Curriculum Night

Curriculum Night

This fall my older daughter, R, started first grade at a new school. Cold Spring gives kids ranging from pre-K to 6th grade a truly progressive education. R is in a combined K/1 class, and she couldn’t be happier.

Read on →

Give the People What They Want

Give the People What They Want

Over the weekend I surveyed my class to ask them how it’s going. I had heard a few rumblings of discontent about some specific issues and I was curious if there were any other issues I didn’t know about. I strongly believe that if you are going to go to the trouble of collecting student feedback, you should also take the time to read it, analyze it, and most importantly, respond to it. Addressing the issues raised in the survey was almost trivially easy, and the changes I’ve made will make a huge difference to most of my students. I’m so grateful that I didn’t wait for end-of-semester evaluations when it would have been too late to fix anything.

Read on →

Improving Learning through Pretesting

Improving Learning through Pretesting

A good friend of mine sent me this fascinating New York Times article yesterday on “pretesting”. It seems there is some science that says students learn better when they take an exam on material before they are taught the material. The article offers a variety of potential explanations, but the gist is that the pretest primes their brain for what’s coming later in the semester.

Read on →

What are your students thinking?

What are your students thinking?

I remember the first day of the first class I taught like it was yesterday. It was a seminar on the economics of aging and I started by giving my six students1 a tour of the upcoming semester and then showed long-term trends in life expectancy, retirement behavior, and old age benefits around the world. I closed by presenting and critiquing a couple simple economic models of retirement. When I got home, my wife asked how it went. I paused and said “I have absolutely no idea!” As a student, it was always obvious whether a class had gone well, but as an instructor I was shocked to find that it can be a complete mystery.

  1. Just six students enrolled because students at Yale don’t like to take risks with new faculty teaching something that might be boring. Once I had some decent student evaluations on record, a lot more students turned up. 

Read on →

Using Props in Lectures

Using Props in Lectures

I am ambivalent about using props in class. Used well, props can illustrate an important point or concept. Sometimes props can surprise or entertain students such that the lesson is more memorable. They’re fun. On the other hand, props can cheapen the whole educational enterprise and make it look like you are trying too hard. Shouldn’t the material itself be enough to engage the audience? I’m not totally sure where my performance at the beginning of Friday’s lecture falls, but I hope it was on the positive side.

Read on →

Teaching Students Who Don't Want to Be There

Teaching Students Who Don't Want to Be There

A few years ago I taught a course called “Microeconomics for Healthcare Professionals” in the Yale School of Public Health. It was an introductory economics class required for all Masters students who had a concentration in either public policy or administration. Students who had already taken an economics class as an undergraduate could waive the requirement and take a more advanced class instead. Many of the students that took my class had actively avoided economics as undergrads and were pretty unhappy to have to finally take it.

Read on →