Sunday, April 24, 2011


I wanted to share a little bit about a small city I visited this week. It is the city of Rufington in the state of Washington. It is a very small city with only a couple dozen houses laid out in four rows. It sort of reminded me of the town of Hogsmede as portrayed in Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Every house in the city was unique in the way it was built and decorated. Every house also had a shop of some sort selling handmade (mostly) goods. All the merchants had creatively decorated their stores and displayed their wares. The shops were selling anything from stationary to children's toys.

The Mayor of the city greets all visitors to the city, which was kinda cute and welcoming. The city has a City Hall, Post Office, Pharmacy and a Bank among other things. The city was bustling with visitors and all the shops were doing roaring business. Looking at all the activity made me wonder why everyone is saying that we are in a recession!

The most interesting part about this town is that it is completely run by 3rd graders!

This is the classroom mini-city Rufington lovingly named after their class teacher.

My daughter's class is going through this immersive learning experience as part of their 3rd grade curriculum. The students design, build, run and sustain a mini-city within their classroom while learning about economy, local government, social studies, democracy, business and a host of other topics. The students plan the geographical and political structure of the city.

The students go through the process of electing city officials (Mayor, Vice Mayor and City Council). Every student who wants to hold office needs to announce the intent and canvass to persuade fellow students to vote for her. This teaches the students about standing for office, public speaking, elections as well as the duties of a public official.

There are elected and bidded positions. Elected positions are where the class elects a student for a particular position (Bank Manager, Police Chief, etc.) and bidded positions are where the students bid and pay money in order to secure the position (Land Baron, Trash Collector, Pencil Sharpener, etc.). The class goes through a silent auction to assign the bidded positions, teaching the students about auctions, silent auction and evaluating the value of a position or business (for instance, land baron needs to decide on the value of the bid based on the number of houses and their rent/week, the number of weeks the mini-city will be in action and the probability of someone defaulting).

Location of the houses are determined by drawing straws. The rent of the houses vary based on three variables: location, location and location! Just like in a real city. Once a spot is assigned, the kids (with the help of their parents) build a 'house/shop' out of fridge boxes (see pic above) and decorate them to their taste. The students will be 'living' in this box for the duration of the experience. Which kid doesn't want to live in a box? Given a choice, I am sure all the kids in the class would love to work out of their box the whole year.

Once the government is formed, businesses start taking shape. Each student comes up with ideas for a business and pitches it in front of the city council for approval. Once approved, they get a license to start the business and sell their wares. There are specific restrictions (like, no food items) on what can be sold and the city council enforces it rigorously.

Kids also learn about banking, handling money, loans and interest payments. Everybody takes a loan to start the business and they need to repay in the end. The bank issues check books and fake currency for the exercise.

All the students are given market analysis data from previous years on what sells and what doesn't. Based on this market data, the kids determine what to make and sell in their stores. Everyone starts making their goods and stocking them in their stores. This teaches the kids about the effort it takes to create something. They also learn about pricing, marketing, designing Ads and promoting their products. What you think will be a hot product may turn out to be a dud. In fact, this mini-city is a great place to test product ideas that are aimed towards elementary kids. Students also learn about inventory, audits, economy (supply and demand) and product portfolios.

The city also has a newsletter that gets published everyday. Students also get a chance to buy Ad space in the paper. Reporters get the opportunity to learn about reporting, composing articles, design and layout of a one page newsletter, and selling ad space.

When everything is going fine like a well oiled machine comes the 'Fate' card. Every Friday, each resident draws a fate card and it introduces the unexpected. It could either put a positive (winning prize money) or negative (paying hospital charges, fixing flooded house) spin on one's life. This will in turn affect the student's monetary situation. This lesson teaches students to plan for the unexpected (save $75 for the worst fate card). The city Health Officer also sells HMO cards ($10 each) which shield students from health related fate cards. What a wonderful way to learn about insurance!

Overall, this is a wonderful way to teach kids about a variety of topics that are useful in life. This controlled simulation gives the kids an opportunity to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them without paying a penalty. This not only increases their confidence to go out into the real world but also brings out their creativity, all while teaching them valuable lessons.

How I wish we had this when I was in 3rd grade.