NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

December 4, 2013

Taking a lesson beyond the books

Fourth-graders gain business skills through project-based learning

ROWLEY – There’s much more than reading, writing and arithmetic going on in Bill Maguire’s fourth grade class at the Pine Grove Elementary School these days. There’s business planning and organizing, manufacturing and marketing date setting, and capital-seeking presenting to potential investors.

The 19 nine-and 10-year-olds in Maguire’s class have embarked on a multidisciplinary learning experience unlike any other. Through the ambitious endeavors of Maguire in seeking a challenging Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit that went all the way to the superintendent’s office for approval, the students have spent the last months building a new enterprise called Saplings, a tree-based school supplies company.

From working up mock designs of products to projecting costs to making presentations to get “investments” from local groups, like the PTA and their own families, the students are learning what it’s like to build a business from the ground up.

The unique project, which uses materials from the Buck Institute for Education, is designed to incorporate mathematics, technology, engineering and writing, and address numerous core curriculum framework standards. Piloting this small business model has seen the students taking on roles as chief operating officer, chief financial officer, vice president of marketing, manufacturing and the like, and leading the project from start to finish as the drivers of the business plan.

“The biggest benefit of a project like this is authentic learning,” Maguire said. “With the authentic learning opportunities found in PBL, students become more invested and motivated. I can crank up the challenges without fear of losing the student because they care about the outcome.”

Using the PBL template, a business plan for tree-based products was developed and the product line-up began with sturdy wooden pencil sharpeners and “Bookdogs” that act as book stands. The product line quickly expanded to learning products in an effort to attract teachers as customers, as well as students. Some of those products include Sproutlets, which helps children understand relational concepts, or the wooden-wedge pizza tool that teaches fractions to students.

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