The Grade 4 unit of study, Goods and Services, was a unit which had historically centered around seeing how businesses run and the main ideas behind what businesses need to make a profit. It culminated in a ‘market day’ where student sold their own products that they had come up with and made to the school community at lunchtime.
This year new changes were proposed to try to get sustainability into the unit. In the previous year it was introduced that one aspect of the product on market day had to be recycled. This thinking continued with the team until a guest speaker was arranged just prior to the students coming up with their ideas. Mike Johnston was given the remit to talk about the circular economy and new ways of viewing production lines and how our consumerism can change looking to the future. This struck a chord with students and this changed their thinking significantly with regard to their product. Students were responsible for being in charge of their budget and generating profit; this also had an impact on their profit and we found students were generating more profit using different ways of thinking about producing goods.
At the start of the unit sustainability-based provocations were used in place of the traditional essential questions for the unit. Instead of “How do businesses generate profit” the question posed was as a tug of war between “A business’s sole purpose is to generate profit” and “A business should benefit the community”. Further tug of wars included “A business should benefit the environment” and “ A business should bring well being”. In other words, uses the points of the compass. This was not perfect in itself, and ideally a quadrant-type 4 way pull would be used, but it did generate discussion and more questions for us to inquire into. The first two prompts were used as homework to take home and interview parents on; these were recorded on a class padlet.
Reflections from the grade were that the aspects of sustainability that were introduced were very successful and the grade wants to get more into the unit next year. They are also seeing ways now that the compass can be used in the unit on location and the development of settlements and the way Singapore is planning for the future in a sustainable fashion.
Two of us, after attending Compass Education Level 1 workshop, gave systems thinking a go with our classes after our market day experience. The students had designed products and advertised them and sold them on a Tuesday and then a Thursday, so there was plenty of opportunity for them to change their thinking in response to customers. I thought this would be a great thing to plot its complexity using systems thinking. While the whole idea of cause and effect can be challenging to grade four, we led it out very gently, modeling simple relationships such as “customers like our product” and “because customers liked our product…customers bought our product” and “because customers bought our product…we sold out of our product” and modeled some links from there. We then let the students go off and develop further links, all the time bringing them back to the simple language of causality.
It went well in so much as it showed that exploring system complexity can take place with grade fours and that it is a good tool for exploring causal relationships. This has been a great start and is something to build on next year.
[box]Submitted in cooperation with Luke Whitehouse, 2015, while serving as Head of Grade 4 at UWCSEA East Campus, Singapore[/box]