Monday, February 13, 2012

The Great Ration Experiment

Day One

I had a few last minute tasks to complete before the kids arrived this morning. One was taping "Family" signs down on the floor. I have seven groups, so I looked up the top seven surnames of the decade (Smith, Jones, Williams, Johnson, Davis, Brown, Miller) as determined by the US Census. It was mostly a symbolic gesture, but I thought it would help them feel more connected as a family unit.

I had carline duty this morning, which didn't help me to feel calm and settled. I was adequately prepared, but something about running from one end of the school to the other just didn't help my mood. I needed to feel ready to conquer the chaos, or at least deal with it, and I didn't feel that way. I am VERY OCD, so this whole thing is really pushing my comfort zone.

Side note: I was really disappointed none of my coworkers recognized my costume.

The kids quickly realized something was amiss when they were directed to ONLY bring in their planner and ONE pencil or pen. The planner was a gimme because we record everything in there. Not just assignments, but their discipline log, bathroom passes, etc. I didn't want them thinking they got a free pass on all that this week just because of our little experiment. The pencil was because they needed something to write their assignments down. More on the pencil later.

Getting them to follow those simple instructions was a monumental task. No, you can't bring a book. No, you can't bring your phone or iPod. No, you can't bring two pencils. No, you can't bring boots AND shoes. ONLY your planner. ONLY one pencil. *sigh*

We got everyone settled into family units and I explained the task. I asked them to observe the sparse room and new artwork on the walls and think of one word that could describe it. I heard scarcity (good!), Great Depression, war, propaganda, and yes, ration.

I showed them my authentic ration books and explained how they would each get their own, and how it would be their ticket to everything they would need that week. We discussed sharing between family members and bartering between families. 

It was interesting to see the individual versus group dynamic. I had some students immediately come to me wanting to buy a locker or backpack or chair, all "expensive" items. I asked them if they had discussed it with their families first. Emphatic no. But they bought them anyway. In other families, they pooled all their ration stamps together and didn't pay attention to whose ration book it was. I'm REALLY interested to see what happens in those families when the person who used up all his stamps first, for the sake of the family of course, needs something for his own on Thursday. Will one of his family members buy it for him? What if they don't? Remains to be seen. :)

I saw those who caught onto the black market quickly. We use a certain template to do vocabulary words. I purposely assigned work this week that requires them. I had a boy very quickly try to buy all of my vocab sheets so he could resell them at 5 times their face value. I had already explained that those dealing in the black market would be dealt with most harshly- a loss of all rations and jail time (detention). But it's still encouraging to see them "get" the system so quickly.

I had some hoard their stamps compulsively, and discuss possible purchasing options several times before buying anything, and even then you could tell it was painful for them to part with their stamps. I had a couple spend all their stamps already. One realized as he was about to leave that he hadn't purchased a reading textbook and he had homework. But he already used all his stamps. Oops.

Note to self- I priced items in products of 5 because that's how we think. However, the ration books are 4 stamps across, making 5s inconvenient. Next time, do products of four. 
Decisions, decisions

Not everything could be planned. The kids asked great questions which led me to refine my ideas. In my second block they wanted to define their home space a little better. I told them they could have 16 square feet of space. See that math tie-in there? But I have to admit, it made my control freak self feel a little better. They also asked if they could "carpool" to the bathroom to ration their gas stamps better. Not usually allowed, but I liked their thinking, so I'm bending the bathroom rules this week.

So far, the parent feedback I've gotten has been really positive, but isn't it ridiculous that I'm worried? I'm just sure someone is going to demand that their child have all their stuff with no hardship because that's just not fair. It's sad, but that's the society we live in. 

(Let me go check work email and get back to you on that.)

Just one voicemail (Just from someone who was sick today and her mom wants her to come in early to get caught up. She's heard about the project and is super excited!) and one email from a mom who wondered if I had sent anything home to explain it. I didn't. Maybe a parent letter would have been a good idea. Hindsight...

And one last note, you may wonder what I'm rationing this week to show solidarity with my students. I am not using my SMARTBoard at all to teach. This is a first for me. But I know...


Day Two


I can't even really explain why I'm so tired, but this experiment is wearing me out. Or wearing me down, I'm not sure which. My best hypothesis is the more cat wrangling I have to do in a day, the more tired I am at the end, and this has been the most cat-wrangliest day ever!

If the word of the day Monday was "Buyers' Remorse" than the word of the day Tuesday was "frugality."

I did email the parents last night before I went to bed and I must say, the feedback I've gotten so far has been 100% positive, even from the parents of the kids who are absolutely freaking out about the whole thing. But in the email, I told them my goal is to get the kids to waste less, appreciate more, and develop camaraderie with their classmates.

Today, a glimmer of hope.

First, no one bought a desk yesterday. That was the single most purchased item today. Before, I would hear constant bickering about one person spreading their stuff all over everyone's desks. Four people couldn't share four desks without fighting. Today, four kids successfully shared one desk with nary a peep in complaint.

I have always been so frustrated with what little regard is given to the school supplies I purchase for my classroom. We live in a community where the majority of kids can buy their own supplies, but there's always stuff I furnish, like specific graph paper or poster board for certain projects, colored pencils, scissors, staplers, etc. Whenever a class leaves my room, I have to pick up dozens of pencils, bits of paper, textbooks, MY books, and whatever else is left behind. And if someone asks to borrow a hole-punch, calculator, ruler, or what have you, that will be left wherever it was used last. FRUSTRATES me to no end. Even if I can track down the culprit, I get an exaggerated sigh and eye-roll. There goes that crazy lady again, fussing about some stupid stapler. THE STAPLER I PAID $15 OF MY OWN MONEY FOR! DO YOU UNDERSTAND I COULD HAVE BOUGHT A MARGARITA WITH THAT $15? TWO, EVEN! (Ok, I don't sound exactly like that, but pretty close.)

And TISSUES. DON'T get me started on tissues or paper towels. They grab three tissues, barely wipe their nose, and in the trash it goes. 

But today, hope.

Glimmer #1
For Valentine's Day, I bought cutesy pencils for everyone. At the beginning of the year I bought math pencils for all my classes. Later that day, I found several on the floor, in desks, the hall, wherever. I maybe saw five in use after the first day. Well today, they hoarded those Valentine's pencils like they were gold. Some got bartered, but I was okay with that. It was an acknowledgement of their value.

Glimmer #2
One of my worst offenders (as far as lack of respect for my materials goes) gave me a good laugh. He was in another teacher's room, but I happened to be standing near my doorway when he made a find. 
"LOOK!" he called excitedly from across the hall. "Someone left this brand new piece of graph paper on the floor! And it's just a little crumpled!" he said as he tried to smooth it out. 
"What wonderful luck!" I grinned.

Glimmer #3
I had one student with a runny nose. I felt pity for him and gave him an individual packet of Kleenex without charging him for it. He asked if he could bring a handkerchief tomorrow. A HANDKERCHIEF! My dad uses a handkerchief! My grandpa uses a handkerchief!

Logistics lesson. I haven't properly explained how I'm keeping track of who bought what. I am employing stickers and "receipts" for all purchased items. Pencils, rulers and the like get a sticker. Textbooks or other items that I don't want stickers on get a receipt, just a post-it note with a stamp and description of the item purchased. Some of the other teachers are having fun asking them for proof of purchase for everything they have. 

My Math Team gets in on the action. I told them they'd have to buy a copy of the practice test, or they could just work the problems off the board. Yes, the SMARTBoard, but that's the first time I've used it this week!

In closing, here are some words from the parents about the conversations they're having with their kids at home. IMHO, this is of VITAL importance to the project:
On a personal note, it has provided some discussion fodder for why [name omitted] grandparents are the way they are.  I think Morris Massey said "who you are is what you were, when".  It's so true, and provides some rationale why my parents did certain things.  They are "savers" from this period, and these tendencies can go haywire, like hoarding.  I recall stories of my dad going to the grocery with his mom to get their 1 pound of coffee or sugar for the month cause they just got their stamp to be able to buy them.  Or making 1 can of tuna spread across a family of five (yes, we ate cream tuna on toast as a child, too, because of their upbringing). (side note- I made creamed tuna for the class during our Great Depression unit) 
[Name omitted] started talking about the experiment the moment he walked in the door this evening.  He said it's, "going to be a hard week since I'm out of money."  [He] is definitely learning what "black market" means :)  He was somewhat apprehensive this evening when he had to get lined paper from his room to do his language homework, and he assured me that he plans to tell you about it tomorrow since he "has no money to purchase paper" hardship that has already risen :)  I guess having a place to sit (he told me that he purchased a chair) is more important than purchasing paper!  Not only is he learning about resourcefulness, he is learning a nice lesson in prioritizing too! 
This was certainly an interesting topic of discussion last night at our dinner table.  [Name omitted] came home and shared all the details of his first day's experience.  I also have a teenager so it was that much more interesting to hear him come up with ways to try to "beat the system".  In any case, I think this is a wonderful idea.  This is a great way to teach the children about the hardships our parents/grandparents had to endure and the challenges we faced as a nation. 

Day Three

Fatigue is setting in. I could definitely tell I'm breaking their spirit. But totally in a good way. They thought sitting on the floor all week was going to be so cool, but now it's just cold, hard, and uncomfortable.

The word of the day is "appreciate." I think they are definitely starting to appreciate how good they have it. 

Notice the different ways they're getting around sitting directly on the floor? I got a chuckle out of the guy sitting ON his History book.

Everyone has pretty much come to the conclusion that they can't do this on their own. They have to share if they're going to make it through the week. Gas stamps are starting to come in short supply. No longer does anyone dawdle in the room when we leave to go to PE or lunch, because if they miss the "bus" they have to pay with their own stamps. But I also see kids paying others' way when they have extra. 

I have one student in particular who reads voraciously. She had already bought two books to read this week, then tried to buy a third. Her family went CRAZY, telling her she didn't need it. 

"But I do need it," she whined. "I have nothing left to read!"
"You don't need it! We NEED paper. You can read one of the books we already own!" argued a family member.

I think our next project will be learning to budget and manage expenses. 

His mom reads the blog, so I thought I'd throw this in here. :)
One. more. day.

Day Four

I'm standing in carline this morning, in the rain, when one of my students gets dropped off. His mom waves me over. As he's getting out, she said he's really glad it's finally Thursday, as he's been out of stamps since Monday. He grins sheeplishly and proceeds to drop his math homework, on half a sheet of paper I might add, in a puddle. The look of horror! His mom and I both got a laugh at his expense.

One of my groups that's been sharing a desk since Tuesday had a falling out, arguing over whether the desk belonged to all four of them, or to the one person whose book was used to buy it. You can guess who was aruging that point of view. The group won out over the individual, but they asked me when they got all their desks back.
"Tuesday," I said (Monday is a federal holiday).

"Oh good," she replied. "A week is too much time to spend with these people/"

Thought for today, "I'm so glad it's finally Thursday!"

If I had a ration stamp for every time I've heard that today, we wouldn't have a problem buying what we need.

I pulled everything out of the store this morning, so they have to make do with what they already have. They're definitely learning to share!

I did a debriefing at the end of each class. We talked about what kinds of things they learned. I was glad several of them said they had a better appreciation of how hard it must have been to live during that time period. Several said they understand why their parents fuss at them about saving money or being wasteful, or not appreciating how much they have. They all said they're sick of their "families" and can't wait to get new groups!

I would like to think they will be more respectful in the future and not so wasteful, but that seems foolishly optimistic. At least I know what to threaten them with if they forget!

One happy class


  1. Love it! Not one of your parents but what a great way to teach this lesson! This is something they will never forget!

  2. I'm going to implement this idea for my daughter's book club this week. They read Number The Stars by Lois Lowry. I'm going to ration the snacks and the supplies for the games, all while sitting on the cold floor. Can't wait!