Local Elementary and Middle School Students Participate in Annual GEM Fair


Every year, the Center for Economic Education hosts the Global Entrepreneurship Marketplace (GEM) Fair for local elementary and middle school students, in which they develop products and participate in a simulated international marketplace. 

On March 12, 200 local elementary and middle school students arrived at Festival Conference and Student Center at James Madison University for the annual Global Entrepreneurship Marketplace (GEM) Fair. The Fair intends to teach students about economies and open marketplaces by allowing students to produce and consume goods and interact with other “in-class societies” from their individual classrooms. Students attending the GEM Fair were from four local schools: Ruckersville Elementary School, Rappahannock Elementary School, Smithland Elementary School and Corner Stone Christian School.

Prior to attending the GEM Fair, each classroom within participating schools had its own in-class society, in which the students sold various items using their classroom currency. Teachers found that different in-class societies learned different economic lessons, so the Center for Economic Education organized the GEM Fair, in which the lessons of each society can be combined for a more wholesome economic education.

Once the students arrived at the GEM Fair, they were provided time to set up and then role call took place, in which each in-class society gave its individual cheer. The bell rang and the market opened for 90 minutes. With another ringing of the bell, the marketplace closed and time for clean up and lunch proceeded. An awards ceremony for the students followed lunch.

Students participating in the GEM Fair learned lessons about fair and open trade by experiencing the exchanges, rather than learning in a classroom. The hands on learning approach of the Fair allowed them to actually experience market trends. For example, one student told an interviewer that her society was lowering the price of their products because they were not selling as well as they had originally planned. Students were able to see what works within an economy and what does not by experimenting with different prices and products. 

“We’re not trying to turn third graders into greedy capitalists,” said Dr. William C. Wood from the Center for Economic Education. “In fact, they discover important ethical lessons on their own in many economies.”

One struggle the organizers of the GEM Fair have experienced is the “end-of-the-world” effect, in which students realize that the Fair is ending and their GEMs will soon become worthless. This has caused them to give away their GEMs or spend carelessly toward the end of the Fair in the past. Many teachers have helped eliminate this effect by allowing students’ GEMs to be converted back to the currency they use in their individual classroom, so they do not simply become worthless and students are motivated to act responsibly with their GEMs until the end of the Fair.

The annual GEM Fair is an educational and fun day for local elementary and middle school students. The hands on learning approach allows them to experience the effects of marketplace changes and free trade, which the students enjoy more than if they simply learned the lessons in the classroom. Teachers and organizers of the Fair find that students tend to act ethically and fairly in the marketplace, and they take home many lessons that they might not have learned otherwise within their individual in-class societies.

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

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