Sunday, May 15, 2011

High School Economics and 4th Grade Collaboration

Marty and Christin Senechal have been married for 12 years and teaching for 11 years.  This past school year, they implemented a unit that connected Marty’s high school economics class and Christin’s fourth grade class.


She said:  About one year ago, I read Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen.  In this short chapter book, Paulsen tells the story of a boy who inherits his grandfather's old riding lawn mower as a birthday gift.  Within a few days "Lawn Boy" has more lawn mowing jobs (and more cash) then he knows what to do with!  He also meets Arnold, a neighbor and stockbroker, who offers to invest his earnings for him in exchange for having his lawn mowed.  By the end of the book, Lawn Boy has multiple employees, sponsors a boxer, and has earned almost half a million dollars!

While I enjoyed the funny situations and unique characters, what really caught my attention was the chapter titles.  Each one was an economic principle, such as:  "The Principles of Economic Expansion" and "The Law of Increasing Product Demand Versus Flat Production Capacity".  I told Marty that this would be great for his high school economic students, and before I knew it, the book was gone, and he was reading it to his students.

He said:  After reading the book, I thought that it had a lot of economic principles that my class of seniors studied throughout the semester.  So, I decided to read it to them.  By the end of their last semester they were ready to kick back and listen to a good story- just like when they were in the fourth grade.  The book was a hit!  The students connected to the story as we read a few chapters a day at the end of class.  Some students even made an extra effort to be sure to attend class so they would not miss out on the plot twists.  I thought that in the future this would be a fun way to connect them with some younger students in our district- my wife’s fourth grade.

She said:  As we planned our collaboration, we wanted to incorporate a variety of technology tools.  Marty and I actually began by using Google Calendar where we created a Lawn Boy schedule to keep us on track. We used this  calendar to schedule our Skype calls, Wallwisher posts, and which chapters we would be reading.  And, we created a Google Spreadsheet to divide our students into their groups.

My 4th grade was in charge of leading the Skype calls.  After reading the allotted chapters, we brainstormed questions that we could ask the high school students.  Each student submitted a question, and I chose 6-7 of the best questions, and those students had the privilege of reading their question during our Skype call.  My students loved asking prediction and opinion questions and always enjoyed hearing what the high school students had to say.  Even after our Skype calls ended, the question-answer session led to some great class discussions.

He said:  Unfortunately, Wallwisher did not work very well in our computer lab.  After a class period of struggling to get a few pages built as many of the kids’ sat in limbo- I decided to scratch that idea and focus on the Skype calls.  My kids did like the idea of having a younger ‘buddy’ to share with regarding the book as we planned for them to journal back and forth.  Next year we will try something more reliable.  For the Skype calls, I organized my class into a panel to answer questions as well as another panel to ask questions.  Each call the students had to change roles.  The kids enjoyed the calls.  Several times I took an impromptu poll of the class over a question about a character or the plot to see what the kids thought was going to happen next.

She said:  Even though the Wallwisher collaboration didn’t work out as planned, the technology was a HUGE hit with my fourth graders.  On the day we learned how to use Wallwisher, I heard more of my students telling their parents about that lesson than any lesson I’ve taught all year!  They immediately wanted to use the tool personally.  I have an exchange student from Korea, and he and his host family decided Wallwisher would be a great way to stay connected when he goes home.

He said: While this year was a good start- which is usually the hardest part- next year we will make a number of improvements.  I look forward to trying some other online collaborative sites as well as improving the partner journal section.

She said:  I agree that we learned a lot the first time through, and we’ll be able to adjust and modify to make the experience even better for our students.  Some additional tools I plan to explore are Scrumblr, Surveymonkey, and Voicethread.  Each of these free online resources can provide another way for our students to share information.

Through our Lawn Boy project, I have gotten positive feedback from both students and parents.  My students would have liked even more collaboration time, and the parents appreciated the incorporation of technology in a safe, learning environment.

He said: This was a fun activity that the kids really connected with.  Through free technology, we were able to make it happen!

Marty Senechal teaches high school social studies at Concordia High School in Omaha, Nebraska.  He also coaches the girls varsity basketball and girls varsity track teams.  Marty is currently leading his school’s exploration into going 1-to-1 with iPads, and he maintains a website for the Concordia girls basketball team.

Christin Senechal teaches fourth grade at Concordia Academy in Omaha, Nebraska.  She helps Marty coach the girls varsity basketball team.  She loves to learn about and try new technology with her students.  Christin blogs about children’s literature at Senechal's Bookshelf.