Making Choices with Scarce Resources: Penny Drive

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will use economic thinking to determine how to allocate their scarce resources for community service.

PrintOne Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • describe how scarcity forces consumers and producers to make choices for allocating their resources.
  • give examples of opportunity costs and tradeoffs that accompany decisions on the use of scarce resources.
  • use cost/benefit analysis to select a recipient of collected funds.
  • evaluate the impact of philanthropic service on the common good of the community.
  • Handout One: Vocabulary
  • Group copies of Handout Two: Potential Recipients
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:The learners can interview family members for their ideas as to who might best be served as a recipient(s) of the proceeds from the Penny Drive and compare their family’s decision-making process with that described, discussed and used during the classroom decision-making process.


Reflection plays a very important role in promoting student learning. The following suggested activities are ways to help students reflect on their learning after they have participated in a service event.  Choose one or more of the activities most appropriate to the service event and your students.

Have the students write down some of their thoughts and ideas about their involvement in this most recent service project.  Assign them to groups of three or four. Have each group listen to the thoughts and ideas of each of its members.  Using words and phrases representative of the individuals in the group, have each group create a rap, a poem, a song, or a skit that represents the combined thoughts and ideas of the group. Conclude the class with a performance of each composition and a brief discussion of what was learned as a result of these performances. (Note: Groups that perform their composition could be “rewarded/recognized” in some way. An “Oscar” Award could be given to the group whose performance receives the most votes from their classmates, and/or other categorical awards could be given etc.)

Review this service project with the students asking them to share their experiences: what they did, how they felt, and what impact they think they had. When everyone has had an opportunity to contribute to the discussion, share this scenario with the class: An Assistant Principal in another school district is experiencing some frustration over the lack of interest and involvement by the 9th graders in their service projects.  We are being asked, as a class, having been 9th graders last year, if we would discuss what might be done to involve more 9th grade students in upcoming service projects.

Assign students to groups of three and give them a number to represent their group. Have them complete the following work sheet:

GROUP #__________

  1. Names of the students in our group
  2. The problem as we see it.
  3. Some solutions we have considered.
  4. The solution that we think might work best and why we think so.

Collect each group’s worksheet. Read these worksheets to the class indicating only the group number. As the students listen to each group’s recommendation/suggestion, have them rank (See Below) each group’s recommendation/suggestion based on how effective their recommendation/suggestion might be in motivating more 9th graders to be involved in service projects.


 Solution Ranking
No Way...It’s Possible ...This Will Work
Group 1   0        1       2        3        4        5   
Group 2   0        1       2        3        4        5
Group 3   0        1       2        3        4        5
Group 4
  0        1       2        3        4        5
Group 5
  0        1       2        3        4        5
Group 6
  0        1       2        3        4        5
Group 7
  0        1       2        3        4        5
Group 8  0        1       2        3        4        5

Tally the results and conclude this reflection with a brief discussion as to why the recommendations/suggestions receiving the most points might be a good way to motivate 9th graders to become involved in service projects.

Ask the students if they have ever seen the TV reality program entitled Extreme Makeover  (A show that features groups of architects, designers, carpenters, decorators and painters selecting a house, usually too small or run down for the families who live in them, and completely remodeling them into wonderful places in which to live. The families who live in these homes are away so that they do not see what is going on.  After a specified period of time, the work is completed and the owners return to their home to discover an almost unbelievable transformation.)  For those who have seen the show, encourage them to share something about the show that impresses them.  Talk about what might be the motivations of the people who work on these houses.  Discuss why companies might be willing to donate thousands of dollars of free equipment and building materials. Consider how someone might react returning to their “new” home and why. Discuss any similarities and differences between this TV show and what they were thinking, feeling and doing during this service project. Talk about the motivations they felt as they became involved; how they donated “dollars” (time equals money); and how they might feel if they were the recipients/benefactors of this service activity. Discuss how this Event could become the next “reality show.”

Have students think about who, in their lives, has made the biggest impression on them so far.  Have them consider why they think this is so.  Encourage students to expand their thinking to consider whether this big impression was because of a one-time action or something that occurred over time and/or possibly is still occurring in their lives.  Challenge them to consider whether this “big impression” had more to do with time, talent, or treasure or a combination of these.  Ask them if this “big impression” came about as a result of something someone had done/is doing for them or did it have more to do with who that person is (personality and traits), or possibly a combination of both.  Open the discussion by asking the students to share some of the things they did during this service project. Have them consider the possibility that they too may have made a “big impression”. 

Conclude this reflection by giving students an option to:

  1. Write a letter to the person identified as the one who has made the biggest impression in their lives to date, thanking them for what they did/are doing for them.  (Note: Students may not feel comfortable sharing names, so names need not be included.)  Encourage students to consider the impact of their letter if they were to send them and challenge them to do so.
  2. Write a description of this service project and describe any ‘lasting impressions’ that it had on them as participants.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to each identify three ways that they might spend $25.00 that they just received from a relative for their birthday and write these options on a piece of paper. Ask for volunteers to share their three options and encourage them to share how they would go about making a decision when these three possibilities exist for them. Would all learners decide the same way or would some learners select a different decision making strategy? Explain that decisions are made based on individual choices and anticipated consequences. Not everyone values or sees the options in the same way.

  2. Using Handout One: Vocabulary, define scarcity, resource, tradeoff and opportunity cost. Let the learners give examples of each.

  3. Remind the students that some of the ways responsible citizens help to provide for the common good is to give of their time, talent, and treasure and that these actions are considered to be philanthropic activities.

  4. Share with the students that the Penny Drive in which they are about to take part is considered to be a philanthropic activity and in many ways this philanthropic activity, like all philanthropic activities, involves decision-making about who will be the recipient(s) of the money raised. In today's lesson they will simulate a decision making process for donating funds to alleviate a community need.

  5. Divide the learners into groups of three or four.Give each group copies of three potential “fictitious” scenarios of need for funds (Handout Two) or use a teacher created list of three scenarios of actual need in the community. Explain that choices involve trading off the expected value of one opportunity against the expected value of its best alternative. When we make a tradeoff, something may be given up and something may be gained. Satisfaction for a tradeoff can be measured against the gain of something else.

  6. Instruct the learners to read about each of the possible recipients, discuss them in their group, and decide, as a group, which of the three possibilities, by consensus, they would fund, giving consideration to the issues of scarcity, available resources, tradeoff, and opportunity cost.

  7. Reconvene the total group and ask someone from each group to share their group’s decision for funding and some of the reasons why they made the decision they did using the terms of scarcity, available resources, tradeoff, and opportunity cost.

  8. After each group has shared, open up discussion with the following questions.

    • Was this an easy decision for your group to reach? Why? Or Why Not?
    • Did everyone select the same recipient? Why or Why Not?
    • Did everyone who might have selected the same recipient do so for the same reasons? Why? Or Why Not?
  9. Instruct the learners to return to their original groups. Ask each group to make a brief presentation of their ideas with the intent of lobbying/advocating for the students to vote in favor of their proposed recipient.

  10. Have the learners vote for the recipient of the funds, the only rule being that they cannot vote for their own group’s recommendation.


The learners involvement in the small group discussions and the seriousness and depth of his/her thinking and sharing will serve as an assessment of learning.

Cross Curriculum 

Learners will make a decision, considering the costs and benefits to themselves and the community, as to who they will recommend as the recipients of their fundraising donations. The class may hold a penny drive to raise money for a chosen cause. To hold the competition, each class or team competes against all others. Each team has a jar in a central location labeled with the team name and the charity they are raising money for. The idea is to earn the most money for your class or grade. In a penny war, teams try to collect the most pennies, and silver coins count against their total. This creates a competition where other teams try to sabotage the other teams by adding silver coins or dollar bills to the competitors' jars. The value of the coins count against the total, so a quarter subtracts 25 points from a jar of pennies. You can have two winners: one winner is the team that has the most points and another winner collects the highest monetary value.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
      4. Benchmark HS.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.
    3. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify outcomes from the service.