A hands-on lesson in early economics

REED CITY — Social studies can be a difficult subject for some students because it is usually all "book work."

Reading about what happened in the past and memorizing facts is the primary mode of learning, unless the teacher finds more creative means to get the information across.

Evelyn Webster, a fifth grade teacher at G.T. Norman Elementary School in Reed City, realized years ago that learning about economics in our ancestors’ days would be more interesting to students if they could experience it for themselves. Supply and demand, scarcity, trading, bartering, consumers and goods were just all vocabulary words to memorize until she read about an idea for students to have their own marketplace.

This was the beginning of the annual Trade Fair. Since then, other fifth grade teachers have joined the project, turning classrooms into marketplaces. Each student makes an item or “good” they think customers would like to . Since money wasn’t used long ago, trading was the method by which people acquired what they needed to survive, and the students used that technique for the trade fair

In Webster’s and Lia Vanscoyoc’s classes, there was a wide variety of creative goods available for students to choose from. Before the trading started, each student would explain what they had brought with them. A variety of items were available, including bracelets, bookmarks, ornaments, painted rocks, magnets, crocheted coasters, stress balls, hair accessories and snacks. Teachers also participated by offering coupons for special treatments in class. Coupons to have a lunch date, extra computer time or to have a free desk cleaning were very popular. Students learned quickly about the value of their goods and became very avid traders.

Peyton Hanson really wanted that special lunch.

“I had to trade a lot just to get it because everyone wanted it,” she said.

Students quickly learned that bartering was not as easy as it sounded.

“My cupcakes went fast because it was a snack," said student Rachel Hope. "All the really popular things were gone right away. Then it was hard to find something I wanted.”

Other students, like Trent Dutmer, learned the importance of demand.

"I had bookmarks," he said. "It was really hard to trade if you didn’t have anything people wanted and they didn’t want bookmarks as much as the other stuff.”

Students were quite happy with the items they took home from the trade fair. Shopping like the early Americans and Europeans did in the past helped students to understand a very important part of their way of life. Experiencing the bartering process themselves was able to provide more education than any textbook alone.