Building blocks

Sterling students explore ins, outs of society

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Holiday shoppers thronged the streets, scouting for bargains and checking their change.

But this wasn't downtown Kenai or Soldotna. It was Kogane City, population 25, a metropolis of cardboard boxes built in Teri Hoffman's fifth- and sixth-grade classroom at Sterling Elementary School.

"It is called an Interact Unit," Hoffman said.

"Economics is in the sixth-grade curriculum. How you teach it is your choice."

Hoffman chose to use the materials from Interact that help classes create their own simulated towns, including government, economic and social frameworks.

Her students had to learn to use mock bank accounts, present business plans, fill out job applications and campaign for public offices. The class voted to name its town "Kogane," which one student proposed, saying it means economics in Japanese. The students set up a currency of "Kogane bucks."

Hoffman serves as city manager, but a city council and mayor determine day-to-day rules. After speeches and posters, they were elected Nov. 7.

"I kind of lined that up," Hoffman said of the date. "I thought, 'This is a great opportunity.'"


Third-grader Jordan Ingles peeks through the shop window while inside entrepreneur Brittany West, a sixth-grader, prepares paper bags for sale.

Photo by Shana Loushbaugh

Fifth-grader Brooke Jasky-Zuber is mayor of Kogane City.

"I have to make sure the people I selected for the jobs are doing their jobs," she said. "I attend the city council meetings. I'm, like, the person who heads the city council."

Jasky-Zuber's other mayoral duties include hiring staff for city jobs and presenting the key to the city to other classes that visit. On the side, she runs an art store with her friend, Becky Warton.

Hoffman praised the mayor's executive abilities.

"Brooke is very mature for her age. She is very matter-of-fact. She did a great job selecting for the positions," the teacher said.

"She takes her job seriously."

The classroom was partitioned into rows of meter-square "lots," which were auctioned off. Some students became landlords and collect rent from classmates. They face choices like whether or not to purchase insurance. All pay taxes.

To inject an element of real-life randomness, students drew "fate cards," which dealt them advantages or obstacles such as inheritances or medical bills.

At home, students and their families constructed and decorated cardboard storefronts made from appliance boxes. One evening Hoffman worked late, and the parents brought in the boxes. Together, students, parents and teacher built the town.

"They came up with a lot of great ideas and had a lot of fun," Hoffman said.

When Kogane City is open for business, the merchants hawk their wares to visitors from younger grades, and city workers pursue their duties. Walton, who doubles as the city banker, keeps track of everyone's bank balances and tax payments. There are even occasional fire drills.

"The fire marshal will stand up and blow his whistle and yell 'fire, fire!'" Hoffman said.

Kogane City has its land barons and thriving entrepreneurs. One whose flair for business stands out is Jacob Franzmann. He runs the sports center, which is particularly popular with the boys.

"He designed that himself," Hoffman said. "Then he hired several employees."

Kogane City will come down this week. Altogether, the class spent about an hour a day, several days a week, over six weeks on the project.

"The city part was sort of the grand finale," Hoffman said.

She already is looking at ways to develop the concept farther if she teaches sixth grade again next year. The curriculum and mock city idea are flexible enough to allow for events such as an Alaska earthquake, she said.

Hoffman praised the unit for the vast amount it taught the students in an enjoyable fashion.

"I think I would do it again," she said. "The kids had a great time."

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