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"There often appears to be a disconnect between real-life and school," says Randy Lyon. "I wanted to give the work the students did in class a real-life quality."

Toward that end, Lyon has used a unique "classroom checkbooks" activity for at least ten years. At the start, he asks his fifth graders at Hoover Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa, to research what their families pay per month for rent, food, electricity, clothing, and more. Next, they share the information and use math skills to compute the average amount in each category.

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"I then pay the students the current minimum hourly wage for a 38-hour week, which is similar to some jobs in which the employer does not need to pay health benefits," explains Lyon. "At the beginning of each month, students receive their wages, paid in advance. They write a check to me for the amount of monthly payments their parents/guardians need to make. The balance is the amount of money they have to operate for the month."

Exceptional work earns a bit more money, and late assignments require students to write out a check to Lyon that specifies a reason. That comes in handy at conference time to explain grades or behavior problems, he says. If a students runs out of money, he or she must perform a community service project, like brushing gravel off the playground. In April, students fill out a Form EZ for their federal tax.

"You can imagine that this is a real eye-opener when students have been paying out most of their money each month for bills," Lyon observed. "They really treat their checkbooks and earnings as real. I've noticed better school work and an eagerness to do more to earn extra money."

The activity is made more "real" with demonstration checks from a local bank or lending agency, Lyon reports. He also says its important to be strict with the amount awarded for extra work, or the difficulty in living on minimum wage might be lost. Spending time at the beginning of the year to practice writing checks is advised, as is auditing the checkbooks frequently to check for addition and subtraction errors. Lyon never allows students to loan one another "money."

"I've added a stock market component for students, using a different checkbook, and an initial $10,000 deposit," Lyon added. "Students research individual stocks, purchase them with their money, and sell at the end of the year."

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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