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How much is your desk worth?

Providence Day School teacher Ben Blaisdell’s class is more than just a math class – it has become a way of life for his students.

(Above) Students hit the trade floor in Ben Blaisdell’s Providence Day School math class.

(Above) Students hit the trade floor in Ben Blaisdell’s Providence Day School math class.

Starting just four years ago as a teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School, Blaisdell started an incentive system in his classroom where students could earn “math bucks” for completing homework and making good test grades. Now, after almost three years at Providence Day School, Blaisdell’s incentive program has grown to be a fully functioning mini economy, filled with a stocks/bond market, which is adjusted twice a day relative to real market activity, credit availability, a real estate market for desks and even short selling of stocks.

“In the last couple of years, I decided I was going to make it into a living, actual economy,” Blaisdell said. “They step into math class and are living a mini-adult life in terms of your job, making money and investing it. And then it turned into the desks (becoming) a real estate market where the students have to purchase or rent desks.”

Blaisdell decided to continue to evolve and grow the program because of its real-world application of concepts students learn in sixth-grade math. From percent and fractions that already are covered in sixth-grade curriculum, Blaisdell said the incentive program also offers his students a chance to learn economic principles, all while applying the principles to real-world situations.

“They don’t know they are learning it to be honest. We talk about supply and demand and stuff – when you see it in a textbook, it’s just a concept. Now they come into the classroom and it’s real and fun,” Blaisdell said.

Blaisdell plays the role of the banks and government, he said. Each student has a job when they step into this classroom – from retail business owners, multi-client stock brokers, hedge fund managers and real estate tycoons. Every student started the year off with no money and had to work to turn in homework and make good tests and quiz grades to bring in an average of $9 to $12 every two weeks. Blaisdell also closely follows the stock market, in particular, companies like Yahoo, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, and students can trade within those four stocks. The increase or decrease in price in the real market is reflected in the class’s market, as well. A 1 percent increase in the real market is a 10 percent increase for the class, Blaisdell said.

Blaisdell also created spreadsheets using Google Docs giving students the opportunity to view and manage their own bank accounts. Additionally, he worked with Matt Scully, the school’s director of technology, to create an online trading platform that allows students to trade stocks/bonds in and out of Blaisdell’s classroom. The online platform gives the students up-to-date information on the classes market.

“At first, it was kind of a little hard to comprehend,” sixth-grader Aubrey Briggs said. “As we went on, it got easier and easier. But now it’s easier to use it more because it’s understandable.”

Aubrey is a retail business owner with some of her friends, though her pencil-selling company recently went in the hole, she said, after neglecting the business when homework and studying became more challenging. She’s currently working to earn some money back and to get back on top, she said.

But the principles and lessons she’s learned are helping her make smart decisions with real money, she said. She recently opened a bank account after learning about interest.

Her classmate Jacob Kapustin is known as the Donald Trump of the class, Blaisdell said. As the hedge fund manager, Jacob has about 10 classmates/clients he works with to invest their money.

“They complain about him, but he makes all of them money,” Blaisdell laughed. Jacob owns four desks in the classroom, he said, and would like to own more. He made a lot of money after investing in Twitter, one of the class’s former stocks, but it started tanking, so Jacob pulled his money, he said, and now has it tied up in bonds.

“I guess I just like to save more,” he said.

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