Fourth Grade Stock Brokers Learn About More Than Math

Head of Lower School Michael Simpson writes about how much the fourth-graders learn during their stock market unit.

If you were to walk into the second floor computer lab last week you might have thought you stumbled upon a roomful of stock brokers rather than a class of elementary school math students. You’d have seen them checking the feeds from various news organizations, researching the latest quotes and trends on NASDAQ and NYSE, filling out purchase requests and delivering them to the head broker (their math teacher), and suggesting stocks or asking questions on e- message boards. Fourth graders were engrossed in the annual stock market unit, and they are loved it!

Mrs. White began the unit several years ago, back when stocks were still listed as fractions. She saw it as an opportunity to apply math skills to the real world: fractions for the stocks, decimals with the money, and percentages with brokers’ fees. She expects her students to learn how national and world news can affect the economy. She describes the stock market unit as intertwining math skills they’ve practiced in school with real world math. I’m not sure who enjoys it more: the kids, because as one said, “It feels real—it feels like you’re a businessman!” or Mrs. White, because she loves math and loves watching kids get excited about math.

Although Mrs. White’s been teaching the unit for several years, she updates it with the latest technological tools. She conducts class in the computer lab so she can make use of both the Smartboard and a computer for every child. She begins the unit with a Power Point presentation on the history and basic concept of the stock market, complete with video of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She teaches them necessary vocabulary. She teaches the class how a company develops from private to public, how to fill out a purchase request, and how to figure the broker’s commission. The first assignment is to note objects and experiences in the world around them that are produced by a corporation that might offer a stock. She shows them how to examine trends. She directs students to check the stock pages of the New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, and Reuters. Each is RSS active, and Mrs. White teaches the class about regional, national, and international perspectives. She gives each student $5,000 and a checkbook. Mrs. White facilitates the discussion by providing a message board for each homeroom; after just four days, 567 messages had been posted! Each class typically starts with a short lesson, and then she lets them loose to capitalize. They spend class researching, filling out purchase requests, monitoring the news, and messaging each other about stocks. The time must fly by.

This unit of study exemplifies what we value in the Lower School: authentic application of basic skills, planning and predicting, collaboration with peers, fun, appropriate use of technology, and higher level thinking such as synthesis, evaluation, and analysis. The kids eat it up, parents participate, and the teacher finds great reward in her students’ learning.

Michael Simpson, Head of Lower School, shares his thoughts on Monday mornings.

I love Mondays! Every Monday morning we kick off our week in Lower School with an assembly. The whole Lower School community gathers under the bird mobile in the Lower School atrium. 3rd and 4th graders sit on the stairs, and Primer, 1st, and 2nd graders are on the floor facing the south doors. Occasionally some peacocks join us, hanging out just on the other side of the glass. I welcome everyone and Mrs. Holmes leads the children in song, (e.g. The Star Spangled Banner). She also leads a concluding song (e.g. Hail to Greenhill). Other than that, the assembly is led by fourth graders.

Every Friday, four 4th grade students—new ones every week— meet with me to plan what will happen on Monday. We decide what community news to share and if there need to be any public service announcements. This past week they wanted to remind Lower Schoolers not to throw mulch or sticks on the playground. They also offer a “thought provoking question” to the community. One recent one was, “Is it possible to take action, if no one knows you’re doing it?” (Yes parents of first graders, deep thinking is not far off for your little ones!). We also take the time to recognize community members who have modeled our core principles of respect, honor, and compassion, or anyone who has taken action to make a difference. How do we do this? Students or adults may submit a story about anyone they feel should be recognized; they drop it in the shoebox outside my office door. We can’t read them all at each assembly, so the fourth grade leaders decide which ones to read each week. At the assembly they ask the student to stand as the story is read, and this is always followed by wild applause. It’s a great moment.

There are specific reasons for having these assemblies—public speaking and leadership opportunities for fourth graders, adding to our community song list, public reminders, highlighting exemplary behavior, to name a few. But I have to tell you that there is hardly a more pleasant way to start your day. Everything comes together to make it a very uplifting 15 minutes: the bright sunlight, the fresh feeling of a new week, all our students together, the artwork around us, 350 children singing, and four 10 year olds confidently addressing the audience. It doesn’t get much better than that!