I am teaching two undergraduate courses in our OSU financial planning track this semester and have been thinking about how to best teach personal finance topics. They are often dry, technical, and uncomfortable. I learned about several new resources, books and websites, at a professional development event at OSU last December, where the speaker, HDFS professor Claire Kamp-Dush, recommended books on teaching. It made me read up on “active learning” and today I want to share with you three new tools I discovered.
Accessible for free for OSU employees through the OSU Libraries e-book collection or purchasable at online bookstores for $19.
This short book very briefly summarizes the research insights on how people learn, and then provides bulleted lists for how to use those insights in our teaching. I started to use several of the ideas in this book every time I teach.
To “retrieve knowledge,” I liked the suggestion to start each lesson by asking my class to think about our last meeting and which concepts stuck in their minds. Also, before I start with a new topic, I ask which other topics we have already discussed in this class. I agree with the book’s author that is important to give the learners time to retrieve the knowledge, and it works well with a bit patience on my side! Another one of my favorite take-aways is to ask my learners at the end of class to take a sheet of paper and, first, list the one topic that they consider the most relevant of the class session and, second, list one question that they would like to have answered about today’s topic. This tool is called the “minute paper.” It is quickly done and very insightful, not only for the learner, but also for me, to track topics I didn’t explain well and identify knowledge gaps. I am learning so much by reviewing the minute papers! Sometimes, I even get a comment like “Great class!”
By reading about active learning in the “Small Teaching” book, I realized that personal finance topics are ideal for employing the tool of “predicting” as a learning strategy. For example, I gave my learners the current tax rate schedules and asked them to calculate the tax burden for a married couple. They were quickly done because they only used the marginal tax rate and applied it to the whole amount of taxable income. It was a great icebreaker to explain the concept of progressive taxation. The book has a list of tools that recommend, for example, that the teacher stops before making a conclusion and, instead, asks the learners about what the outcome/result will be or to ask learners to make predictions about what topics will be covered next.
“Interleaving” is a tool-set meant to help learners connect content, according to the “Small Teaching” book. It is a great tool that I realized I had not used. Hands-on tools include asking learners at the end of a lesson to make-up a test question based on the day’s topics covered in class (and I will use the questions in a later lesson to retrieve their learning). Or, asking learners to open the handout from the last class meeting and underline the three most important topics from that day.
Website: Pedagogy Unbound
The website aims to provide hands-on tools for today’s teachers. This user-friendly website is sorted by categories, such as “beginning of class”, “ice-breakers”, “using technology”, “group work”, and “getting students to talk”. Each category contains hands-on tools tested and found useful. For example, I liked the suggestion in the “getting students to talk” section that asked learners to write down a question about the content of the class session on a sheet of paper. The papers are then collected and redistributed. Every learner is asked to answer the question on the sheet. Perhaps the best way of dealing with these many excellent ideas on the Pedagogy Unbound website is to pick a few and test which work best in our teaching environments.
Website: Harvard University’s ABLconnect
This website is an online repository for active learning. It mentions its “hundreds of activity examples” and its awards for “teaching innovators.” The activity database is sorted by activity type (e.g., discussion, speed dating, role play, pair and share), learning goals (e.g., fostering motivation, dealing with misconceptions), length of activity (up to 10 min., 10-30 min., over 30 min), student scope (individual, group, pair, whole class), five broad subject areas, and timeline (single class, repeating, etc.). I greatly enjoyed exploring the prize-winning activities by the so-called “teaching innovators.” Four or five of the awards are given away each year to particularly effective teaching ideas and they are quite eye-opening. These innovative ideas include the “Name Five” tool which asks learners to think five times of five names or concepts, which get harder as the questioning proceeds.