“Last Sunday, when I used to be rich, I used to have a dollar. I do not have a dollar any more. I’ve got this dopey deck of cards. I’ve got this one-eyed bear. I’ve got this melted candle. And… some bus tokens.” (p. 25)
One of the surest ways that I know to get students of any age to understand math is to deal with money. And only slightly less effective is to apply principles of mathematics to favorite foods like cookies, pizza, and candy. Children learn the advantages of money at a very early age: Money is useful to get things that they want. They learn the values of coins and bills, and learn to negotiate payment for services (chores), as they observe and interact with their families and local community. In my experience, even the most mathematically resistant student will look like a wiz when posed with a math problem headed by a dollar sign. Percentages, fractions, proportions, and even algebra are more easily navigated if money is the topic. Of course this is not to say that students are financially literate. When I came across Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday (1978) by Judith Viorst, I was instantly attracted to the possibility of not only using this picture book for math instruction, but for financial literacy instruction as well.
Alexander (the same beloved character from the well known story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (1972) by Judith Viorst) has received a dollar bill from his grandparents on their visit, but cannot manage to save his money. Over the course of a week, Alexander has squandered his treasure. To add insult to injury, Alexander is faced with his older brothers’ uncanny ability to hold on to their money. Tortured by their teasing and taunting, Alexander retaliates prompting his Father to fine him for his bad behavior. (I have a special appreciation for this: My father would fine me and my siblings for bad behavior, rather than doling out other more common types of punishments.) Lamenting his poor money management skills, Alexander discovers that it is difficult to save money, and equally as difficult to earn money; but to spend money is far too easy!
Uses in the Classroom
There are so many uses for this picture book in the classroom. I feel comfortable that this would be a well-received story from kindergarten through 6th grade, because Alexander is a familiar and well-loved character. Alexander is also imperfect, making him an especially engaging and sympathetic character.
“Mom says if I really want to buy a walkie-talkie, save my money. Saving money is hard.” (p.11)
Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday can be used to develop reading and listening skills in young and emergent readers. Short bursts of text (Lexile 570) surrounded by white space are supported by highly expressive black and white illustrations, adding visual context clues to aid in comprehension of the corresponding text. Key words are repeated throughout the story, and stylistic patterns pop up throughout the story, reinforcing the iterative learning process. Because the context of the story is familiar and relevant to the audience, the life skills lessons being taught serve as an extra layer for learning.
“It isn’t fair that my brother Anthony has two dollars and three quarters and one dime and seven nickels and eighteen pennies.” (p.1)
Math instruction or practice can be easily integrated into the reading experience. Students can be directed to add up the amounts that Alexander spends using mental math skills , or as a challenge, they can subtract from his starting point of one dollar. Students can also be challenged to add the amounts each of Alexander’s brothers have, computing numerical value from money vocabulary listed in the story. Students can chart Alexander’s spending, practicing organization of data.
“My father told me to put the dollar away to pay for college.
He was kidding.” (p. 8)
Financial literacy – which includes understanding the value of money, as well as developing skills in handling money responsibly – can also be addressed using Alexander, Who used to Be Rich Last Sunday. Class discussion of choices – what, how, and why choices are made – and the repercussions of those choices is a great place to start. Discussing and demonstrating the hows and whys of saving money is another great lesson in financial literacy. Finally, discussing the ease with which Alexander spends his money compared to the difficulty he has to make money will help students understand the value of money not just as currency for purchasing, but demonstrating the value of money as payment for hard work.
For examples of lesson plans check out the following:
AASL: 1.1.2 Use background knowledge as context for new learning
CCSS: 5.NF.6 Solve real world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed mumbers K.CC.4a Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities K.MD.3 Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category; sort the categories by count
American (2013). Crosswalk of the common core standards and the standards for the 21st-century Learner. Huron St. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/guidelinesandstandards/commoncorecrosswalk/pdf/All_Math_Standards.pdf
Common core state standards initiative. (2016). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/
Crawford, J. (2011). Math solutions lesson from the classroom Alexander used to be rich A lesson for grades K–2 overview of lesson. Retrieved from http://www.mathsolutions.com/documents/alexander_used_tobe_rich_i39.pdf
Grade Two making choices. (2005). . Retrieved from https://www.texasbankers.com/docs/alexander.pdf
Reading is a window to the world. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf
Second grade – mathematics – FITC. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://financeintheclassroom.org/passport/second/math.shtml
Shirley. (2012, March 28). Resources and lesson plans for financial literacy. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from Integrated Studies, http://www.edutopia.org/stw-financial-literacy-resources-lesson-plans
Upromise. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://teacher.scholastic.com/upromise/3_6lessonplan/
Viorst, J., & Cruz, R. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. New York: Atheneum
Viorst, J., & Cruz, R. (1978). Alexander, who used to be rich last Sunday. New York: Atheneum.