made in the factory
T: Where does it go next?
Ss: To the bank.
T: And then how do I get it out?
Ss: Use your card.
T: So, I can go to the bank and take out as much money as I want?
Ss:  No, you can only take out your money.
T: Where do I get my money?
Ss: From working.
T: Where do I work?
Ss: Here at the school.
T: So, who gives me my money?
Ss: Mr. S (the schools headmaster)
T: Would anybody like to challenge that?
Ss: Mr. S owns the school.  He is in charge.
T: He is in charge of the school, yes.  However, he does not own it.
Ss: Who owns it?
T: Does anybody know who owns this school?
Ss: (nobody knew the name of the company, but a couple knew that it was owned by a company)
T: The school is owned by a company called N.  They give me my money.  What do I do for them?
Ss: You work.
T: What does work mean?

We did a collective definition activity, where I asked them to define the word Job, or Work.  At this point, I kind of stepped back and let them take over, writing their ideas on the board, occasionally challenging something, or asking the shyer students to speak up.  Eventually, we ended with this definition.

Ss: Mr D, where does N get the money?
T: What an excellent question?  Can anybody help?
Ss: Our parents.
Ss: Why?  (some kids were shocked at this)
Ss: Because our parents pay for this school.
Ss: Really?  Is that true?
T: Yes, it is.
Ss: So N uses the money from our parents to pay you?
T:  Yes.  What else do you think they do with that money?
Ss: Buy iPads?  Computers?  
Ss:  The buses!
Ss: And tables and chairs.
T: Yes, they have to buy all this stuff.
Ss: So, why can't my parents give the money directly to you instead?
T: Another excellent question!  Why not?  Where would we have class?
Ss: Here.
T: This is not my room.  This room is owned by N.
Ss: At your apartment.
T:  Hahahahaha.  No.  Would you like that, to have no school and just me as a teacher?
Ss:  No, there would be no recess, no assemblies, no other friends.  

Lunch time disrupted us, but I took the main points of our discussion and logged them on our wonder-wall, to return to later.  They basically encapsulated the entire purpose of the unit in a single 45 minute discussion!

When we returned, we did the activity that I had originally planned.  Money comes from jobs.  What types of jobs are out there?

- we brainstormed a massive list of jobs on the boards, trying to cut the redundant ones out
- we transferred those jobs to cue cards, and sorted them into categories that made sense for us
- we made a list of all our categories, and combined and refined it

Brainstorm of Jobs
Sorting the Jobs into Categories
Final list of categories

We will use this list to start building our own economy.


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