Social Business

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I chatted up my whiteboard, and I have since added to it.  I have been thinking about how to analyze the data in my study, and I think I have  a plan. Give the students a written pre/post test to discover what they learn about economics in the One Hen unit, using the National Economics Standards to guide me. And also interview the students about their interest in helping the community and participating in a project that helps others before and after the unit. I have an idea of what some of the questions could look like–both for the written econ assessment and the interview. I think all of the other data I collect would be secondary and perhaps only used to support my claims–things like student work completed during the unit, or transcriptions of class discussions. This pares down my data to pre/post assessment and pre/post interviews, which is much more manageable.

My new problem is this: where does this experience at this school doing this unit fit into a larger picture?  If the school where I am collecting all of this data and the One Hen unit the students will experience is such a special case, special enough  to study, what is it a case OF?

I put off thinking about this for a while and I focused on a few other things– making tweaks and improvements to the One Hen unit, for one. Drafting questions for these assessments, working on my IRB application, etc. Then I went through an old e-mail from right after my dissertation proposal defense from Kyle, a committee member of mine, about Mohammed Yunus, the “creator” of the concept of microfinance. The One Hen unit teaches the students about microfinance and Kyle thought I needed to read up on Yunus a bit. I read his wikipedia page and promptly ordered his most recent book Building Social Business.

In a nutshell, Yunus started by giving small loans to poor people in Bangladesh, inspired by women unable to get loans from banks to start their own small businesses. Eventually he started his own bank specializing in giving collateral-free loans to those in poverty, especially women. This concept of “microfinance” is the heart of the One Hen unit, and I can see why Kyle wanted me to read up on Yunus. However, this book is about something bigger than microfinance. It’s about social business– a type of capitalism and entrepreneurship that is selfless. It’s not about becoming an entrepreneur not to make profits to keep, but to make profits to sustain the business, which is formed around a goal to help others and eradicate poverty. He writes that this new form of economics/capitalism could be taught in schools. This is literally what I am doing with this study, but I have never called it “social business” before.  Now, I am rethinking everything I have been plugging away at these last couple of weeks.

I am only 25 pages into this book; I seriously started reading it an hour ago. I promptly started following Yunus on Twitter, which is what I do when I discover something new, and I found out that today (June 28) is “Social Business Day”. It’s like a sign that I found something bigger. In the Steve Jobs biography I read last week, he said that there are times when he gets pretty far in developing a new product and then discovers a way to take it in an entirely new, and better, direction. Part of his genius was that he was not afraid to change course when the need arose. Including more about social business would not be “changing course” for me, but instead looking at things from a new angle. I am now getting excited about this study’s potential to empower students to change the world through education. Which is, duh, why I became a teacher in the first place.

Talk It Out

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In my office, there is a giant whiteboard. I do love everything digital, trust me. I am currently sitting near my laptop, my iPhone, my iPad, and the Steve Jobs biography (fitting, right?). I read articles and books on my iPad when I can, I take notes and organize on OneNote, my life is run by Google Calendar…yet, nothing beats writing on a good old-fashioned whiteboard. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but that Expo marker smell gets my brain working. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been jotting down things on my board like so:Image

(Yes, I move right to left on the board, for no apparent reason. Don’t judge.) This morning, I just sat and stared at it for a while and then started to talk out loud to myself about what was up there and how it related to my “too-much-data-not-enough-focus” problem. Then my random talking started to make sense. Then Anne-Lise called and I talked about it with her. I talked about the whiteboard, about things that Bruce said in our phone call, and then… things didn’t sound so overwhelming anymore. In fact, it started to sound like something important was coming out of that whiteboard mess. I then turned to my digital notes and my digital calendar and started to make a plan. A do-able plan.

I need to do some more talking to myself to figure this out, but I think I might have a way to focus my data issues. And I owe it all to the whiteboard and the Expo marker smell. There are some things that Apple products can’t replicate.

The best part about talking to myself, or even talking on the phone, is that my cat Milhouse thinks I’m talking to him. So, he ends up getting in my lap, meowing, generally trying to get in on the “conversation”. Once I’m no longer talking, he goes back to his usual spot in my office:


So, I guess i’m not completely talking to myself…

Intellectual Conversations

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This has been a great first week working from home. I have done a lot of thinking about my data analysis problem, and although I have not figured it out, I feel like I am a bit closer. I’ve been reading about case study methodology (Exciting right? To balance this, I’ve also been reading Ready Player One, a sci-fi, dystopian, pop culture obsessed, awesome novel as well as the Steve Jobs biography which I can sum up in three words: He’s an ass.)

The case study articles have helped me see that (surprise, surprise) I need some more focus and clarity. I need to find a theory that is at the heart of my study and see if the “case school” I’m working with is an example of that theory or not. Find a theoretical framework: easier said than done.

I also chatted with Bruce VanSledright over Skype on Tuesday, and I hope I didn’t come across as a complete moron. He said he would be happy to talk with me again, so I take that as a sign that I didn’t disappoint him too much. He said the same thing– that I need to focus on the 3-5 economic concepts I want to study, and 3-5 elements of student engagement, and only stick to those. He listed a bunch of data that he thinks I should collect, but he reassured me that I don’t need to use everything. He, however, seemed to like a lot of the elements in my study and didn’t want me to cut any research questions.  He also thinks I should lean towards measuring growth– in other words, seeing if the One Hen unit “works”. Although I can’t make any causal claims to that, he thinks a pre and post test will strengthen my study, and he liked the idea of an engagement survey. So, in other words, he liked the things my committee wasn’t exactly thrilled about. I still have a challenge ahead of me if I want to follow his advice. We’ll see. He’s also from Grand Rapids, so I think we were academics that were meant to collaborate!

I think focus is key. In the Bolker book (Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes...) she says that the length of a dissertation should be the shortest amount of pages that my committee will accept. It was her way of saying not to try to take on the world with this project. This is also something Erica and Sally mentioned to me during our “intellectual conversation” time on Tuesday morning. Erica, Sally, and I have decided to chat once a week about our projects (we’re all dissertating at the same time, which sounds weird), and talking to them also helps me achieve this focus I so desperately need.

So basically Tuesday was a day of talking to smart people. Today I also talked to smart people by crashing a field trip for Vanderbilt Academy (where I used to teach middle school), catching up with some awesome teacher friends, and relaxing at Lake Michigan. I hoped that staring at nature and going back to my roots would also give me focus:


I don’t need to hole myself up in my office every day, right?


My “first day”


My husband and I have been joking that today is like my first day at a new job. One where I get to work wherever and on whatever I please. Today was a pretty awesome “first day at work.” For example, this was my old work space:


Other than the large poster of George Washington, it’s pretty boring. To be fair, this is how I left my cubicle on my last day at NHA. Now here is my new workspace:



Much better, right? Not to mention the cat loves to keep me company on that big couch when I’m reading, which I appreciate. I also took the laptop outside today and worked on the deck, then went and had Monday night cocktails with some friends to celebrate my “first day”. All in all, a pretty great start to my new career as a stay-at-home-writer.

And tomorrow, for my 2nd day? I get to Skype with Bruce VanSledright. More on that conversation to come…

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