After reading and thinking about what Karl Fisch is doing with hisAlgebra class as well as many others across the nation, I decided to go back into the classroom and help teach a section of Economics that I used to teach before becoming an administrator. Going back into the classroom has been great for me to reconnect with more students as well as try out a lot of the philosophies of teaching I have come to believe in the last couple years.
Up and Running
So in the last week we have kicked off 6 blog sites, a collaborative note taking system in Google Docs, a tracking system in Google Spreadsheets and podcasts in iTunes. You can check out our main blog site where we will be highlighting a post a day as well as links to the group blogs. In the last week students have listened to 2 podcasts, written 22 posts which have amassed 123 comments.
Here is a brief synopsis of what Brad Smith (he is the real teacher/leader of the course as I am just another participant), myself and 22 seniors are doing this semester.
Flipping When You Hear The Lecture
A lot of the ideas I used to design the semester came from our experience in Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) with Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach. Brad and I also bounced ideas of PLPeeps Cary Harrod from Ohio and Dave Ostroff from Dallas. They were all a great help in pushing our thinking in designing the class. However, I still haven’t fully embraced the idea that everything should be self-guided. I believe that there are still times for lecture and conveying the basic economic theories and vocabulary that are necessary to have class discussions. I just think that spending valuable time together to decimate that information is not the best way to accomplish getting this information. So Brad and I spent some of our Winter break podcasting many of the lectures we would typically do during the semester. We stripped the content down to the bare essentials because we new the real learning would occur during the class time discussions of current events, blog post and comments.
So if we are not lecturing in the classroom, what are we doing? Well for homework we assign a podcast explaining some economic concept and then the next day in class we discuss some current event and how it relates to the concepts. We also have someone different assigned each day to take notes in the Google Doc for everyone to share and contribute to. We then assign two researchers to Google anything that comes up in the discussion that we need more information about. We proceed with the discussion until they got the information and then they would report back with their findings and add it to the Google Doc notes.
So for example this week we learned about the four factors of production, scarcity, value judgements and utility to name a few concepts from the podcasts. Then Brad and I would bring in something from the news and use that to start a discussion about how those concepts explain what we are reading or listening to. I have found the NPR app on my iPad to be a great place to find 4 or 5 minute kick starts to our discussions. We listened to a segment related to the oil price increases and discussed scarcity and the four factors of production. It also brought up the France Austerity Package which our researchers Googled and explained. We then listened to a piece on the Alaskan Petroleum Reserve and how each person’s individual value judgements affect their own cost-benefit analysis. On another day we talked about the changing production demands in China from tea to coffee because of the associated utility. In a lot of ways it mirrored what I thought it would, including a significantly more in depth discussion of the economic topics in a significantly more meaningful way. However, it also showed me how quickly we touched on much more advanced topics that we will soon explore in more depth. The beauty of having the podcasts already there is once we make it through the basics we did last week and supply and demand this week we can jump to wherever the class leads us and reach the advanced topics they are interested in. The students in essence are making the roadmap for what we learn through what they are interested in. Hopefully they will start bringing in the starters for the class discussions as well.
Blogs and Comments
As part of the class structure, each student is required to find their own article, podcast, political cartoon etc. and analyze it in economic terms. The article can be anything that interests them and therefore they are learning economics through what they are passionate about. We have had posts about digital distribution of games, the falsification of the Wakefield study, MIT’s use of iPads and even Oregon’s bold uniform choice. So it is obvious that they are starting to see the concepts in the things that interest them.
The even bigger thing we are seeing is that they are asking each other great questions. Things like
“Also, do you think that this museum could hurt the beach based businesses by pulling people so far inland and if so, how much would it effect them?”
when discussing the new St. Pete museum.
“The coaching slots on the show are scarce, and that is why they are in such high demand by so many fighters, but why would Lesnar take this job?”
when discussing an MMA fighter’s decision.
I know in the traditional model we didn’t get people asking these types of questions even towards the end of the semester and now we are getting them in the first week.
So where are we going? We are looking now to hopefully expand out and get more outside comments. Hopefully some of the people who read this will stop by and comment and tell a friend or an economics class from another school will stop by and toss in their two cents. We are also looking forward to other teachers and administrators in our school leading some of the class discussions in the coming weeks, showing the students that these topics affect everyone. We will be looking for people to Skype into the class to discuss topics.
I will blog much shorter weekly updates of our progress and welcome any suggestions you may have to improving this class.
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