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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.
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.
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).
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.)
Below are resources related to NCTM Presentation: Assessing Conceptual Understanding (# 457; room 258B, BCEC)
Editable .docx: Conceptual Questions NCTM
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
As a class project, a student wanted to calculate the velocity of a marker 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.
Below is a link to a video of how I created this image.
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.
Five week into my hybrid AP Microeconomics course, we had our first major test. Having only met in person four times, I was anxious to see the results. The test was marginally more difficult than the same one given to my “face-to-face” AP Microeconomics course this fall. The results were better than my students from the fall!
My first major realization is that the students are very much actively engaged with the material; there are readings, workbook activities, videos, and online quizzes. In a traditional class, students may have been able to not thoroughly complete their reading or problems, then coast through a 40-minute class. During our in-person sessions, the students have more thoughtful questions because they have confronted the material on their own; they make connections, ask insightful questions, and anticipate concepts.
I used a LMS (Canvas) in the fall with my face-to-face course, but students rarely used the resources- Canvas tracks student hours logged on and it was minimal in the fall. This spring, the online resources have been more robust and students need to take online quizzes, so inevitably the usage will be more, but its not that I notice increased usage, I notice increased engagement. An example is an discussion board thread that was complete (students were asked to define some vocab words and did), then a week later I noticed that it was highlighted as “unread.” When I looked, a handful of students continued the conversation. They were asking about subtleties from the text and how some definitions seeming contradicted each other. Granted this was a subset of the class, but these five students were going beyond
their required engagement with the concepts and really wrestling with ideas that can be difficult and deepening their understanding by explaining examples and different ways of thinking about a problem or idea.
So the quantifiable results are at minimum on par (probably better, but small sample size), but the student engagement with Microeconomics is clearly through the roof. These students are becoming active learners; a skill as useful as the economics they are learning.