So this is what being a teacher is like…

One of the best moments as a teacher comes when you see the light go on for a student.  We can’t expect to see it happen for every kid, everyday, but that makes it even more rewarding when it does.

This past week, I had one of my worst days as a teacher (in my opinion).  I also had one of my best.  After grading the tests that students completed on Monday, I realized that in general, my classes did poorly.  While each class period had a few kids score over 100%, the average across all classes was around 60% – not good.  This upset me greatly, as I thought I had done a great job over the previous two weeks.  We also reviewed the Friday before the test and every class gave me great participation.  Perhaps I mistook participation for attention/engagement.  My CT echoed my thoughts and told me he thought I had done a great job teaching the last two weeks and that the test was a fair assessment of the material we had covered.

After speaking with him and a few other teachers, I got the sense that many of the students who did poorly simply did not take any time outside of class to study.  I spoke with Dr. Hicks about the situation and he suggested that I create a study guide before I give my next test and use it as an entrance ticket on test day.  That way, students will have to work with the material before the test and will also be able to simulate the test experience beforehand.  Another option would be to create a hard copy companion for the sorting activities we did as part of the review session.  This way, I would not risk taking for granted that students’ participation in the interactive activities automatically meant they were engaged with the content.

One aspect of the test which students generally did poorly on was the free response question.  I asked students to describe the system of checks and balances by explaining how each branch of government checks the power of the other two branches.  While the students who did very well on the test were able to answer the question sufficiently, many of the responses I received were along the lines of: “Each branch of the government checks the other branches by the system of checks and balances.”  Both Greg and I thought the directions were clear about what I expected.  I told each class that while their final response should be in complete sentence form for full credit, they should take an opportunity to plan out their answer by making bullet points or drawing a diagram.  For select students in my 4th-period class who receive accommodations, I allowed them to convey their response in any way they felt comfortable (bullets, chart, diagram, etc.).  Dr. Hicks suggested that in the future, I require all students to do a pre-write, such as the diagram example, and turn that in for credit along with their test.  I will definitely use that approach in the future, since it allows students to receive credit for their ideas in addition to helping them practice good writing skills.

The week wasn’t all bad, however, as I experienced one of my best days ever as a teacher on Tuesday.  My lesson was designed to introduce the students to some of the basic concepts of economics.  We started out by looking at a basketball game scenario.  With the ball and down 2 points with 5 seconds remaining, students had to make a decision about what to do (easy layup and play for overtime, gamble on a 3-pointer and go for the win, etc.).  This led us into a discussion of risk, trade-offs, opportunity cost, resources, and cost-benefit analysis.  All of the classes got really into it.  Next, we categorized a set of items into “wants” and “needs” – they kids didn’t know what the categories were at the outset, but as they started grouping, the concept emerged.  The sorting led to a great discussion/argument regarding some of the items – do we really need a car/education/clothing?  Next, we did a market simulation in which each group of 3-4 students needed to purchase a set number of items on a fixed budget.  Using a table embedded in a Powerpoint slide, I kept track of the quantity and price of each item.  After each group took one turn buying, I adjusted the prices according to how much had been bought (or not bought).  Each group took four turns and then we closed the lesson by discussing some questions about the simulation.  The “lightbulb” moments came when I asked each class “What happened to the price of an item when everyone started buying it?” and “What happened to the price of an item when nobody bought it?”  I could tell just by the looks on the kids’ faces that they had learned about supply, demand, and price.  Their responses proved it.

I only have about three more weeks of instructional time left, as my CT has signed on to participate in a pilot program from a research group at a major university.  The instructional sequence will last about two weeks, so I will need to finish teaching economics about three weeks from today.  It should be a challenging, but hopefully rewarding, experience.

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