Friday, May 25, 2012

In critiquing one of the learning objects that Jason, Gary, and Louis created I must say they did an excellent job with the power point/ timeline of events from the financial crises.  The timeline was very detailed, informative, and followed a sequence that was easy to understand.  I believe they did a good job of narrowing the most important topics of a very dense subject to its most relevant points. The pictures and images were nicely chosen and really added to the presentation.  The only criticism that I have regards the amount of text on the slides.  Some of the slides would be a bit much for students to follow.  In my experience, whatever you put up on a slide or board, students will desperately try to scribble everything down, even if you tell them they do not have too.  They will beg for more time on each slide and it would probably take 2-3 classes to get through such a dense subject.  However for our purposes, the power point was very well down and I appreciated the abbreviated version of the book.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

part 2
     In response to question #1, "What potential long term problems could you imagine coming as a result of this financial vehicle." i.e. mortgage-backed securities.
         I don't really see a problem with the idea of the mortgage backed securities or would I have imagined any potential long term problems had I been in the business 30 years ago and helped develop them.  The stock market has always had financial products exactly like this for many years, even going back to the beginings of stock markets in Europe hundreds of years ago.  The problem that caused the collapse and crises was that people and financial institutions were investing in these funds thinking that they were safe because they were essentially backed by the U.S. government.  This would have been fine had the executives not allowed for the sub-prime boom.  Far too many people were given loans that everyone knew they were not qualified to get. However, the investors did not know this was happening or they would have re-assessed the risk involved with these funds.  One reason the housing market got out of hand was because of the massive investment and speculation during the 1990's.  I remember reading many books in the latter part of the decade proclaiming how I could become a millionaire with virtually no investment money or risk, simply by buying houses with no money down and flipping them.  I was hooked and read endlessly about financial advice, housing and stock markets, and many of the endless amount of get rich quick books around at the time.  I still have some of them and occassionaly laugh at how ridiculous the advice and strategies were, almost all of them are obsolete in their advice.  That time period is over, however, people will find other means of get rich quick schemes legal or not.  However, the basic premise of the mortgage backed securities are fine with me.  Retirement accounts, 401 K's, and many government programs are set up in similar fashion.  The importance in safety comes in diversification and the people who suffered the most in this crises were the individuals who ended up with foreclosed homes because they feel victim to predatory lenders or lost their jobs because of downsizing from the fallout.  The major investment firms were diversified and the top executives left with millions of dollars.  As usual, it was the little guy who got the shaft. Hopefully people will realize that they are ultimately responsible for the choices they make, and need to realistically judge their ability to repay a loan.
Part 1:
           I was fascinated with the interview that the author did on CNN. It was very informative but also depressing because there were so many warning signs that could have prevented the catastrophe.  In a previous interview in 2005, Mrs. McLean stated that she feared the corporate culture was corrupted by an attitude of get rich quick and get out  I definitely agree with that mindset.  Instead of instilling an attitude of good stewardship of a company and the people who work there, many top executives and CEO's of companies seem to do business in a way that maximizes their stock options, retirement bonuses, and that of the top shareholders.  As long as the stock of the company is doing well and quarterly earnings are being met, any underlining problems at the company as far as long term longevity or the stability of jobs for the lower level workers are ignored.  With the collapse of Enron and World Com, many of the problems that surfaced at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and major Wall  Street companies had already been revealed with those two failures and the massive fallout for employees and investors. 
          What made Fannie and Freddie so difficult to understand and foresee was that the top executives and officers were largely unknown.  There was a shroud of secrecy and very little oversight.  To complicate matters even more, the top executives were a mix of people from many different backgrounds, including government appointments.  Furthermore, they operated with a false sense of security since they were essentially backed by the U.S. government.  Surprisingly, the author mentioned that Fannie and Freddie are still the only companies that can still sell bundled mortgages.  Since very few private lenders or banks are willing to underwrite a loan, there is no choice but to go through  Fannie and Freddie. An essential question still persists with these companies; are they there to make money for shareholders or are they commissioned to support the housing market?  Lastly, an interesting paradox of this crises was that many of the "too big to fail firms," got even bigger as a result of the government bailout. Will this all happen again? I really hope not, Americans desperately need a reversal of the economy.  In some respects, we are turning into a third world economic status with the gap between the rich and poor growing wider every year.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The reading from Susan Cramer, "Update your classroom with learning objectives and 21st century skills," was a refreshing  validation of technological use that I am excited to use in my classroom.  Every new generation will become more adept and comfortable with using technology. As teachers, we need to harness their abilities and use that to our advantage.  Furthermore, many of the learning objects, lessons, web quests, and research projects enable the students to employ many skills in order to complete the project.  Furthermore, the opportunity for students to create the content and teach their peers what they have learned will ensure that they have a better grasp of the content. Whenever, students teach what they have learned, then they are at the pinnacle of Blooms taxonomy of knowledge retention. Moreover, using learning objects online will allow for teachers to present their students will materials and viewpoints that are often ignored in textbooks.  The only problem I envision is universal and equal access to the equipment needed to complete the projects.  One part of the her argument that I really liked was Mrs. Cramer's insistence that if the technology does not exist or permission is not granted then teachers should go to the principal and plead their case, after all it is the principals job to facilitate the needs of teachers and students to do their best.  Students really appreciate the change of instructional methods and since they are familiar with technology, this is a logical way to inspire their participation and interest.  However it is important to not replace teaching with the use of technology but to use technology to facilitate and encourage students to explore the learning opportunities available. 

 The article on teaching social issues had some great ideas on group discussion models.  Some of these I have used in my class and many others I will use in the future.  I never was afraid to discuss controversial issues and use non traditional methods when teaching.  The authors give some valid advice which is critical to the peaceful and considerate implementation of a discussion.  For instance, the classroom must be a safe place for students to freely express their opinion without the fear of being yelled down or ridiculed.  Moreover, the discussion should promote fairness, critical thinking shills, learning oral expression shills, listening skills, and the promotion of the democratic process.  In order for this to occur, teachers must put a lot of pre-work into setting up the classroom and the activity.  It may seem easy to just "talk" but organizing a discussion, debate, circle, fishbowl, etc... requires a tremendous amount of preparation.  Most importantly, to engage the students interest and desire to participate, topics and group work must be relevant to the kids and be a topic that they can relate to and will excite them to participate.  If no one cares about the topic, the discussion will go nowhere and it will be very boring will little learning taking place.  However, despite the amount of prep work and difficulty finding relevant topics may seem like a lot of work. Teachers will miss out on tremendous amounts of discussion opportunities and will lose a chance to learn about the viewpoints of their kids that they would have never have known otherwise.  Many of the strategies presented in this article I am familiar with but have not had the chance to implement them.  I can't wait to get started.

Brad Lavan