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Planning Your Social Studies Unit Part Two: The Process

So you read my last blog, you’re all set with your cup of tea, and you’re more than ready to knock this whole “unit plan” thing out the park. But where to start?

Isn’t it interesting that out of all the things they could teach us in our credential programs, practical, helpful things like unit planning are often minimized if they’re even taught at all? Like seriously, if you need to know how to make a foldable, I’ve got you covered. We made so. many. foldables. But, like, I didn’t know how to build skills and content into a cohesive unit plan that set myself and my students up for success…

I digress.

The point is that I want to walk you through my process today. In the coming weeks, we’ll cover skill building, content building, and adding in creativity and projects, but today I want to give you a few practical steps to get you started so you have a bird’s eye view of the process before we get into the nitty gritty.

Alright, here’s my process. Now remember that there’s no “right” way to go about this. It’s just the process I’ve refined over time.

  1. Grab a paper and pencil. Draw or print out a month long or 6-week long calendar, depending on how long you want your unit to be. Mine last about 6-8 weeks for a longer one and 4 weeks for a shorter one. I usually draw my calendar with sharpie and fill in the daily information with pencil (because we all know I’m not going to get it perfect the first time I write it).
  2. Pull out your school’s calendar and make sure you block off any breaks or in-service days. Write in any special schedules or school events so that everything is in one place and you can tell at a glance what’s going on during the unit besides your lessons (this also helps with workload planning so that you don’t give your students a major test on a rally day).
  3. Now, look at your content standards for the unit (I’ll go more in depth with this in a future post). Break the content standards down into daily pieces of content. Write the pieces of content in pencil on your calendar and map out what topics will be taught on which days. End the unit with a project, test, or other summative assessment- and write it into your calendar. If you don’t know what the project or test will look like yet, that’s fine! Just write “assessment” or “project” for now.
  4. Next, check out the skills standards for your state. Mine are the Common Core standards (again, more on this in a future post). Decide which skill(s) you’d like to focus on building for this unit. For example, my second unit in World History is focused on document analysis and DBQ essay writing skills. Decide when the major skills assessment will take place and mark it on your calendar. Maybe it’s an essay or a Socratic Seminar. Note on your calendar how often you’d like to work on building this skill. For example, you might have students practice analyzing documents once a week leading up to a DBQ essay. Write all these ideas into your calendar.
  5. Use Planbook. I’m not even an affiliate (yet!). I just love Planbook. It’s cheap for a yearly subscription and you can plug your unit plan into it. You can edit it, copy lessons from year to year, add school events or special schedules. It’s the best. And it’s where I put all my unit plans once I’m done planning them.

Now, I realize that you might want more hands on information about how to actually plan for content and skills. No worries- that’s coming in the next two blog posts in February. But get started today! Be willing to fail. Teaching is all a grand experiment anyways and we’re all just refining, reflecting, and learning over time. You certainly can’t be perfect the first time. But you can start with small steps that can make an incredible difference in your life and in your students’ lives.

Stay tuned and keep your head up. You’re doing an incredible job 🙂

With love,

Mrs. P

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Planning Your Social Studies Unit Part One: Getting Started

There I was sitting in my classroom at 6pm recovering from the whirlwind of my first day of school as a brand new teacher. I was tired, overwhelmed, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I especially had no idea what I was going to teach the next day. I had spent so much time planning that first lesson that I was left cobbling together something for the next day at 6pm on a school night.

Now the idea of me working at school at 6pm for anything other than graduation or back-to-school night is laughable. I simply don’t work that late anymore. But my first year of teaching? Yeah, I was working until 8pm minimum every weeknight and putting in about 10-15 hours on the weekends. I had no social life. I was more engaged to my computer than to my fiance. And thank God my parents were cooking for me because I probably would’ve gone broke eating out every night otherwise. Rough times.

But looking back, the reason lesson planning and grading sucked away all my time (and my soul) was because I had no idea what I was doing. And what’s more- I was a perfectionist. I was truly dissatisfied with free resources I found online. I made most things from scratch and adapted some resources from my coworkers (who, thank the Lord, are very generous, kind people). And it would take me hours to create each lesson. I was so focused on just surviving to the next day that I couldn’t even fathom a unit plan.

That’s where Dennis came in. He was assigned to me as my BTSA mentor. (If you’re not familiar, in California teachers have to complete a program called BTSA their first two years of teaching to clear their credential. It’s about as fun as it sounds. At least I got Dennis out of the deal.) Dennis was awesome. He sat me down and helped me learn how to see the big picture and plan entire units. It was amazing.

To have content and skills on the calendar every day for a month and a half took the guesswork out of what I would teach the next day. And it gave me a sense of where I was going, and what my students actually needed to learn. And most of all, it helped my students learn better. Because, for once, I had direction.

Creating unit plans is vital to being successful as a teacher. Before I had unit plans, I would just realize one day halfway through October that my students should probably write an essay. But with unit plans, you can break down what skills and content need to be taught and then plug those into a timeline. Students will build on skills throughout the unit instead of at random. And you’ll have the ability to know what’s coming up and get ahead on lesson planning. In my opinion, unit plans are sorely underestimated.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, confused, or frustrated, grab a warm cup of tea, pull out some binder paper, and get ready to work. You work hard short term and it’ll save you in the day to day. After all, teaching is hard enough without the added stresses of the unknown.

So, my friend, stick with me this month as I cover the “hows” of creating effective unit plans. It’s life changing stuff.

See you next week.

With love,

Mrs. P

P.S. If you’re looking to get more organized or be more productive so that you can finally stop taking work home, check out this free video I made.

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Bring on the Experts! (Personal Finance Series Pt. 5)

Today’s the final push. The last encouragement. I hope by this point you feel far more equipped to teach personal finance in your economics classroom. With the tools I’ve mentioned in my past two blogs and a dose of inspiration, I know you can make an incredible impact in your students’ lives. Financial literacy is so, so important.

But you know what? There are topics you probably don’t know and don’t really care to learn. For me, this is taxes. I’m TurboTax all the way. Honestly, the last thing I want to do is spend time learning the ins and outs of doing my own taxes.

And yet, students probably need someone to walk them through that process. And that’s where the experts come in! So if you have a topic or two you’re truly just not willing to learn, I’ve got a few suggestions to help you out. I supplement my Personal Finance Project with the resources below.

  1. Experts. Every semester, I bring in young accountants from a local (major) tax firm. They volunteer their time to teach my students the basics of taxes and all the forms involved. They have their own curriculum and handouts. It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s free!
  2. Speakers. Maybe you have a friend or coworker who’s not technically an expert, but generally knows a lot about one of the topics you need to cover. Perfect! Bring ’em in!
  3. Video Tutorials. Youtube is a beautiful thing. There are so many resources there for personal finance. There are explanations of how to finance a car, take out a mortgage, do your taxes, etc. Find a video that means the needs of your students and bam! You’re covered.
  4. Documentaries. I love using the documentary In Debt We Trust which is a bit outdated, but it’s on Youtube and it has excellent information on the cycle of credit card debt. It goes over how young students are often targeted by credit card companies and end up in massive consumer debt before they graduate. It’s a good one to pause and discuss as you go.

Most of all, I’d just encourage you to admit when you don’t know something. It’s better to say “I don’t know” than to give students incorrect information. I learned this the hard way my first year of teaching personal finance. It’s okay not to know. You’re still a good teacher. And what you’re doing is not only important but potentially life changing.

If you want to check out my other blog posts in this series, click here: Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4

I can’t wait for you to implement your personal finance units. I know you’ll be great.

With love,

Mrs. P

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How to Teach Financial Literacy in the Economics Classroom Pt. 2 (Personal Finance Series Pt. 4)

The first time I taught Economics (5 years ago, wow!), I was living at home saving up for my wedding. I had an abundance of student loans and so did my husband-to-be, who was just finishing up grad school. I knew nothing about mortgages, retirement, health insurance, or the wonder of meal delivery services. But I knew all about saving money for a big future expenses, being thrifty with my spending, and, of course, student loans.

So I told my students what I knew. It wasn’t fancy. I just did a Q & A session about my areas of expertise. I even told my students that I didn’t know much about those other topics. And you know what? They still learned. They asked really good questions and we researched the answers to questions I didn’t know as a class.

Here’s what I learned: you don’t have to be an expert in everything to help students. You just need to share what you know, have an open heart, and be honest when you’re not sure.

Last week, I gave ya’ll (can Californians say “ya’ll”? real question.) 4 nitty gritty steps towards implementing personal finance lessons in the Economics secondary classroom. Today, I’m going to give you some guidelines for creating mini-lessons to supplement your students’ personal finance projects or lessons. Check out my personal finance project here if you’d like an organized, engaging, research-based project laid out for you. I also want to encourage you to add your own flair to any project or lesson you implement!

Implementing Mini Lessons

Last week I laid out the steps for creating your personal finance project and/or lessons so let’s fast forward to adding in mini lessons! I use these periodically throughout the semester to give students more insight into certain topics they’re researching for their project that week. These can be simple or they can be detailed and structured. Mini lessons are 20-30 minute bonus lessons you give on certain topics before students start researching or working on their projects/budgets.

Here are some super low prep mini lesson formats that I like:

  • Simple Q & A: You can write a topic like “housing” on the board and have students simply raise their hands to ask any questions they have about that topic. To get their minds thinking, you can have them write questions on post-its and then you can answer those questions in front of the class.
  • Think Alouds: This is a new concept to me that was part of PD at my school this year (yes, we actually have quality PD, thank the Lord Jesus). Basically you verbalize how you go about doing something to students so hey can learn how experts think. So I plug my laptop into the projector, open a browser, and show students how I go about searching for housing. I verbalize my thought process and why some houses/apartments are desirable over others. I explain how “internet access” is different from “free wifi” because you wouldn’t really know that as a naive teenager. Students can ask questions along the way.
  • Before & Afters: I show my students my first budget (in percentages, not real numbers, obviously). Things being as they were, I didn’t have a budget until my first year of teaching. I made A LOT of mistakes and students often giggle at my first attempt at a budget. Then I show them my updated budget (percentages) and we discuss the changes and how these changes helped me pay back loans.

Adding Your Own Flair

Something I really want to emphasize here is that you don’t have to be an expert in everything. It’s okay to give some topics more attention than others. For example, I spend quite a bit of class time talking about repaying student loans and living a minimalist lifestyle while in debt. This is my personal experience and I’m passionate about helping my students see that they can be hopeful about their future finances. I also teach a population of college-bound, low income students so these lessons might not apply to your students. So find out what they need, what you’ve learned, and what you care about. Bring that information into your classroom.

And most of all, be genuine. Be passionate. Be clear. Removing the mist from students’ eyes regarding personal finance can be life-changing and encouraging for them. Don’t make it a boring experience- show them that finances has everything to do with their future. So be your normal engaging teacher self and let personal finance become an area of genuine interest for your students.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will cover how get the help you need when it comes to the personal finance topics you know nothing about!

If you missed my last blogs in the series check them out here: Pt 1, Pt. 2, Pt.3

With love,

Mrs. P

Devotionals

Salve for the Soul When You Wake Up in a Funk

Do you ever wake up in a funk? I’m not sure anyone else really uses that term, but it’s what my mom always said. It just means I woke up in a sad, pessimistic mood. You see, I pulled the intercostal muscles along my right side (again) without even doing anything strenuous and I haven’t slept well the past two nights. So I woke up in a funk. The minute I was awake I grabbed my phone and mindlessly watched Instagram stories for an hour. And you know what? I felt even worse.

Mindless activities used to distract from pain, sadness, or reality usually come with negative side effects. Like feeling worse. Like ignoring the Lord’s call to bring my worries to Him. Eventually I got out of bed nearly crying and my husband encouraged me to read my Bible.

This morning, I need to know who God is. If I know who He is, I can better understand who I am. I can better understand my purpose. I can better understand the significance of my life. But to know who He is, I have to spend time thinking about Him.

I opened my Bible to Psalm 23, which is my personal favorite Scripture. It’s always spoken to me in powerful ways and drawn me into a closer, more tender relationship with the Lord. Today I decided to read it through a new lens. For every verse, I asked myself and God “who is my shepherd?” By that I mean- literally, who is He? What are His qualities, characteristics, passions, and purposes?

Who is my Shepherd?

  • The LORD
  • Provider
  • Knows me
  • Caring
  • Knowledgeable
  • Persistent
  • Wise
  • Strong
  • Honorable
  • Close by
  • Protector
  • Comforter
  • Hospitable
  • Holy
  • Love
  • Generous
  • Good
  • Pursuer
  • Eternal

I take comfort in these words, knowing that my identity comes from God alone. The only opinion that matter is His. Not my family’s, friends’, or coworkers’ opinions. Just His.

So if He is all of these things, who am I? I take His qualities one at a time and I ask myself what identity His qualities give me.

Here’s a sample of my list:

  • Daughter of the LORD of the universe
  • Provided for
  • Known
  • Cared for
  • Pursued
  • Honored
  • Near Him
  • Protected
  • Loved
  • Saved

As I created my two lists, I grew closer to the Lord. It’s incredible how many different ways there are to connect with Him. He’s able to connect with me (and you!) in an entirely unique way. Because He made us unique and knows what each of us needs.

So let me encourage you, friend. Read your favorite Scripture today and ask God who He is. He will reveal Himself to you in layers, ever more complex as He draws you deeper. And your heart will be moved to worship. And that posture can change not only your day, but your life.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness
or his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” -Psalm 23

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How to Teach Financial Literacy in the Economics Classroom Pt. 1 (Personal Finance Series Pt. 3)

Nobody ever taught me how to make a budget. Sure, I picked up tips and tricks from my family and friends over time. But nobody ever sat me down to explain how to manage my finances and what my budget should look like. As a result, I lived in fear of money for most of college and even my early adulthood. I was afraid of running out of money or borrowing too much (student loans, ugh!) so I basically tried to rarely spend any money (even though those loan payments hit my account every quarter). I wasn’t generous. I never wanted to go out to eat. I was coming from a place of scarcity.

And you know what I learned? That when you don’t spend money, you end up with a lot of money in your checking account. I learned how to live cheaply, simply, minimalistically (is that a word?) throughout college when I had no income.

You know what else I learned? When you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re borrowing money you’ll end up taking out the wrong kinds of loans. I signed up for student loans during the worst interest rates for the type of loans I had in recent history. My interest rates ranged from 6-9%. I wish I were kidding. By the time I graduated, the amount of money I owed was way, way more than I had taken out in loans. This was scary.

And yet- I consider this valuable learning. Don’t get me wrong, I messed up big time. Yet less than 5 years out of college, my husband and I are debt free. And our mistakes and our fumbling through learning how to make and maintain a budget are exactly what make me qualified to teach personal finance. It’s not that I’m an expert, it’s that I learned the hard way.

So today, as we get into the first part of the nitty gritty of planning to teach personal finance, think about what you already know. What have you learned the hard way? Because these learning experiences can become valuable mini lessons as you teach personal finance in the Economics classroom. Being honest with your students about where you messed up and where you had success helps them see this process as a journey- and gives them hope that they too can recover from bad financial decisions (or hopefully avoid making them in the first place). And if you don’t know much…well, that’s what Google is for!

So as you start to plan your personal finance unit (or use my project), here are some practical, hands on tips! Next week I’ll be back with even more so stay tuned!

Step One: Decide what you want the project to look like. Is it going to be an entire unit of study where you cover a topic in class every day and students learn how to budget in a short period of time? Will you (like me) sprinkle topics and mini lessons throughout the semester so that students mostly complete the research/project at home or in smaller chunks of class time?

Step Two: Organize your topics. What will you cover? Do a little research and decide what your students will learn. I have my students start with finding their post-college job and then researching the college they want to go to so they can calculate student debt estimates. Mine is a college prep school so maybe the college research won’t apply to you. Then my students interview their parents for financial wisdom. Then as the semester unfolds we cover these topics in this order: housing, food, transportation, utilities/insurance/health/bills, clothing/entertainment/shopping, debt, investment/charity/gifts/savings which all culminate into a final budget.

Step Three: Decide how students will learn the information. Will they primarily do research (that’s what I do!)? Will you deliver mini-lessons on each topic? Will you, like me, mostly have them research but also include mini lessons on topics you’re an expert in? For my classroom, I add in mini lessons on finding housing, grocery shopping, and repaying debt. I spend a lot of time teaching about credit vs. debit cards and which student loans have the lowest interest rates. I even take my students step by step through my budgeting journey and how exactly I tackled my student debt. Many students tell me this was the most useful information. You know why? It’s my personal experience- and that’s powerful to young adults.

Step Four: Implement it! Just go for it! There’s no reason to wait or doubt yourself. After all, it’s vital information your students need.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will cover how to create mini lessons and add your own flair!

If you missed my last blogs in the series check them out here: Part One & Part Two.

With love,

Mrs. P

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Getting Out of Your Own Way (Personal Finance Series Pt. 2)

I don’t know enough. It’s not like I’m an expert. I might give them the wrong advice. A student might know more than me. I haven’t lived long enough to know all the facets of personal finance. What I have to offer won’t be helpful.

Lies. Swirling around in my brain and yet- still lies. Sometimes when I teach something new or try to cover a topic I don’t feel adequate in, these lies will pop up. These lies tell me I’m not enough, I’m unworthy, I shouldn’t even try. And you know what? If I listen to them, my students miss out. Every single time.

After all, the first time I teach something, it won’t be perfect. It might not even be good. But I can’t let that stop me from trying, from growing, from getting feedback, from improving, from helping my students have the skills necessary to navigate adulthood.

So when it comes to teaching personal finance, it’s all about working through the lies in your head. Because once you do, you can open up the opportunity for your students to learn. And friend, let me tell you another secret. It’s not about you. It’s about them. That’s what teaching is about. Students. And so we have to get out of our own way in order to give these almost-adults some much needed financial wisdom.

In my previous blog post in this series, I covered the “why” of teaching personal finance to high schoolers in the economic classroom. Check that blog out here.

Now it’s time to give you (and myself, always) a little pep talk to get you going. If you’re already rearing to go and just looking for the how, don’t worry- I got you. It’s coming in the next two blogs of this series (releasing each Wednesday in January) or you can check out my personal finance project here.

So you know how important it is to teach financial literacy in your economics classroom, but when you think of introducing it, all the fears and doubts start to creep in. I know the feeling all too well. And sister, let me tell you. You’ve got to change your thoughts to change your feelings. To get over the mental roadblock, you’ve got to take a minute to sit with your feelings. Don’t go on social or turn on the tv. Really sit with your feelings. Write down the thoughts you’re thinking that make you not want to go for it.

And then decide whether you want to keep thinking these thoughts or change them. How do you change them? Consciously decide to dismiss the doubt, confusion, frustration, or inadequacy. And replace your thoughts with ones that serve you better.

Try these ones on for size: I have wisdom to share. I know how to budget. I am able to help my students. I know how to use google to find what I need. I am capable. I can contact experts if I need help. I can create a project that will serve my students.

And when the fears pop up again, consciously decide to think your new thought. Make sure it feels true for you. Let it fuel your desire to create, to help, to serve, to implement, to take action. Friend, you can do it. You just need to get over your fears and start.

Confusion, doubt, and fear paralyze. And your students miss out. Choose something better. Is it easy? Not usually. Is it worth it? Always.

And hey, if you really don’t know much about personal finance, make the project research-based. It’s honestly the best way to teach the content anyways because students discover the information for themselves. Learn alongside your students. Allow it to be a process for everyone involved. And grow for next year.

You’ve got this.

With love,

Mrs. P