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posted: Tue, Dec 20th, 2016

Learning through game play

The fourth-graders only knew they were playing a stock market simulation as part of their social studies unit. They invested round by round and watched as some stocks went up, some went down, and some stayed the same.

Most students did well over the course of the fictional 18-month time span and took pride in their investment strategies. They bought stock in radio companies, theaters and the entertainment industry, and in automobile companies, among others. Economic times were good.

Then came that fateful day.

The market did something it had never done before. It spiraled downward out of control. When it hit bottom, so did the students' bank accounts.

The fourth grade was learning about the 1920s. And they had come to one of the darkest Tuesdays of all time – October 29, 1929.

This exercise and one other recently helped students experience the prosperity of the early 1920s when times were Roaring – and then the Great Depression that scarred America for generations.

The students learned that the brightness of most of the 1920s had made the crash of '29 even blacker than it was. The country had seemed unstoppable, thriving from cultural and technological advances that saw the widespread use of the telephone and automobiles, the expansion of commercial and passenger flight with Charles Lindbergh conquering the Atlantic, women earning the right to vote, and jazz music bursting from phonographs everywhere. 

Virtually overnight it all changed. 

After the students experienced the financial collapse, they moved onto a role-playing exercise. Working in small groups as families, the students had to make choices on how to survive. Which job would the fathers take, working on farms or begging for money on the streets? What jobs would the kids take to help make ends meet, working in mines or in factories? 

Throughout the course of this exercise, peril and good fortune lurked around every corner, just as in real life. Families could be robbed or be faced with unexpected expenses. Or they could come into some money from a good Samaritan or charity.

"The exercises made the time period real for them," said teacher Nicole Juckett. "It put them in America in the 1920s and forced them to make the tough choices that families had to make just to get by. It was an eye opener for them to see the country turn from good jobs to breadlines so quickly."

The fourth-grade social studies curriculum has recently been revised and units are now divided into decades spanning the 20th Century.

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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