Math Mondays: Making a student-centered math project

I'm a big believer in student-tested and inspired curriculum. One day I overheard my students talking about starting a business, and of course, I thought well that could be a great project: budgets, spreadsheets, decimals, percents, graphing, plus decision making, analysis and more. I looked around but wasn't really happy with what was out there. From listening to my students I knew that this unit needed: student choice, problem solving opportunities and creativity. So, I got to work on building just that. 

I started with six types of businesses so students would have lots of choice, but I quickly realized that was going to be way too complicated to build a great project/simulation. I whittled it down to four: a produce market, a bookstore, a bakery, and an ice cream shop. Each business has different requirements for staffing and space. When I gave the students the options, I was encouraged that not only did the students like the choices, they were having a hard time choosing just one. 

We started with business and site selection, making logos and store fronts. Then, it was onto the heart of the project - start up costs, inventory, projected sales, etc. It was a blast to see the kids' creative ideas and to listen to them helping each other. We suddenly had a small chamber of commerce going. The students were completely engaged. Testing the numbers with the students was uber important. Even though I had spent some time researching business plans for each business, some of my costs didn't work with the initial budget that well, so I was able to modify on the fly (yeah, for student-testing!) 

After the businesses were established, the students experienced a year as business owners. Each quarter they received sales reports and scenarios based on prevous decisions. For example they could choose to survey their customers for a fee. In the next quarter, businesses who participated in the survey saw the outcome of that decision on their sales. 

For me the hardest part, but also the most fun, was putting together the customized sales and scenario outcomes for each business. The time, though, was well worth it as I listened to students debate over participating in the small business shopping evening and deciding if they should take on more inventory before the holiday quarter. I even had some students do the project again, selecting a different business at the start and making different decisions. And of course, the math was beautiful. 

Although I had not originally planned this, the students wanted to share their businesses, so we spent some extra time putting together presentations. As is the norm in my classes, students selected the format with some basic requirements such as including graphs and spreadsheets as well as a written element. The kids worked hard to do their businesses justice.  The presentations included everything from posters to advertisements to a wonderful picture book that told the story of a little mouse starting her bakery. 

At the end, my students were already asking for what the next math project would be. I'm thinking sonething with statistics but I'm not sure yet. There is simply nothing more rewarding than the enthusiasm to learn. And for those of you who would like to use this in your classroom, I've posted the entire unit which we titled "Not my Lemonade Stand" in my store. Enjoy!



  1. What a great way to teach financial literacy! I love how the students took off with this idea in your classroom, it sounds like you really created a memorable lesson for them! Thank you so much for linking up with us and sharing such a great resource, I had a great time reading all about it and the success of it in your classroom!

    Warmest Wishes,
    Kindergarten Dragons

    1. Thank you, Erin. And thank you for the hosting up. So much fun. I am enjoying all the other links as well. This project is definitely one of my favorites that I have taught - the student-inspired ones always are the best.

  2. What a fabulous lesson! I love all the integration!

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment. It ended up being a much bigger project than I originally envisioned because it truly was so much fun for my students and the skills gain was amazing. I am already thinking about version 2 which will include some online sales and maybe even taxes and social security!

  3. Replies
    1. Of course, happy to host. We are here every week!


  4. I think it is great that you can devote the time to such a detailed project. This is a great example of an authentic learning activity. So often I am rushed (by admin.) to move to the next objective that the kids don't really get to spend the time needed to really understand a concept. Good for you!!


    1. Thanks Karen. I am totally spoiled now teaching in enrichment programs in between research and writing. I wish that administrators would let students "go deep" into topics as we supposedly want these days in education but the testing regime won't allow.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.