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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making things complicated

The other day I was teaching economics, and we were working towards differentiating gross profit from net profit. I was using a website called the lemonade stand game to illustrate the correlation between quality and price, and how those two factors influence profit. The kids had been experimenting with these variables to see how they impact long term sales at their virtual lemonade stands. They caught on quickly, and tried to sell water with a hint of lemon for $1.00 so that they could get rich quick. Such greedy little capitalists! Their scheme worked the first day, but by the end of the week they were almost bankrupt.

The extension of this activity was to talk about gross profit as opposed to net profit. I asked the kids for their theories without giving them any inkling as to what the terms actually meant. One little girl's hand immediately shot into the air. I asked her for her definitions, and this is what she said:

"Gross profit is the money that the people paid who bought that bad lemonade with no lemons in it. Net profit is money from the people who got the good lemonade and liked it."

I then lost all control of the discussion as the kids had a brief yet spirited debate on the parameters for defining which lemonade was "gross" and which lemonade was "net." It's amazing how fast you can lose control of a discussion amongst children. And this is exactly why I have such love for kids. There's no double meaning. Life is black and white with no shades of gray. Actions are right or wrong. If something is gross, well, it's GROSS.

I wish I had my camera with me so that you could see the puzzled looks on their faces when I finally wrestled myself back into control of the conversation and explained the real definition. They were completely silent. That in and of itself is noteworthy. I think kids are like lions on the prowl. They can smell weakness in adults, and they pounce on it. I am not a trained teacher - just an enthusiastic volunteer - and I am constantly getting pounced on.

As they filed out of the room at the end of the segment one little girl was stage whispering to her friend, "Who makes this stuff up anyway? I mean, who calls something gross and then says that it doesn't mean gross. Why didn't they just make a new word for it. It's no wonder we have to go to school for, like, fifty years. I think they make it confusing on purpose."

This kid is in for a real treat when she gets to story problems. You know, the ones that start out:

Sam, Sarah, and Sally all have birthdays coming up. 10 years ago Sam was twice as old as Sally. Sarah's age is the same as Sally's divided by two, plus three. All three of the ages together equals 89. Solve for Sally's age. (This is not a real problem. DON'T try to solve it.)

'Cuz she'll know that you could just ask Sally and save yourself some grief.

1 comments:

Gibby said...

OMG, that little girl is priceless with her "gross" comment. I don't know how teachers keep a straight face all day. Well, probably because the kids drive them bonkers most of the time! Nice lesson, BTW. I would have no idea how to teach that. I am not a numbers person. I am having a hard enough time with second grade math!

P.S. What's with your comment on my blog? You had better NOT give up your blog, it IS one of the good ones, silly! If I couldn't read it, how would I procrastinate everyday?! Keep writing!