Small effort, big impact

Earlier this semester, in her regular economics class at Tartan High School, teacher Lori Raebel enlisted three students to act as workers in a brief simulation.

In the lesson, each worker can pick one unit of carrots, but they can pick different amounts of apples — one, three or five units — depending on their height.

Students demonstrate how many they can pick (depending on the card they are given), and they calculate the  “opportunity cost” of switching from one task to another, which helps their classmates derive a production possibilities frontier.

The simulation is fun because students quickly realize that the shortest student should be put on carrot duty, since they don’t give up as many apples as the taller workers.

Lori had decided this was a “low risk” activity for student volunteers. “I could choose students who would not feel confident answering a question or doing something their peers would judge as ‘uncool’,” she explained.

So she picked a few students who wouldn’t normally volunteer  “Luis,” whose name has been changed, was the tallest worker.  “[Luis] was a student in a previous term in a different subject, and he was a very reluctant learner,” Lori explained.

At the end of the activity, Lori emphasized to the class that the students in the demonstration had helped everyone learn the concept.

“I could see that the student volunteers felt like they had contributed something of value, and many students could easily chime the answers as we graphed the production possibilities curve,” she said.

The lesson went well, and students performed well on their assessment — with 80 percent getting 9/10 on a quiz — but the best benefits were yet to come.

After that lesson, Luis asked for a seat closer to the front and began participating actively in all of the class activities. “The fact that I told the class that these ‘students helped us learn’ these concepts I think was encouraging for [Luis]!” she said.

How many times do we have the opportunity to bring a Luis into a lesson? How many times do we take the easier path and let students volunteer, so the confident ones always jump in?

One activity, and it changed a student’s trajectory in a difficult class. Sometimes the small things really can make a difference. Well done.