Making Sense of It All

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Today I taught my intern class and the scheduled syllabus topic was “Teaching Economics.” Of course, this is the time in the course where I become a bit self-indulgent and talk about my own research for a while. When this typically comes up with my seniors, I talk about what I believe to be true–that economics can be taught for civic engagement like any other discipline of social studies, that students typically considered “at-risk” or “too young” to care about global issues can actually discuss issues intelligently, that project-based learning and integrated curriculum can help students learn, can be more engaging for teachers and students, but also has its drawbacks. Before, I could only talk about what I believed to be true. Now that my data collection is complete, I can actually start finding evidence to back up what I believed to be true. Of course, what is “true” is relative to one’s experience. But that’s just it–now I have data to start forming stories about the students’ and teacher’s experience.

I have a lot of data and it took me a while before I even tried to tackle what the data were telling me. I started with the students first. I had their assessments they took, the interviews I did with 10 of them, and all of the work they completed over the course of our time together. Plus, I had all of my notes from teaching as well! I started with the assessments first and once I had graded them according to a rubric that I developed, Mike helped me make a very nice graphic to really understand what the students had learned about economics. I am so glad my husband is an Excel Freaking Master. It takes a village to write a dissertation apparently:



So perhaps this makes no sense to anyone else but me, but the numbers across the top are the questions on the assessment and reading the cells vertically shows all of the students and how they performed. He even color-coded everything (we ARE soul mates!) to represent at a glance which questions had huge gains for certain students from pre- to post-test. The numbers in the column on the far right represent the gains overall from pre- to post-test. Green is good. Red is bad. All of this took him about 15 minutes and it would have taken me days. Clearly, overall there is growth. There’s a lot of yellow, but a lot of shades of green as well. These results helped me decide which economic concepts to write about (the darkest green ones perhaps?) and which students to write about (dark green but also dark red–what might have happened there?).

Then, I tackled the interviews.  In another “village” moment, I had an undergrad save me a crap-ton of time by transcribing my interviews. So she had the fun task of listening to my lovely voice on tape (that must have been torture for her) and typing literally every word that was said. So while I was in Hawaii soaking up the sun, she was tediously listening to every “um” and “like.”  Don’t worry, she was paid handsomely for this slave labor.  Her work allowed me to copy, paste, and sort interview quotes into categories I had made according to assessment results, like “Understands revenue, cost, profit relationship”, “Understanding of loans.”  And some that were not evident from the assessment like “Values teamwork”, and “Awareness of Global Issues.”

Right now, my biggest challenge is writing my “methods” chapter. This is where I have to write, in detail, the process I went through to make sense of the data. I attempted to write this chapter once earlier this fall, before I had actually figured out a system and it turned out to be quite the mess of verb tense, and not as specific as it will be when I give it another go now. It was difficult to write about something that, at that present time, was in the future, but to write it as past tense. Yikes.

From this, I am starting to piece together the story. I think I can now make claims about what I found and use the data for evidence. I am even going to highlight 5 students and tell their stories in greater detail as sort of expanded examples of my findings. I am really excited about this part– I get to relive the experience. It’s like this quote by Anais Nin:

“We write to taste live twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

The Hustle

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My friend Christina and I were chatting not too long ago about the desperate lengths one will go to make progress on one’s dissertation. She told me about the various desperate phone calls she’s had recruiting participants for her study, and I tried to reassure her that this isn’t “desperate”, this is “the hustle”. We should reframe this type of work the way rappers do when they have to sell drugs on the street to make money before dropping their mixtape or something–we’re just “hustlin”. (Yes, I compared recruiting participants for a dissertation to selling drugs. I am desperate.)

I came up on my own hustle situation recently when I finished writing the pre and post assessment for my study. This assessment is meant for the 5th graders I’ll be working with– I am going to give it to them at the beginning and at the end of the One Hen unit to see what they have learned. The assessment asks a few questions about economics and entrepreneurship to meet the state and national standards for elementary economics. I thought what I had developed made sense and that I had made it kid-friendly, but my experience writing assessments for NHA has taught me that you never really know the assessment is good until you see the kind of answers it produces. Since this assessment is a very important piece of data in my study, I don’t want to wait until I give it to my dissertation participants before I discover it won’t work. At that point, I will be screwed. So the best solution is to “pilot” the assessment with some kids that are not part of the dissertation to see what happens before I give it “for real.” Sounds easy, but I don’t know any kids.  I ideally need a kid going into 5th grade and none of my friends’ kids are that old yet, and since I have been basically writing and working for 4 years, I haven’t gotten to know any of my neighbors and their kids.

While I was trying to figure out this new dilemma, my nephews came to visit. They live in Houston and come up once a year, usually in the summer, to escape the insane Texas heat (unfortunately this year, the heat followed them to MI). They stay a while and Mike & I usually spend a few weekends tubing with them on the boat on the lake, swimming in the pool, and having dance parties in my living room– you know, typical aunt & uncle activities.


While playing in the lake one weekend, it hit me all of a sudden– my nephews are kids! And the oldest of the three, Mikey (in the blue life jacket above), is going into 4th grade which is close enough to 5th grade! Yep, I had decided to resort to using my own family to help me with this assessment. Just hustlin’. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Mikey turned out to be an easy sell to help me despite having to take a “test” about topics he knows nothing about during his summer vacation. I guess he just loves his aunt. Or, he liked the idea of being able to tell a teacher whether her test questions were good or not. Or, the thought of a $10 Walmart gift card to spend on whatever toy he wanted was an incentive. I am going to pretend it’s the first one.  Mikey was also a tremendous help, pointing out words he didn’t know and telling me when some questions were redundant (or seemed that way). My favorite is when he started reading the directions to one set of questions out loud, gave up, and finished them by saying “blah blah blah…”  Kids are pretty blunt about when you’re too wordy, apparently.


I really am going to take his suggestions to heart on this one. The fact that he’s going into 4th grade, not 5th, actually made sense. Perhaps many of the students I’ll be working with might be a grade level below when beginning the school year and most likely would struggle with a few of the same things Mikey did. I think I want to pilot this with more students, but I am out of nephews. If anybody knows of any 5th graders, let me know. The hustle continues…

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