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Thursday, January 29, 2015

When I first started teaching middle school economics I remember thinking, “How am I going to get kids excited about economics?”  Then it hit me – make it about them!  Included in this bundle are five activities (totaling 63 pagesI've done with my middle school students that are a hit every time.  I take students through these five activities in the order below, but you could definitely go in your own order to meet the needs of your own students.

Since many students start savings accounts by the time they get to high school or during their high school career I use this activity as a way for students to see the power that compound interest can have in their life with their money.  Students will work through three scenarios that show them how much they could gain or lose by putting their money in a piggy bank vs. a bank account that offers simple interest vs. a bank account that offers compound interest.  

Even though you don’t see people writing checks as much as they used to due to check cards and online banking, I still teach students what it used to be like and what the programs that calculate their check register are actually doing for them once they get their own checking account when they are in high school.  Students follow a story I wrote called, "A Day in the Life of Your Checkbook" and write 6 checks and make 2 deposits throughout the story to hopefully end up with $5.00 in their check register when they are done.    

Since the next step a student will take in life is deciding if they are going to go to college after high school to further their education.  Students will be guided through many different scenarios regarding how much money they would make on average if they get a two-year degree, a four-year degree, a master's degree, a Ph.D, as well as if they choose not to graduate from high school.  

Students will then take part in a dice rolling activity (you provide the dice) to let fate decide for them what their monthly income will be for this activity. I usually have students come up one at a time and roll the dice under my document camera for the class to see. It hooks them because they want to see who gets the most money. Students will have to then calculate a monthly budget for the amount they rolled for, assess the information they've recorded, and make adjustments to balance their surplus or shortage to zero. 

There are also extension activities provided if you have time for students to figure out how much they can afford for a house and a car using standard formulas that are provided for such purchases. Then your students actually have to find a house (or houses) and a vehicle (or vehicles) they can afford on their income. I would usually bring in free automobile sales magazines and free real estate magazines from the grocery store and their eyes are really opened when they see how much houses and cars cost. 

 The Economics of Investing:
I've never had a student not participate in this activity.  Each student is given "$50,000" and we have a friendly class competition to see how ends up as the best investor.  Students have to invest in 10 different corporations. This activity is done in "real-time" using the NASDAQ web site as well as a Microsoft Excel file I have created that calculates their stock purchases as they are entered.  This activity truly helps students make connections to the economy they are a part of.  You can decide how long you would like the activity to last or modify the lesson in any way you feel meets your classroom needs. I usually do this activity for 3 days of the last quarter. One introduction day, one purchasing day, and one selling day on the last day of the quarter store for kids see how much they've made or lost over the past 9 weeks.  Many kids will even put their stock picks into an app on their phone so they can see how their stocks are doing for the day.  You'll love it and so will they!!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Favorite Teacher Quit...

"Mr. S. resigned??"

I'm sure you all had a Mr. S. when you were in school. You know the one -  The teacher who always stayed positive, even when the lesson wasn't going so well.  The teacher who was friendly, but you knew they weren't your friend, and they knew it too.  The teacher who always tried to make their lessons come alive and reel you back in when they could tell they were losing you.  The teacher who was always present at sporting events, band concerts, chorus concerts, school plays, and high school graduation parties stopping by with a card and best wishes.

The teacher that made you feel like you mattered.

I was part of the class who made up Mr. S.'s first year of teaching.  I thought about him a lot during my own first year after realizing how hard teaching really was.  Mr. S. walked away from education at the age of 50 after 25 years of teaching.  I contacted him recently via e-mail offering best wishes as well as inquiring about why he resigned.  He sent me the farewell e-mail he sent to the school staff and it was just like how I remembered him; sincere, humorous at times, and very real.

He said that with his two kids out of high school (one in college and one a recent college grad) he felt it was OK to acknowledge he didn't have it in him anymore to, and I quote, "fight the good fight," and walk away from the job he's known most of his adult life.  With the recent demands from the administration, school board, and state test score expectations...he felt that the profession he worked so hard at all of these years just wasn't the same anymore.

I saw Mr. S. 16 years ago at a festival back in my hometown when I first became a teacher.  I told Mr. S. that I was in my first year of teaching and that I remembered having him during his first year.  He smiled and said, "Yeah...sorry about that.  I didn't have a clue what I was doing back then."  I told him I felt the same way.  We laughed, talked a bit more, and wished each other well.  That was the last time I saw him face-to-face.

I hear a lot of teachers speaking in a way that echoes what Mr. S. was saying.  I don't know what the future of education holds, but I know one thing for sure...if Mr. S. made the decision to walk away, the education pendulum has to swing back soon or there will be more good teachers in this country just like him following his lead.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others...

Here it is again…Sunday night.  I’m in my 16th year of teaching, and I still don’t sleep as well on Sunday nights as I do later in the week.  This is something I don’t think the average person who doesn’t face a classroom of students on a daily basis can comprehend.  Teaching really isn’t, “Ready, or not, here I come!”  It is more like, “Ready or not, here THEY come!”  I’m all prepared with my lessons for this week, but if I let it happen, I can allow my mind to heighten my anxiety about all the mini details that go into each day. 

Because of this known phenomenon among teachers, I like to stay in touch with the newer teachers in our building for two reasons: 

1. It reminds me of what it used to be like to be a newer teacher.
2. The veteran teachers did that for me when I was a young teacher.  

One topic I like to talk about with our newer teachers is what they are doing to manage their stress when it feels like work, students, meetings, and policies make them feel unable to relax.  I remember feeling like there was always “something else” I could be doing to make my life easier at work or to somehow feel “caught up.” 

People can really lose themselves in the teaching profession and forget about what it is that can help them be a better teacher.  That look of wonder and excitement on their faces when they first start out the year begins to look more like bewilderment and exhaustion.  When this happens, everything about the job can seem, well, worse than it really is. 

So what advice do I give them?  The same advice they give you on an airline pre-flight emergency demonstration: “Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others.” 

My best advice for them…take a sick day.  Most new teachers are hesitant to do this, but I let them know it will be OK.  I tell them to get themselves prepared to take a sick day the next week on a Wednesday.  Their prescription for their sick day is easy:

·        Sleep in
·        Take a long walk
·        Eat a healthy breakfast
·        Watch a favorite movie or read a favorite book
·        Don’t do any work for school
·        Go to bed early so they are well-rested for Thursday
·        Lastly, let me know how their day off went

This way they mentally know that they will work Monday and Tuesday, be off Wednesday, work Thursday and Friday, and then be off for the weekend.  The Tuesday night before their sick day they can work on preparing themselves for the following Monday.  That way their Sunday night can be a little more worry-free.  Once they get to work on Monday they might have a better idea what would work best for the rest of the week. 

When I first started teaching I would get to work at about 6:30 a.m. and be there many nights of the week until after 11:00 p.m.  I had a veteran teacher tell me that I was taking a sick day on the Wednesday of the next week.  He must have seen the look of bewilderment and exhaustion on my face. 

I’m glad he did.