I am putting this together to begin to document a process I created 13 years ago and employ each year I teach. As new educational concepts emerge my process easily assimilates into those new concepts.
Background: Universal Design for learning is broken down simplistically into Engagement, Representation and Action and Expression. Using these simple guidelines we will explain how Mr. Parry’s (my) STEM lab addresses each of these core areas by explaining how it works in the Financial Literacy, Participation, and General Lab elements.
Part I – Financial Literacy
The first of three areas in UDL is engagement with the goal of providing multiple means of purposeful, motivated learners through options for self regulation, sustaining effort and persistence and recruiting interests. The financial literacy portion f the STEM lab is designed to teach life skills which many students do not receive at home. This includes managing a checkbook, paying taxes, filing out time sheets and learning how to pay taxes.
Motivating the student population is based upon the skill level (honors / grade level), the number of students with learning disabilities, the students social economic background (including morals and values) and their general willingness to be challenged. At the core of all of this is a\ students individual grade which, given the history of education and how they have been conditioned, be the thing that is the underlying driving force. Taking that into consideration all elements of the lab are tied into their grade. Therefore, we utilize this inherent process of a students need to get a good grade and tie it into the core elements of the lab. A student must perform in class to earn participation points which are tracked daily. This in turn will count for “hours worked in a week/month” and generate a paycheck.
Facilitate personal coping skills and strategies then becomes the next stage of this process. Not all people make the same amount of money. This is career readiness training. Not only must the student track their personal wealth, which includes taking money out for taxes, paying rent, buying food, car payments, utilities, etc., but they quickly discover that they are living pay check to pay check. The goal is to push students and empower them to find solutions to earn more money which will be a common aspect in life. However, they face the reality that this not easy and they have to learn how to cope with this situation and strategize how to do better. An example of this would be to start their own business which is an entirely different process I teach incorporating elements of AP economics through microeconomic principles. Another example would be to pay for “college” and thus have a student loan which would entitle them to earn a higher salary.
Developing self-assessment and reaction is an informal process and used every Friday which is our pay day. Students can easily see where they fall after each pay period. Their reaction is how they cope and strategize to do better. In this most students plod along waiting for someone, their elected leaders in class at times, to solve their problems. A rare few fail, but if they are failing in this they are generally failing in all other aspects of the class and are typically beyond our help.
As the lab develops we enter into the realm of providing options for sustaining effort and persistence. The lab is designed to constantly ratchet up the intensity level. We are in a learning environment. Once we master specific elements there is no point in allowing a student to just coast along. It doesn’t exist in life, so it shouldn’t exist in the learning environment either. As we ratchet up the intensity level the goal is to attempt to heighten the salience or importance of goals and objectives. Because of the gap between the ultra motivated and the lackadaisical (and this varies by class and year to year), we offer a process that differentiates for our learners. For the ultra achiever we put them on a separate track which parallels their class, but introduces introductory level Advance Placement concepts. For the rest of the class we just keep raising the bar one step at a time.
Specifically with the financial literacy portion we require students to earn $20,000 a marking period. All money made transitions into the next marking period. The process is designed that people should earn a minimum of a “C”, but there is a defined bell curve most years. The elite students earn the “A”, the average students earn the “B” or “C” and those lackadaisical ones earn less. Each marking period continues with the student taking what they have built as their financial base and working towards earning the $20,000. Through the various lessons we offer “bonus money” which becomes a motivating factor in pushing them to achieve specific tasks in various lessons. Through this process we ensure that we both teach critical financial management life skills and constantly reemphasis the salience of goals and objectives for the students.
Another element of the financial literacy portion of the STEM lab is to both vary the demands and resources to optimize challenge and to foster collaboration and community. Within the lab we introduce the concept of individual business ownership. This can both provide the students in the long run with more money, but it also forces them to grapple with the complex aspects of managing the finances of a small business. These students have to work with other classes in other counties to obtain loans; they have to manage and track their company pay records online so that the “banking groups” in other classes who have loaned them money can see their progress.
With that foundation set forth there are different levels of “business” taught in class. The first is the simple business model for the average student. They don’t produce anything but their intellectual property and they sell it to Mr. Parry who represents buyers of the bigger advanced companies in the lab. Students companies make money daily from answering the warm ups and from writing follow up questions which must be answered by another person. This process encourages students to hire classmates to work for them. Students can also make money from answering the analysis questions, summary questions and completing the homework ahead of schedule.
Students who hire their peers must them attempt to foster collaboration and community seen within the business world. This includes having to decide what to pay their employees, and for the employee if they wish to work for this employer. All of this goes through a process of trial and error. Sometimes people get angry with each other. Business owners have to fire workers at times because they hired too many people, paid them too much and are going bankrupt. Since all students can thus run their own business it really isn’t that much of problem regarding their grade. Where it becomes an issue is when the student, who is willing to be paid by a peer to answer the warm up, is unwilling to run a business and do the same thing they would have done for a peer. This is not to say that all people should be business owners because many small businesses fail. It is simply pushing students to take a risk and try something they are intimidated by in a controlled environment where actual failure doesn’t destroy your credit, your finances and your life.
Thus, we are trying to push them to show them the options for recruiting interests. A student who has the choice and the autonomy to make their own decisions to improve his/her grade is a more enabled student. That general principle tied into the lab is designed to force them to find financial solutions to financial problems they will face in life. It’s all well and good to be told by someone what you are worth, but we want our students to understand that to optimize their relevance and see their true potential and value. As this is a controlled environment the worst thing that happens is they feel “stress” at having to make a decision.
After thirteen years of employing this system the majority of the “stress” felt by students is the requirement to work outside the “typical expectations” such as write a paper or complete the worksheet. In this system it employs decision making which constantly builds upon itself. Students will see some failure, and some of those consequences follow them into the next marking periods, but this is not a situation which is unrecoverable. It necessitates a greater use of recognizing expectations, improving personal coping skills, building better collaborative and community networks within class and outside it with other classes around the state, and being willing to make a personal decision without having a clear result apparent at the time of making that decision.
Up next will be Part II: Participation....