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Integrating Trends in Education: Lesson Plan Development for the 21st Century

When school starts next year, I’ll be in my thirty-fifth year in education. I feel like the slogan of the Farmer’s Insurance ad, “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.” Group work is now “Cooperative Learning.” Homework and tests are now tagged as “formative” and “summative” assessments. “Bloom’s taxonomy of learning” has been around since the late 1950s. The basic elements of Bloom’s Taxonomy: remembering, understanding, analysis, application, synthesis, and evaluation has been revised to include creating — the development of a new and original construct based on previous learning. For decades, Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning has been the gold standard by which lesson plans are developed and assessed.
In recent years, though, educators have been introduced to an even more intensive standard: The 5 C’s of 21st Century teaching and learning: critical thinking, creativity, cooperation, collaboration, and communication. I had to develop a lesson that met these standards as part of my formal evaluation process. The observation would be conducted by one of our assistant principals, and I wanted him to witness the integration of these standards into my lesson.
The Perfect Lesson: Comparing Economic Systems
I chose to compare economic systems and arranged for my administrator to visit me. My goal was to put together a highly informative and interactive lesson. The warm-up or anticipatory set consisted of a word search with definitions and a chart comparing communism, capitalism, socialism, and traditional economic systems. Students could drag and drop the words on the Promethean Board based on the chapter reading. I then asked students increasingly challenging questions about the economic systems while placing responses on a chart that acted as a comparative analysis of the three major systems. Once complete, I divided the class into communists, socialists, and capitalists in anticipation of a culminating simulation activity. The simulation would be followed by a debriefing session that included Youtube videos of music that represented a critique of communism and capitalism as well as a visual representation of a traditional economy (The song “Heresy” by Rush and “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof”).
Here is a full description of the simulation’s task:Directions to Students:
Our class is being divided into three societies. One will function under laissez-fair capitalism in a market-based economy. One will act as a socialist society with a mixed economy, and the last group will form a command economy with a communist system. The task of these economies is to be productive. The product each will create is a poster that tells about the virtues of their system. The poster must list the major benefits of the economic system they represent. You must use words, symbols, pictures, phrases, slogans, and logos to convince the other two societies that your group’s system is the best. You can use your notes, the textbook, the Internet, and library resources to find out why your system is the best and to turn those ideas into a visual representation of your economy.
Each group will be subdivided into members that make up that society. Capitalists will have managers, entrepreneurs, and workers. The Socialist society will have the government and some businesspeople to carry on the work of society. The Communist society will have its government and party members who will command the workers in their task. They will determine who does what and for how much. Each society will have its currency so its workers can meet their needs.
Each society will present their poster to the class so each group can learn from the other. The presenting group must make an effort to show why their system is the best in meeting the economic needs of the members of its society. Groups listening to the presentation will be given an opportunity to ask questions of each group giving their presentation to gain the fullest understanding of their economic system.
Directions to the Teacher
Students will receive identity cards as communist workers or government, socialist workers or government, capitalist entrepreneurs or capitalist workers. Entrepreneurs and government agents will receive an allotment of skittles or M & Ms, which will act as currency, with which they will be paid for their labor. The teacher will act as the central bank, setting prices for materials, announcing payday, and managing the “means of production.” Groups have about 30 minutes to develop and present their posters.
The lesson is available in George Cassutto’s book of lesson plans entitled Civics Lesson Plans, Teaching-Point, Inc. 2003)
Exceeding the Standard of the 5 C’s
Incorporating the various levels of Bloom’s taxonomy requires scaffolding: providing a framework for students’ knowledge to build on so that eventually students achieve independence in the learning process. (
In presenting information and allowing students of differing ability levels to process that information, teachers may also engage in differentiation. In this lesson, honors students needed less direct instruction during the presentation phase. Lower level students were given additional examples and explanation before demonstrating their understanding through the creative process.
Critical Thinking
As students worked together to develop their propaganda poster, they had to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their economic system. Students were given visual prompts in their packets, but they eventually depicted their economic system as the best by emphasizing its strengths and minimizing its weaknesses. Communism stressed equality and security, while capitalism emphasized freedom and the profit motive. Socialism sold itself by claiming to be the “best of both worlds.” Students climbed Bloom’s Taxonomy by evaluating the claims of each system.
The development of the poster involved artistic talents, research, computer skills, and multimedia. Students were allowed to build on the skills that they bring to the table as their packets suggested jobs they could choose to complete the task. Students assigned to supervisory roles were allowed to pay their workers in skittles as they performed the required tasks. This helped re-create the conditions of their economic system in real time but in miniature, as one would have it.
The process of developing questions that allowed the students to process the information in form of comparative analysis, root word analysis, historical context, the effect on populations, ownership of the means of production, and many other topics. Students were given tips on metacognition as we identified the characteristics of each system, focusing on the three major questions all societies must face due to scarcity: “What to produce, how to produce it, and for whom  it is produced?” Students were being trained to think like economists because most of economics is decision-making. Indeed, as the skittles became scarce, the art materials became more expensive, and the clock was winding down, students had to think and discuss their way through the task before them.
As described above, students had a variety of roles they could play within their groups with the common goal of poster creation. They worked together to place magazine cutouts on the poster, draw and color keywords, and research the basics of each system. They had to pay their workers sufficiently, including those who helped clean up and who presented information to the class. Their mutual fates were intertwined as they followed the one-column rubric which revealed only the highest standard in how to be successful in their poster creation.
The lesson called for cooperation at a variety of stages and on different levels. Students demonstrated cooperation during the presentation phase as they were called on to analyze the basic information, but they were led to cooperate independently of the teacher when functioning in their make-believe societies. From time to time, students were motivated by extrinsic factors such as the skittles payday and corruption within the party, but these were all parts of the simulation. The final products were developed and reflected a high degree of cooperation and shared creativity.
The importance of questions
Throughout the learning process, the challenge of answering the teacher’s question as they spiral up Bloom’s Taxonomy is where the most intense learning takes place. Asking questions is a refined skill. It takes practice and a strong knowledge of the topic to lead students to the level of learning that takes place within evaluation and judgment. Students must also be taught metacognition as they debrief the entire activity, assessing whether or not their systems were simulated in reality and what they were able to learn from the engagement of the activity itself.
The music videos acted as the concluding stimuli, prompting students to assess their learning through multimedia and artistic expression. These elements of lesson planning are the cornerstones of the soft skills students will need in the 21st-century workplace, with its increased stress on critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, and creativity. Have you used these skills in developing lessons for your students? 

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