Teaching Memo: A Restaurant Challenge

After we engaged with the “capitalism vs. communism” concept group, I needed to assess my students’ understandings and abilities to apply those concepts… so with that in mind, I’m writing today about a fun, engaging, and effective assessment and application activity I came up with last week. Important for you – it doesn’t have to be about these topics!

I believe could be applied when we teach students about any ideology (but that I used for capitalism and communism in introducing the Cold War to, in turn, get at the Space Race). It works as long as the students have the basic ideas down, so don’t do this before introducing the ideas with some reading, talk, note-taking, a video, and whatever else you tend toward to hit all of those mental bases that help kids grasp new ideas and relate them to what they already know.

I used this as an alternative to giving a quiz, which isn’t really a go-to for me, but that I figure would be the sort of thing we teachers do after we introduce some ideas that are formative for the unit of study but that we just need to ensure our students understand before we can build upon those ideas. I did not grade this work, but I took notes as students presented their ideas to indicate for me which students needed additional support to review the concepts. I could see building this activity out to be a more carefully graded one, but I wanted it to be a thing we could spread across halves of two hour-long classes and leave it at that.

Okay, to cut to the chase… I asked students to imagine stereotypically capitalist or stereotypically communist restaurants and to record details about their imaginary restaurants. Then they shared their ideas, having each student try to share a new idea not shared before they got a chance to speak, and to explain how the details they share expresses an idea important to capitalism/communism. I pushed a bit at this juncture, and if they couldn’t clearly express the connection, I followed up with them individually.

More detail: I told them that their ideas needed to be recorded somehow in their notebooks – as bullet points, as drawings, or in whatever form the students found to be most useful. I wrote these words on the board: name, sign/symbol, exterior appearance, physical layout (interior, parking lot?), number of and some details about employees, menu item (variety, cost?), and anything else noticeable… I used this list to help them to think about what aspects of their restaurant they could be thinking about in imagining a purely capitalist or communist establishment.

The results: I had engaged students who could, by and large, express with clarity and in a real-world sort of way just what those capitalists or communists believed about how things ought to be. Much better than a merely recall-based assessment for learning purposes (we’re at the “apply” level of Bloom’s rather than the “remember” or “understand” levels alone), and this way of assessing much more fun for all involved, too!

As I said, I think this would work for other ideologies and other sets of ideas (a Buddhist cafe? A revolutionaries’ steakhouse?), and I hope someone else tries this out, improves it, and finds it to be a useful starting place. Let me know what comes of it, if you try this idea!

About Steve Capone

Interested in Domestic and Foreign Policy, Ethics, and Political Thought. Part-time adjunct instructor of Philosophy and full-time Middle School educator. Europhile, historiophile, & bibliophile. @CaponeTeaches on Twitter M.S. Philosophy (Univ. of Utah 2013) M.A. Humanities (Univ. of Chicago 2007) B.A. Philosophy & English (Washington & Jefferson College 2006
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