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Woodland’s Business Day Takes Personalized Approach to Cross-Curricular Lesson

Woodland’s Business Day Takes Personalized Approach to Cross-Curricular Lesson

A fifth grade tradition at Woodland Elementary that is 15-plus years in the making continues to challenge students and teachers alike - stretching students to think like an entrepreneur and teachers to adapt the experience year after year. 

Known as “Business Day,” the three week project culminates in a multi-classroom market in which every student, individually or in pairs, owns their own storefront and learns firsthand the dynamics of a capitalist economy. They part with their handmade creations - origami, jewelry, candles, keychains, coasters, videogames and more - in exchange for “fifth grade bucks” that they and their classmates have earned all year long. Students also fill the role of consumer, spending their hard-earned dollars in neighboring storefronts. 

“It touches on and reinforces so many different parts of the fifth grade curriculum,” noted Woodland teacher Jen Greer, referencing the project’s more obvious connection to economics and social studies, but writing, math and science, too. 

From start to finish, the process mimics that of a start-up business. Students are asked to create a business plan and even draw up a contract if partnering with another student to help reinforce their roles and responsibilities and the importance of skills like communication and collaboration. Business owners must create a prototype of their product; design their storefront; create a logo, slogan and promotional materials; and ultimately follow through on their business plan. 

Along the way, the fifth-graders study different episodes of “Shark Tank” and reflect on case studies for both successful and failing business ideas - all while applying the concepts they learn to their own ideas. Before opening their storefronts, they participate in a grade-wide gallery walk, evaluating one another’s business plans and providing constructive feedback. 

“It’s so rewarding to see how excited they get about creating their product,” reflected Woodland teacher Jakeb Knight, who also enjoys seeing his students become invested in the process and open to change. “I’ve seen students completely change up their product and that is an invaluable skill for them to learn.”

Fifth-graders Henry Larva and Amelio Panyko created a business that appeals to pet lovers, designing a wide range of pet toys and accessories out of recycled clothing - making a T-shirt into a cat tent and old jeans into durable tug-a-war toys, for example. They took to heart the feedback they received from their classmates, adjusting their designs to be free of zippers for the safety of the animals using them. 

“I love to assemble things and we just started experimenting,” Larva said. “I learned that entrepreneurs have to take risks with their ideas to make it into a successful business.” 

Another pair, Jonny Melen and Caleb Alexis, took a shared passion and turned it into their business. They built a series of downloadable video games surrounding a new galaxy they created. Greer and Knight said it is this aspect of student choice that makes the project a great execution of personalized learning. 

And just like they ask their students to reflect on the experience, the fifth grade team evaluates the project each year and makes adjustments. This year, for example, students had to use their class time, as opposed to time at home, to develop their products, forcing them to think more creatively and use the limited resources available to them. Students had to pay for everything from tape and glue to pipe cleaners and paint, helping them understand the concept of material costs and net profits. 

“Their creativity is what amazes me most year after year and how resourceful they are,” said teacher Chris Butler, who helped kick start the project 15-plus years ago.  “They really put in a lot of effort and really seem to enjoy the whole process.”