Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Motivation, Challenge, and Behavior

I'm currently doing a book study of Drive by Daniel Pink with a Voxer group led by Tammie Neil ( @MathNeil). I just finished chapter 5 and it has really gotten me thinking about a lot of things.

I teach at an extremely challenging school: inner city, 98% free-reduced lunch, high minority, high transiency, high truency. If you name a risk factor for poor school performance, we have it in spades. We also have the lowest test scores of the elementary schools in our district. This also translates to a lot of behavior problems. A lot.

Don't get me wrong. I love my school and I love my students. It is my passion and my calling to teach here. But I have a very realistic view of the student population. They have not been taught social skills and most of the modeling they have is less than positive. Violence is the normal in their homes and neighborhoods, so it becomes the normal in their classrooms too.

Many of my amazing, hard-working, professional colleagues struggle with behavior management, and I do too! It's hard! But I have taken up the mission of preaching good lesson planning as a behavior management system. "What? What does lesson planning have to do with behavior? We need to talk about norms and rules and expectations. We need to make color charts and point sheets and treasure boxes." Very few people think I am sincere, and I think Daniel Pink explained exactly why for me today.

"When Motivation 2.0 sought compliance, Motivation 3.0 seeks engagement."

As Pink defines it, Motivation 2.0 is the carrot and the stick, rewards and punishments, motivational system in place in schools (and businesses) since the mid 19th century. That's what I grew up with in school as did the vast majority of my colleagues. That's what we revert to, especially in stressful situations, and every day has some stressful situations.

But Motivation 3.0 is a more efficient and positive motivational system. It focuses on choice, empowerment, challenge. All of those things we who wish to be master teachers strive to incorporate into our classrooms every day. But can it work in a school like mine? Will challenge and choice help these deeply troubled kids? I very strongly and firmly believe yes. I think it is one of my main roles as a teacher to provide my students with instructional experiences that are exciting and challenging, that help lead them toward mastery, that empower them to choose their own learning. And I have found that when my students are most engaged, the frequency and intensity of behavior problems decreases. They are not eliminated, this is not a 100% guarantee, but I know it makes a difference. And my goal is for the lessons and activities that I share here to be those kind of lessons.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Economics Simulation

Basic economics is one of the topics required in kindergarten social studies. Previously, my unit has centered on vocabulary: needs, wants, scarcity, abundance, producer, consumer. But two weeks of teaching vocabulary and quizzing five-year-olds on the differences is boring and not very effective. This year, with some help from my PLN on #tlap and #bfc530, I developed a simulation that covers all of the same concepts - and vocabulary! - in a way that is much more engaging and memorable.

I've put all of my components that I made on Teachers Pay Teachers, if you're interested.

The entire simulation took 8 days. I did this with kindergarten, but you could adapt for any age group. The reflection sheet was designed for emerging readers and writers, but could also be adapted.

 Day 1 - Students decorated their Spuzzie (the name I gave the creatures in our simulation). They chose a job (farmer, electrician, plumber, tailor, doctor, toy maker) and rolled a 1-3 die. I recorded all of the info. Because I wanted the Spuzzies to survive for the entire simulation, they were drawn on cardstock. I stapled a quart size plastic bag to the back to hold all of the materials. Everything else was done on paper. We also had a brief discussion about things that people need.

Day 2 - The first day of the simulation. Each student was given a need card with things their Spuzzie needed, resources based on their job, and $10 (green paper squares). They had to use the money and the resources to fill up their need card. I specifically did not give a lot of directions, I wanted them to problem solve. Many students were not able to get all of their needs on this first day, and a few were very frustrated. We had a whole group reflection time where we talked about the problems that came up and how some students solved those problems. I did step in for a few logistical problems too, but I tried to stay out of it. Each student also completed a reflection sheet about how their day went. We did this every day of the simulation.

Day 3 - Same as day 2. They made some changes and it went much more smoothly.

Day 4 - This day they learned about scarcity. I did not introduce the word, I just told them that the farmers had a drought and there was less food. Again, some kiddos were frustrated, they couldn't get everything they needed. We had another class reflection discussion where I introduced the vocabulary for what they had just experienced, scarcity. Their discussion was amazing! I asked how they had solved the problem. One student said that he got all of his food first before the farmers ran out. One student said that she got one food resource from each farmer and went to several farmers to get everything she needed. One student said that he gave the farmers extra money so they would give him the food. These are all solutions they came up with completely on their own! I was so impressed with how close their solutions were to real life!

Day 5 - This day was all about abundance. Instead of $10, everyone got $15. I introduced the vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson this time. When I said the day was about abundance, one little voice called out, "What does that mean?"
"Well, it's the opposite of scarcity," was the only reply I managed to get out.
"Oh! So that means there's a whole lot!"
I was amazed. Instead of spending half of the lesson teaching and drilling vocab, students were self-defining new words in the first few minutes.

Day 6 - Inflation was the topic today. I raised the rent and shelter cost almost all of their pay. Some students had money saved up that they used. Other students relied more on bartering on this day.

Day 7 - This was my favorite day. Remember on the first day when they rolled a 1-3 die? This is why. Today they had babies! And of course babies have needs, so they had to gather extra resources for their babies. Most of the students were more interested in drawing and coloring their babies than gathering resources, but they got it done. They had a great discussion. The students who had 3 Spuzzie babies thought it wasn't fair that some students only had 1. The toy makers were very excited because their resources were finally needed!

Day 8 - I set one entire class period aside for reflection. We reviewed each day, sometimes using their reflection sheets to refer back to, and reviewed the vocabulary for each day. I was so proud of their retention. They were able to define the vocabulary in their own words and give examples. It was impressive! And not just one or two of my brightest kids, all of them were excited to share what they had learned. Then we talked about which day was their favorite.This was a fascinating conversation. Some liked abundance day best, and that made sense. But the best comment was from one of my girls. She said she liked baby day best because she had saved up all of her money on all of the other days so she could take really good care of her babies! What a powerful life lesson for these little kindergarteners.

I will definitely do this simulation next year. It was a lot more fun than my previous attempts at teaching economics and more effective too!