Innovative elementary learning

What do you get when you provide second-graders with start-up money, some five-year-old customers, and full creative license? An entrepreneurial experience that can only be found at Poly’s Second-Grade Craft Store …

For three weeks in late January, the second-graders immerse themselves in a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary project. Their teachers start the conversation with books and videos about goods found in communities around the world. How did they get there? Who made them? What materials and expertise were needed to produce these goods? How can communities share goods?

The students think about goods they might provide to their younger peers at Poly. They get to preview materials and brainstorm ideas. Forming “companies” based on shared vision, the students are then challenged to combine their boundless creativity with practical issues such as supply and demand. In teams they develop, fine-tune, and change prototypes until all members are satisfied with the product.

Start-up loans, production costs, productivity, cost per item, projected profit … all of these considerations go into weeks of work for the student design companies. Teachers facilitate the process by teaching the math needed to make change, helping teams set production quotas, fostering teamwork,  and keeping the conversations moving toward end goals.

Once the products are completed, the students create company logos and film commercials to generate excitement and interest among their potential customers. They send videos to their kindergarten customers, who watch in eager anticipation of their upcoming visit to the “store.”

On that big day, the excitement among second-grade teams and their customers is palpable. Teams make their storefronts as visually tempting as possible. Customers arrive in shifts, spreading out the purchases.

The entrepreneurs live the thrill of sales in real time, facing some critical questions: Is it worth reducing prices in slow times just to make a sale? How far can they push the limit of pricing without driving customers away? What would make their paper airplanes more appealing to compete with the team two stations over?

Finally the buying stops, and the teams take stock of their success: Did they make a profit once they’ve paid back their start-up loan? Did they reach the goals they set for themselves? Do they feel they satisfied their customers?

The reflection that happens after the project’s culmination is rich with essential questions, thoughtful responses, and critical thinking about how the students could be even more successful next time … if only there were a next time soon!

This Poly “bright spot” of innovation highlights the power of creative thinking and project-based learning to engage students in all facets of the learning process. The students are empowered to choose the direction of their learning, picking up key benchmarks and conceptual learning outcomes along the way. This project is a favorite of teachers and students alike, not to mention the happy five-year-old customers!