Thursday, 21 July 2011

I haven't got a bean

We have a rule in our house:  the person who doesn't cook the tea has to wash up.  Today I wasn't quite quick enough off the mark, and the sausages, potato wedges and beans were cooked by my husband.  So while the children were upstairs "brushing their teeth" it fell to me to do the washing up.  To keep me company I turned on the radio, choosing Radio 2 and Simon Mayo.  

If you're a regular listener to Simon Mayo's programme, you'll know that every evening each member of the team prepares a quiz question based on sport, business and financial affairs or general trivia.  Today the question posed by Simon himself went along the lines of "In Mexico in Aztec times, cocoa beans were used as currency.  If a turkey cost 100 cocoa beans, what could you get for 3 beans?  Was it (a) an avocado (b) a wife or (c) a tomato?"  The two other members of the team, with much giggling, pleaded for it to be answer b, and were disappointed when it turned out to be answer a.

There I was, washing the pots and pans, thinking "What a neat idea to use when you're teaching numbers in Spanish!"

I've had a little look around the old Internet, and have found out the following info:

The Aztecs were using cocoa beans as currency when the Spaniards first arrived, and continued to do so until as late as 1858.  An Aztec document from 1545 gives a list of what you could buy for your beans.

1 small rabbit - 30 beans
1 turkey egg - 3 beans
1 large tomato - 1 bean
1 slave - 100 beans
1 male turkey - 300 beans
1 female turkey - 100 beans
1 newly picked avocado - 3 beans
1 fully ripe avocado - 1 bean
20 small tomatoes - 1 bean
5 long green chili peppers - 1 bean
1 large strip of pine bark for kindling - 5 beans
And finally (maybe not one to share with KS2) the services of 1 prostitute - 10 beans

Cocoa beans were small change.  For your bigger purchases you would need mantles (capes or cloaks), copper axe blades or quills of gold dust.  1 cotton cape would set you back 300 beans.  A string of jade beans would cost you 600 capes.  How many beans is that?

There are lots of possibilities here for some number work in the foreign language using the beans exchange rate.  For example:
¿Cuántos granos de cacao para dos conejos? 

Tengo veinte granos de cacao.  ¿Cuántos huevos de pavo puedo comprar?

There is also plenty of opportunity for intercultural work.  How many of the children will know that chocolate, tomatoes, avocados and turkeys come from the Americas?  And of course they can find out more about the Aztecs.  I've found the Aztecs pages of the Mexicolore site interesting and am going to have another scout around it to see what I can find.

My next-year's-Y3 have already done two years of Spanish with me, and know the numbers 1-15 well.  This will give me a good way to revise them without being repetitive.

Getting an international dimension into Numeracy and Maths was already in my mind after someone tweeted a link to this blog post about "McDonald's Menu Items From Around The World" yesterday.  You can learn a lot about different countries and cultures from their McDonald's menu, and of course it's something that our students know all about.  I've looked at other countries' McDonald's menus before, and my ideas for using the information in schemes of work formed part of a presentation I gave to local headteachers a few years ago.  If you would like to have a look at the presentation, you'll find it here.

UPDATE 11.8.11
I've just purchased this book as part of my ever-increasing library of intercultural materials.  It refers to the cocoa-bean currency and suggests getting children to draw up their own system of currency using foods, counters or other classroom materials like pens and pencils.  They can say, for example, that a red counter is worth 1p or that a pencil is worth €1, and work out how much they would charge in their new currency for groceries, clothes, toys or magazines.  There is nothing to stop them doing this work in another language.

I have also created a worksheet for Primary Spanish practising numbers and using cocoa beans, and you can download it here.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Take a walk around the world

I expect lots of people are going to be looking for Olympics-related ideas for their lessons next year, me included.  Today I found out about the Global Children's Challenge.  Teachers of Y4, Y5 and Y6 and their classes are invited to apply to take part (applications close on 31st July, so you'll need to act quickly).  The idea is that teachers and the children in their classes wear a pedometer every day for the 50 days of the challenge, which runs from 15th September until 3rd November.  They work as a team to accumulate and log actual physical steps, which then enable them to take virtual steps around the world via the Challenge website.  There is the possibility of visiting 50 different countries.  The Challenge is an initiative designed to get children more active, but of course is also an excellent global and intercultural opportunity.  Full information is on the Challenge website, and you can download the flyer here.

Admittedly time isn't on most schools' side with both holidays and the application deadline looming, so many schools who want to take part may not be able to.  But there's nothing stopping you from adapting the Challenge and putting your own spin on it.  Pick a French-speaking or Spanish-speaking country and find out the distance from its capital to ours.  Will they be able to walk enough steps to get to London in time for the Olympics?  Where will they pass on the way?   Give yourself a time limit and see how many countries you can walk to in that time.  Can you do a tour of Africa or of South America?  There are all sorts of possibilities.

If you reckon on 2000 steps to a mile, you and your class will soon be able to rack up the miles.  The cheapest pedometers are available for about £3 from places like Argos and Amazon.  You'll be able to watch your class tearing around the playground, getting lots of exercise and enabling you to tell them about lots of fascinating countries and cultures.

*Image by the brilliant @bevevans22

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Birth of a Nation

I have been following with interest over the last few days the news coverage of the beginnings of the Republic of South Sudan.  It was this BBC news article which first captured my attention.  It talks about all the things that the new nation will have had to sort out in advance of its official "birth" yesterday, such as its political border, its flag, stamps, currency and its country-level internet domain.  South Sudan had an X-Factor style competition for its new national anthem.

It struck me that this would make a good school project.  Tell the children that your region - the north-east in my case - has decided to become an independent state.  They have to decide on its capital city (Newcastle?  Sunderland?  Durham?  Controversial!), a flag, currency and so on.  What they choose will depend on the cultural identity and heritage of where they live.  This could also work in language lessons.  Instead of their own region, you could choose a region of one of the target-language countries.  For example, tell them that Castilla y León is going to become an independent state.  They will have to do some research to find out more about it if they are going to create a meaningful profile for it.  And then of course they can practise their presentation skills by introducing their new country to the rest of the class.

Just an idea.