2017 News Stories

Stavros Center workshop empowers educators to use cars to teach analysis, decision making

Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education Building

The Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education's mission is to advance the effective teaching and integration of free enterprise, financial literacy, and economic education into the K-20 curricula.

by Abby Rinaldi

As teachers shared their various car buying experiences, Deborah Kozdras, PhD, Instructor and Chief creative officer at the Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education, told the tale of purchasing her Mazda Miata.

Kozdras said she knew immediately the car was the right one for her when she stepped into it. It made her feel like Batman, she said. However, while the convertible had a coolness factor, it was impractical in some instances.

“An unintended consequence of my Miata was when I went to pick up my husband at the airport, I could pick up my husband but not his luggage,” she said.

Remembering her previous experience, when it came time to look for a new car Kozdras had different criteria in mind. This story was one of many shared to illustrate the necessity of preparing students to analyze data and make decisions during a recent financial literacy workshop for educators at the Stavros Center.

The workshop was led by Kozdras and Christine Angel Danger, coordinator for the math and science partnership for Hillsborough County Public Schools. The two used the Disney Pixar’s “Cars” and the economic principle of making choices when it comes to the car buying experience to give teachers model-eliciting activities (MEA) to use with the students in their classrooms.

MEAs, originally developed at Purdue University for use with engineering students, involve a simple pattern. Students receive a letter from a client which presents a problem and asks the students to do a certain task involving data given to them in a data set. The students analyze the data set and come up with a procedure for addressing the issue. They then write back to client with the procedure and conclusions outlined.

The lessons teach the students about data analysis and the decision making process. Danger said it is important to teach children about initial reactions and emotional responses versus slower thinking and decision making.

“You need that, but there are times when you need that slow thinking,” Danger said.

Beyond just teaching data interpretation, the lessons also allow for development of speaking and listening skills as students figure out their plans and defend their decisions in a group setting.

“Those speaking and listening (skills), even though they’re not tested, (those) are the most important literacy skills,” Kozdras said.

During the workshop, the teachers did one of the MEAs in small groups and were given the task of determining which race car would be best for a client who was in charge of a racing team. They were given cost, color, gas mileage and the speed of the car. Using what the client thought was most important - good gas mileage and high speed - the teachers ranked the cars in the data set.

Among workshop participants were USF elementary education students Lindsey Moser and Lyndsay Mahoney. Both students are currently in their final internships, working in elementary schools in the Tampa Bay area.

Moser has done workshops with SCATTER, the College of Education honor society, but she said the Stavros workshop, the first one she’s attended, provided her with more of an opportunity to network with and learn from teachers who are in the classroom full time.

“I think it’s something that I can bring back to my internship classroom and work with my (collaborating teacher) to implement,” Moser said.

Mahoney said this was the first professional development workshop she’s participated in during her time at USF, and that her attendance is part of her goal to take advantage of more opportunities like the ones the Stavros Center provides.

“I see the benefits of how I can implement the material in my own classroom,” Mahoney said. “It’s nice having resources … to create a fun environment that’s engaging and students are interested to learn more.”

Kozdras said she’s witnessed students become engaged in the classroom when completing MEAs, because they ask each other for evidence and question the decision making processes of themselves and others. One important way the MEAs achieve this is by allowing the children to step into a role for the client using real world examples they can relate to.

“What we want our kids to do is make better decisions,” Kozdras said. “... (Through using MEAs) they know the decision making process, which is essential for life.”

The clients in the lessons, and subsequently the teachers, are asking for the students’ opinions in these lessons, something Kozdras said can garner enthusiastic responses from students of all ages.

“Most lessons neglect to ask students what they think,” she said. “But with these lessons, you’re asking students for their opinions, and that’s what empowers them.”

About the USF College of Education:

The USF College of Education is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and is fully approved by the Florida Department of Education. The USF College of Education is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 programs in the nation, as well as in the top 30 for online graduate education programs. The USF College of Education has more than 51,000 alumni who are making a difference in the lives of children each day.