After a layoff of about 11 years, I got back into the field of education by teaching a class of about 25 fifth-graders. The intermediate grade levels are exciting for me! They have the creativity of the primary students but have had enough life experiences so that they have a better feel for the things that are possible. They are not as jaded as the secondary students so that a teacher doesn’t have to drill through the ennui to reach the diamonds of imagination.
That first year back in the classroom, I had three students who were in the gifted program, working with an innovative teacher to broaden their minds and to keep them engaged in the learning process. It dawned on me that we could expose the students to situations they would be likely to encounter in the “real” world and develop innovative ways of dealing with trade if we set up a “store” in our classroom.
My brother had a friend who had created a clubhouse in his backyard from appliance shipping boxes. It was cheaper than buying the wood so, if the interest lasted longer than the boxes, it wouldn’t cost that much to replace. With that thought in mind, I scouted around for refrigerator shipping boxes and found one that I thought would fit through the door of my classroom. Using student help, we opened the backside so that students could get into the box without any problems and created a “window” in the front. We found a small table and chair that could fit in the box and we had a primitive “storefront”.
The three students in the gifted program were in charge of the store. The store could only be open during study time – not during instruction time. They could “hire” other students to cover their shift if they were going to be gone. They could not use money but could trade items – for example, they could keep school supplies in stock (paper, pencils, erasers) and could trade these for miscellaneous items from the other students.
It ended up being a very creative time in the classroom. Using found items, students made decorations to put on the eraser ends of their pencils as well as creating artistic items out of paper, clips, and glue. (Pet rocks were quite popular and strict boundaries were maintained so that these “pets” didn’t go visiting other students without permission from the teacher.)
A barter system was worked out so that a person could trade a decorative pencil end for five sheets of paper or (eventually) five sheets of paper could be traded for a decorative pencil end. Because there wasn’t much storage space in the box, interesting ways of displaying the goods were utilized. We soon had pencils, artwork, erasers, and paper hanging from the walls of the box. The rocks were kept in a basket inside the store.
If the trade goods were hung on the inside and/or outside of the box, the table could be used for doing homework. It ended up being an efficient use of time. Students who were working in the store could keep up with their work and learn essential business skills at the same time. The kids became excellent at customer service.
The store was at the back of the room so could be easily monitored from the teacher’s desk. Substitute teachers could decide whether to open the store so that did not become an issue. Some of the substitutes decided to give it a try but there was no pressure to do so.
It ended up being one of the best educational ideas I’ve had but it is not an idea that can be used indiscriminately. It takes students who can work independently and still ask for suggestions if they run out of ideas.
It is a highly collaborative experience in that everyone must be able to work together. I had to plan with the custodians as well as with the principal. The custodians weren’t thrilled with the space interruption caused by the store, so I ended up taking responsibility for cleaning that area. There are times when I really miss those days!