Teaching High School Economics - Ideas please!

#1

I’ve just been hired to teach an AP (honors) Microeconomics and Macroeconomics class at our local high school this fall. I’m really impressed by Kate’s thesis in Doughnut Economics and would love to start adapting the typical entry level econ course curriculum to reflect these truths - and to challenge my students. But there is so little practical material out there to adapt for teaching an intro course. So I’m looking for practical advice, suggestions, ideas (anything really).

My main question is: if you could go back and teach/learn any of the fundamental micro or macro principles differently, what would they be? Since this is an AP course (and they have to be able to pass the attendant AP exam), I can’t entirely re-create the curriculum. But I can challenge them to think beyond what the textbooks suggest.

I’ve never taught before (this is a career change for me). I worked as an international business consultant for the past 7 years. Prior to that I earned my Masters from Johns Hopkins in International Relations and International Economics. I fell in love with econ - but was of course led to believe that econ is a positive science (vice normative) and have only recently begun to realize how false that is.

I’m so excited to teach and I love the fact that I have an opportunity to start educating children from an early age (as they grow into their role as active citizens) - but this is also a huge responsibility and I want to get it right. Any help/advice/contacts would be much appreciated.

For reference, I’m in Boulder, Colorado.

Thanks in advance!

Kelly

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#2

Hi Kelly, it’s not economics focused but I really liked the work of Facing the Future

They have great teaching materials on sustainablity which I am sure you could adapt to teach doughnut economics. As well as theory they include lots of fun and interactive exercises which help bring the concepts to life.

Good luck and would love to hear how you go.
Pablo

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#3

Hi Kelly,

I teach Economics in the International Baccalaureate program and some time ago tried to start a similar conversation in the IB Economics forum for teachers. So far it hasn’t gotten much traction, but I’m hoping that will change.

I think that both AP and IB teachers face the same problem. We have a packed syllabus, focused on the models and approaches that Kate critiques in the book. We are responsible for helping students achieve success on the exam and, to do that, we need to focus relentlessly on that material. As you are a new teacher, I’m not sure you understand yet how difficult it and time-consuming it can be just to get the students through the material successfully. I too would like to challenge students to go beyond the syllabus and understand fully the assumptions behind the models and to critique the narrow perspective offered by the curriculum. Unfortunately, there can be a high opportunity cost for doing so.

What we really need is for universities to revise their teaching of Economics so that the AP and IB feel that they can revise their syllabi and that the revisions will be valued and accepted by tertiary institutions.

But until then here are a few things (with low / no opportunity cost) I plan to do this coming year - I hope they give you some ideas:

  1. Create posters of the doughnut AND the embedded economy for all the classrooms in which I teach that I can refer to regularly to remind students that dealing effectively with scarce resources is a fundamental part of what economics is supposed to be doing AND that markets are only one component of a more complex system that includes households, the commons, and the state and that all of these are embedded in the larger biosphere. I am quite interested in another conversation thread here about copyright for the images in Kate’s book and I hope she sorts that out soon.

  2. Coordinate topics where possible with our school’s Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) teacher to get more cross-disciplinary understanding between the two subjects. This past year, for example, we managed to roughly coordinate teaching about carbon trading as one (among many) strategies to mitigate environmental damage. I was able to get all of our DP1 (Grade 11) students taking Economics, ESS, Philosophy and Theory of Knowledge together to do an interdisciplinary lesson on the question “Should the rich world pay for climate change?” where we used Michael Sandel’s broadcast on the BBC’s Global Philosopher to consider the unintended consequences of putting a price on nature. This challenged the reletively uncritical view of carbon trading put forth in their Economics materials.

  3. Use more systems terminology in my class - two ideas (both of which are significant for the ESS course, so students get the interdisciplinary benefit):

  • Feedback loops. There are so many in the syllabus – wage-price spirals, multiplier effect, poverty trap – and the concept of a feedback loop can be very powerful.

  • Resiliency. The excessive focus on efficiency in the syllabus leads students to naive conclusions. A little lip service is given to diversification (problems of overspecialization) in international trade / exports, but the concept of economic diversity from the global level right down to the individual is not given enough attention. So when we are covering topics that deal with efficiency, specialization, economies of scale, etc. I plan on making students more aware than I have done in the past of the vulnerability that can bring (to ecosystems, national economies, firms, and individuals).

  1. Target individual students / groups who may be able to use the ideas. For example, the IB program requires a 4,000 word extended essay from students. One ESS student wanted to write about sustainable architecture, and I introduced him to the idea of regenerative design. He got very excited about the concept and will research and write about it with the aim of proposing some ideas for the new school building we plan some years from now. Other students, who are academically capable enough to learn the syllabus and then unlearn it (in a sense) without jeopardizing their exam results, can be seeded with summer reading or interesting articles with alternative perspectives on syllabus topics.

  2. Pass it on. Since reading Doughnut Economics, I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know who might be interested, including people involved in curriculum development in schools, organizations or with textbook publishers. Raising awareness of pluralist perspectives in Economics is critical to curriculum change.

I hope you find something useful here. Good luck with your new career!

– Jennifer

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#4

It’s great you’re considering what kids need to know in basic high school economics.

30 years ago, I wrote hundreds of letters to California state legislators asking they including the economics course in the high school curriculum.

It was added but unfortunately placed into the ‘social study’ area such that history teachers were teaching the topic and doing so in a very uninspiring manner.

I ask kids I run into what they learned in their high school economics class and basically they ‘slept’ thru it.

In any event, I suggest as the other poster noted to introduce the topic of ‘sustainability’ linking population to resources.

Today’s economic models assume limitless ‘substitutability’ of resources which is misleading. Kate’s updated model including resources as well as ‘waste’ including ‘waste heat’ from energy consumption.

I would also recommend reviewing the various sources of energy used to create economic activity nothing global energy per capita is flat from population growth and dwindling supplies of fossil fuel deposits.

I guess overall the biggest hurdle is overcoming outdated economic folklore like the ‘American Dream’ that left the US shores in the late 70s with globalization.

I highly recommend this book from the late economist Lester Thurow:

It provides an excellent overview of globalization and the effects it has on trade, wages, and where production is produced.

Overall, kids leaving a high school economic class must have the basic concepts in mind versus just memorizing definitions losing context.

I remember one of my engineering undergraduate professors making that point in that you can always go back and read the specifics but remembering concepts gives you the insights to know what to look for.

Having run a small business for some 15 years or so . . . getting my MBA at night with plenty of economic courses . . . tells me that we must get beyond academics per se to help young people see the topic in their everyday lives beyond simply creating a ‘household’ budget.

Issues like creating economic growth with debt, the minimum wage debate, trading off the environment for growth, knowing how money represents goods and services, can help the students hold future politicians accountable when they are old enough to vote.

I’m envious of the opportunity before you . . . please let us know how you’re doing.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important your efforts will be in helping our youth grasp perhaps the most important topic they’ll even learn . . . noting overlaying some ‘management’ science to them would help since many economists I read don’t really understand you can manage the economy but doing so in a manner that creates long term sustainability prosperity for everyone. Kate’s book does an excellent job in addressing this approach.

Regards,

PS - I still remember my first economics class at CSUN circa 1970 and remember the professor’s name: Don Call

He inspired my desire to make economics a lifetime learning endeavor.

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#5

Excellent suggestions.

The ‘systems’ approach is key.

Having taught high school for one near (computers) gave me tremendous insights as to how much a student can grasp and retain. I used the interdisciplinary approach you recommended giving students insights into how the ‘cells’ in Excel can be structured to obtain useful information from the underlying data.

I also attended ‘quarter’ style graduate economic classes a few years back where the professors were in ‘overdrive’ and trying to cram far too much information in too short a period of time.

Gauging where your students are overall is key.

Regards,

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#6

What would the US economy be like today if Double-Entry Accounting had been mandatory in our schools since 1960? What percentage of high school graduates have known what Net Worth was on graduation for the last 50 years? Double-entry accounting is 700 years old. It is less complicated than algebra.

Does our so called economy depend on the majority being ignorant worker/consumers who do not really know how to best serve their own economic interests?

http://www.toxicdrums.com/economic-wargames-by-dal-timgar.html

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#7

For introducing the subject of macroeconomics and providing a problem to the students about how it works, my working paper SSRN 2600103 “A Mechanical Model for Teaching Macroeconomics” should be useful. Its on the internet.

Here the whole social system is divided into 6 functional entities which connect 19 different trading flows or exchanges of goods, services, taxes, rents, valuable documents etc., for money. This model is further described in SSRN 2865571 “Einstein’s Criterion Applied to logical Macroeconomics Modeling” also on the internet.

For more analysis in greater depth write to me at chesterdh@hotmail.com and i will send you an e-copy of my 310 page book “Consequential Macroeconomics”. It will blow clean your mind and eliminate past confusion because it is aimed in providing the most simple presentation that is complete…

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#8

Hello @KAOS,

at my university market spirals were explained via examples. So I think actual microeconomic II theory and math on market spirals would be very useful. Here is an article explaining how to basically model market spirals, but it´s writen for school education. A proper elaboration on this topic would use equations for concentration shifts dynamics and expected final states.

There is a translation widget in the menu, to read in your prefered language: https://marius-a-schulz.de/2018/12/15/modellierung-von-marktspiralen/ .

Regards,
Marius.

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#9

Hi Kelly:

I consider the first step about economics is not earning, but learning not to lose. So, if we humans do not improve our communication and community benefits, we are losing! I imagine a big net of small groups. You have your own group were all try to create a way of living well for all, not just the best for me.

We all should learn to live in such kind of groups and, for that, they must look to the others, understand if their friends feel good or not, if they do wrong things or not. When the community loses, all lose, and vice versa.

It is very important, in my opinion, personal contact; not only by the internet or using all kind of technologies. Otherwise, we may not feel the others’ feelings. For that communication it is also important the way we use the Language.

Maybe, all of this is empathy. Economics without empathy will not promote the world we are discussing about.

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#10

Hello Kelly & possible KAOS.
I’m a gardener who loves studying political economy.

Have you been following the actions of these tertiary students of economics??

“Rethinking Economics is an international network of students, academics and professionals building a better economics in society and the classroom.” From site.

And a bit of the history from their site.
http://www.rethinkeconomics.org/about/our-story/

They have a great little book called
“Rethinking Economics
An Introduction to Pluralist Economics”

Which is explored on this link

Good luck in the classroom.
Economics is really interesting, it’s the control over the curriculum that is boring.
Huge losses of students studying economics in Australia - possibly due to the curriculum set.

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#11

Making Macroeconomics a True Science

Today macroeconomics is treated as an inexact topic within the humanities, because at a first look it appears to be a very complex and easily confused matter. But this attitude does not give it fair justice–we should be trying to find a better way to approach and examine the subject, in a good way that avoids these problems of complexity and confusion. Suppose we ask ourselves the question: “how many different KINDS of financial transactions occur within our society?” Then the simple answer shows that that only a limited number of them are possible.

Although our society comprises of many millions of participants, to answer this question properly we should be ready to consider the aggregates of all the various kinds of activities (no matter who performs them), and then idealize these activities so that they fall into a acceptable number of more general terms, for the expression of a relatively small number of different but specific social functions. Here, each activity is found to apply between a particular pair of agents or entities—with each entity having its own individual properties. Then to cover the whole social system of a country (excluding foreign trade), the author finds that it takes only 19 mutual flows of money for the purchase and payment of goods, services, access rights, taxes, credit, investments, valuable legal documents, etc. Also these flows are between only 6 different representative entities.

The analysis that led to this unexpected result was performed by the author and it may be found in his working paper (on the internet) as SSRN 2865571 “Einstein’s Criterion Applied to Logical Macroeconomics Modeling”. In this model these 19 double flows of money verses goods, etc., are shown. They are found to pass between only 6 kinds of role-playing entities. Of course, there are a number of different configurations that are possible for this type of simplification, but if one tries to eliminate all the unnecessary complications and sticks to the basic activities, then these particular quantities provide the most concise result, and yet it is presented in a fully comprehensive manner that is suitable for further analysis.

Surprisingly, past representation of our social system by this kind of an interpretation model has not been previously properly examined nor even presented before. Other partial versions have been previously modeled (using 4 entities, by Professor Hudson), but they are inexact due to either their being over-simplified, or in the case of econometrics, much too complicated and almost impossible to follow. These two reasons of over-simplification and over-complexity are why there is this non-scientific confusion by many economists and their failure to obtain a good understanding about how the whole system works.

The model being described here in this paper is unique, in being the first to include, along with some additional aspects, all 3 factors of production, of Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” book of 1776. The three factors of production are Land, Labor and Capital and along with their returns of Ground-Rent, Wages and Interest/Dividends, respectively. All of them are all included in this presentation diagram.

(Economics’ historians will recall, as originally explained by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the independent functions of landlords and capitalists. The former rent and speculate in land values whilst the latter are owners of the durable capital goods in industry, which may be hired out. Regrettably these different functions were deliberately combined for political reasons by John Bates Clark and company about 1900, resulting in the neglect of their different influences on our social system.)

The diagram of this model is in my paper (noted above). A mention of the related teaching process is also provided in my short working SSRN 2600103 “A Mechanical Model for Teaching Macroeconomics”. With this model in its different forms, the various parts and activities of the Big Picture of our social system can be properly identified and defined. Subsequently by analysis, the way our social system works can then be properly calculated and illustrated.

This analysis is introduced by the mathematics and logic that was devised by Nobel Laureate Wassiley W. Leontief, when he invented the important "Input-Output" matrix methodology (that he applied it to the production sector only). This short-hand method of modeling the whole system replaces the above-mentioned block-and-flow diagram. It enables one to really get to grips with what is going-on within our social system. Subsequently it will be found that it is the topology of the matrix which actually provides the key to this. The logic and math is not hard and is suitable for high-school students, who have been shown the basic properties of square matrices.

By this technique it is comparatively easy to introduce a change to a pre-set social system that is theoretical in equilibrium (even though we know that this ideal is never actually attained–it being a convenient way to begin the study). This change will then create an imbalance and we need to regain equilibrium again. Thus, sudden changes or policy decisions may be simulated and the effects of them determined, which will point the way to what policy is best. In my book about it, (see below) 3 changes associated with taxation are investigated in hand-worked numerical examples. In fact when I first worked it out, the irrefutable logical results were a surprise, even to me!

Developments of these ideas about making our subject more truly scientific (thereby avoiding the past pseudo-science being taught at universities), may be found in my recent book: “Consequential Macroeconomics—Rationalizing About How Our Social System Works”. Please write to me at chesterdh@hotmail.com for a free e-copy of this 310 page book and for additional information.

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