As a rookie teacher, I admit that I make many of the mistakes discussed in the content for this activity. It is quite common for me to plan my daily activities around the textbook or other content that I have available. I haven’t really second-guessed this strategy. I’m not aware that any teachers around me follow any other strategy either.
Now, however, I can see a much better way. Grant Wiggins taught several teachers about how unpacking standards works. Ultimately, the teacher begins with the end in mind. What is the most important thing for students to experience/learn/acquire/create as a result of this class/unit? Based on the answer to this question, teachers can then work backwards to create goals, activities/projects, and lesson plans. Teachers would look at their textbooks and ask themselves, if these are our goals, what should we do with the resources available? If my goal is for my students to love reading by the end of the year, I will need to prepare my classes very differently vs. a goal to have my students reach some level of reading proficiency by the end of the year.
As an example, Grant Wiggins showed a sample math unit. He began by showing a list of 77 runners. These runners all competed in many different races. Sometimes they raced against each other, but never did all 77 runners run the same race at the same time. Based on their results, what is a fair way to rank them all? After some class discussion about the definition of “fair,” the students were broken into small groups to discuss. And find some way to rank all the runners.
The next day, the teacher asked the students to decide a fair way to grade them over the course of the year. Students again had a class-wide discussion, and then broke into groups to continue the debate and then come up with a plan to grade all of the students.
The third lesson students presented their plans for the runners and the student grades, and debated some more. They discovered it was very difficult to rank the runners in a way that everyone agreed was fair. Similarly, they had a difficult time figuring out how the teacher should grade the class most fairly.
During the fourth lesson, for the first time, the teacher introduces some math principles which are taught in the textbook.
“It turns out math gives us some tools to judge this. Let’s open the books and learn about mean, median, mode…” This is the first time students open their textbooks during the unit….
I love this unit and the way it is taught because students are already deep into the real-world application of the math principles before the principles are even introduced. This way all students will know WHY they are learning the concepts and will be more interested in correctly applying the math. When the students understand how the math is useful and also have a desire to solve a real life problem using math, it becomes exciting to learn the principles and apply them. I think if more students learned math this way, there would be a lot less animosity towards math.
In my business class I need to structure learning the same way. The best way to teach my content will be for me to find case studies and have the students solve the case studies. When they really understand how challenging it would be to resolve issues for all sides, then we introduce economic principles or the need for regulation and how it is applied. Once we solve problems within our case studies, the students can then very effectively analyze the correct and incorrect application of business principles in real life examples from around the world. At that point conversations about why Hong Kong has the most expensive real estate in the world, or why the US housing market imploded in 2008 will be far more meaningful and fun for the students.
I will also be sure to emphasize our class goals throughout the year. My hope is that at any given moment I can ask the students what standards we are working towards are and they will know them. I also like the idea of planning around the end result because I think it will help me keep a better perspective when I plan the amount of time each unit deserves. The pace of our class will be dictated by the standards and the students, not the textbooks. Based on this unpacking of the standards, I will know which content needs more in-depth discussion, and which content can be skimmed over or even skipped completely. Textbooks, after all, were written for a wide-ranging audience, not specifically for my students in my class.
I’m excited (and a little bit intimidated) by this perspective. I’m also excited for my students. I hope this process will help us be more effective at helping the students develop a love of innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as a deep respect for the markets and the way they work. I also want them to understand economic principles well enough that when detrimental policy changes are proposed, they will be able recognize and teach others why the new policies would be a bad idea. I’ve got an exciting year ahead of me!