Thursday, November 7, 2013

What interests middle-schoolers?

Recently, the topic was what would engage middle-schoolers.  It's a valid question, spoken to nicely by this quote from Edutopia:

Look at it this way: your teaching every year is like a narrative, and ...if the A-story is the standards-based content, then the B-story is the tween-based content, and there is a huge difference between a middle-school classroom run by a teacher who takes on this added curriculum and a middle-school classroom that doesn't. It's the difference between silver and gray.

I am personally of the opinion that it is not just my job to present things in a context they're interested in, but also to interest them in things they hadn't thought about, heard of, or really considered before.

Apparently someone said, "Middle-schoolers aren't interested in health insurance" and the gauntlet was thrown down!  The good people at Mathalicious offered a free sticker to anyone who taught their lesson "License to Ill" and gave feedback by Thursday, and I couldn't resist.  I'm just hoping the deadline is midnight Central Time, not Eastern.


We live in a town that was widely impacted by the Federal Shutdown last month, so I thought my students would as least have a little bit of knowledge about current events.  I have two classes doing the regular 7th grade curriculum - one of average-to-below-average seventh graders, one of above-average 6th graders.  I opened each class with questions about why the government came to a grinding halt, and they all could say it was because "they couldn't come to an agreement."  They also readily answered "Obamacare" ... but none of them could articulate what exactly made health insurance such a big deal.

We worked through the math ... expected values, expected costs, who buys?  who doesn't?  very nicely.  More hand-holding with the seventh graders, but nobody quit or grumbled about not needing this or not being interested.  I only have 45 minutes in each class, so I split the lesson over two days.

Day 2 I opened with the promotional video the Mathalicious people had made (apparently you have to be beautiful to work there).  It was basically a re-cap of the math we had done yesterday, with live people, but I thought it would be good to bring everything we'd done back together - without me doing the re-tell.  Sometimes I think students get so bogged down in the calculations that they lose sight of the big picture of what they're doing and why. It was also a quick catch-up for the couple of kids who were absent yesterday.

Then I had them do the final questions - pros and cons of different options (denying care, denying coverage, mandating coverage, etc.) - and I told them I didn't want their opinions, I wanted them to demonstrate that they were thinking about all sides of the issue. I had them discuss in their groups, and then they reported back to the whole group.  I was very impressed with what they came up with.  Both classes came up with pros and cons that weren't addressed in the video/work and really remained engaged.  They were also VERY interested in the social justice aspects.  Sometimes it took a while to come up with the pros for "deny coverage" and "deny treatment" because both seemed so inherently wrong that they really had to work to see the financial side of it. I loved hearing them say things like, "If they can't afford insurance, how can they afford surgery?" or "but it's no good if the hospital goes bankrupt, either..."   They were able to relate to the downside of mandated coverage, and offered how they hate for their parents to tell them what to do, even when they know their parents are right!

I asked them to turn their packets in because I wanted to look at what they'd written down, and one seventh grader asked if they'd be returned because he wanted to keep his.  In the 6th grade class, as they were leaving, a girl said, "Are we going to do more stuff like that?  Because I really liked it." [side note: we do Mathalicious stuff regularly, but this was the first one that had the social-justice-discussion aspect.]

Lastly,  I told them I was hoping to get a sticker for doing the lesson, and they wanted to know what it would take for them all to get one. {big grin}


 Oh, wait. If you don't know the lesson, this might help: