Authentic Learning: The Shoe Store

Authentic Learning: The Shoe Store Unit via Wonder Teacher Happy New Year! Let’s start 2013 off with a dose of inspiration! Today I am featuring a true “Wonder Teacher,” Cassie Norvell.

Cassie teaches a multiage class of K, 1st, and 2nd graders at Jennie Moore Elementary School.

I have always known that Cassie was an excellent teacher. I knew she was a multiage expert at the only public school in our area to offer a K-2 multiage early childhood program. I also knew that she is Nationally Board Certified, a former Charleston County Teacher of the Year, and has a lot of “street cred” with other teachers in our district. In fact, Cassie has developed and taught professional development courses for her peers (often alongside Carol Cook) for years.

I knew she was good, but I just didn’t realize HOW good!

Right before Christmas break, I asked Cassie if I could come visit her classroom and interview her for a “Featured Wonder Teacher” post. She said, “Sure. We’ll be doing our shoe store project, so it might be fun for you to see that.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was glad she was willing to let me visit during the hectic “almost holiday break” week.

As I approached her “learning cottage” (AKA trailer) this is what I saw:

Authentic Learning: Shoe Store
Do you see the store hours posted on the door? I was already intrigued.

When I walked in I was amazed to see a serious shoe store right in the middle of Cassie’s classroom! Check it out!

Cassie Norvell's Shoe Store via Wonder Teacher
Normally, I begin my “Featured Wonder Teacher” posts with a general interview before I highlight specific practices. Not this time. I just can’t wait to show you Cassie’s store! Today we’ll zoom in on Cassie’s approach to curriculum planning, with an emphasis on her Shoe Store Unit. Tomorrow I’ll be posting more of Cassie’s interview and as the week goes on I’ll share some of her favorite non-fiction book recommendations, how she organizes her extensive classroom library, and give you a peek at her literacy instruction. I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2013 here on Wonder Teacher! Without further ado, please step into Cassie’s classroom (AKA “Shoe Town!”)

Susan: I know you organize your instruction around integrated, thematic units of study. Tell us more about that.

Cassie: We do several major units each year ranging from 4 to 6 weeks each. We plan a three-year rotation because we have our children with us for three years. Other units include a Bakery, Café, Art Show, Fitness Project, and Weather Broadcast. The shoe store unit is heavily based in social studies with an emphasis on economics.

If my students are going to engage in a unit of study, I like to do it all day. We integrate as many subjects as possible. Writing is an exception: I use a writing workshop model where children choose their own topics. For example, I don’t tell them all to write about shoes. But the more they learn about something the more you see it pop up in their writing!

During the Shoe Project, the children participate in “learning stations.”We do things like a special shoe art project, an observational drawing of a shoe, and a memory drawing of a shoe. We sorted shoes and researched shoes around the world. We also created a big timeline about the history of shoes- it went along with a book we read. The learning station time is their very favorite time of the day.

How did you come up with the idea of doing a shoe store?

The shoe store really springs from my personal history. I grew up in a shoe family. We owned a shoe store and my father was a traveling shoe salesman as well. When I was a little girl I used to travel around South Carolina with him while he sold shoes to small-town stores. My mother worked at Condon’s Department Store down on King Street and she fitted every baby in Charleston in shoes for years and years!

Of course, I share my “shoe history” with my children and they get very interested.

How does it work?

I tell the children that we are going to set up a real shoe store where they will have jobs and sell shoes. We kick it off with a field trip to Phillip’s Shoes (a local store) and interview the employees. We learn about their jobs, supply and demand (that popular shoes cost more,) how they market their product, etc. It’s also a great chance to notice how the store is set up and organized.

When we get back, we create a job schedule and we name our store. The children apply for jobs, create flyers and posters, and market the store to our families and school community. I ask the parents to send in gently used shoes for us to sell. This year I also put a basket out at my fitness center with a crate and a sign explaining we were collecting gently used shoes for a class project. We got some nice shoes. And then we actually sell them! We open our store during set “store hours” and invite the parents, grandparents, teachers, and other members of our learning community to come shop.

Authentic Learning through the Shoe Store Unit via Wonder Teacher

How do you handle the logistics?

Seven children work in the store at a time while the others follow their normal routine. The kids handle it well. They understand the need to take turns working in the store.The jobs are manager, assistant manager, two sales clerks, stock person, and cashiers. Sometimes new shoes come in during our shopping hours, so the stock person has to price them and put them out on the sales floor.

Shoe Store Unit Job Chart via Wonder Teacher An important part of the whole experience is setting up the store. We begin with a big pile of shoes and the children have to categorize them. They sort by children’s, men’s and ladies. Then they decide how to display them- sandals together, boots together, and so on. We price the shoes- the cheapest pair is 50 cents and it goes up from there. That way we get to practice our money skills with coins and dollars.

We also try to make the store look nice- that’s why we set up the “art shoes” table as a focal point.  One of the parents came and spray-painted some of the shoes with Kilz primer. (That way the children started the project with a white shoe- sort of like a blank canvas.) Then they painted and embellished with glitter and jewels. It makes a nice display.

Authentic Learning: Shoe Store Art Display

The store is open for three days. Once it’s finished, we count up our profits and then donate the money to a needy family for Christmas. Between the three multi-age classes, we usually raise at least $300.  (Each class runs their own store.) We also donate any remaining shoes to Goodwill.

Any other thoughts or advice?

I pick this time of year to do the shoe store because I’m not a big fan of holiday-based themes. We do some “holiday” things – enough to acknowledge it- but this feels so much more worthwhile because our learning work actually helps a needy family have a better Christmas. It’s worth our time and energy.

To do these kinds of things, you have to be willing to invite parents into your room. In fact, in addition to asking parents to come shop, I ask them to sign up to work a shift in the store so there is an adult on that side of the room to help supervise. That way I can keep my focus on the rest of my class.

I’ve been doing the shoe store for years and years. One of my families has an older child in college. When they told her that her younger sibling was doing the shoe store project, she lit up and said, “Oh- I loved that project! It’s one of my favorite memories from school!”

That’s what it’s about: I want children to remember what they’ve learned. I’ve seen classrooms where children just read one basal story after another and nothing is special or exciting and they struggle to tell you anything they learned over the course of a year. That kind of education just doesn’t stick.

But they never forget something like the shoe store.

Thank you, Cassie, for this inspiring peek into your classroom. The shoe store unit is an example of “wonder teaching” at its finest! Tomorrow we’ll hear more from Cassie. Don’t miss it!



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  1. Love it! I can testify to the energy that exists in Cassie’s classroom that relates to optimum learning… And FUN!

  2. Susan Carpenter says:

    Thanks for doing this article on Cassie. As a former Charleston County teacher, I can vouch for the awesome teacher that Cassie is. I was fortunate to learn from her during my years in Charleston.

  3. Lacey Lipe says:

    I LOVE this!
    I have always asserted an effective, talented teacher does not complain about the curriculum not meeting the needs of all students, the need for practical application, the wide assortment of IEP’s: It all comes together when you plan for lessons for everyone’s maximum learning potential to be met.
    What a perfect example of how that can happen in a diverse learning environment!
    Cassie proves that it NOT an impossible task; what a delightful example of a memorable, practical and accommodative learning environment!


  1. […] about the world and increases motivation as well.  After reading my blog buddy’s post Authentic Learning:  The Shoe Store, I was inspired to facilitate a project-based learning experience at our school.  Via close […]

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