Jennifer Simmons, Alex Kemmer and Rhett Kuhnen work on their marshmallow/bamboo tower during the first day of this semester's Introduction to Managerial Accounting class. The group ended up winning the prize for the most durable tower.
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What do marshmallows and bamboo shoots have to do with managerial accounting?
Quite a lot, under a new lesson plan developed by Monmouth College assistant professor of accounting Connie Mersch.
Rather than using the first couple of class sessions to lecture her students on the important terms they will need to know in her Introduction to Managerial Accounting course, Mersch has implemented a new hands-on project.
She explained that managerial accounting deals with accounting information that is used by a company to support decision making, helping determine, for example, what price to set on a product being sold.
“Most of our students these days have no clue how factories work or what they even look like on the inside,” she said.
For the first two days of class, her students work on building “towers,” using only marshmallows and bamboo sticks. They need to consider such factors as time spent on the project and operational costs, such as Mersch’s salary as the “foreman,” the students’ pay as workers and the overhead cost of renting the classroom/factory, as they attempt to construct the tallest, most durable and most cost-efficient tower.
“All the information gets puts on a project cost sheet, which is actually something we don’t talk about in detail until the fifth week of class,” said Mersch. “But they will have already gone through a simplified sheet and will have an idea of how production works, including the goal of finding the highest gross margin,” i.e., the largest difference between the price being charged for the product and the total cost to make it.
Mersch said she tweaked a different tower idea that she had read about last spring into a version that would work well in her class.
“It’s important to know the terms that are introduced in the first couple chapters of our textbook,” she said. “I could lecture, but I could say something 10 times, and a student might miss it. This project brings those terms to life and gives them a good overview of what we’re going to do for the rest of the semester. The students are going to remember it when I refer back to something we did during this project, which I will do often.”
So far, the numbers support the value of Mersch’s new project.
“Last fall’s class did well all semester, and it was a good way to catch their interest,” said Mersch. “On the first quiz this semester, the scores were very high, compared to past years when I didn’t do this project. I think that’s because they’re relating to the material better and they’re more interested.”
Mersch has several other activities up her sleeve, such as using Legos to teach equivalent units in the managerial accounting course, and the construction of paper hats and chains to review overhead concepts in the advanced managerial accounting class.
Those projects are not the only hands-on learning elements in the accounting department. For years, professor Judy Peterson has used a semester-long Monopoly game to drive home important principles in her introductory financial accounting class. Other examples in that class include using M&Ms and trading cards to learn about financial statements.