Tuesday is our last lesson and I am kind of anxious for several reasons.
On Tuesday, we will be administering the post assessment. I know the students are going to do great. They have been working really hard all semester and last week during review they seemed to really understand the material. I only verbally quizzed them on a few specific subjects, but for the most part they were able to work through all the problems. I was also really happy that when we split up the students, for the first time I saw some students take the initiative to answer questions and demonstrate their knowledge of the material. It showed me that even though they may not be the most verbal, they are still paying attention and gaining something from being in class.
Nevertheless, for the first time I really feel like a written examination is the worst way to test students on material. It seems very contradictory to tell them that these are important life skills and then have them focus on how to apply these skills to test taking only, instead of to apply these skills during their actual lives. I have to wonder if there is a better way to show them how these skills should be integrated daily; however, as a teacher you can’t be with them every second to ask if that is really the best deal or if there is a way that they could save more money. I hope the main point of the class has come across to the students that this information will help them to live a better life with well managed money, regardless of how they do on this exam. That being said I still know they are all going to do really well!
I am also anxious for the last day in a more general sense. I guess I understand better what every teacher I ever had must have felt. I worked with all these students both one on one and as a class, and I feel close to them. I earnestly hope that each and every one of them has learned useful information, and grow from the program. Right now while we still have class, if they have a question about anything (even if it’s off topic) they can ask and we’ll answer. However, after Tuesday, we may not see them again and we won’t be there to help them on these matters. But I guess that is the risk of getting involved as a teacher as we have a limited amount of time with them.
All in all, I can’t wait for Tuesday. The students are going to ace the exam and we will be able to discuss with them anything else that they are still wondering about. It has been a great semester.
Teaching this week was rough. I felt plenty prepared, but I planned a much shorter lesson than I had thought.
As President of Penn Democrats, taxes are a subject that I really enjoy talking about from the partisan political angle – especially with people who may empathize with my rants about inequality in America today. Unfortunately, the economic and financial angle is less inspiring, especially when you have to put on your non-partisan hat.
I tried to make the kids interested but it felt like I was reading aloud to them. I gave them a sheet and told them they didn’t have to take any notes but could take as many as they wanted – I think they thought this was a trick and instead felt obligated to take tons of notes, slowing down the class and almost halting participation in order to do so. As a result, the material was dry and the discussion was drier, and the lesson was just plain short. I tried some tricks on google to lengthen and strengthen the lesson and it worked, but it would have been better if I had planned it.
Notes for next time:
1. I should plan for more material than I need. Always better to have too many activities rather than too few. Coming up short is the worst.
2. I should find a way to invoke partisan arguments that will make me passionate without showing my real opinion on the matter. This will keep things argumentative and interesting.
3. I will never ask the kids to take notes again. They clearly are less engaged when we ask them to take notes.
Last week I taught for the third time. And I have to admit that I am little dejected about it. This was the second week in a row that I taught a lesson with a heavy math emphasis and this is especially difficult because I am teaching students from many different grades and all the students are at a different math level. I was surprised, and disappointed, and now I am looking forward to teaching again.
The plan: use the topics that we are learned in previous weeks to introduce one new concept. While the focus was on learning the effect of education on future lifestyle, the main method of doing so was through a math exercise. It would use the process of interest and basic understanding of mathematics topic to determine the amount of money they could make in life. I had prepared three different routes in life: a high school degree, an undergraduate degree, and a graduate degree. This was meant to be a very interactive lesson as they had asked about college on many occasions. However, when the math came up with the topic of opportunity cost, I could see that I was losing a little interest. I quickly switch to the activity in which they themselves would have to figure out the money they would receive each year, the amount of loans they would have to take, and how much interest they would earn or have to pay.
I quickly became surprised. As mentioned the lesson relied heavily on material that I had taught in the previous week. However, instead of them quickly reviewing that material and then working on the major part of the current lesson, they instead had a lot of difficulty completing this work. There are two explanations of this. Either they were bored by my lesson and didn’t want to put the effort into remember what they had learned in the previous week, or they really didn’t know how to do it. I remember at the end of the last lesson we had played a lightning round game that I thought was rather successful in helping the students to remember the material and force the students to teach any of the others who were still struggling. Therefore, I wonder if they were just unmotivated to learn. Regardless, I spent the majority of the current lesson re-teaching the previous week’s material. It surprised me that they struggled so much with this part of the lesson.
I was also a little disappointed after thinking about the progression of the class. I was not readily prepared to deal with this situation. I honestly believed that they would carry over what was learned previously without major problems. Therefore, when I had to shift the amount of time I spent on each topic, I was no longer able to get through the entire lesson. In the end, I was worried that they neither grasped the concepts of interest, nor the concepts of the current class about the importance and effects of college. At this point, I have to question the need for homework. I am not aware of how much homework they get assigned in their other classes at school and due to the format of this class, it would be hard for us to manage it. This is why homework has been almost completely nonexistent. Nevertheless, I now believe that with these difficult math topics it is important to review them outside of class, so homework would be beneficial. This would prevent all their work in class from going to waste.
Lastly, I am looking forward to next lesson. I feel that the last two lessons that I taught were some of their more difficult because they had so much math; however, my next lesson will be very different as it is the last class. In their final class we will be focusing on the post assessment and some of the topics that they want to address that we have yet to talk about in class. Unlike last week’s class, I think because they have more choice in the direction of the class, they will be more involved and eager to learn and pay attention.
As the semester has progressed, I’ve realized more and more that teachers must walk many fine lines in order to teach effectively. I discovered another fine line in yesterday’s class when we were wrapping up with Rainy Day Funds. We were playing a game in which you must budget your money effectively for the year so that you don’t run into trouble when an unexpected cost pops up. The students were allowed to choose what items they budgeted for (ex. cell phone, health insurance, dining out, etc.) in preparation for three unexpected events. Whatever money they had left over, after budgeting, carried on to the next round. However if one of the unexpected events affected an area they hadn’t budgeted for, they ended up having to pay more as a punishment for not budgeting for it. Whoever had saved the most money by the end of the game, won jolly ranchers as a prize. However, some of the kids soon discovered that because there were only three unexpected events per round, they could get away with budgeting for only the required items (housing, utilities, and credit card payments) and save the rest of their money. They opted out of paying for transportation, health insurance, and home security because they knew it was a relatively low probability that one of the events would affect that part of the budget for that round. Although they would lose some with the penalties from the unexpected events, they walked away with net gain.
I realized that in making the activity competitive and fun, I had sacrificed some understanding of the objective. The students weren’t making decisions in the game that model real life, but that would only get them ahead in the game. Although I was very pleased to see the students get excited about the game, I am not confident they left the classroom with a proper understanding of the importance of budgeting. Looking back, I see that I could have designed the game with a system that rewards the students for each item they include in their budget. Regardless, I realized that if you don’t plan activities very carefully, you may unknowingly force yourself into choosing between a fun activity and a realistic, applicable activity. While lesson planning, we as teachers, must find that fine line between the two extremes to best serve our students.
Headed into this semester of teaching with FLCP, I was under the illusion that we were in the optimal position to communicate a deep understanding of our comprehensive financial literacy curriculum. Our allotted time of three hours per week with the EUACS students is in stark contrast to the one hour per week I spent with University City students last semester (additionally, we only had UCity students for six short weeks, as compared to nine weeks with the EUACS this semester). Coming off of last semester feeling that we could have delved much deeper into particular subjects, I had high hopes this semester of covering material more in-depth and having the students devote a significant amount of time towards applying the concepts.
However, despite how much time we have with the students, I’m slowly realizing the challenge posed by the task of covering such a wide breadth of financial literacy and college preparation topics. It’s tough enough as it is, determining the appropriate balance of lecturing vs. concept application, but as I’ve come to realize, it is especially difficult to do so over the course of three hours, when the average student attention span is a mere 15 to 20 minutes! In this regard, setting aside a entire three hour bloc of time to be spent with a student group can be a hindrance rather than an asset if students lose interest early on. It is certainly helpful that the session is broken into two parts by snacktime, which help reenergize and refocus students for the second lesson. The EUACS team does a good job of keeping students engaged, and the teachers work extremely hard at developing interesting activities for students to complete on their own or in facilitated groups. In some instances, despite the three hour allowance, we still end up wishing for even more time to complete the lesson and reinforce concepts. This speaks to the relevancy of the subject material — there are so many subjects and issues I feel that are significant to these students, material that we would love to touch on and further explore with students, whether it be mathematical concepts or the intricacies of the stock market.
Despite any frustrations, I don’t think it’s to lofty of a goal to impart to the students the core concepts of all financial literacy concepts. However, going forward, it’s a matter of prioritization and efficient activity facilitation to ensure that our students derive as much benefit as possible as we approach the end of the semester.
For the past 6 years of my life, I have been involved in some way or other with an urban school environment. After attending an urban high school, last summer I worked at UCHS in their Leaders of Change program. In the program, my friend and I were in charge of our own classroom. Now, I am working with students from EUACS, another urban school.
These schools don’t have very much in common. One is a dichotomous high school in Pittsburgh, where rich and poor are separated by a “gifted” program; UCHS is a school in recovery, trying to regain local confidence after years of violence and poor performance; EUACS is a charter school. What they do have in common, however, is a feeling.
If you are a student in one of these schools, no matter how much you plan for something beforehand, there is always a wrench in your plans. Classmates are noisy during a test that you studied hard for. A course is cancelled because of an emergency assembly. You can’t pay attention in class because you have to go to the bathroom and the hallway is on lockdown. This is less true for EUACS, but I imagine many of them experience these disquieting complications at home.
If you are a teacher in one of these schools, you are constantly fighting students, circumstances, and other distractions for control. You are endlessly trying to stay on task and go with the plan, but it never works out. You realize students’ interests are tangential to your plans. Or you start to understand that you were teaching a lesson based on prerequisites your students didn’t have. You wonder whether the students learned anything in the first place, and you feel like a failure.
At UCHS, I felt these feelings about teaching from day one. The environment was difficult – even though the UCHS SSC did a great job of training me, I was too aloof and awkward to succeed at first. I resolved that first impressions and relationships were the ultimate determinant of success in urban education, and that no matter how well trained you were to teach, you first had to be well trained in getting along with people. But you couldn’t just build a relationship, you had to earn respect, control, and tact. Teaching was like tightrope walking, and the more relationship savvy you were, the thicker the rope.
With EUACS students, I find less difficulty with this. I have become much better at working with students and building relationships, as well as being more approachable for students. I also find less of the general distractions. Teaching at Steinberg Deitrich is easier, by leaps and bounds, than teaching at UCHS. It makes me wonder if some high school vice principals I loathed may have been right about discipline – if you can clear the halls, keep the intercom quiet, and keep the distractions from happening, even the most disadvantaged urban students might have the quiet to listen.
But, I still feel some of the disarray. As our material gets more complicated, I worry we are losing sight of our objectives and getting sloppy (which is very easy to do when the material well may be over the heads of students!). The students are getting comfortable, which increases participation but decreases decorum. We veer from the plan more often than we used to, which comes with pros and cons. And I am beginning to second guess everything I say because it feels like it’s either too watered down to be honest/useful or too high level to be easily tractable for students.
I’m glad spring break happened when it did. Now, I have a chance to do a double-take about the way I approach these kids, so I can regain composure and start anew, hopefully letting go of the little confidence gaps that seem to have crept back into my teaching. I still worry, however, that the sloppiness of urban education will reemerge the next time I enter the classroom and set its dark shadow over our golden opportunity to teach these kids in a Penn building. We’re doing a great job, but we have to be careful. Teaching, like almost everything else, is all about a culture. At any moment, a culture can change – for better, or for worse.
Last week developed the concept of interest, focusing on the formulas used to compare simple, compounded, and compounded continuously interest. The lecture seemed like it was going well. The students were all listening and vigorously taking notes. It wasn’t until we began a worksheet of practice problems that we encountered our own problems. Apparently some of the students had been sitting in class, listening to the lecture but completely lost in the content. Too intimidated by the material, their peers, and us, they pretended to understand and didn’t ask any questions. They couldn’t even tell us how to begin some of the problems.
Sometimes you get so caught up with acting as the teacher, you forget what it’s like to be the student. Several times I’ve been that student who is too scared to ask a question when I don’t understand the material. My reasons have ranged from not wanting to slow down the class, looking inferior to the other students, or knowing which of my questions to start with. Regardless, I have sat through an entire class, having no clue what the teacher is saying and not doing anything about it. However, because we have the advantages of small class sizes and several teachers, this is a problem that can easily be addressed. The only issue that faces us is recognizing the students who don’t understand the material. The first method that comes to mind is calling on the students who don’t raise their hands. As a team we’ve been trying to implement this technique, though it has its disadvantages: the students who are consistently raising their hands get frustrated when they can’t contribute and getting singled out can sometimes intimidate the quiet students even more. There’s a fine balance teachers must find between pushing students and bullying them. I’m still trying to find the best way to encourage a comfortable atmosphere for the students while holding them accountable for the information. I have found that I tend to err on the side of being too soft which is doing the students no favor. For our next class I plan to work on pushing the students to participate and understand the material, focusing my efforts on the students who seem quiet and unsure of themselves. If held accountable for the information, they will be more likely to ask questions about the material.
I was really proud of our teaching as a group today. There were two reasons for this. First, the students were really excited about the material from last time and were excited to get involved again. Granted we did play a game last time, but as a teaching method it showed that if we make the activities more interactive, they will be more interested to learn and will learn more. In fact, we had done such a good job engaging the students that one of the girls who didn’t want to come last time, felt left out and returned to class today. I am proud of this and for my next lesson (next week), I am planning on working on a way to incorporate a game or something that they are both involved individually and as a group.
Second, I think that as a group we are coming together to provide a better teaching atmosphere for the students. While the curriculum is laid out, for each week the teachers are very free and are expected to develop the content and focus of the lesson. This leads to many different lesson types and foci that change each week. While the changing structure has helped to keep the students interested, it sometimes leads to a lack of cohesion from lesson to lesson. With this topic, I feel like our group did an amazing job this week.
Today, Andrew gave a great lesson about interest and the difference between credit and debit. During interactions with the students, the conversation turned to interest: a topic we had yet to cover in class. We hadn’t initially planned to go over the expansive topic of interest, and did we have enough time budgeted to do so. However, the students were asking questions and wanted to learn. As a group we were able to explain to the students the basic difference between simple and compound interest in a concise and effective way. It shows that we can plan for the students, but we never know where their questions will lead; the five of us have to be well prepared for this. Today, our group did really well at this and gave a well organize, interesting, and efficient lesson of which I was proud.
After hours of preparing powerpoints, note guides, practice problems, and worksheets, I was finally done lesson planning. It was perfect: I’d be teaching about assets on Valentine’s Day so I had saturated the material with love themes, used a pink and gray background for my powerpoint, and filled practically every square inch of paper with hearts. My crowning achievement, though, was the set of practice problem scenarios that I had masterfully fashioned to perfection… well, almost. They presented the student with a situation in which they had to list their assets and liabilities and then calculate their equity to see if their situation put them in positive or negative equity. The concept was simple; the execution, however, was less than perfect.
While attempting to maintain my Valentine’s Day theme, I gave the students two different scenarios regarding matchmaking. In one scenario the boy and girl were going on their first date. The list of assets included items such as flowers, movie tickets, and happiness. Their liabilities included money needed for snacks, a favor in return for a borrowed dress, and money needed for two roses. After calculating and comparing assets and liabilities, they would find that this scenario gave them positive equity. This first scenario was easy enough with few possible potholes. The second scenario was much more challenging, however. Attempting to create an example of negative equity, I wrote a scenario stock-full of intangible assets and liabilities including jealousy, friendship, and loyalty. The story was so convoluted that even while writing it I had a hard time determining which would be considered assets and which were liabilities. That was when I had my first gut feeling that perhaps this wouldn’t go as smoothly as I had fantasized. But after considering how much time I had already spent on it, I decided to go ahead and just be sure to have an answer key that the teachers could refer to.
The day before class, we had a meeting with all the teachers. While explaining the whole lesson plan, I came across a concern I hadn’t thought of before. How would I distribute the papers to the students and then explain to them the concept. It had seemed like such an inconsequential aspect compared to writing the actual problems that it hadn’t crossed my mind while writing the lesson plan. But it wasn’t as simple as just passing out a stack of papers: the students had to be divided up into two groups – one with the first scenario and one with the second. Each scenario had a boy’s point of view worksheet and a worksheet for the girl’s point of view, indicating that each scenario group needed to have an equal number of boys and girls. That meant there were four different worksheets that had to be evenly distributed throughout the class. The members of each scenario had to then pair up with a counterpart and complete the worksheet. Unfortunately, we had an uneven ratio of boys and girls, so some girls would have to play the part of the boy to make up for the lack of boys. After considering these complications, I passed it off and put it in the “cross that bridge when I come to it” file.
Finally it was the day to show off my ingenious plan. The students filed into the classroom, and I began to lecture about assets. I was surprised to find that I was relatively low-energy, which while teaching in a classroom hardly ever happens. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and it was taking a toll on the quality of the class. The students’ energy was also slumping into a depression. That was when I got my third gut feeling that perhaps I should hold off on the worksheet – or at least the worksheet that had the second, more complicated scenario. But, of course, after considering how much time I had already put into them I decided that I couldn’t possibly turn back now.
After finishing the lecture it was time to pass out the worksheets. I was like a deer in the headlights – I didn’t even know where to start. The few boys we had were sprinkled all around the room, so it would be difficult to individually give them their version of the worksheet and I had no idea how to divide up the rest of the students evenly while considering who would do well on the more advanced worksheet and who wouldn’t. Finally, several sets of instructions, four groups, and ten minutes later, we were set. It was only after a few minutes, though, that I realized I should have listened to my previous gut feelings. The students who had the second scenario were struggling big time and the support teachers were unsure how to help them. I had only made one key for each scenario but there were two groups for each. Consequently the teacher who didn’t have the key was interpreting the question and coming up with a different answer from the teacher who had the key. Even when they came to check with me about whether to list an item as an asset or liability, I struggled because of the ambiguity of the question. The students understood the concept, but the scenarios were making it much more complicated than it had to be. We ran about twenty minutes over the time I had planned to spend, and by the end the kids were still somewhat confused and I was about to kick myself in the butt. Why hadn’t I given any of these problems serious consideration before? Why hadn’t I run through the class on my own? Why hadn’t I just listened to my gut feelings? Fortunately for the second half of the class one of the support teachers, Andrew had planned out a game to demonstrate the stock market that turned out as a raging success. By the time the students left, they were once again high-energy and excited about what they were learning.
That Valentine’s Day I learned three things: 1) I need to be flexible in both the classroom AND while I’m lesson planning, 2) I need to learn to trust my gut feelings because it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and 3) having a support teacher is the best thing in the world! Thanks for the life saver, Andrew!
Following this past week’s lesson in Returns on Assets, I feel like I can speak a bit to the daily hectic experiences of a broker on the NYSE trading floor.
We conducted a “trading simulation” of sorts, giving each student $200 in “currency” with to acquire assets. Asset options ranged from houses and cars, to oil, airplanes, and technology stocks. Trading “days” were in five-minute intervals, during which students were to trade amongst themselves, or approach a broker to sell or purchase shares. Values/prices of all assets were made to fluctuate on a daily basis, and students were made the recalculate the value of their “portfolios” at the end of each trading day, with an end goal of turning the greatest profit in the class at the end of seven days.
From the start, it was evident that students were devoting a great deal of thought and effort in making shrewd trading decisions. They quickly caught onto purchase practices and strategy, and became fast-invested in the performance of their portfolios. As the days progressed, their stomachs and hearts rode out price dips and soared with any gains. Individuals weighed the cost and benefits of renting as opposed to owning a home, buying a car as opposed to taking transportation, and anticipated the appropriate moment to invest in the energy and tech sectors or short any stocks in airplane manufacturing. There were five teachers on hand, just barely enough of us to be running around clutching marker pens and index cards, responding as fast as possible to frantic questions and flurries of trading demands, brokering deals and signing off on all transactions. I was subjected to mounting pressure as the game progressed and as students realized there was increasingly more on the line when carrying out their trades…feelings of anxiety not unlike those experienced by brokers on the trading floor, albeit on a much smaller scale (just kidding!). Ultimately, I was simply delighted by the degree of enthusiasm exhibited by the students, and the speed at which they began to perceive the nuances of trading and volatility.