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Interactive Teaching Exercises

I use each of the following exercises in my own classroom to help students understand difficult concepts. Find a brief explanation on the right and the full powerpoint on the left.

This exercise focuses on racial wealth inequality. I wanted to help students understand people’s choices are constrained by the wealth status of their birth. So I created a “choose your own adventure” game. I assign each of four student volunteers a persona with a particular wealth status. They are presented with choices for education and careers based on their parents’ wealth and their previous decisions. Each decision allows them to accumulate wealth or debt. The game is structured such that the student who is assigned the persona with the wealthiest background will almost always win, and I explain to students the feeling they have that the game was rigged is often how people who were not born into wealth feel every day. Try it out on the left! 

This exercise helps students understand how “race” is a social and political category, rather than a biological category. The frequent changes to the race options offered by the decennial Census offered a prime opportunity to drive home the point and teach students about the history of race in the United States. I solicited ten volunteers with different racial phenotypes. I then presented them with placards representing the racial categories presented on the first Census in 1790 and asked them to stand near the category that most closely represented them. As the Census changed over the years I presented new placards with the updated categories and asked the students to reexamine their choice after each change. Try it out on the left!

In this activity we imagine the class is a group of time travelers tasked with protecting historical technologies. Each of seven student volunteers is given one minute to defend a historical technology before the class votes on which one we can allow to be destroyed. I offer a brief history of the development of each invention before allowing the volunteers, with the help of their classmates, to explain why it is indispensable to modernity. This forces students to think critically about the myriad of technologies that surround them rather than taking them for granted. Try it out on the left!

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