Reaching Their Destination The Write Way

This summer, the University of Delaware’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship’s (CEEE) Associate Director Bonnie Meszaros welcomed its newest cohort of master’s students with a unique challenge that encourages teachers to create test questions with an approach that is similar to planning a vacation.

“Pick your destination and then figure out how you are going to get there,” said Meszaros, who is also an assistant professor of economics at UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

For the 28 educators who were beginning the first part of their two-summer master of arts in economic education and entrepreneurship (MAEEE) degree program, this was counterintuitive. The participants were seasoned elementary, middle and high school social studies, economics and history teachers, representing 13 states and three foreign countries. They were accustomed to a method of writing test questions based on what they covered in class.

However, the teachers had joined the MAEEE program to learn the best practices in teaching economic education and financial literacy from top scholars and representatives from Federal Reserve Banks and national think tanks.

“A colleague of mine recommended this program,” Catarina Chamlee, a social studies teacher at Middletown High School in the Appoquinimink School District, said. “I am entering my fourth year of teaching this year and last year started looking for a master’s program to help improve my teaching. This program gives me the opportunity to expand my content knowledge and further develop my instructional skills.”

Meszaros and colleague Mary Suiter, assistant vice president and economics education officer at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, walked the participants through the process and format for writing high-quality economic and personal finance lessons using the Wiggins and McTigue’s Backward Design model.

“The model begins with the end in mind—select your benchmark, write a compelling question and an assessment linked to the benchmark and then develop the instructional strategies much like planning a vacation,” Meszaros said. “First, determine where you are going and then figure out how you will get there.”

“At first, I was not used to the idea of backward design, but after trying it for myself in the workshop and learning about the reasoning behind it, it made a lot more sense,” Chamlee said. “One thing I struggle with as an educator is creating rigorous lessons and activities to help address standards.

“By starting with creating the assessment, it becomes much easier for me to start thinking of activities that are more along same lines as the assessment,” Chamlee continued. “The writer’s program helped me really narrow my focus in my lessons.”

The second challenge was to put on paper the procedures for teaching the lesson. Writing a lesson with enough specificity for another teacher to use is tedious. To help, the teachers were asked to develop some learning objectives to guide the lesson development.

“Each of these learning objectives explicitly define the foundational building blocks that every child is expected to acquire,” Meszaros said. “The writer’s process equips the teacher with a framework needed to help students achieve the desired results.”

“I was surprised by how difficult writing the lesson is,” Chamlee said. “After teaching for three years, I felt comfortable creating lessons and activities that are engaging to students. Writing a lesson for myself, however, is much different from writing a lesson for another teacher.

“It requires breaking things down further than what you think you have to, because the ultimate goal in writing these lessons is that another teacher could look through it and teach it in their own classroom,” Chamlee continued.

Meszaros and Suiter, who earned her MAEEE degree in 1989, created this fundamental workshop in 1998 after recognizing the need for teacher training in lesson writing. The National Council on Economic Education first offered this workshop as the International Train the Writers Programs. Since then, Meszaros and Suiter have conducted nearly 20 workshops in nine different countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Russia, Mexico and the US. In all, they have trained nearly 400 writers, hailing from 27 countries and 27 US states.

“Bonnie and Mary’s workshop is incredibly important for our profession,” Carlos Asarta, CEEE James B. O’Neill Director, said. “They are the best educators we have in the network offering this type of training.”

Today, the program provides teachers with professional development that enables them to write quality, detailed, grade-appropriate and easily-replicated economic content. This content is then field tested, integrated into other content areas, reinforced through active learning and properly assessed—not only in their own classrooms but in the classrooms of others.

“The goal of this instruction will be to have all students write one lesson,” Meszaros said. “They will then do blind reviews of a colleague’s lesson and refine the lesson based on their peers’ feedback.”

The most recent MAEEE graduating class now has lessons sound in economic content and pedagogy to use with their students and share with their colleagues. The teachers selected standards and benchmarks for their lessons where they couldn’t find good lessons to use in their classrooms.

There is also impact beyond the classroom.

“A teacher from Texas was hired by a company to develop lessons, another is writing lessons for the Georgia Council using a case study of Chick fil-A,” Meszaros said. “An Arizona grad is sharing her lessons with state teachers and nationally through professional development sponsored by the Council on Economic Education.”

“We bring outside experts in to strengthen the teachers’ knowledge and give them different instructional strategies that they can use in their teaching and share with others,” Asarta said.

“As graduates of this program, the teachers become part of a network of professional economic educators from across the country, not just teachers of economics in their own classrooms,” he continued. “It is important for them to be exposed to leaders in the field so that they fully understand and embrace their future roles as members of this network.”

In July, the current MAEEE cohort also attended an empowering workshop entitled Voices on the Economy (VOTE), presented by Amy Cramer, economics instructor and chair of the business department at Pima Community College. VOTE is a Tucson-based, award-winning curriculum that teaches educators to present diverse perspectives in a balanced and accurate way so that students can make up their own minds about what they believe and find their own voices on the issues. In the workshop, participants delved into the issue of healthcare, looking at it from the conservative, liberal and radical perspectives.

Before examining the healthcare issue in depth, Cramer encouraged teachers to first take a poll of their students to ask which side of the issue they best identified with.

After “putting on several different hats,” arguing varying positions on the issue that represented different economic schools of thought, Cramer then encouraged teachers to take another poll of their students to see if the presentations had changed their original views.

She finds that, only after examining the issue in this way, students often do change their opinions. By encouraging students to better understand the issues and not simply adopt the opinion of a parent or a friend, students are taught to make better-informed decisions, contributing to a more informed voting citizenry.

The overall goal of the MAEEE program is to enable the teachers to inspire students to become effective participants in the economy, successful entrepreneurs, responsible consumers and wise investors. Some graduates of the program are influencing far-reaching educational policy, authoring curriculum that is being used locally, nationally and internationally, and conducting research that is changing the face of related instruction throughout the world.

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