“I don't understand why other companies treat their factory workers inhumanely if you can still be successful if you treat people like people.”
Economics 101 is in full swing in 5th grade!
We tried out a BRAND new simulation today and were reminded how difficult it is to check all of the details for experiential learning activities. Whew!
That being said-- we are pleased with what our students experienced and how they are now thinking about different types of work, wages, and the many levels and layers of circumstances that can alter people's financial stability.
This one is complicated to set up. We have three groups, and each group had different tasks and varying working environments:
Office workers (5 students)
- Task: read news articles and created a presentation
- Could takes breaks whenever, used computers, talked with one another, had company snacks (pretzels).
A group of unionized factory workers (11 kids, based off of Alta Gracia and employees we interviewed there this past summer-- check them out!!!)
- Task: creating beaded bracelets according to strict requirements
- Had organized break times and healthcare (we created a water issue that affected the entire city they all worked in), but still needed to meet deadlines etc.
A group of factory workers (10 kids, based off of Levis and Timberland factories we learned about this summer).
- Task: “food production” (food was drawn on paper)
- Had to stand the entire time, no healthcare, no breaks, no clean water
We also ended up having a 4th group (slightly unplanned..) who ended up being unemployed (they went on strike and their classmates did not follow them so they got fired!). They were hired for temporary employment by the office workers and did small jobs around the classroom. This proved to be an interesting dynamic that added to the simulation.
Students work hard following the directions on their assignment sheets. Every once in awhile teachers would come over and say it was 'pay day' (we had 3 of these) and give each member of the group the points they earned for their work. For the most part, the students worked really hard at their jobs and had interesting conversations about quality of their work environment and how to best navigate it. The majority decided to 'put their heads down' and work harder.
Teachers also came around when it wasn't 'pay day' time and provided circumstance cards that students needed to calculate into their paychecks. The circumstance cards ranged from "Your child had a fever, you bought medicine -2 points" to things like "You have had a death in the family and you need to cover the funeral costs". There were multiple health related cards that could add up (hand pain from repetitive motions, back pain, breathing issues from dust in the factory) all of which we learned different individuals suffered from especially in the Timberland and Levis factory locations. These cards began to frustrate students and heightened the stress in the room. Of course there were some cards (especially for the office team) for getting +4 for a promotion or a boss noticing their hard work.
Another twist we saw was that some of the Office workers went to 'donate' points to the factory workers. They donated 1 point to each person. (They were making 100 points per paycheck while the non-unionized factory workers were making 10 points per paycheck). It was interesting to see the different responses to these donations and how some of the donations didn't help people's overall situations.
Our students were STRESSED!!! They talked a lot about how they were worried about making deadlines, how hard they were working, and how scary it was to receive a card and know you were barely keeping any money. A couple of them talked about how they felt they weren't paid for the level of work they were doing and felt like no one noticed how HARD they were working. The bracelet group made extra bracelets in hopes of a raise and they didn't receive one.
We found it fascinating to see the conversations about strikes and organizing.
We found it really interesting to see how the 'financial' hits felt -- from the higher Office group one student talked about how she took a big hit one week taking care of a family member and then she felt bad that she didn't want to be part of the office people who donated money to the factory workers who didn’t have clean water. And then she realized exactly how little her peers in the factories were making and felt like she should donate.
Overall we noticed that emotions ran high, we appreciated their thoughts on continuous stress and will continue that conversation as we take on other's perspectives -- constant stress is a very challenging struggle and we are glad they have the teensy-tiniest insight into what that might be like for someone.
We are thinking about the twist with unemployed workers and temporary workers (they would work for even 1 point) and how that added to the overall experience of learning about labor (even though we didn’t plan it). Next, we are going to work with the Math teacher to create a budgeting simulation!