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MicroDeadlines are just what they sound like: small deadlines. These are particularly relevant in online and hybrid learning models where teachers need to provide extra structure to facilitate planning and ultimately learning. In traditional face-to-face learning models many informal structures exist that naturally create “microdeadlines” without intentionality; in an online setting (without physical teacher presence) we need to explicitly design for this.

Many advocates for online learning, myself included, advocate for student agency in online spaces. Choice and voice are common features to give students ownership over their learning process. This is not the space to flush out those ideas, but this is the space to think about how we support students. I provide three real examples that begin with the best of intentions, but lead to a lack of student engagement and buy-in. Then I provide a MicroDeadline solution to each.

First, a definition:

A MicroDeadline is a time cutoff for a small component of an assignment that holds students accountable for the components of a large assignment. Rather than just a due date for an entire assignment or task, a set of MicroDeadlines can provide multiple check-in points within a larger assignment.

Scenario 1:

An English teacher wants to provide opportunities for time ownership in their class. They introduce a persuasive argument writing assignment in their synchronous class on Monday. Students have the entire week to write their paper. Throughout the week, synchronous classes are broken into smaller groups to discuss and debate their arguments in draft form.

The breakdown: Students procrastinate. OK, not every student, but we all procrastinate (hey if you wait until the last minute to write a blog post, then it only takes one minute to write). So in the minutes before a synchronous class a student (maybe) jots down a few notes for their argument in order to share their thoughts and earn a few participation points. Then, Thursday evening rolls around and at midnight the student is throwing their paper together.


Before the first class meeting, the teacher records a 5-minute video for students to watch during the first five minutes of class (watching this video is the first MicroDeadline- referred to as MD from here on out). The video ends with the first ask for students: Choose your topic and write the first draft of your thesis or position by 30 minutes into class; teacher is available for office hours during class and checks for MD deadline. Then teachers checks with students “in the moment” and has confirmation that the student is making progress. Then throughout the week, multiple MDs are enacted (likely depending on learning objectives) for an outline, first draft, introduction, etc. Emphasis on feedback will likely come in many formats with the MDs, but can focus on the process, not just the final product.

Scenario 2:

A science teacher asks students to read two articles debating the ethics of genetic engineering. Students are to use an online discussion board to post their thoughts and then to comment on a classmate’s response.

The breakdown: This is why online learning gets a bad rap. “Read and post a response to Blackboard” is a quote I heard 20 years ago in college. At that same time, my innovative teacher dumped all the PDFs into Blackboard and asked us to write notes or questions to check whether we completed the reading. This is the exposure that many teachers had during college and initiation to online learning. It was not engaging then, and it is not engaging now. It serves merely as a check for completion. Unless…


The first step is to step back and understand the goal here (and make that goal public). Does a teacher want to check that students read? Then ask for notes to be posted. Does a teacher want to create an asynchronous mode for students to explore their ideas and interact with classmates? Try asking students to simplify their perspective into a 45-second FlipGrid. Or give students specific prompts to reply to and create subgroups.

So, where do MicroDeadlines come in? Have you ever been the first (or last) person to post on a discussion board? A few years ago an eager student (not just in this case, but on all assignments) wrote a post to a discussion post the day that the reading was assigned. They completed the reading and shared their response before anyone else even turned the first page. Then they never completed the assignment by commenting on their classmates’s work 

Scenario 3

A Math class assigns a problem set of eight challenge problems to be done collaboratively, due by the end of the week. Students continue traditional coursework through the week.

The breakdown: Procrastination combined with complexity equals one student completing their work, sending the solutions to the group text and classmates frantically copying. Then when there is an issue with number 3, there is an issue on everyone’s number 3.


Again, this is a time to be intentional. Do you want students just to try challenge problems to see how far they can go? Or do you want to work through them, receive feedback and nudges, then make more progress and finally end up with a proper solution? Whichever your choice: Design for that. If the latter (my personal preference), then ask for a rough draft. Maybe partner students for peer-to-peer feedback, then provide resources. Make each part its own assignment, with its own MicroDeadline.


There you go, MicroDeadlines provide all solutions. Clearly tongue and cheek, but when designing for learning in an online setting, provide the structure that comes naturally in face-to-face setting. Teachers could casually walk around a classroom and check in on students’ writing progress and help lagging students to move forward or pick up the pace, or allow a back-and-forth between students in an in person discussion, or nudge students in the right direction when working on a difficult problem set in class. The transition to asynchronous learning necessitates instructional designers to replicate those informal check-ins. MicroDeadlines is the solution to designing structure that helps students hold themselves accountable.

Intelligent Consumers of Information: Opportunity Zones

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I am incredibly proud of the Challenge By Choice component I have added to my Economics course (you can read more about it here). In short, students can choose how they want to demonstrate economic understanding. I am reminded of the value constantly. None more than June 3, 2020 when a student’s work provided me important perspective and intelligently interpret current events.

Tweet from 6/2/2020

President Trump tweeted about Opportunity Zones the night before. I did not know what opportunity zones were in September, but thanks to a student’s work, I learned about them and their (unintended) consequences and how they were being misused.

One of my goals is to help my students be intelligent consumers of the news. Without this student’s work I would not have been able to understand this misleading program.

Thanks to a student (permission granted, but identity withheld) for sharing some of his work that he did researching Opportunity Zones.

Connections: Challenge By Choice

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After writing about Challenge by Choice, from the teacher experience in previous posts, I was fortunate to be featured in Connections Magazine for that work, where Jessica More wrote thoughtfully about some great student work. I am thankful for her work!

AP Macroeconomics Free Response 2018

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2018 AP Macro Solutions

This file contains the released 2018 AP Macroeconomics Free Response Problems and my solutions.


A few days before the exam I posted this video predicting the first problem and came pretty close…

Challenge By Choice

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Learning is personal. For me, learning is on demand, relevant and about making connections. This school year, one of my major goals was to design opportunities for my students to authentically learn more about what they are passionate about. The result is one of my proudest accomplishments as a teacher.

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My students in AP Economics have the opportunity- and obligation- to submit assignments of their choosing on a topic of individual interest. This component of our course is labeled Challenge by Choice.

This work gives students the flexibility to choose a focus and application of course concepts. They can choose the format of the work they do (read a newspaper article, write a paper, conduct an interview, film a TV segment, conduct a debate, etc.) and each piece earns points relative to the size of the assignment (points are based on a combination of time, effort, insight, etc.).  Students must earn 200 points each semester.

The results have been astonishing and I will be sharing some of their work as we design a sort of online journal and digital poster session. A few highlights include an analysis of the elasticity of school spirit shirts, an investigation into gender inequality within the economics profession, a thorough analysis of the Philadelphia 76ers tanking and “The Process” strategy, interviews with family members who utilize economics, quantifying the profit lost by Ray Consella in “Field of Dreams,”and relevant topics in the headlines such as BitCoin and Net Neutrality.

More importantly, student work sparked in class conversations and dialogue.  One student had read the book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” which is one of my favorite books and I was thrilled to talk with a student who was not always the first to speak up in class; this helped him find his voice.  Students asked questions about Amazon’s potential move and the relevance of our work on the long term supply of competitive firms.  Beyond the work students put in outside of class, the ability to connect core curricular content to their interests and current events deepened their understanding- the ultimate learning outcome.

A few nuts and bolts: This has not been an easy ride.  Our Learning Management system Canvas has enabled me to receive submissions, but because these are not traditional assignments (i.e. the point values vary) the grading has been complicated.  Some students procrastinated and were on the verge of failing this component of the course. Most of the submissions were written work, which took time to grade and students did not always know how many points they had earned in real-time. I updated students every two or three weeks, but at the end of the semester students wanted to know each day where they stood.  I don’t have answers yet as to how to streamline the submission and motivate students’ willingness to move beyond written work, but I hope someone who reads this might offer perspective.

Implementing strategies: If I want students to take this seriously, I knew that I needed to properly incentivize this work.  I showed students the image posted above and told them they would be assessed for 40% of their final grade on their challenges (50% is AP style tests and 10% are small assignments).  I also gave students two or three days per month to work on their challenges and provided nudges to students in the form of a podcast to listen to or article to read, so students did not feel stuck and had some directive if they needed it.

I am lucky.  I teach AP Economics and am able to teach both the AP Microeconomics and Macroeconomics curriculum.  I am lucky because there is overlap between these two typically one-semester courses and instead of complaining that I don’t have enough time to prepare my students for their AP Exams, I find myself with a bit of extra time to allow students to deepen their understanding.  Ultimately, I hope my students build a foundation of economic understanding that they can apply to their lives.  Challenge By Choice is the means to reach that end.

College Major: A Career Defining Decision?

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Over 20 million freshmen matriculate into college each year and the most common question we ask them is: Do you know what you’re going to major in?  Colleges traditionally require students to declare their major during the second year and some colleges are requiring high school applicants to select a major, thus 18-20 year-olds make a decision that defines their college degree.  But does this decision define a career?

To what extent do college graduates work in fields unrelated to their college degree?  Luckily the National Survey of College Graduates asks respondents this question directly.  Of college graduates, 54% report that their highest degree field of study is closely related to their job.  Meanwhile, 25% report that their degree field is somewhat related to their job and 20% report that their field of study is not related to their current job.  Demographically, more women than men report that their field of study is closely related to their job (56.3% and 52.5%, respectively).

This data is from the 2013 version of the survey, and the answer to the question “To what extent was your work on your principal job… related to your highest degree?” has remained relatively constant (see figure 1).

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While this data only consists of responses from those who are employed (otherwise there is nothing to match), there may be individuals unemployed because of their college major choice.

Ultimately, many choose careers that do not match our formal education and learn on-the-job.  Nothing says that salary or happiness is based solely on this match, so the 20% of individuals who report that their field of study is not related to their current job may be doing just fine!

(note: this is the first of three posts relating college majors and careers.)

NCTM Presentation: Assessing Conceptual Understanding

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Below are resources related to NCTM Presentation: Assessing Conceptual Understanding (# 457; room 258B, BCEC)

Slides: NCTM Assessing Conceptual Understanding

Editable .docx: Conceptual Questions NCTM

NCTM Presentation: Integrating Authentic Economics Applications into the Math Classroom

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These are the resources that will be presented on Saturday at 11:00 (room 108 in BCEC).

Handout: Economic Applications NCTM

Slides: NCTM economic applications

Extra Resources:

Create a business


Making Airplanes

Creating a projectile motion still

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As a class project, a student wanted to calculate the velocity of a marker throwmarker being thrown into the trash.  He calculated the time it took the marker to hit the trash after he released the marker and the distance to the trash.  This is the horizontal average velocity, so I asked him to go further.  The image below is a projectile motion still and a quick desmos graph of a parabola of best fit.  Now he has an equation for height… his task is to determine the vertical velocity.

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Below is a link to a video of how I created this image.

What Is My Main Goal of My Calculus Course

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I recently ran into a student that I taught during my first year of teaching (ten years ago) what he remembered from my Calculus course. He remembered the word derivative and that we had to do problem sets and if he did well on those he would do well on the tests. But he didn’t really remember any “Calculus”. He works in marketing and- I assume- does not need to use any of the rules, theorems, or formulas particular to Calculus. But, I bet he has a better appreciation of the concept of change because of my course, even though he might not attribute it to my course; at least I hope he does.

So, What do I want my students to remember five or ten years after they leave my course? Really the question I am asking is “What is my main goal in my calculus course?”

For me, the answer is change. Algebra 2 and PreCalculus are about functions and points on a graph (I don’t love that description, but its serves my purpose), while Calculus is about the change at those points. Imagine Algebra 2 is about the point, and Calculus is about the slope at that point. So, as we returned from Spring Break- and were technically in the middle of our unit on the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus- I tried to gauge what my students remembered about Calculus after ten days away…

They looked in their notes and said things like chain rule, fundamental theorem of calculus, derivatives, and change. They also have every standard example in their notes (think volume of a balloon for related rates) that they can use in future Calculus courses as a resource (I have anecdotal evidence that they refer to these notes in college), but as I tried to dig deeper into what this course engrained in them, I was not sure that more than a few understood what I meant by change.

SO, I talked to a physics teacher who was excited to collaborate. I borrowed some “logger pros” and Vernier sensors to begin a two-day task/project/lab/experiment. Here it is:

The outcome of this “task” will be to:

  • describe a movement in words
  • By hand, graph:
    • distance vs. time graph of the movement
    • velocity vs. time graph of the movement
    • acceleration vs. time graph of the movement
  • demonstrate the movement
  • use the “logger sensors” to create an actual capture of the movement, including distance, velocity, and acceleration graphs
  • verify that the description, movement, and graphs all correspond
  • determine a means to present this information

We are going to spend two days on this task, then return to our normal progression of finding area between two curves. But for these two days we’re going to try to see if we can reinforce what I believe to be the central theme to Calculus.

Maybe in ten years, they’ll remember this.