Friday, January 30, 2009

Books for Economics in the Elementary Grades: The Homework Machine

This entry refers to the following Keystone Economic Principles:

1. We all make choices.

3. All choices have consequences

5. Incentives produce “predictable” responses.
8. Quantity and quality of available resources impact living standards.

Recently, I've been reading some books for younger readers. It's been part of a program with the lower School here at Collegiate. They have a lunch-time enrichment program called Chat-and-Chew. Students select from a list of books, and then have a book club meeting over lunch. The program directors asked the Powell Center to provide some insights and questions for discussion that are grounded in economic concepts. Consequently, I've been reading selected titles for the lower grades, and I have some titles to recommend for anyone looking for book ideas. I'll be posting on them over the next few days.

The first book is The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman. The book focuses on the activities of four fifth-graders - thrown together as a group by their teacher. While it initially looks like they will not have much in common, they eventually find a basis for friendship - a common aversion to doing homework.

The reader finds out that the smartest one in the group has developed a homework machine - a computer that can optically read questions or problems, and then seeks the answer on the internet. He lets this information slip out to his teammates, and soon they convince him to demonstrate and share the technology.

The book offers opportunities to discuss the choices they make (to use or not use the machine) and the incentives to use it; the consequences of the choice (fear of being discovered, and formation of "couples"); and even how the available resource (the machine) impacts the living standards of the students.

It's an enjoyable book, and I would recommend it as a way to bring these economic ideas into your class, whether the book is a read-aloud or a class assignment.

If you're familiar with this book, please share your thoughts and experiences.

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