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School's Crayon Factory
Offers Hands-On
Economics Lessons

The challenge of teaching economics to second-graders got easier at one Virginia school when a teacher created a crayon factory that allows students to learn first-hand about raw materials, producers, consumers, natural resources, and marketing. Included: A description of the factory work schedule.

Supply and demand, consumers, producers, and market are common terms for an Economics 101 class, which generally students don't jump into until later in their formal education. Like after second grade.

Second graders in Virginia, though, need to understand basic economics for the state's high-stakes tests, and teachers in many schools struggle to make the concepts understandable to young children.

So a teacher in one school decided to open a student-run crayon factory that also required workers to market and sell their products to learn about business. Suddenly students had a much clearer picture of economics basics.

"The kids learn so much from it," Angela Gwynne-Atwater, principal of Liberty Elementary School in South Riding, Virginia, said about the crayon factory unit. "The kids love it, and it has been a success."

ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES

Teacher and factory supervisor Julie Ciardiello said she brought the idea for the Krazy Krayon Factory with her when she came to Liberty, a school that only has been open for two years. "Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL) requires that we teach economics in second grade, and it's a tough subject," Ciardiello told Education World. "They [students] don't understand a lot of the words, and unless you can put an activity with the word, they don't get it. So I figured out every aspect of what they need to know and incorporated it into the crayon factory."


It really is an abstract concept -- but now they get it -- and I think it's because it [the crayon factory] is so hands-on. Before this, teachers didn't have anything hands-on; they used traditional teaching materials and technology.
 

The Krazy Krayon Factory was organized so that every student in the seven second-grade classes could have a turn at one of the four factory jobs for 20 minutes over the course of three weeks. Students rotated around the positions of dippers, dunkers, sorters, and inspectors. The youngsters took their jobs very seriously; inspectors looked at crayons carefully to make sure the edges were not crinkled, otherwise they might crumble if someone tried to color.

The hierarchy of businesses also was revealed. Students had to peel old crayons so they could be melted to make new ones; parent volunteers melted the wax for the crayon molds. Some children complained that peeling the crayons made their fingers hurt, and asked Ciardiello why she did not help them. "I said, 'I do not have to -- I am the supervisor, because I went to college,' " Ciardiello joked.

The students produced crayons in various shapes and sold bags of four for $1. As part of a marketing plan, classes wrote a song praising their crayons, which was sung over the morning announcements. "They had everyone singing the Krazy Krayon song," said Gwynne-Atwater. "The little kids look forward to doing it, and the older kids love buying the crayons."

Students received pretend paychecks every week, but the money from crayon sales was put aside to pay for a pizza party. In a lesson on the realities of the working world, two students who were absent for two of the factory days had to find a way to make up the time so they earned enough money to join the pizza party. Ciardiello told them to come to school early two days and sell crayons in the hall.

Ciardiello also stressed responsible business ownership. Students juggled their time to keep the business running smoothly. "The kids were surprised at how much time it took to set up, clean up, and all the organizational things," Ciardiello said. At the end of the unit, leftover crayons were donated to youth programs and a children's hospital.

NOTHING LIKE LEARNING BY DOING

The crayon factory also succeeds in its primary mission; making economics understandable to 7-and-8-year-olds. Students did well on a test at the end of the unit and third graders tell their teachers that they have a much better understanding of economics. "It really is an abstract concept -- but now they get it -- and I think it's because it [the crayon factory] is so hands-on," Gwynne-Atwater said. "Before this, teachers didn't have anything hands-on; they used traditional teaching materials and technology. Teachers still spend time in the classroom introducing vocabulary and concepts," she added.


I love how it aligns with the curriculum. There is economics, the ideas of producing a product, selling a product, and advertising.
 

The factory work integrates language arts with math, Gwynne-Atwater noted. "Students need to understand complex vocabulary words, and working in the factory gives them concrete examples of concepts such as resources (crayons); natural resources (water); human resources (student workers); consumers (other students); and marketing (making posters to sell crayons).

I love how it aligns with the curriculum," she continued. "There is economics, the ideas of producing a product, selling a product, and advertising. And they can enjoy the fruits of their labor."

The factory unit also likely was the first time students earned their own money for an activity. "They learned to make choices," Ciardiello told Education World. "This had nothing to do with mom or dad paying for something -- they had to earn it. It gave them a sense of accomplishment and empowerment."

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Financial Literacy

 

Originally published 09/27/2010

 

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