Monday, November 7, 2011

Three Resources for Teaching About Surviving on Minimum Wage

Teaching economics is one of my favorite things to do each year. A big part of the reason that I enjoy teaching economics is that learning about money gets my students excited about class. Another reason that it's fun to teach is that economics easily lends itself to simulation activities that get kids actively engaged in learning. In the past I've used simulations created by the Buck Institute and simulations created by Biz Ed. While those simulations are good, I've always wanted something that students could personalize just little bit more. Therefore, a couple of years ago I created the outline and materials for a simulation about living on minimum wage in the United States.

The purpose of Life on Minimum Wage is for students to recognize how difficult it is to save money when your only job(s) pay minimum wage without benefits. To win (prize not determined yet) at Life on Minimum Wage the students have to reach five financial goals that they select. To earn money the students have to complete the tasks of their assigned jobs. The students then have to pay required bills before using money for their selected financial goals. As the game progresses students will be issued "surprise" cards which require them to spend money on things like speeding tickets, trips to a health clinic, and increases in rent.

All of the jobs in Life on Minimum Wage are connected so that if one "business" slows production or closes, the workers of another business are also effected. The goal here is to demonstrate the effects of a business closing on a small town's economy.

I've published all of the rules of the game and needed "cards" as a Google Document which you can view here. I would love to hear feedback for improvement from anyone that has done a similar activity. Please note, that I designed this activity with a rural Maine population in mind. Therefore, some aspects of the activity might need alteration if you want to use the activity in your classroom. For example, if you're in Florida you might want to replace the goal of "buying a snowmobile" with "buying a jet ski."

Life on Minimum Wage - Lesson Plan -

Spent is an online game designed to teach players about the challenges of living on minimum wage (or slightly higher) employment. Players begin by selecting a job which will provide the wages they have to survive on for a month. Then throughout the game players are confronted with challenges that they have to handle by making an "either or" choice. After each choice the player's account balance is adjusted. In addition to the change in the player's balance sheet, each choice is followed by an explanation of consequence of the choice made.

Uninsured in the Mississippi Delta is a short documentary about the struggles of people working minimum wage jobs faced with the choice of buying food or health insurance. The film focuses on the Mississippi Delta region because it is one of the most uninsured areas in the United States. You can watch the beginning of the video below or watch the entire video on the Snag Films website.

Videos - The Year that Changed Jazz

Image Credit: TellmeWhat2
This one is for the music teachers, US History teachers, and lovers of jazz music. Today, through Open Culture I learned about a documentary titled 1959: The Year that Changed Jazz. The documentary was produced by the BBC. The documentary examines four musicians and the landmark albums they released in 1959. Those featured musicians and albums are Miles Davis: Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck: Time Out, Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um, and Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come.

As a former "band geek" (I played all of the brass instruments at one point or another, but really loved playing tuba in high school and college) I get excited about these types of documentaries. I watched the first segment, embedded below, and can't wait to watch the rest later this week.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Google+ Pages - Use Google+ to Connect With Your Community

Today, Google launched Google+ Pages. I created a Google+ Page for Free Technology for Teachers. If you're inclined to, I'd love to have you connect with me there. Now that I've gotten that bit of self-promotion out of the way, let's look at what Google+ Pages is.

Google+ Pages provides a way for businesses and organizations to connect with their audiences. Much like Facebook Pages, people can choose to follow a Google+ Page to receive updates from that organization and connect through conversations with that organization. Unlike a Facebook Page, on a Google+ Page you can host a public hangout to video chat with your community of followers. You can watch an overview of Google+ Pages in the video below or jump down to read my thoughts about using Google+ Pages in schools.

Applications for Education
My initial thought upon learning of the launch of Google+ Pages is that they could be a good tool for schools to use to connect with parents and other community members. Then I started to think about school-affiliated organizations like PTAs and booster's clubs that could use Google+ Pages to connect with their communities. Both types of groups could use the public hangout option to host small, live discussions with interested community members.

Down the road as more students start to use Google+, Google+ Pages could be used by teachers to create course pages through which students could ask questions in writing or in a hangout.

If you want to try to create a Google+ Page of your own right now, you can do so here.

2EPUB - A Free Doc to ePub Converter

One of last month's most popular posts was about a free tool called dotEPUB that you can use to create ePub documents. Shortly after writing that blog post Greg Kulowiec told me about a similar tool called 2EPUB.

2EPUB provides a simple way to convert your text documents into ePub documents for viewing on ereaders. 2EPUB supports the conversion of many file types including Doc, Docx, ODT, PDF, and HTML. To convert your file into an ePub file simply upload your file, set the display parameters, and click convert. When the conversion is complete you can download your file and use it on any device that supports ePub display.

Applications for Education
If you or your students create documents that you would like to make available for viewing on ereaders, 2EPUB could be just the tool you need. Take those study guides you created as Doc or RTF files and make them accessible to students on the go through their ereaders.

50+ Games for Learning About National Parks

This afternoon I spent some time exploring the U.S. National Park Service's website. I started out looking for some live webcam feeds, there are a lot by the way, and ended up discovering that the National Park Service's website offers more than fifty games for kids to play and learn about the parks.

Web Rangers offers seven categories of games about different subjects related to the National Parks. The game categories are people, animals, parks, science, history, nature, and puzzles. Each category contains games of varying difficulty rated from easy to difficult. Some of the game topics include dendrochronology, animal tracking, animal identification, fire fighting, and map reading.

Students can play Web Rangers games as visitors or as registered users. Registered users can track their progress and earn virtual rewards. Registered users can also create their own customized virtual ranger stations.

Applications for Education
Web Rangers could be a great way for students to learn about all of the things that National Parks contain. The games also introduce players to the job functions of Park Rangers. In that regard, the game could be a "career exploration" activity of sorts. You might also use the games in conjunction with some of the National Parks system's lesson plans.

Add a Pop-up Dictionary to Google Chrome

One of my favorite Google Chrome extensions is a product called Apture. Apture allows you to highlight any word on a webpage then right-click to reveal a dialogue box containing definitions, images, videos, and articles related to that word. While Apture is great, sometimes you just want to quickly find a definition. That's where Google Dictionary comes in handy. With Google Dictionary installed in Chrome you can highlight and click on any word to reveal its definition and hear it pronounced. In video below Tekzilla provides an overview of Google Dictionary.

Applications for Education
Both Google Dictionary and Apture that can make students more efficient in processing information that they read online. Rather than opening another browser tab to look up the definition of a word they can simply highlight it and find the definition on the same page.