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Monday, February 26, 2018

Economics and Crises: Teaching my first general education course (Part 2)

It is hard to believe, but after this week we will be at the midpoint of the semester.  My general education course, Economics and Crises in Nepal, which covers social science methods, continues to go smoothly.  In the last post I provided an overview of the course outline and intent with a quick note on the topics selected by the students.

This post addresses the first section of the course in which we discuss selecting the research topic and developing a hypothesis.  The final component of this section is a writing assignment that will eventually become the Introduction to the course's final paper.

The first two weeks of the course focus on research statements and hypotheses.  As mentioned in the last post, students are pushed to select a research topic in the first week which is refined in the second.  In the second week of classes, we went from a broad topic noted in the last post, to a clear, focused, and specific research question accompanied by a hypothesis grounded in basic economic theory and a strong rationale for the question.  Students presented their work in Assignment #1.  The rubric for Assignment #1 is here.

Class discussions of clear, focused, and specific research questions and corresponding hypotheses and rationales are summarized in my PowerPoint slides found here:

Lecture 3
Lecture 4

I implement several in-class worksheets to encourage deliberate thinking about Assignment #1 (found in the PPTs) and familiarize students with the grading rubric by having them peer review the drafts of two other students' Assignment #1.  Additionally, I share a few introductions from papers I authored so that students can see examples of a final product.

The largest challenge is communicating economics principles in a course without an economics prerequisite.  Since methods is the focus of the course, I cannot spend an inordinate amount of time on the principles.  I am keeping it simple by introducing the principles they will apply in their research papers: scarcity, opportunity cost, making decisions at the margin, and response to incentives.  Next, I introduce students to the economic way of thinking about policy by reading selected chapters from Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.  Students are given discussion questions to guide their reading and we have a lively class discussion lasting about 30 minutes on the reading.  Finally, to avoid the common reaction of recommending throwing government (our) money at any problem, throughout the semester we are reading chapters from Chris Coyne's Doing Bad by Doing Good.  This book highlights the importance of thinking beyond the first stage of aid (and the dangers of not doing so), considering the seen and the unseen, and addressing policy making from an economic perspective.  Class discussions accompany these assigned chapters. 

Take aways:
1) I will likely adopt a modified approach of this course in my econometrics course, particularly the deliberate discussion and development of the research question and hypothesis.  After one assignment, my INQ 260 students are proving to be better than the typical senior in my econometrics course with respect to the issues covered in Assignment #1 despite being on average less experienced writers and economists.  I have incorrectly been relying on prior courses to cover the details of good writing and research.

2) The chemistry of the class is great.  Students ask questions, work with each other, focus on in-class assignments, and by all appearances seem to enjoy the topic, each other, and the course.

In the next post I will cover the next section of the course: The Literature Review

Happy writing,   

Friday, February 2, 2018

Fall 2017 and plans for 2018: Running

My awesome Team Athena
For the first time, I dedicated myself to doing enough USATF Masters LDR races on the Grand Prix circuit to count my final points in the age group rankings.  Last year I competed in two races, but one needs three races for your points to count in the series rankings.  (Your top five races count for points.) This year I upped my races to four. Although a good amount of travel (plane) is required for most of the races, the experiences are worth it.  Being surrounded by fellow motivated masters runners is inspiring.

I started off the season with the road mile in Flint, MI, a race that I previously blogged about.  You can read that here.  The rest of my fall racing season focused on the two USATF cross country races and the road 5K. 

I put in a solid training block over the summer and early fall, getting my weekly mileage up into the 60's per week, two days of resistance band training, and several days of swimming.  The next race was the road 5K October 1 in Syracuse, NY.  The course is flat and fast with only a minor hill at the start and 400 meters from the finish.  I felt TERRIBLE and ran well slower than my goal of sub-19:00, although I did continue to compete to the finish line out-kicking two ladies in my age group.  I finished 10th overall and 5th in my age group in 19:10.

Next up was the first cross country race (October 15) in Boston at the famed Franklin Park. As a Groton School senior, I ran my first cross country race (5K) there 25 years earlier!  I felt very strong in the race and competed well finishing 7th overall and 5th in my age group.  I followed Coach Tom's race plan and ran within myself until the Bear Cage Hill (something that destroyed me when I was 17 years old), then went for broke to the finish.  Everyone seemed to run a bit slow on the course, which is not fast but also not slow.  I did manage to run faster than I did back in 1992!  Two of the best things about the weekend: 1) rooming with the amazing Trish Bulter and 2) seeing Tim Cox for the first time in decades!
Between miles 1 and 2

Running with the fastest Grandma I know, Trish Butler

Tim Cox has not changed a bit
My final USATF race was the 6K cross country race in Lexington, KY (December 9).  Now that course was HARD! Particularly a large hill heading into the finish (women go up it twice, men three times.)  The morning was bitterly cold and windy, with everyone racing in more coverage/layers than is typical.  I used the same strategy as the race in Boston, holding back until after we moved up the hill the first time (at about 1.75 miles out of 3.75). I then ran downhill as hard as I could reasonably go and held on.  It was encouraging in the later stages to be passing people on such a challenging course.  This was the most competitive race of the season, and I was pleased with a 15th overall and 8th age group placing.  My placings over the season were enough for me to finish 2nd overall in the USATF LDR Grand Prix for the 40-44 age group!  One treat: my husband Michael was able to come to this race (he was also at the mile in August), and we got to catch up with some friends from Lexington. 
First loop...near an Olympian!!!

Starting my charge...and trying to get away from the speedy Tania Fischer

Out with friends Darshak and John! We clean up sometimes.
So, what is next? I took some time off after the XC race and then started on a two-year plan...I believe that I have not yet run to my potential in the marathon. I have a sabbatical coming up in Spring 2019.  I am going to focus on the marathon for the next two years, taking advantage of the sabbatical (when I am not writing my book!).  I may not run faster than my current PR of 2:57, but I can try.  If I don't give it a go, I will never know.

Currently I am working on bringing my tempo pace down so that I can hold 6:10-6:15 pace for 4-6 miles. That seems to be my sweet spot. We are working on speed through the winter since I have access to an indoor track facility and I will do a half marathon in March.  After that half, I will build my mileage up from the 50-60 per week that I am currently doing (on 6 days) to 70ish and race Grandmas Marathon in June.  One addition to my training that I have made is one heavy lifting (for me) day to complement the resistance band work.  If nothing else, the muscles look good!

Happy tempo,