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Monday, September 12, 2011

Professional Development PSA

A few opportunities that folks should know about...

- Before the ASSA meetings in Chicago, on Thursday, January 5, there will be a workshop at Roosevelt University in Chicago on Advanced Pedagogy and Course Design: Cutting Edge Teaching Techniques and Strategies for Pluralistic Economists, run by Geoffrey Schneider, Bucknell University. The overview: "Most heterodox economists today end up working at teaching-oriented institutions. Thus, our success in the academy depends significantly on our ability to teach successfully. This workshop is structured for heterodox graduate students and younger faculty to give them a comprehensive background in advanced pedagogical techniques and strategies that will help them succeed in the classroom. Drawing on the latest pedagogical research, the workshop will cover constructing and meeting learning objectives, syllabus design, models for pluralistic teaching, active and collaborative learning techniques, and teaching controversial topics."
- The 2012 AEA Continuing Education Program includes sessions on Advanced Interactive Teaching Methods in Economics, with Patrick Conway, University of North Carolina; Tisha Emerson, Baylor University; KimMarie McGoldrick, University of Richmond; Michael Salemi, University of North Carolina; and William Walstad, University of Nebraska. The program runs from 1:00pm on Sunday, January 8 to 5:00pm on Monday, January 9, right after the ASSA meetings in Chicago.
- The second Annual AEA Conference on Teaching Economics and Research in Economic Education will be May 30-June 1, 2012 in Boston. Proposals are due by December 1, 2011; full info here. Last year's conference was awesome - even if you don't submit anything to present, I highly recommend attending!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What was your high school economics experience like?

As I mentioned in my last post, I am asking my Econ for Teachers students to reflect on their reading by responding to discussion prompts. It occurred to me that it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to share my thoughts on those issues here and see if anyone wants to chime in. For this week, the students were asked to read the California and national content standards, an article by Mark Schug and others about why social science teachers dread teaching economics and how to overcome the dread, an article by William Walstad on the importance of economics for understanding the world around us and making better personal decisions (with some evidence on the dismal state of economic literacy in this country), and another article by Walstad on the status of economic education in high schools (full citations below). The reflection prompt asks the students to then answer the following questions:
What was your high school econ experience like? What do you remember most from that class? How does that relate to the readings (does it relate)? If you did not take economics in high school, why not (e.g., was it an elective that you chose not to take (why not?) or was it simply not offered? what state did you attend high school in)? Do you recall any economic content specifically incorporated into other classes (such as government or history)? Also note here any questions or thoughts that came up as you read through the content standards and articles.
For me, the only things I really remember about my high school economics class is learning about the different types of businesses (e.g., that corporations are "like people") and playing a stock market game, which seems to be a common experience, judging from my students' responses. I believe the requirement that all California students must take a semester of economics was adopted right before I started high school (please, no one needs to do the math); at least, I don't remember it being an elective. I really liked my teacher, who had also been my freshman history teacher; Mr. Goudy even wrote one of my college recommendation letters. I have the impression that he knew what he was doing but I just wasn't that interested in economics at the time, maybe because the emphasis seemed to be on business. I did have a strong interest in public policy (I was planning to major in International Relations) and I wonder if that economics class would have made more of an impression on me if there had been more discussion of social policy. I don't think there was a lot of math because I liked math - one of the things that drew me to economics in college was the math so I have to think my high school class wasn't quantitative at all.

When I first saw the California content standards for 12th grade economics, my first thought was, "I don't think I saw much of this in high school." My second thought was, "There is no way this is being taught in most high schools - if it were, my Principles class would be way different." That's a big part of what led me to create this Econ for Teachers class, by the way. I was also really surprised to see that economics is mentioned so explicitly in the standards for some of the early grades. For example, in Grade 1, one of the standards says, "Students understand basic economic concepts and the role of individual choice in a free-market economy," with standards about money and the work that goes into making and marketing goods and services. I'm sure we learned about money but no one mentioned the word 'economics' until many years later. Economics is mixed into the standards for later grades as well but more in the form of economic history (e.g., students learn about the economies of ancient civilizations or economic events like the Industrial Revolution) and there doesn't seem to be any connection to economics as a discipline. So I suppose it's not surprising that many students get to 12th grade and don't even realize that they already know a lot about economics.

Although California requires students take a one-semester course in government AND a one-semester course in economics, it appears that many high schools combine them into one semester, or give students the option of taking one or the other (that may reflect confusion over the state requirements, which are written sort of oddly). But I suppose half a semester is still better than in a lot of states where economics is not required at all. I assume that means that there are lots of schools that do not even offer it but that also makes me wonder: in the schools that do offer an economics course, are the teachers better? I'd be curious to hear what the high school economics experience is like in other states. Wherever you went to high school, feel free to share your experience in the comments...

Schug, Mark C., Jane S. Lopus, John S. Morton, Robert Reinke, Donald R, Wentworth, Richard D. Western. 2003. “Is Economics Your Worst Nightmare,” Social Education, 67(2), 73-78
Walstad, William. 1998. “Why it's important to understand economics,” The Region, 12(4), 22-26.
Walstad, William. 2001. “Economic education in U.S. high schools,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 15 (3), 195-210.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Scheduling issues

This fall, my Economics for Teachers class is meeting once a week, in the evening. It wasn't my first choice for scheduling but as I re-vamped the class over the summer, I began to think that maybe this will actually be a good format. When I originally created the class, one thought I kicked around was that I would "teach" a lesson and then we would de-brief that lesson as a group (i.e., discuss why I chose to present the material in that way, what worked and what didn't, what might be stumbling blocks for students learning the material for the first time, etc.). In practice, I haven't done as much of that debriefing as I would like, for various reasons. One of those reasons was the timing of 75-minute class meetings - 75 minutes is really too short to teach a lesson AND do a thorough debriefing (plus all the administrative odds and ends that seem to take a few minutes at the beginning and end of each class) so either the debriefing would have to be cut short or I'd have to try to carry it over to the next class, which tends to be a real momentum-killer. If the discussion did get carried over, then I'd have to figure out how to fill the remainder of that class meeting with something useful. With one 160-minute meeting each week, I've cut down on the number of topics but we should have a lot more time to really discuss the content and the pedagogy in more depth. I'm planning to give the class lots of breaks but the timing of those will be dictated by how the discussion is going. And I can 'fill in' the odd batches of time with some economics of education topics that are relevant to the course but more flexible in when/how long we discuss them.

I've also realized that a benefit of the class meeting once a week is I don't feel bad about assigning a lot of reading, since students will obviously have plenty of time to complete the reading before the next class. Most weeks they will be asked to reflect on that reading by responding to a specific discussion prompt. I had thought my campus would be upgrading over the summer to Blackboard 9.1, which has blogging features that I thought would be good for the reflections, but since the upgrade was pushed back, they are just posting them in a Discussion Board. I don't think it's not ideal for generating discussion (ironically) but didn't get my act together soon enough to work out having them create their own blogs through an outside site.

Now that the semester is under way, I'm more concerned about the fact that the class is in the evening than once a week. It's been a long time since I taught an evening course and I'm worried about keeping my energy up at a point in the day when I'm used to winding down (not to mention that I'll be getting home around the time I'm using heading to bed). I assume the students will be fine but I'm curious to see if there's any noticeable difference in their energy. If anyone has advice about how to stay energized for an evening course like this, please share!