Have you ever taught a lesson to your child’s class at school? It’s a fun experience.
Surely you have something interesting to say. After all, you’re a high-functioning, highly successful grown-up (right?)! You also have a child that admires the heck out of you. You can contribute some real world experience to your child’s education.
Amazingly, I still remember when my own Dad gave a talk to my third grade class almost 30 years ago. He had just returned from the First Gulf War in Iraq, and came in to share his experiences from the war with the whole grade. He wore his army uniform and everything. It… was… awesome! I loved it. I loved seeing my Dad at the front of the room, sharing his experiences with us. In fact, it’s one of the few memories I have from that year at school. I was so proud of him, and he made me beam with pride to be there in front of my friends at school.
So I put myself in my own child’s shoes. If I were him, how cool would it be to have my Dad come into class to teach a lesson? Plus, who can resist showing off some sick economic skills to a classroom of third-graders?
So last week I gave a lecture to my son’s third-grade class. I taught them the lesson of “I, Pencil”, based on 1958 essay written by Leonard Reed about the complex cooperation and coordination that occurs in our market economy (punchline: no single person in the world knows how to make a pencil by themselves, but a market economy can harness millions of people working together to deliver billions of pencils to those who buy them at the cost of pennies — it’s quite amazing when you think about it).
Here is the lesson plan I sketched on a notecard:
- Introduction (5 min)
- What is economics?
- Lesson 1: How to make pencils
- Lesson 2: Supply and demand
- Essay (5 min)
- Read some excerpts from the “I, Pencil” essay
- Video (5 min)
- Show class “I, Pencil” movie from Ted
- Worksheet (10 min)
- How we coordinate (5 min)
- Talk about economics of coordination
- Supply and demand (15 min)
- Supply and demand for pencils
- Supply and demand for raw materials
Here’s a picture of my extremely complex lesson plan:
I made it super interactive, asking several questions each minute, such as:
- Does anyone know how much a pencil costs?
- If someone asked you to make a pencil, what would you do? Could you do it?
- The author claims that millions of people contribute to making pencils, does that sound right to you? How is that possible?
- If the president of the pencil factory were here with us, do you think he could make a pencil by himself? Why / why not?
- If the price of pencils went up, would you buy more or less?
- If the price of pencils went up, would companies make more or less?
- From the teacher: What time of year might demand for pencils be the highest? What might happen to the price at that time of year?
It was a blast. My son smiled from ear to ear the whole time. The teachers smiled and laughed and chimed in with questions for the kids. Overall, it was a huge success and a lot of fun.
Are you interested in teaching a lesson to your child’s class? Here are some tips:
- Ask your child’s permission. Nothing is worse than showing up unexpectedly as school. Unannounced visits are probably okay for Kindergarten through 2nd grade, but any older than that and you’d better get your child’s permission! (“You’re embarrassing me, Dad!”)
- Reach out to the teacher. Next, you have to get buy-in from your child’s teacher. They should be happy and interested to accept — they get 30-60 minutes off from teaching, and the students get a different and exciting lesson. Pro tip: ask the teacher how you can tailor the lesson to what the kids are learning in school these days.
- Prepare a lesson plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you’re way better off with a plan. I recommend at least 1-2 hours prep, because you want it to go well. Practice the first 5 minutes so you don’t freeze.
- Make handouts. Nothing guides a lesson better than having handouts for the kids to fill in. Plus, they have something to take home and make all the other parents jealous when they see it. Even better: find a pre-made handout online like I did by doing some google searching.
- Make it interactive. Kids love questions and active participation. Frankly, we all appreciate active participation. Draft up 3-4 questions to kick things off, and the rest should flow naturally.
- Keep it to 30-45 minutes. Importantly, you don’t want to overstay your welcome! Get in there, teach for 30-45 minutes, and then gracefully exit. Leave them wanting for more.
Who knows, maybe your own kid will remember this 30 years from now? Only one way to find out…!
Readers: Have you ever taught a lesson to your child’s class? How did it go? Any tips or advice to other parents thinking of doing this?
Update (June 2018): My son’s class voted my economics lesson as the “Best Memory of 3rd Grade!” What an honor! Here’s the poster they made me — woohoo!