This activity provides a fun way to explore concept of economic decision making. In the lesson, students are given a limited number of “tokens” and asked to exchange those tokens for goods in preparation for pioneering in a new land. They are then asked to identify what they have left behind and give reasons for their choices. Finally, they are asked to identify the costs and benefits and the opportunity costs of their choices.
- Make choices about which goods to buy given a limited income.
- Identify what was given up in making those choices.
- Identify the opportunity costs of those choices.
- Identify the cost and benefit of those choices.
Given a limited number of tokens, students will exchange those tokens for goods in preparation for pioneering in a new land. Students will be asked to identify what they have left behind and give reasons for their choices. They will be asked to identify the costs and benefits and the opportunity costs of their choices.
The Oregon Trail: This website offers great information about the Oregon Trail and the pioneers who settled the American West.
History of the American West (1860-1920): At the Denver Library website, you can select any of the photos of pioneers to get an idea of what pioneering is about.
Choices Manipulative: Here you can ask students to put a check mark next to each item they would like to bring with them as they go to settle Interactive Island.
Choices Math: Here students can keep track of how many tokens they have used and on what they have spent their tokens on.
National Geographic- Xpeditions: Lesson Plan- There's No Place like Home.
Herbert Hoover- Presidential Library and Museum: Laura Ingalls Wilder Teaching Unit for Educators. Pioneer Life with Laura- A Social Studies and Language Arts Unit.
- Ask students if they have ever had to make a choice. Have some student volunteers describe a choice they have made. Why did they have to make the choice? What did they have to give up? Were they happy with the choice they made?
- Explain that students are going to be pioneers. They will have to make some choices as they prepare to be the first settlers on Interactive Island. Visit The Oregon Trail to learn about pioneers who settled the American West. Read the section titled Jumping Off to learn about the supplies pioneers took with them [Note to teacher: skip the subsection on wagons, as it gets too technical for young children.]. How much food would a family of four need on the Oregon Trail? [Over a thousand pounds] What would the animals eat along the way? [Grass] What did the settlers do when they realized they had over packed? [Threw things out of the wagons] How would you decide what things to bring with you if you were a settler?
- Visit the Denver Library's History of the American West, 1860 - 1920 and select any of the photos of pioneers to get an idea of what pioneering is about. What things did pioneers use to make their houses? [Wood] Did they bring these things with them on their trip? Where did they get the materials they used? [From the land around them] How would modern pioneers be different from those shown in the photos?
- What wants would your students have as pioneers on interactive island? Brainstorm. What things must people have to survive? [Food, shelter, clothing, water. Prompt students to name these wants, by asking them to think about things they want to have each day.]
- Give students a copy of the Choices manipulative. Ask students to put a check mark in pencil next to each item they would like to bring with them as they go to settle Interactive Island.
- Give 15 tokens to each student. Explain that they only have 15 tokens to spend on items to take with them to Interactive Island. They must decide how they will spend their tokens. On the Choices manipulative, students should put the correct number of tokens on each item they choose until they are out of tokens. Remind students to think of items they would need to survive and be happy on the island. Students may move the tokens, as many times as they wish until they are satisfied with their choices. Once they are satisfied, students should trace the tokens in pencil onto the manipulative.
Give students a copy of the Choices Math handout. Model the activity at least twice:
- Count the tokens and write that number, 15, on the first line.
- Place the required number of tokens on one item. Write the number of tokens on the second line and the name of the item on the third line.
- Count the remaining tokens and write that number on the fourth line.
- Begin again by counting the remaining tokens. This number should match line four on the previous problem.
- Have students fill in their handouts using the choices they made. Circulate around the room to help students as needed. Older students can write the subtraction problems on the handout as they solve them. Younger students should work out the subtraction problems by counting the tokens.
- Place students in small groups to discuss the choices they made. Which items that they originally checked did they have to leave behind? Why did they choose the items they finally selected? Which item was hardest to leave behind? What did they choose instead?
- Have students choose between four toys. Ask them to write, draw a picture, or verbally explain their choice. Ask them to indicate the opportunity cost of that choice.
- Arrange several treats on your desk. Be sure to provide a variety of inexpensive choices. Allow students to choose either one treat, a no homework day, or 10 extra minutes on the playground. Ask students to explain the cost of their choice and the benefits.
- Have each group share one choice with the class. Discuss the points they talked about in their small groups. Explain that opportunity cost is the value of the next best thing that was given up. What was the opportunity cost of their choice? What did this choice cost them? For example, if they gave up a tent to bring a dog, the cost was a place to sleep. What was the benefit of their choice?
- As a group, discuss some of the costs and benefits of the items that were available. What are the benefits of tools? Of a horse? What are the costs? Which required more tokens, food or a fishing pole? Which is a better choice?
- Tell students to keep a list of choices their parents make during a visit to the grocery store. Ask parents to help with writing for younger students. Interview parents to find out why they made those choices.
- Have students draw or write about a difficult choice they have had to make. Make sure they indicate the opportunity cost of that choice. Create a bulletin board, display, or book with the students' work.
- Visit There's No Place Like Home for some lesson ideas about pioneers and settlers based on the literature of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Also visit The Definitive Laura Ingalls Wilder Page: Little House Activities for historical activities based on the Little House book.
“This was a good lesson for helping students understand that there are choices to be made for limited resources.”
“I like this lesson because it gives students an opportunity to not only make economic choices but to also review those choices and make a cost/benefit analysis.”
“This lesson is a great way to have students learn the impact of important decision making.”