Teaching with Jim McClain’s Solution Squad, Part 2

There isn’t only one way to teach using Jim McClain’s Solution Squad. I’ve been using it for years. Ordinarily, I’d go right through the first story, developing prime number skills. But this year, I decided to go off-script.

My favorite Solution Squad activity is a writing prompt: What Would You Do with One Billion Dollars? Here are some standards for it, in case you need justification:


Students will write about what they would do with one billion dollars, first estimating the costs of their choices and then researching actual costs.

Common Core State Standards:


Recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in the place to its right.

For example, recognize that 700 ÷ 70 = 10 by applying concepts of place value and division.


Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.


Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.


Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

Absolutia, line art by Ryan Ottley, colors by Rose McClain

Now, I honestly couldn’t care less what standards this activity covers. I use it to get to know my students.

I begin the lesson by reading pp. 5-8 of “Primer,” the first story. This introduces the Solution Squad for the first time. Then I have the students read Absolutia’s origin story on pp. 99-100. If you have the digital version of the book* that projects on the screen, it’s really helpful. After reading that Absolutia used her sudden  windfall to start a superhero team, I let the students down easy and tell them that it was fiction. Then I ask them one of the hardest questions they’ve ever been asked: What would you do with one billion dollars? I have them make an itemized list, with estimated costs. I have them do research to find the actual price of the things they want to buy or do. And finally, they write their ideas in the form of an essay.

This seemingly mundane writing assignment allows me to get a glimpse into the lives of my students as I’m first getting to know them. Students will write about their family members who are sick. They’ll write about the ones they miss because they live elsewhere, separated. They’ll write freely about the ones who are in prison. They’ll write about the diseases their siblings suffer and where they are being treated. They will tell you their deepest, darkest secrets, and all you had to do was ask them what they would do with money.

And then some write about cars. Come on, mine are in seventh grade. Some 12- and 13-years olds are about as deep as a puddle. But even those topics give you a wealth of information you can use to liven up your activities. If Bugattis are the flavor of the month for sports cars (they are in my classes this year), you can spice up your examples with them. When a girl loves horses so much that she’s already named her future ranch, you can name drop that into an area problem about a corral. These little personal touches show your students that you read their work and that you care about them. That may not show up on a test score, but you’ll be remembered. And maybe even respected.

Good luck!

*This lesson plan is part of the Solution Squad: Primer Full Package at the Teachers Pay Teachers Solution Squad store, available for $4.99. That package includes the full first story of the graphic novel in a 113-slide PDF that is projectable on your SMART board.