Bartering For Buttons!

There was a time not so long ago, when our societies thrived from the exemplar fisherman trading the excess of his fish with the baker for the excess of his bread. If we want to take this story to a more modern example, countries such as Canada trades oil to the United States in exchange for imports of natural gas, computers, motor vehicles and agricultural products.

The concept of trade is so important to our economy that I was surprised when my group of grade 4 students had limited knowledge of how to actually trade.

In my prepared sewing class, there are 6 tables that seat 4 students. I placed a container of different styles of buttons at each table for each group to use. When the students entered the class, they immediately began choosing the buttons from the container at their tables. When the students realized that the other students at the other tables had different buttons from the ones they had, they immediately cried foul! “Why do they have sparkly buttons and we do not?”

I asked the students if they wanted to trade buttons with the other groups? Their idea of trade at this point was to take their entire container and trade with another table for their entire container. I allowed them to trade containers and they continued to complain because they wanted their original buttons too.

Then I suggested another idea. “Why don’t you take a few of your buttons and go around to the other desks to see if they want to trade your buttons for theirs?” “This way you get to retain your original buttons and possibly collect some or all of the other buttons as well?”

The students completely forgot about sewing that day and spent the entire class bartering and trading for buttons! One student found a coveted letter “A” button (my vowel buttons are very rare) and after realizing it’s high value; she was able to trade it for 10 buttons! Interestingly enough however, she found the true value of the A button and refused to trade. She had one “A” in her name and knew she was the only one that could use buttons to write her name on her project.

We have taken out so much creativity from the education system but at what cost? With all of the testing and more testing and studying for testing, we are losing the opportunity to teach our kids real life/world skills. Our economic stability is balanced with and by trade agreements. If our children are growing up without the knowledge or ability to trade, we are failing our most precious trade resources… we are failing our kids!

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