University of Delaware
UD's Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship has trained a group of elementary school teachers to conduct "Mini-Society," a hands-on learning system designed to reinforce student learning of key economic concepts.

Developing citizens

Teachers prepare to run entrepreneurial economics event in schools next year


11:07 a.m., July 21, 2014--You may think your children’s teachers are taking the summer off, jet setting to vacation destinations and dipping their toes in the ocean. But think again. Elementary school educators from across the state were gathered over the last few days at Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary School to participate in a workshop designed to teach them how to help reinforce and extend economic concepts and the Common Core standards.

Delaware teachers of third through fifth grades were running through “Mini-Society” training, a three-day workshop about a discovery learning system offered by the University of Delaware’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) and created by former UCLA professor Marilyn Kourilsky.

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“Mini-Society” is just what it sounds like – a mini economic system established by students in which they create and manage currency and run businesses that provide goods and essential services for their society. Students experience a range of roles, from producers and consumers to currency creators and voting citizens.

The training workshop for teachers modeled how to implement a classroom “Mini-Society;” participants set up and ran their own society and received lessons on how they can reinforce and extend economic concepts and Common Core standards with their students.

“We want the teachers to have the experience of participating in ‘Mini-Society’ so they are ready to implement the system, but we also focus on training them to let the students make their own decisions,” said Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of CEEE. “As a teacher, you might want to tell your students that if they price a product too high it might not appeal to consumers, or that if they price a product too low they won’t make a profit. Modeling the concept of the system illuminates how the lessons play out for the students.”

Those lessons include the concepts of demand, competition, scarcity, advertising, resources, and profit and loss, to name a few.

“We’re teaching economics and entrepreneurship, but we’re also addressing the reading, writing, language of the discipline, speaking and listening aspects of the Common Core,” said Meszaros.

Teachers were grateful for the engagement opportunity Meszaros and CEEE provided, and said they felt more prepared to implement “Mini-Society” in their classrooms.

Pat Spero and Katrina Custer of W.B. Simpson Elementary School said that while they had run “Mini-Society” previously, it was only scratching the surface of the concepts.

“Now we can help our students have a deeper understanding of how an economic society functions,” said Spero.

Added Custer, “We have a lot more activity options now as well as the tools to help our students learn the vocabulary associated with economics.”

Maria Cobb of Mt. Pleasant Elementary School has been running “Mini-Society” for the last six years.

“It is a fun outlet for students to learn how to be true entrepreneurs, and the best part is it gives them hands-on experience,” said Cobb.

Erin Boettcher, a 2013 graduate of UD’s master of arts in economics and entrepreneurship for educators program (MAEEE), also has close ties to the project.

“I took the ‘Mini-Society’ training about 12 years ago, but then three years ago I applied to the MAEEE and took on ‘Mini-Society’ as my project,” said Boettcher of the portion of the degree program in which students implement a project in their schools.

Her passion for economic education also runs in the family; Boettcher’s father, Brian Feeley, is a 1993 MAEEE graduate and was on-hand at Thursday’s conclusion of the workshop to take his grandchildren “shopping.”

Model “Mini-Society”

The teachers also had some fun through the workshop model process. 

In their model society, “Firefly Land: A Place to Gather Bright Ideas,” the teachers set up shop selling everything from gourmet cupcakes to handmade bubble makers. And the source for their product ideas ran the gamut.

Latisha Robinson of Booker T. Washington Elementary School created Pinterest-inspired jewelry made from washers, paint and glue, while Amy Tierson, also from Washington Elementary, took a hint from the society’s name and created Mason jar lanterns.

Spero and Custer, who sold custom coasters and homemade cookies, respectively, found inspiration from their former students’ products, while others like Cobb looked to their children for support (she sold fusible bead creations in the shapes of popular video game characters).

The entrepreneurial bug also bit the teachers. While some shops had some product leftover, Tierson, who sold out of her lanterns, closed by auctioning off a spare shopping bag for a dollar for her fellow society shoppers to bring home their wares.

Article by Kathryn Meier

Photos by Ambre Alexander Payne

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