How Building Homes Brought Lessons to Life

I teach at a very small school in rural, remote eastern Oregon. I have a group of sixth, seventh and eighth graders for three hours each morning for all language arts subjects: spelling, writing, reading, research, grammar, speaking and art. There are ten students in this group. Their reading levels and writing abilities range from about second grade through tenth grade. I need to design lessons that will challenge the most able, and not intimidate those least able. Because of small class size, I can tailor many assignments to fit students' preferences. I am constantly looking for ideas that can be manipulated to fit a wide variety of abilities and interests, and that span a wide array of abilities. The CD-Rom Building Homes of our Own turned out to be one of those products.

When it first arrived in my mailbox, I was at the beginning of school and very busy, so the CD was quickly buried on my desk. When it surfaced in a few days, I decided it was one of those products that just "tease" a teacher into thinking that I would need to purchase several hundreds of dollars of additional software or paper product. Several weeks later, "Building Homes of our Own" surfaced again, but I was busy with quarterfinals, and set it aside again. Then I received an Email request to rate the program, and had no basis for comment. So, I took another look at the small case. It was then I realized that this was not the usual "free" material for teachers. "Building Homes" was a complete program.

I asked an eighth grader to install it on one of my classroom computers, and give me an idea of whether or not it was something he'd enjoy doing. I was busy with grading and meetings, and nearly two hours later, Ian came to find me. He said that he'd just lost several thousand dollars on his second home, and that – yes, we all needed to play this game. He really liked this new program! I printed out the teacher's resource materials and took them home to read over. It sounded interesting.

We jumped into "Building Homes" with very little preparation, but the program didn't take much. The simulation has a very good tutorial for students and teachers, and the resource material helped me know how to help my students. It was easy to see that the students were immediately engaged: their eyes didn't leave the computer screens for the first two-hour session. I had to make them save their work and go to their next class. I particularly enjoyed watching the students' faces as they worked on the computers – on task and loving it.

I was generally pleased with my students' teamwork, too. I randomly assigned three- and four-person teams whose job it was to come up with a company name and logo. They "painted" a paper pick-up door with their company logo and we tacked them to the classroom wall. Students made smaller replicas of this company logo and wrote individual papers in which they defined any symbols that their team had used, and explained the names, colors, and designs they had selected.

During the eight weeks of our project, regular work continued – reading, vocabulary study, writing, grammar – but the highlight of each week was the "company" work. I designed mini-lessons to make sure students knew how to write a check, interview, write a newspaper article, take notes and write up minutes of a public meeting, and had a basic understanding of open meeting laws, designing budgets, and creating a portfolio. On the days set aside for the actual "building" homes at the computers, students were engaged and enthusiastic during ever session. High school students who saw the younger students working asked when they would be able to do it, too.

I asked students what they most liked about "Building Homes of Our Own." Some of their responses were:

"It is realistic."
"I like that we get to start with a big budget - but everything cost too much!"
"It is fun."
"It is easy for even kids who don't know computers to run the program."
"It is good that you don't have to ask the experts every time."
"I like everything about it, except that we need to do it again without writing assignments."
"Even the writing was okay - it seemed part of what should happen with a company."
"Writing checks was fun - even though I had to remember how to spell the words again."

"Building Homes of Our Own" dovetailed nicely into Oregon's requirements for career-related explorations. Students in my class got a glimpse of computer-aided drafting and design, writing advertising, graphic design, interviewing, newspaper writing, interior design, practical computer operation, and working as a member of a team. In addition, district requirements for writing and speaking were a good fit with this assignment. I looked for real-world situations to make classroom work meaningful. This was fun for us all. We learned as we played, and loved both.

All in all, our experience with "Building Homes of Our Own" was positive. I will do it again next year.

Note: The CD-Rom Building Homes of Our Own, sponsored by the National Association of Homebuilders, is available free to educators. Visit the Website to register for your copy.

Email: Norma Barber