Letting go of lecture

people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpgAP Macroeconomics is the most traditional class I teach. Still too teacher-directed, still too organized around lecture-practice-homework.

I know better — yes, I’ve written an entire book on active learning strategies — but it’s been hard to let go. Macro is a difficult subject, and it’s a lot of content for high school kids to process in just 12 weeks. So I’ve kept giving them lecture notes day after day for years — even though I know it’s a cop-out.

That’s changing this semester.

My other classes (AP Psych and AP Micro right now; Journalism, Government, regular Econ and Civil Liberties in past years) already involve a lot more discussion, simulations, and inquiry-based activities.

So starting this week, no more lecturing in AP Macro. No more! (Or at least no more than 5-10 minutes a day)

Instead, my students will be learning through a blend of whiteboarding and flipped instruction. Each day, after some sort of activity — like creating squares and triangles to generate production possibilities data, buying snacks in a demand auction or buying and selling in the cocoa market — students will be working together to solve problems and present their findings to the class.

It won’t be entirely inquiry-based. They’ll have access to videos (and a textbook) the night before. But if they don’t watch or read, they will have to rely on their own reasoning and discussion with classmates to learn.

For example, after our “demand auction” next week, I’ll expect them to work in pairs to draw demand curves and analyze the impact of a variety of events on demand for Juicy Lucys (cheese-filled burgers, a Twin Cities specialty).

I’m not going to lecture them on demand shifters; they’re going to have to think through each scenario and develop their own reasoning.

What will happen if Juicy Lucys are linked to salmonella? What will happen if ketchup becomes cheaper? What will happen if the price for Juicy Lucys falls?

I don’t think this is too hard for them, but I do think it will be a big change. Our students are very used to being told what they need to know, and they will want me to give them the answers.

They’re also very used to memorizing rather than thinking, and that’s not going to work anymore (if it ever did).

This semester will be an interesting experiment. It’s a lot of work up front, redesigning the practice problems I’ve used in the past to be more reasoning-based, rather than regurgitation-based. It’s also a lot of work to find or create the appropriate videos for each lesson.

If it’s successful — and I know it may take a few semesters and some finessing before it really works — I expect I’ll see higher test scores, fewer distractions, a lot less re-reteaching, and a lot less frustration with the material.

Our students don’t know it, but they do want the chance to figure things out for themselves. It’s a whole lot more engaging than passively receiving our knowledge.

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