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Economics Education: Planting the Seeds

natalia-and-michelle-3I recently came across Fred Ende’s blog on the topic of his educational professional development resolutions for 2017. I like the analogy that he uses to describe the value of a professional-development follow-up process by stating that “regular water — reflection — and sunlight — coaching/support — are needed for the best growth” of a planted seed of a teaching idea.

One of the special features of AIER’s Teach-the-Teachers Initiative (TTI) program, Economics Across the Curriculum, is the follow-up mentoring that leads to preparation and implementation of the lesson idea into the classroom. Our participants, mostly high school teachers teaching a wide array of subjects, learn how to integrate basic economic concepts into their courses.

Learning doesn’t end when the seminars are over. It is continuous, and so our program encourages participating teachers to develop their creative lesson ideas further, and put them into action.

The most challenging aspect of this implementation phase is not the development of the actual lesson plan – teachers do it easily — but rather, it is the construction of an evaluation instrument to measure students’ learning outcomes. Yes, we aspire to see if students’ knowledge improves after their teachers go through our program.

To measure students’ knowledge acquisition, we work with teachers to develop tests to administer in the classroom, before and after they have conducted the lessons created during our program. I am amazed how creative teachers are in integrating economic concepts into their non-economics fields of study, but I can see how difficult it is to come up with the evaluation instrument that would be personalized enough to capture the nuances of that creativity.

So far we have the results of 14 field tests conducted by teachers from our 2016 program. Students say that lessons are memorable because they are connected to the “real life” and are “interactive,” as well as “fun.” These comments show that our teachers are able to spark an interest in economics in their students, and make the concepts relevant to their lives.

This year we held training sessions in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. We will continue our westward expansion in 2017, building the TTI program to become truly national. We are planning to be in St. Louis, Miami, and Omaha next summer.

Recently, our Education Programs Coordinator, Michelle Ryan, and I were at the National Council for the Social Studies conference in Washington, D.C., where many social studies teachers and administrators stopped by our table to get more information about our program. We are confident that the seeds of economic knowledge that we plant during our workshop will grow into mature programs of interdisciplinary approaches to teaching economics with the help of our mentoring, reflection, and support along the way.

Picture: Michelle Ryan (left) and Natalia Smirnova at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference in Washington, D.C., December 2-4, 2016.

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