With all my finals done, the only thing left I have to do is finish up all my blog posts (ie this post), and my peer assessment. But more than that, I’m thinking about what will I do next semester? I’m pretty sure that I will continue doing FLCP next semester, either for independent study credit or monetary compensation (probably the former). One thing I really enjoy about FLCP is not only the relatively less stressful grading system (I mean, teaching what I know and actually making a difference, versus mindlessly memorizing formulas?), but the people here really are amazing. Hopefully my schedule next semester will permit me (almost an issue this semester since a lot of my classes were at the same time, not to mention the whole logistical issues, but I’m confident that next semester, I’ll learn even more from FLCP. Enjoy your summer, everyone!
It’s been a while since our last lesson, and I apologize for not writing sooner. Crazy end of year going ons… In any case yeah, a week ago was our last session. Rather than give the kids a sit down test (which they struggled with the first week when we still visited their school), we decided to make it a bit more fun. We built on mine and Ben’s games we had done over the semester (mine for budgeting and Ben’s for investments), and incorporated an Interview section (for Stephanie’s lesson). One team was an entrepreneurship team, and they got to make a business plan (though I guess it didn’t work out).
As always, there are intersting things that happen on the first runthrough of a game. While in our minds we knew what would be the “right” thing to do, the kids had differnet thoughts. For example, once they realized in the first period that their selection wasn’t too damaging, they didn’t upgrade, even when it would have helped them. They also weren’t that many groups that chose riskier investments, choosing to stick it almost all in the savings account.
I guess in the end though, we did our job and taught these kids what they needed to know. Whether it sticks or not is up to them, but I think that they’ve shown themselves to be smart enough to do so. Hopefully I can come back next semester and do the same thing.
It’s been a week since our last lesson, and part of me still doesn’t believe that I’m done with FLCP for the year (and more, since I’ll be going abroad next semester). I hope to be able to stay active while I’m studying abroad, but more realistically, would love to go back to teaching West Philly High when I get back. Even though I know not everyone will still be there (Atiya and Marquisha, for instance, will be graduating this year), I’d really like the chance to build on whatever foundation we built this semester and go forward with more difficult concepts that I know that they can handle.
When I started FLCP, I didn’t really think this would be the case at all. In the past, I’ve never had problems letting go of a group of kids that I’ve taught, because I knew that they would be fine, with their constant support from their parents and often affluent background (my past teaching experience was in suburban New Jersey, where I’m from). With these kids, it’s different. At home, if I asked a student to articulate a difficult decision they’ve made, I would probably get an answer about how they wanted to spend their summers–at home, at sleepaway camp, taking tennis lessons, etc. (At Penn, it’s worse; off the top of my head, summer destinations here are more like Santorini, New Zealand, or on a keyboard with the F1 button missing at an investment bank in New York.) We asked a student in a mock interview about a difficult decision, and she told us about how she made the decision, at 15 years old, to leave her dad and become a foster child because she hadn’t been to school in years. As much as we lecture these kids about budgeting and investing their money, I’m still convinced that they teach us way more about life (especially life outside the Penn bubble). This is how and why I’ve come to value the relationships that we’ve developed with our kids over the semester and why I would like to continue with the same group to see them grow.
As much as I appreciate FLCP being over in time to study for finals, it was weird to actually go to my Marketing lecture (which I’ve been partially skipping due to scheduling conflicts) today instead of waiting outside for a rowdy but well-intentioned group of kids on the corner of 38th and Walnut. I wish I could be here to revise their college essays in the Fall and be a resource like the ones that I had when I was applying to college. I want them to know that I learned as much from them as they did from me, if not more.
For the past week or so, the West Philly High team had been thinking about the assessment that we were going to give our kids. Did we really follow the curriculum? No. Was there a suitable assessment in place? Nope. Did we really just want to give them a test? Not really. Some of them probably would have just walked out. So we played a game instead.
It was based on the game of LIFE…sort of? Thinking about it in retrospect, not really. We set up the game so that teams of students would have specific occupations (teacher, nurse, engineer, entrepreneur) and have to go through a year of budgeting quarterly, the goal being to have the highest net worth at the end of the year. Before the rounds really started, they had to go through an interview system for their “job”. Of course we gave it to them, but their salary was based on their performance. Then, every round, they had to make decisions concerning their car, house, and insurance coverage. Then, with their remaining funds, they had to divide their savings into stocks, bonds, and savings accounts based on market headlines about certain stocks and bonds.
I know I spend a lot of time talking about my students, but I’d just like to give a shout out to my team on this one. I think the game was pretty creative and allowed us a different method of evaluating our kids in an alternative method from, you know, a test followed by going over it. Our students have pretty much proved to us that they’ll stand for no such nonsense…meaning they have to be heavily engaged or they’ll just not pay any attention at all. So with the game, we inspired some (friendly) competition and were able to motivate them to actually try, which was crucial in measuring their retention of information that we’ve taught them over the semester. It became clear that while some of them (the ones that were really into the game) performed well and made informed decisions, not everyone had paid attention to the importance of insurance or market headlines in making informed decisions concerning their allocation of their money. But, these ideas were reinforced at the end when we went over them.
I was pretty touched and surprised by how many times our kids told us they would miss us. I mean, I’ve gotten to know some of them better than others, and hope to stay in touch, but I didn’t think they’d ask me to friend them on Facebook! I hope they know to come to us with questions as they go on in high school or college
So last Monday we got one of the greatest gifts a teacher can get.
Over the semester I know I’ve written about some of the problems our team has faced infrastructure-wise with our school, either with communicating the times we were supposed to teach, or even the days we were supposed to be there. The week prior to this Monday, the kids had had Spring Break, so it was going to be a good two weeks between us seeing them. Considering that two weeks prior had been our own Spring break, the infrequency of our meetings had led to an interesting dynamic.
We had made sure to tell the kids that we would be meeting in two weeks time. When 3:15, and even 3:30 rolled around, we weren’t that concerned when they didn’t show up immediately, because sometimes the bus came late. When it hit 4pm, we started worrying and wondering where they were. The catering company had come and dropped off the food, and our calls to the school weren’t being returned. After letting our supervisor know, we started making moves to wait a little bit more before heading out. Good thing we did. Just as we were packing up our things, and maybe grabbing a sandwich for the road from the untouched trays, our kids showed up.
It turns out there had been some confusion with administration and the kids about whether there would be a lesson today, since there wasn’t last week. The kids needed tokens to get back home via SEPTA buses, but it seems like the school didn’t have them (or at least that’s what they told me). What really touched me was that the kids said “we have to go to FLCP, because it’s the right thing to do). I know a lot of kids who would have blown it off for some free time, but to have our kids want to come to us, it made me feel like I was succeeding as a teacher, and inspired me to keep working harder for these last few weeks, (even through killer allergies. Apparently according to my team, I look like the living dead with my swollen eyes).
Another cool thing was that there was a reporter from the Huffington Post who showed up and interviewed some of the kids, so maybe we’ll be reading about oursevles online soon enough!
Because of a series of miscommunications, breaks, and other happenings, my first chance to be lead teacher was last Monday, and I got to cover the topic that I was most excited about from when we started: college admissions.
I feel like that needs some sort of justification; college admissions is generally a process that people want to go through once and only once, sort of like drivers’ education or puberty. But my life, since the time I was very young, has been very focused on academics and GETTING INTO TOP SCHOOL, so my familiarity with the process is more than sufficient and I knew I could probably be more useful doing that than trying to explain why stock prices go up and down (partially because I’ve only taken one finance class here and also because, let’s be real, who really knows). So I wrote out my lesson in four stages: the Search, the Application, Paying for College, and the Interview. The kids were especially responsive and attentive to the parts where they got to know us better: the first, when we shared our own college essays (they got to take copies home with them) and the second, when we did practice interviews and we had discussions about examples of our past experiences that we bring up in interviews to show leadership, determination, etc. Also, they were ready to take notes on what information they would need to apply for financial aid, a section that I spent a lot of time on because it’s really a terrible and tedious process.
Now that things are kind of winding down (we only have one real lesson left, then a post-assessment of sorts) I kind of wish we had more time. It’s taken a while to get to know them and for them to get to know us, and I feel like there’s a lot of potential to teach them more about saving. It’s been pretty difficult, what with our logistical mishaps, to follow the set curriculum or even develop our own, and in the future, I hope West Philly High teachers have an easier time communicating with the school so that they can focus on developing a metric to measure progress.
Badum-chh. Hopefully my awful punning in the title hasn’t turned you off from reading the rest of this post! For the past few weeks, teaching at West Philly High has relocated to…(drumroll) Huntsman Hall! While the weather has picked up and walking to 50th or so Street doesn’t sound so bad anymore, our new location does make it much more convenient for both us and them. Us, for obvious reasons, but them because now we’re not competing with the chess club and other after-school programs. (I guess that last point is really for us, too, but it’s really just a better learning environment in general).
The tradeoff: instead of having semi-weekly one-hour lessons, we are now teaching weekly two-hours lessons, which only left us with about 4 lessons left in the semester. But, I think this gave us the kick start we needed to stray from the curriculum that was in place, and really focus on what the students want to learn, which I think will be beneficial in the long run. Omar’s lesson on entrepreneurship was a hit, since in the beginning, many of them had expressed interest in starting their own businesses. They were ready to pay attention to something that immediately concerned their interests, which resulted in overall improvement in attention span for the whole 2 hours.
Moving to Huntsman Hall has definitely enhanced the logistics of teaching at West Philly High, especially because a strict bus schedule also results in a strict schedule of when class starts. When we were at the school, students would sort of wander in and out, since they were in their own space and could essentially leave when they wanted to. Not to sound like we’ve suddenly trapped them within the walls of our favorite Death-Star-resembling building, but it really is much better to teach and learn in. Looking forward to my own lesson next Monday!
Until next week,
I thought I had posted this, but I guess I forgot to hit submit… anyway, this is with regard to my first lesson a while back.
So after the changes I last wrote about, we had our first lesson, which I was responsible for making the lesson plan for. Previously I was scheduled to teach comparison shopping and budgeting in two separate lessons. However, as a result of us needing to consolidate lessons, we decided that I would teach both in one lesson. I had already previously planned out a lesson for comparison shopping, and so basically needed to consolidate my lesson so that it would fit in the time constraint, and come up with a way to teach budgets.
I had had the idea previously to create a “Game of Life” type simulation where the kids would be broken into teams and make decisions about what sort of apartment to buy, whether to get insurance, and what sort of deals they would take at the store for food and such. I tried to design it in such a way that it would encourage positive behaviors (get points at the end for reaching a saving goal, making the tradeoff between saving money and risking injury vs spending for insurance, buying things at deals), while also trying to inject some realism (sure you can work overtime all the time to get money, but you could overwork yourself and get sick). I even incorporated their career goals into the game by having four different jobs they could choose from, each with a different requirement (different saving goal, different salary, different hours worked, different student loans to pay off).
In the end, even though I spent about 6 hours designing the game and trying to balance it, I personally think things could have gone better. Maybe it was because it was a new class format and by the time the second hour hit when I was just starting the game, some kids were getting antsy. Maybe it was a time issue where I didn’t have enough time to explain all the rules. They did say they enjoyed it, though, so that’s a sign of hope.
This past Monday Paulo’s lesson really influenced what I want to do when I teach on the 19th. My lesson is Assets (emphasis on Stock Market) // Scams and Common Pitfalls. My original plan was to break the lesson largely into 2 pieces. The first hour would be spent on assets, the second would be spent on common scams and pitfalls. However, after Paulo’s lesson I think that a comprehensive, multi-stage game is gong to be the right approach for this lesson.
My thinking for this is based on the students’ reaction to Monday’s game. The game centered around budgeting and saving where over the course of a hypothetical month the students could make choices between work and leisure as well as several purchasing decisions such as whether to buy a new or used car. My new thinking for my lesson is to incorporate a similar type game. I’m blogging about my initial thoughts in hopes that I could get some feedback.
The game is going to have somewhere between 4 and 8 periods. The students will be broken into 3 teams, each with a different investment goal. The 3 I am imagining are a high school student saving for college, a recent college graduate with a job and a need to pay off his/her student loans, and finally a couple starting a family. The investment goals for these individuals are different and thus the assets they invest in should be different as well. Each team will be allotted a certain percentage of assets in each asset class (cash, savings accounts, bonds, stocks, real estate) at the start. They will have the ability to trade assets with each other (real estate accepted, that class will be exogenous to the game) to position themselves for their financial goals. Additionally, each period I am planning to throw a wrinkle into the game i.e. stock market booms and busts, real estate appreciation/depreciation. Further, they will receive an income each period and incur expenses. They must end each period with enough cash to meet their expenses and if they don’t they will have to liquidate assets, however, there will be penalties i.e. if they pull out of a savings account there will be fees. Finally, to make the game comprehensive, each round there will be an “investment opportunity” presented to the students that could generate outsized returns. The students will be able to invest in these, but they should be wary, as these could be scams or other dubious propositions.
So that’s the crux of the game as I’m imagining it. If anyone has created a similar game or has any ideas for improvement I would appreciate some feedback.
On an unrelated note, I learned something else during Paulo’s lesson. I was working with three students during the game mentioned above. Two were very invested and really enjoyed playing. The third claimed to dislike math and seemed generally disinterested. She also claimed to be tired and wanted to nap. After spending 15 minutes or so trying to get her invested in the game, I realized that letting her just take a nap would allow me to focus on the other 2 students. I think that being a realist has surpassed my interest in being an idealist. While I would have liked for all 3 students to have gained from the activity, I felt that struggling with 1 student at the expense of 2 others was not ideal, and so I’m satisfied with the 66% mark.
West Philly High is going to be doing this a little differently it appears.
First, instead of Monday and Wednesday we’re moving to a 2 hour session on Mondays. A couple of things immediately came to mind when I heard this news:
- One is that it means we only have 5 classes left with the kids instead of 10. It feels like we just started working with them, so the notion that we only have a handful of classes left is strange. The positive that came of this is that it has really allowed us to focus and tailor the curriculum. We have a lesson for all of the things that the students told us that they were particularly interested in learning about. While I have no complaints about their attention span, I imagine this will only serve to further engage them. I am a firm believer that more than anything else, their investment in the lesson will determine if we have a positive result.
- Two is that it means that teaching style has to change. Planning to teach 1 topic for an hour can be achieved with a fairly simple formula. Step 1: Introduction. Step 2: Lesson/Lecture. Step 3: Game. Step 4: Wrap-up and Quiz. Planning to teach more than 1 subject in 2 hours really changes the dynamic. First, despite the fact that the time is doubled and there are more subjects to cover implies that one can simply double the time allocated to the lecture and then make an all inclusive game. Rather, I think this means that the approach should entail further segmentation. I think my approach will be to break down the class into 3 or 4 different segments with a brief game or group activity to follow each. I also think that that activities will have to group activities rather than individual instruction because breaking them apart too many times may mean that eventually they can’t be brought back together which would waste precious class time.
Second, is that we will be teaching them at Penn. YAHTZEE! That could be the best news we’ve gotten. Teaching in the media center has been good in the sense that I prefer a round table to traditional desks. The projector also is nice and has allowed us to be creative in using a multi-media approach. But, bringing them to Penn will change the classroom dynamic.
- Having the chess club (among any other number of after school activities) not in the room will definitely help with focus. They won’t have peers in the room screaming…classroom discussion should be the only source of noise. Of course they will almost certainly still maintain some side conversations – who didn’t in high school? – but, there won’t be haphazard outbursts breaking up the classroom flow.
- More importantly, the kids have expressed a preference for coming to Penn. I remember Adam telling me he thought that it made the class “more legit.” As with my second bullet, I have to imagine that anything to get the kids more invested can only make it easier for us to get results. I think this change is really key. It is a way for us to make them feel empowered. The notion that they can come to a college and see what the classrooms are like gives them something tangible while we are teaching about saving for college planning and finance. In some sense, I think this will help them see what many have expressed as their goal is not in fact so different from where they are now, which will help them realize it is something they really can achieve. I think that is the most positive aspect of this change.
All in all, the change isn’t without some challenges, but I see the positives outweighing any doubts we may have. I’m excited for next Monday.
P.S. If anyone who teaches middle school would like to meet with me to do an interview for the midterm paper that’d be great. I’m interested in seeing how working with younger students differs. Just shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org