The Island of Ablai (pt. 6)
After a week off and a busy start to the new term, we got a little behind schedule. We started the week with an art project that just needed to get done. Our map was looking great, but we were still missing the city of Ablai. After a brainstorming session, we came up with some ideas and off they went. The final product is simply gorgeous It is amazing to have this looking over us everyday, and it has shown me how beautiful artifacts can enhance attention. Plus, they are so invested in this unit, as they have literally built an entire world. They are proud of what they have made, and I am proud of them.
They keep noticing that little things are missing (train tracks to the oil refinery) but these will be patched up as we go. For now, this is not a bad picture to see everyday.
Since we were away for a whole week, I wanted them to review our discussion on natural resources and manufacturing. I was away for this day and a supply teacher covered, so I can't really say how it went, other than it jogged their memories. Each group had a product, and then had to come up with a list of all the natural resources that went into that product. Then, they brainstormed how much they thought it cost the company to make the product. It was interesting, every group came up with a list of costs that was directly related to the natural resources, nothing related to design, shipping, manufacturing, etc. I wonder if this was because of the way the activity was set up, or each group didn't consider it. Either way, I cannot say because I wasn't there.
Also, to end the day without me, I showed them this picture, and asked them to generate theories about why this was so:
They generated the following list of theories:
Among all these ideas are some pretty big misconceptions, some out there ideas, and some sharp thinking. We will return to this later and untangle this thread.
Once I returned, I sat them down and asked them a simple question; How do companies make money? They came up with the obvious response; they sell products. I asked them to give me some examples.
S: Nike makes shoes and sells them
S: Apple makes iPods and sells them
S: Nissan makes cars and sells them
T: Alright then, how do they make these products?
S: Well Nissan will metal and rubber and stuff and make a car out of it.
T: Who puts it together?
S: People in the factory.
T: Where do they get the metal?
S: They mine it.
S: No, Nissan won't mine it.
S: A mining company will do it, and then sell it to Nissan.
T: You're right. Actually other companies will make a lot of the parts for Nissan, but they will assemble it. Cars are made up of thousands of pieces, and dozens of companies will make parts for Nissan. Cars are hard to explain because they are such complicated machines. Can we switch to something more simple?
S: How about a table?
S: They buy the wood, and maybe the nails and the paint.
S: Yes. And all of that is then delivered to the factory, where it is put together.
T: This is called manufacturing.
S: After it is built, it is sent to the stores and then it is bought.
T: Is this when the company gets their money?
T: So before that, where is the money coming from?
S: The company has to pay to make the product.
T: Alright. Lets call all the money the company has to pay Expenses, and lets call all the money gets Profits. Can you make a flowchart explaining the whole process?
They went off to their groups and began to flow. They kind of already knew this since we had studied the production cycle before. They had the language. Now, I was asking them to apply that language on top of the language of Expenses and Profits. Which steps of the process were Expenses, and which steps generated profits?
Each group came back to the carpet after making a simple flow chart, and as a group, we built a class model. When we build class models, I like for each kid to already have a model to start from. Whether it be a personal construction or a group construction, we need a starting place. Then, I sit at the computer with an open document (usually a Google Draw, or Presentation) and they negotiate what the class diagram will look like. My role during all this is simply to operate the computer. They tell me what to do, where to move, what color the shapes should be, what font, what size, everything. It is a group design. I am simply an operator who is controlling the machine.
They got this. It made sense. It fit into their world-view and the previous work we had done. I had properly scaffolded it to this point so we easily achieved the spot where we wanted to be. From a planning perspective, it was perfect. My nice little linear world and model of business and profits was playing itself out perfectly.
Then somebody asked a question and everything went nuts.
How does Google make money?
Like a bomb was dropped in the middle of the class. Suddenly, our models didn't work. I had an activity planned, but we needed to address this first. I have a rough idea of how Google makes its profits, but I wanted them to brainstorm ideas. They came to a conclusion that they don't have a lot of products for sale. And people can use their services for free. So, how are they one of the richest companies in the world? I resisted the urge to answer this right now. We WILL come back to it. It is an important question. In the meantime, I asked them to think about Mrs H, who is a dentist and a parent. What is her product? Do you get anything when you leave her office?
S: You get clean teeth.
S: But you can clean your own teeth, why do we pay her to do it?
S: Because she is a dentist, she knows more about teeth than we do.
S: She went to dentists school.
S: Its like a doctor, they don't give you anything, but you have to listen to them because they know stuff.
They are dancing around the difference between a service and product, but they don't quite have the vocabulary to do it yet. We banked this on our Wonder Wall.
Just as I was about to move onto the next activity, someone dropped another bomb.
S: What about Disney?
S: They make movies.
S: They also have Disneyland to make money.
S: And toys.
S: There is a Disney hotel!
Now, they are dancing around the idea of business conglomerates, large parent corporations that own many small subsidiaries. I let them go and just listened. This just keeps getting better and better! Wonder wall!
Usually, I am the type that will just run with this type of idea and completely switch up the plan. But I resisted today. Here is why; these are very complex ideas, and I feel that if they don't have the foundational understanding of where profit comes from, then these ideas will fly over their head. Once they get the concept profit, we will jump into these idea full steam, because quite honestly, these provocations are a million times better than the ones I had planned, and they came from the kids themselves.
For those of you who have been following this series, you might recall that I posted a plan on the first post. A rough outline of what we would do over the next six weeks.
Well, I think all that has changed. The concepts will be the same, but the provocations will be all different.