Yes, it’s true. We lend our nine-year-olds enough money to create a working store that can provide the whole School with everything from art supplies to writing implements. Throughout the year, they stock, promote, and sell their items. The 9s have to identify and compare prices from competing distributors and determine per-unit costs to decide how much to mark up their merchandise. These are not word problems in a textbook, they are real world problems and the success of the store depends on their answers.
The 9s study the United States in the late 1700’s, focusing specifically on westward migration into the Ohio Territory after the end of the Revolutionary War. In conjunction with their Group Job, running the School Store, the 9s spend the fall considering how people obtained supplies in earlier times. After the Store is open for business, the 9s study early stores and markets in the United States and early trade. The 9s then begin to learn about westward expansion and and the first pioneers to the west (trappers, traders and missionaries), and the eventual mass emigration of people to the unsettled Ohio Territory. This curriculum is approached in several ways: through group and independent research, literature from and about the time period, primary sources—including records of trades that actually happened at fur trading outposts—and trips, especially the Country Trip in the Spring.
The 9s’ Job is operating the City and Country School Store. Its function is to supply each classroom and office with the supplies they need to operate. The 9s spend the first several weeks of school brainstorming ideas of what needs to be done to prepare their Store for opening and then tackling the list, task by task. Each student is in charge of several Store items and is responsible for finding the best prices, placing orders, following sales, keeping track of inventory, and determining when it is time to reorder. The Store demands tremendous cooperation and skill. Interpersonal skills are called upon in dealing with teachers, peers, customers of all ages, and the staff in the Business Office. Accuracy in mathematics and great attention to detail are also required; these skills are necessary for estimating, purchasing supplies, making sales, keeping accounts, cashing out, balancing the books, and following up on unpaid bills. Planning and research are other important skills. The 9s have to search for the best prices and best quality, determine the amount of goods to keep in stock, price the individual merchandise bought in bulk, and develop systems to divide the labor fairly. They will also create an advertising campaign and color catalogue.
During their study of the growth of early American stores and trade, the 9s will research trading, bartering, peddling, trade routes and specialty shops, working in groups to recreate some aspect of early American mercantilism. In past years, the 9s have built a general store and equipped it with essential supplies. A model of a town with a school, mill, general store, etc., has also been created in the past as part of this study.
Mapping is a natural component of the study as we use their journals to follow the exploration of the great unknown wilderness. Students will encounter rivers, mountains, wild animals and habitats as they join the expedition. Students will do a simulated exploration of Prospect Park as they learn to use a compass to navigate their way.
When students learn about the emigration west, they will consider the reasons people left, preparations for the trip, and the experiences of pioneers on the trail and at their final destination. Slavery was banned in the Ohio Territory, meaning students not only examine the institution of slavery, but how African Americans built new lives for themselves—using primary sources about African American settlement of the territory. We also study the Indian Confederacy of different tribes that resisted westward expansion.
Students choose topics to explore independently, and they are able to apply much of their research in a hands-on way while on the Country Trip and in their play.
9s begin to learn the basic steps for formal research. They are introduced to skills such as using a table of contents and index, choosing good sources, scanning a page for specific information, studying a picture or other primary source, and recording information. Students will pick one topic to investigate further and be introduced to the expository writing process by writing a three-paragraph essay. They will break down a general topic into specific questions for further inquiry while creating topic sentences, supporting sentences and concluding or linking sentences for each paragraph. These skills will serve as a foundation for the formal process of written research that will be introduced in the 10s. Information gleaned from group and independent research is typically presented in concrete projects, such as models, paintings and dramatic scenes.
Literature in the 9s includes a wide range of reading experiences: student-selected books, history readings, personal and small-group research books, historical fiction, magazine articles, poetry and teacher-selected stories. The history study is complemented by the reading and discussion of historical fiction, non-fiction and other readings which can include Indigenous writer Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark series. Students are also assigned to read in Book Groups to develop a lifetime habit of thinking about and discussing literature with others.
The types of writing experiences in the 9s include stories, letters, journals, field notes and observations, poetry, lyrics, tall tales and scenes. Students keep both a Writer’s Notebook and Reflection Journal. The Writer’s Notebook is a space for them to explore writing creatively while the Reflection Journal is a place where they reflect on topics related to History, Job, Literature, Math, social issues and personal concerns. Through group and individual rewrites, the 9s edit for clarity, organization, detail and mechanics. The aim is that by the end of the year, students will have started to internalize the process of self-reflecting and editing.
As a group, the 9s are introduced to spelling patterns and conventions of grammar and writing. These include: types of sentences and appropriate final punctuation, capitalization rules, parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, interjections), verb tense, use of apostrophe to show possession and contractions, homophones and indenting. After reviewing the components of a complete sentence, students are introduced to the structure of a paragraph, writing two or more related paragraphs, and when students are ready, the structure of a basic essay.
When we are studying a particular spelling convention, weekly spelling words will be the same for the whole group. At other times, weekly spelling words will be individualized based on each student’s spelling needs, or on words used in association with the 9s Job or Social Studies.
Handwriting continues in the 9s. After reviewing lower case letters, students complete their study of cursive by learning the upper case letters. The goal is that by the end of the year, students can write a three-paragraph essay neatly and fluidly in cursive.
In preparation for the Store opening, the 9s spend the early fall solidifying addition and subtraction skills, working out word problems, and reviewing money math. Then, the Group covers other computational skills including the multiplication tables, multiplying one- and two-digit numbers, short and long division (with and without remainders), rounding, and finding averages. Other topics include basic work with fractions, measurement and geometry. Students also study and create visual organizers for data (charts, tables, Venn diagrams and graphs), and use math vocabulary to identify numerical relationships and categories (factors/multiples, odd/even, prime/composite, numerator/denominator).
Through the Social Studies and Job program, the 9s will grapple with such historical and practical questions as, “What was the cost of outfitting a wagon train to Oregon in 1850?” and “What is the best price the Store can get on pencils?”
Across the topics, students solve problems both individually and in small groups. While 9s are more and more at ease with symbolic or “paper and pencil” math, manipulatives are often used to help visualize abstract concepts and to demonstrate new ones. With the underlying belief that understanding math is an “active” process, students are encouraged to ask questions, to make and test predictions, to explain answers in terms of “how” and “why,” and to share and listen to one another’s strategies.
9s are expected to work approximately 45 minutes most school nights to continue to build upon concepts learned in school, to extend their thinking on their own in a quiet environment, and to read and respond in writing.