This week’s department meeting I was asked to bring one of the things I am doing in my classes, and after some deliberation I decided to bring the thing I was debating about scrapping only a week earlier. I brought the game I tried with my students to help them understand the development of a modern economy. I’ve called the game Dunshire Abbey, and so far it has required a lot of pushing. To finish this class with an exploration of a firms supply curve, and talk about the math and the economics around the concept, I was worried I was going to scrap my ideas for the project. After talking about the game with my co-workers I have a much clearer idea of how I can get students to understand the concepts and experiment with them in the game as part of the final project.
What is the game about?
The basic gist of the game in my head was as follows. Students begin as villagers in a town where the people are just slightly more advanced than hunter-gatherer. The different phases of the games would compound on each other, so early stages of the game would use “commodity money” and bartering, later stages of the game would depend on “fiat money” and market-based pricing. The final project would involve students working individually to run a modern company as they decide how to produce goods and make a profit. This is, of course, in my head. What actually was happening was that we were not iterating through the earlier stages of the economy and now there might not be time to get to modern times.
Boiling it down to what’s important
After laying all of my ideas out for the department, and ignoring the initial feelings of embarrassment, I felt immediately better about the project. My co-workers asked questions which reflected back my assumptions, pointed me towards what the major goal was, and helped give me directions on how to get there. In my head I was really focused on having this large connected game with a complex narrative full of historical significance. What really matters was if the students were learning the information they needed to finish the project at the end. Once my colleague’s helped me realize this, my thinking about the project kind of “unlocked”.
During my next class I jumped straight into the terminology of modern perfectly competitive markets with a lesson that was a little less interactive than I would have liked. Students were briefed about the knowledge that we would have developed in the game over the next few weeks so we essentially skipped those concepts. Each student individually, and not in groups, is the owner of a modern firm and has to make a profit. We then spent a day looking at the relationships between costs, price, revenue and profits and the context of the market in regards to the game. Next week we can add variability to the game when students have to respond to a “Chance” card that has different economic realities, including some of the ideas that we couldn’t fit in earlier. Finally they will have to show with graphs and in writing how the reality will affect their companies ability to make a profit.
Making the shift
After the conversation about the project I had a mental shift where it felt like my thinking was “unlocked,” and I didn’t even know it was locked! The best part the whole my mental shift was that the Math department really didn’t have to know anything special about my topic in order to help. I am the only person in the department who took considerable economics in college, (although one guy was a stock broker), but the familiarity with the content area really isn’t what was helpful. They were able to listen to what I was saying and repeat it back to me with questions that prompted me to push my thinking. In that regard just about any thoughtful person could have helped me. Just about any teacher may have been able to help me. The sad part is, were I not required to present something to department I wouldn’t have asked. The minutes before the presentation I almost brought up a more “polished’ product in an attempt to impress my colleagues rather than open up my process to them. It is hard to open up, even if it is good for you.
When was the last time you opened up you teaching to people in your school for ideas? Did you have similar results?