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Teaching Fiscal Policy in a High School Government Class

ed1As a follow-up to the Summer 2014 Teach-the-Teachers Initiative (TTI), we continue to visit the participants’ classrooms to observe the implementation of lessons learned at AIER. On October 30, I observed the Advanced Placement Government and Politics class at the Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Connecticut. The topic of the day was “Fiscal Policy”.

I have read lots of economic education literature that documents that the combination of discussion-based critical inquiry paired with the hands-on approach of simulation exercises improves class participation and students’ understanding. The day I spent observing a Pomperaug provides one more piece of evidence to this body of knowledge.

The discussion was seeded by the teacher who introduced the concepts of government expenditures, government revenues, debt and deficit and was followed by student inquiry about the details they did not understand. The main portion of the class was then spent by simulating the federal government budgeting process using the online portal (www.federalbudgetchallenge.org). Students worked individually, with occasional discussion about the unfamiliar terms with peers and the teacher.

After reducing the projected federal budget deficit, each student shared their result and offered explanations on their rationale for the policy choices they made, identified beneficiaries and sufferers under each scenario, and considered whether it is possible to reduce the federal budget deficit without “hurting” anyone.

The impact of this interactive lesson is documented in the evaluations that students filled out at the end of the class. Students reported that they found that the material was relevant and interesting, the activities were engaging and informative, and their understanding of the topic improved. A topic such as the federal budget is too often presented to secondary school students as one embodying simple choices. However, one student reported that the most memorable part of the lesson was “the difficulty that trying to balance the federal budget presented. There were many options and good reasons for each.” A further benefit of the hands-on approach is that abstract notions become real. For example, one student found that “The budget simulation really helped me to understand how everything in the economy is tied together and how complex it is.”

This evidence demonstrates that AIER’s Teach-the-Teachers Initiative is helping high school teachers enhance their lessons with the use of effective instructional methods, thereby promoting deeper student understanding of economic concepts.

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