Money is interesting to most students, it’s an inescapable part of adult life, and it lets you study a lot of math and economics concepts, so it makes a great classroom theme — or just grab a few of these activities to knock out some framework requirements.
Need a bulletin board? U.S. Money Bulletin Board Set from Trend is clear and straightforward, showing coins and currency and their relationships, while Teacher Created Resources U.S. Money Mini Bulletin Board focuses primarily on equivalencies. Carson-Dellosa’s U.S. Money Bulletin Board Set has a chart and pieces showing both bills and coins.
Understanding U.S. money
First students need to be able to identify coins accurately, understand the place value issues of coins and currency, and recognize the value of various combinations of bills and change. Just as digital clocks have made it harder for kids to learn to tell time with analog clocks, changes in shopping have made it harder for kids to learn about money. Few elementary students today have ever seen someone count back change, fewer have run to the corner store with a $5 bill in hand to pick up a carton of milk, and many kids now get their allowance through PayPal or debit cards.
Here are some classroom activities that let kids get the money practice they might not be getting at home:
- Fair trade Have students work in pairs with classroom money. The first student offers a combination of bills and coins, and the second student must match the value. Students who need to work on recognizing coins can use the same combination exactly, while those who know the names and values of coins should have to come up with a different combination that produces the same value.
- Making change Have students use a Teaching Cash Register or a cash drawer to make change for items “bought” from catalogs. Bring mail order catalogs to class, give each student a One Hundred Dollar Bill, and let them take turns running the register and shopping.
- Draw it Have students draw items they’d like to buy and draw bills and coins totaling the price they’d pay. Have them label the drawing with “I’d pay $___ for a ____.” While you could use a cents sign, bear in mind that modern keyboards no longer have this sign, so it might be more practical for students to get used to $.01.
The value of money
Knowing that a nickel is equal to five cents is necessary, but it doesn’t really tell you the value of that nickel. Money is only worth what it can buy. Kids whose experience of shopping with parents is putting things in a cart and swiping a card may not be conscious of the relationship between goods and cash.
Try some activities that make it clear:
- Big plans Plan a class party, a trip to a fun destination, or another big event. As a class, brainstorm the things needed for the trip. Use ads from newspapers or catalogs or do internet research to find the prices for all the items needed. For older students, divide the class into teams and compete to see who can bring in the lowest total.
- Budgeting Have students create a household budget. A typical budget recommendation is 28% for housing and 15% for food, 15% for transportation and 10% for savings. That leaves a mere 32% for clothing, entertainment, insurance, medical costs, gifts, charitable giving, and everything else. Imagine a person making minimum wage at a full time job and have the class do the math. Have older students use classifieds from the local paper or online research to determine what kind of housing, transportation, etc. their sample budget would pay for.
- Global view Use Peter Menzel’s eye-opening books Material World: A Global Family Portrait and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats to get a clearer understanding of how much money people have in different parts of the world. Use Google Earth to make virtual visits to the homes of the people you learn about.
Picture it: a long, narrow barge sailing down a river, with an orchestra playing on it, on its way to surprise the king. It sounds like something from a fairy tale, but it really happened. George Frideric Handel wrote some special music for King George I, hired 50+ musicians, and took it to him in this very special way.
As it happened, the new King George had been Handel’s employer in Germany and had given Handel a year’s leave of absence to learn English in London. However, Handel ended up staying in England for three years — until his former employer became king, in fact. Concerned that there might be some awkwardness about his having skipped town, Handel wrote his “Water Music” and brought a bargeful of music alongside King George’s boat in hopes that the king would be understanding — or at least distracted.
My Name is Handel tells the story of how Handel became a favorite English composer, even though he was born in Germany. The London Philharmonic plays Handel’s beautiful music beautifully, and the narration tells the story not only of Handel’s sojourn in London, but also of Handel’s opera Rinaldo. There is a discussion of Handel’s music, plus a song that begins “My name is Handel,” complete with a singalong version, and a recording of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah. There is also an alternative explanation of Handel’s lengthy visit to London.
Along with the recording there is a nicely illustrated pamphlet with a lot of useful resources:
- a brief biography of Handel
- the composition of an orchestra in Handel’s day (check out Artsedge’s Perfect Pitch interactive activity to learn about the orchestra at different periods of time)
- drawings of the churches where Handel played, including the one where he was buried, Westminster Abbey
- sheet music to “My Name is Handel”
- information about the harpsichord and organ, instruments which will be less familiar to students than the piano
- a timeline of the trip of “Water Music” down the river
- information about transportation at the time
Handel had an interesting life, and the “Water Music” episode is certainly very interesting. Handel, Who Knew What He Liked is our favorite book about Handel for kids, unfortunately out of print, but you might be able to find it in your library.
The entire recording fills a complete academic hour, and you won’t want to listen just once straight through during music class and be finished. Here’s a suggested lesson plan for using My Name is Handel in your classroom.
- Ask whether anyone is familiar with the Hallelujah Chorus — many will be, if only with the opening bars. Ask whether anyone knows who composed it.
- Listen to the story. Ask students to tell their parents about this unusual event.
- Read a little more biographical information about Handel to older students. You can hear some more music at that link, too. Ask students to retell the story of “Water Music.” Ask older students to research the question of why Handel really went to London and decide which story they find more convincing.
- Have students draw the barges on the Thames. Visit Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and Barges to get an idea of what these boats might have looked like. Once students have finished their designs, have them fold the paper so that the bottom of the barge is on the fold, and cut out the boat. Partially close the ends of the barge with tape, and let the boats sail on a river of blue plastic wrap. Play “Water Music” while students work on their boats.
- Listen to the section called “About the Music.” Have students create word cards for the special musical terms they learn, such as “overture.” Individually or in groups, students can write definitions to match the new words they’ve learned. Have older students practice note taking.
- Learn and sing the song “My Name is Handel,” using the singalong track. This will help student recognize the “Hornpipe” from “Water Music.”
For older students, consider these writing prompts:
- Handel had money troubles throughout much of his life, and the businesses he was associated with failed a number of times. Yet he was an exceptional composer and a hard worker, and he had many opportunities and successes in his lifetime and continues to be one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Write some business or financial advice for Handel.
- The story goes that the King of England, upon hearing Messiah for the first time, was so moved that he stood up during the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Since no one was allowed to sit in the presence of the king unless he was sitting too, everyone in the audience had to stand up as well. Many people still stand during this piece of music. What pieces of music make you feel that way, and why?
- A Diamond Jubilee Pageant is planned on the River Thames for June 3rd, 2012. This is part of the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Read the information about how to register your boat for this event, and write an essay explaining why your (perhaps imaginary) vessel should be considered.
It’s a long time since filmstrips were the best way to add multimedia in the classroom. Not only do we have many more options in terms of technology for providing visual data for our students, but the reality is that we get a higher percentage of our information from visual rather than written sources. Our students need to be able to use these sources well.
It makes sense to use video in the classroom. Let’s do it right.
First we have to think of the copyright issues. The law is clear on this: a commercially prepared video can only be shown as part of face to face instruction, where everyone is involved. Showing a movie for entertainment, enrichment, or as a reward is illegal. Sitting the kids down on a rainy day to watch Tangled while the teachers catch up on their grading is clearly against the law. Watching Tangled and keeping track on the board of the discrepancies between its story and the traditional story of Rapunzel, then following it up with a discussion of the plots and characters — that’s okay. This is true whether you rent, own, or stream the video from a service like Netflix or Amazon.
Using YouTube videos in the classroom seems simpler and more clear cut. However, part of the law specifies that the person showing the video in the classroom must not know that the video has been obtained illegally. We’ve had our videos posted at YouTube without our knowledge or consent, and our friends at Trout Fishing in America often see their music used without their permission in amateur videos. YouTube’s volume is so high that they can’t be expected to catch all the pirates out there; essentially, it’s up to the owner of the copyright to catch the miscreants.
How, then, can you be sure that you’re not showing something pirated when you use a YouTube video in the classroom? Take the example of Trout Fishing. If you use their official Trout Fishing YouTube channel, you can feel confident. Equally, if you use a video with Trout Fishing music such as our “18 Wheels on a Big Rig” which clearly says “used with permission,” you’re safe. Avoid things that have obviously been filmed at a concert with a cell phone, or commercial film that has been uploaded by someone other than the artist or production company that owns it.
Videos like ours which are specifically intended for classroom use are the safest. There are lots of sources of such videos, including (probably) your school library. If you want to show a movie for entertainment, you simply have to pay the licensing fees and get permission; your library can help you with this.
The rules about using commercial video legally are, fortunately, good advice for classroom use of videos from a pedagogical perspective as well. We like to begin with a discussion or exercise, give students something specific to look for, and follow up with an assignment that involves producing something.
For example, in my writing class we analyze ads. We discuss the idea of a thesis first, and students are looking for the main point when we watch a commercial from YouTube. When they’ve identified the thesis of the ad, typically very simple things like, “Our product will make you happy,” I put them in groups to list the things in the ad that make that point. Once students have listed things like the colors, the music, and the loony grins on the actors’ faces, I have them organize the points.
We watch a couple of ad parodies next, and identify the points they’re making. My students (older teens) have trouble sometimes distinguishing between the point the ads are making (“Our product will make you happy”) and the points the parodies make (“Ads claim that a product will make you happy with no supporting evidence, relying on the loony grins of the actors”). This discussion helps the students grasp the different between reporting information and actually having a point to make about that information. We follow up with a paper analyzing an ad and making a claim about that ad.
Another option is to begin with a KWL chart for a particular topic, watch a video presenting information on that topic, and then to follow up with a response video. We have a variety of other suggestions for using classroom videos in our lesson plans on this website.
I use a projector with my classroom computer. You can also use an Interactive Whiteboard . I sometimes have classes with neither of these things, and then I take students to the computer lab so everyone can watch individually, or give them a link on the class website so they can watch it at home. Neither of these methods works as well, I have to admit. It’s hard for students to keep points in their minds for discussion. For this reason, we work with very short videos or brief clips from longer films, and go through them together, pausing to discuss and analyze particular points. I always use online videos or student produced ones (no copyright issues), but the same process will work with DVDs.
We use a screen and pull it up to write on the board, as in the picture from my classroom at the top of this post. we also work in small groups or pairs at the student computers in the classroom. Since my students are older, I let them choose when to go back to the computer and when to use their textbooks and paper as in the picture above, and some of my students use their laptops or smart phones. If my classes were too large for this, I’d have students use Twitter hashtags or use something like the i>clicker Radio Frequency Classroom Response System. We have this technology for checkout in the school library. I haven’t used it, but there are plenty of reasons to try it: shy students or bold ones who dominate the class, a need for accountability, a desire for quiet in the classroom…
For younger students, large group discussion is a good option, or think about elementary school electronic systems like Educational Insights Eggspert. Eggspert is often used for Jeopardy-style quizzes, but you can also use it for classroom responses. Just as with the student response systems for older students, Eggspert has extra pods available so you can give one to each student.
As you can see, I basically use video just as I use written texts. I think that this reflects the realities of the 21st century: we no longer treat various media as entirely different experiences. A well-done video has a thesis and a structure, just as an article has. When we watch a video in my writing class, I always ask students, “Do you think that someone wrote the words in that, or did they just make it up as they want along?” just to get it clear to the students that writing is part of all the media we use, and not just something we do in school.
I’d love to hear how you use video in your classroom, too!
“Retrofuture” refers to earlier ideas about what our current time would be like. Now that we’ve hit the 21st century, we have lots to choose from — people making predictions in the 1900s often chose the 21st century to write or draw or make movies about.
Have your students explore the following retrofuture resources:
- Retrofuture space travel art
- Retrofuture art
- Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?
- Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century
Now use the newfound knowledge to think and create.
Compare and contrast
Make a Venn diagram showing how people from the past thought life would be now, and how it really is. Add a third ring and include how life was at the time the predictions were made (often the 1930s through 1950s). After starting this topic with the whole class, divide students into groups and encourage them to choose a narrower aspect such as clothing, gender roles, communications, or travel.
Now you’re ready for some great compare and contrast essays! Have students write their essays individually and then get back together to prepare a report to the class about their special area of study.
The posters, films, and illustrations people in the 20th century made showing their ideas about the 21st century are a wonderful genre of art that might be quite new to your students. Examine and analyze the examples linked above. Then have students design their own Retropolis, showing plenty of details of the way things might have been by now if those early futurists were right.
Check out our Robot Lesson Plans for a rich area of retrofuture ideas. People generally expected that there would be robot servants by now, and that most work would be done by robots. Do students think of their microwaves and vacuums as robots? Discuss these ideas and encourage students to include robots in their concept of Retropolis.
One particular variety of retrofuturistic design is called “steampunk.” The term originally referred to a type of science fiction and fantasy that took modern technology into a Victorian setting, but it’s now often used to describe design that combines Victorian style with high tech and fantasy elements. Movies like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Sherlock Holmes may be examples that are familiar to your students.
Examine some resources on the subject:
- Steampunk Workshop
- Steampunk Empire
- Instructable’s steampunk projects
- MTV on steampunk
- The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature
- Steampunk anthology of short stories
- Christi Friesen’s Clockwork Hearts art project
Having steeped themselves in steampunk, your students should develop a brief drama featuring a time traveler from the Victorian era. This can be a big, research intensive project, or just a three minute video. Either way, encourage creative use of costumes and props in steampunk style.
We can divide the world into biomes, areas that are geographically distinct and have characteristic plants and animals. The desert is different from the rainforest, and the tundra is different from the ocean. Incorporate art, social studies, and science into your classroom with lesson plans focused on the biomes.
Endangered animals lesson
- Watch Joel Sartore’s video Rare. Your whole class will enjoy this close-up look at some of the endangered species of the world. This video uses pictures from National Geographic Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, a book created by Sartore.
- Do some research to identify the animals and the biomes in which they live. The book may be available at your library; if so, it would be a perfect starting point.
- Make a map for your bulletin board or a Google Earth Map overlay showing the animals and connecting them with their biomes. Use photos or student drawings to create your map. Have students write paragraphs about the animals and add these to your map or Google Earth Tour.
- Think about moving the animals from one biome to another. Would they be able to live in those places?
- We had the chance to hear Mr. Sartore speak about the work he did in creating his book, Rare, and he said that adaptable creatures will be fine. The creatures who can’t move from one type of habitat to another will have problems. Discuss this. Can you think of some adaptable creatures? What creatures seem less able to live in varied habitats?
- Watch the video again. Have students write or draw a response to the video. Add some passages from the writings to your map project.
People of the world’s biomes
- Use your textbook or state standards’ list of the world’s biomes (the lists vary from one source to another) to identify the biomes of the world.
- Divide students into groups and give each group a biome to research. Have students identify one group of people from their biome to study. A culture might be identified by the language they speak, the country where they live, etc.
- Some resources that might be helpful:
- Material World at Nova; also check out the book and the author’s supplemental materials.
- Anthropogenic Biomes at the Encyclopedia of the Earth includes a PowerPoint, a Google Earth Tour, and a printable wall map all showing the distribution of human beings in the earth’s biomes. This site is suited to high school students.
- What’s It Like Where You Live? is a human-centered look at biomes for elementary students.
- Have the groups use drawings and graphic organizers to gather the data they find.
- Have each group report to the class, explaining how the biome where their population lives affects their lives. Encourage students to think of an interesting way to present their information: perhaps music, food, or other media from the region they’ve studied would add to the experience.
- If you also did the endangered animals lesson, consider why people are able to live in many different habitats, while some other creatures cannot.
Hot air balloons make a great classroom theme. Lighter than air flight seemed a lot more plausible than heavier-than-air flight and was more popular for a long time. Even now, balloon travel is in many ways more exciting than airplane travel. Enjoy a hot air balloon theme as a symbol of optimism, or bring in history and science and literature for a well-rounded classroom theme.
There is a new Carson Dellosa Hot Air Balloons Bulletin Board Set suited to student names, goals, best work, benchmarks, and so forth. Write names on the band across each balloon and add a face cut from a school photo to the basket.
The white panel for the giant balloon can hold your name, “Mr. Baxter Balloonists,” your class slogan, team name, etc.
Get a similar look by having students decorate paper plates, adding a basket cut from paper.
Choose an uplifting slogan:
- Rising to New Heights
- Here We Soar
- Flying High
- Soaring Above the Crowd
- Up, Up, and Away
Making hot air balloons from papier mache is a classic craft for this theme, and hanging the balloons from the ceiling jazzes up your classroom enormously. Step by step instructions with photos can be found at First Palette. Martha Stewart does, too. As long as you cover balloons with papier mache and tie a paper cup below them for baskets, you can’t go wrong.
If that sounds like too much trouble, print out Crayola’s Hot Air Balloon Mobile coloring sheet and create bright mobiles to hang from the ceiling. There is also a hot air balloon printout in a page of remarkable paper craft designs featuring Santa Claus. This model, from the overachievers at Bildrums Klippark, is great for older students. Also, you should just go over there and marvel a little if you have time.
For older students, use old-style light bulbs (burnt-out ones are fine, or make this a chance to switch out for more energy-saving modern ones). They’re the perfect shape, and you can paint them. Party nut cups are the perfect size for a basket, and you can tie them on or wire them on with florist’s wire.
Another classic hot air balloon experience is to create a hot air balloon with a plastic bag (the long narrow ones from the dry cleaner’s work best) and a hair dryer or hot air popcorn popper. We used the Hot Air Balloon from Smithsonian Adventures, which is admittedly snazzier, but it’s the same principle. If you fill something light with hot air, it will go up in the air. The UFO solar balloon kit takes this a step further by using black plastic to give the sun an opportunity to heat the air enough to cause the balloon to rise without hair dryers.
Give yourself plenty of time for trial, error, and tweaking your hot air balloon to get more lift. If your students are ready for algebra, NASA has some nice equations that can help.
Learn about hot air balloons:
- How they work
- How they work, with lots more bells and whistles, at PBS
- How they were invented
- How to make them in class, in glorious detail
- How to set up a lab (Frankly, this is an unattractive page and you have to scroll down through a bunch of ads to reach the useful part, but I haven’t found a better page with all the calculations in one place yet. If you know of one, please mention it in the comments — thanks!)
- How they were used in the Civil War
- How they were used in other conflicts
- How to draw them
Books for all ages:
- Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon
- The Travels of Babar
- Hot-Air Henry includes an intrepid cat and some lyrical language.
- The Big Balloon Race is an easy reader about a balloon race. My personal favorite balloon race book is The Great Round-the-world Balloon Race by Sue Scullard, but it’s out of print. Check with your library, though.
- The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois was one of my childhood favorites, and I still love it. Tie it in with rainforest studies, natural disasters, creativity, or invention. Show your class a flash movie overview of the book to whet their appetities, or after you’ve read it, to structure discussion.
- Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride (Caldecott Honor Book) from Marjorie Priceman, who also brought you How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.
- How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World includes a hot air balloon as well as other means of travel.
- Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of the Development of Hot-Air Balloons and Airships is a serious yet readable account with lots of illustrations.
- The Wizard of Oz includes a hot air balloon, along with many other interesting things.
- Around the World in 80 Days, another classic, includes a balloon among other forms of transportation.