What is a Classroom Economy, and Why Use One?

Posted by:
Abby Coyle
on
January 5, 2022
4 minute read

During my time as a middle school math teacher, I experienced what all teachers have said before me- having a positive classroom culture is KEY to a successful year. However, it's hard to engage students in a meaningful way. While teaching, I learned about the Classroom Economy system from a close teacher friend (South Carolina teacher of the year nominee, no biggie). The system seemed magical- teachers can build a positive classroom environment, AND students get to practice real-world skills in the process. Teaching in an underserved community, I saw the importance of providing my students the tools they need to succeed in today's world, and many weren't learning smart money moves at home. Now, I could knock two birds out with one stone- effectively engage my students in classroom routines and teach financial literacy in a fun and practical way.

So what is a Classroom Economy? Let's take a deeper look at the system, and how it can help you increase student engagement and responsibility.

What is a classroom economy?

A classroom economy consists of five main components: classroom jobs, bills, bonuses, fines, and a classroom store.  All pieces are fully optional and customizable so that you can create a system that works best for you and your students.

Classroom Jobs

Students fill out applications to apply for classroom jobs. Students are hired, and earn salaries for their hard work. You can pay salaries weekly, biweekly, or monthly, but I prefer biweekly because it most closely resembles the real world. Classroom jobs build a productive community environment as students take responsibility for classroom routines, practice leadership skills, and take pride in their role. Not to mention, classroom jobs make your life easier 😜.

Classroom Job Suggestions:

  • Use "team" jobs, where students group together to divide up roles and practice collaboration.
  • Team job ideas: Clean-Up Crew, Tech Team, Teacher's Assistants.
  • Have your students come up with the jobs they think will help your classroom run smoothly.

Bills

Students use their income to pay bills, such as rent for their desk. This creates a sense of ownership for classroom space and allows students to practice budgeting in a safe environment. It's important to emphasize that if a student doesn't have enough to pay their bills- that is okay! They are always welcome in our classrooms, and will never be denied access to resources. Our philosophy is that it is better for students to practice and make mistakes in a safe environment, before they get to the real world with real consequences. Once students get the hang of paying monthly rent for their desk, you can build on to include utilities, health insurance, renters insurance, disaster insurance, etc.

Classroom Bill Suggestions:

  • I like to have bills slightly less than what students earn in salaries so that they have a little bit of spending money, but need to earn bonuses to purchase big rewards from the classroom store.
  • At the beginning of the year, have students sign a "Rental Agreement". 
  • "Disaster Insurance": If school is canceled due to inclement weather, students who have disaster insurance are safe. Students who don't have disaster insurance are fined $x for "desk repairs." 

Bonuses and Fines

Students can also earn bonuses and fines to reinforce classroom values.  If fines don't speak to you, no need to use them! You can fully customize your economy to fit your students' needs. I recommend starting the year by giving bonuses and fines for everything. This helps students get into productive routines early on. Once students are in the groove, then you can ease up on fines and make bonuses more selective. Pro-tip: Co-create bonus opportunities and fines with your students to increase student accountability and ownership.

Bonus & Fine Suggestions:

  • Align bonuses with classroom or school values, such as integrity and grit.
  • Find a daily goal to send a bonus for, like 100% homework completion, to keep students motivated and engaged.
  • Be specific when giving a bonus or a fine so that your students know exactly why they are receiving it. This allows students to reflect on their actions.
  • Co-create your bonuses and fines with your students to increase student ownership, voice, and responsibility

Classroom Store

Students learn to budget, set goals, and can use their savings to purchase rewards from the classroom store. I like to include "experiences" in my classroom store instead of tangible items. My favorites are brain break choice, tell a joke to the class, and have lunch with the teacher. These are all free for me, and fun for the class. You can also set group goals and rewards, like a classroom PJ day or party. Students love working together to save up.

Classroom Store Suggestions:

  • Other free suggestions: Be the teacher for 5 minutes, no shoes in class, sit in the teacher's chair for the day.
  • Include "donation items" in your classroom store, such as canned goods for a food drive. Students can save up to purchase these items to be donated on their behalf. This is a great way to increase student-community engagement!
  • Create store items with your students to increase student buy-in.

Why use a classroom economy system?

Classroom management

A classroom economy system allows you to reinforce positive behavior, target specific actions, increase student responsibility, and create a positive classroom environment. Students feel responsible for their role in your community, are encouraged to go above and beyond, and are excited to save up and purchase rewards from the classroom store. In turn, students are engaged and are validated in their efforts.

Financial Literacy

On top of simplifying classroom management for teachers, students learn skills that are necessary to succeed in today's world. Three out of four young adults cannot answer basic financial questions, with female and minority populations showing lower financial content mastery relative to male and white counterparts. Although financial literacy is crucial for every day life, many teachers don't teach it because they don't have the time or they don't have the resources.

With a classroom economy system, students learn the difference between needs and wants, how to budget and save, and how to be responsible with their finances all through experience. Let me re-iterate that: all through experience. That means no additional lesson planning or prep for you, as students learn simply through doing. Research shows that students gain as much in financial knowledge in just ten weeks of using a classroom economy system as they would in a semester long personal finance course. If you are feeling extra motivated to amp up the financial literacy lessons, a classroom economy system also provides a lot of awesome and easy jumping off opportunities to teach about taxes, loans, credit, applying for jobs, saving for college, and more- lessons that you could work into any classroom.

Get Started with ClassEquity

When I was trying to figure out how to set up a classroom economy for my middle schoolers, printing and cutting money, handing out physical paychecks and bonuses, collecting rent and fines, and making sure students held on to their bank ledgers was simply not feasible. That's why teacher-turned-web-developer friend Katie and I teamed up to build ClassEquity- a tool that helps teachers easily set up and run their classroom economy system.

We streamline the process for teachers, so that you can easily create your economy with our recommendations, or customize you own. With ClassEquity, students get their own bank accounts where they can keep track of their deposits and withdraws. Students apply for classroom jobs, earn, budget, save, and can check-out from the classroom store. We help teachers easily assign jobs and send transactions with the click of a button. ClassEquity gives you all of the resources you need to effectively run a classroom economy in an easy to use, student friendly format. Create a positive classroom culture and empower students to become financially responsible with ClassEquity.

Want to hear from our rockstar teacher community? Check out how ClassEquity transformed Keali's classroom!

Questions about how your classroom, team, or school could benefit from a classroom economy system? I'd love to chat! Just shoot me a message at [email protected]!