Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Best Practices in Economics Teaching

This was a paper that was written for Cobb County Schools in 2006. I was asked to post this.

Resource Packet for Best Practices in Economics


In March of 2005, the National Summit on Economic and Financial Literacy was held in Washington, D.C. This conference produced a report from the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE). Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education and in part by corporate sponsors (NCEE, 2006), the NCEE is the preeminent economic education advocacy organization in the country. As called upon by President George W. Bush and the U.S. No Child Left Behind legislation, the core goal of this summit was to work towards a full integration of economics into the K-12 curriculum in order to achieve economic literacy in the United States (NCEE, 2005, 2006).

The literature indicates that the most effective way to increase student knowledge and achievement in economics is through teacher training (NCEE, 2005; Schober, 1984; M. C. Schug & Walstad, 1991; Walstad & Soper, 1988). Perhaps the second most effect way to teach economics that is promoted in the literature is the adherence to standards-based teaching practices (Banaszak & Brennan, 1983; Meszaros, 1997; Morton, Buckles, Miller, Nelson, & Prehn, 1992; NCEE, 2005, 2006; Niss, Brenneke, & Clow, 1979; Saunders, Bch, Calderwood, & Hansen, 1993; M. C. Schug & Walstad, 1991; Stern, 2005). However, since all Georgia schools will be adhering to the Georgia Performance standards, and all teachers must be certified as “highly qualified” under No Child Left Behind, this paper will address specific implementation of the “best practices” which well-trained teachers can use in their classroom. Those best practices are: (a) infusion of economics throughout the curriculum, (b) activity-based and experienced-based learning, and (c) the use of technology as an instructional tool.

Infusion of Economics throughout the Curriculum

Research has consistently illustrated that integrating economic study throughout the curriculum is an effective way of teaching economics to K-12 students. At the elementary level, a number of authors have suggested using children’s literature to engender greater economic understanding (Day et al., 1997; Hendricks, Nappi, Dawson, & Mattila, 1986; Kehler, 1998; M. C. Schug, 1994; VanFossen, 2003). It is widely assumed by teachers that elementary age students do not have the cognitive capacity to understand economic concepts, but the literature has consistently refuted that assertion (M. Schug & Birkey, 1985; M. C. Schug, 1994; M. C. Schug & Walstad, 1991; VanFossen, 2003). VanFossen (2003) identifies three research-based reasons to employ children’s literature to teach economics. First, he says that “literature is a motivational strategy for students” (p. 91). Second, VanFossen indicates that children’s literature deals with economic issues that are relevant to and have connections with students’ daily lives (Day et al., 1997). Third, VanFossen maintains that teaching economics through literature has the practical benefit of teaching two subjects concurrently in what has become “crowded” elementary school curriculum (Hendricks, Nappi, Dawson, & Mattila, 1986). In short, the use of children’s literature to teach economics appears to be an effective strategy to teach children abstract economic concepts, while making those concepts accessible and enjoyable (VanFossen, 2003). Infusing economic principles into children’s literature would cost very little in term of time or money. Both Teaching Economics Using Children’s Literature and Learning Economics through Children’s Stories are both resources that are readily available and complete with lessons and resources that an elementary teacher could utilize without detracting from the reading curriculum in any way.

At the middle and high school levels, economics can, likewise, be effectively infused into other courses. Economic topics and concepts can especially be integrated into other social studies courses (Evensen & Jones; Morton, Buckles, Miller, Nelson, & Prehn, 1992). As the NCEE (2005) has pointed, teaching history, government, or sociology without an investigation of economic theory or economic motivation does not do justice to the forces that have shaped history and human interaction. Moreover, while there is scant research on the use of young adult literature to infuse economic concepts, there is certainly no reason why the same justification that applies to the use of literature for elementary age students would not prove equally applicable to middle and high school aged students.

Simulations and Experienced-Based Learning. Activity-based and experienced-based learning have been given thorough treatment in the literature concerning economic education (Alden, 2004; Brewer & Jozefowicz., 2006; Cassuto, 1980; Goosen, Jensen, & Wells, 2001; Kourilsky, 1982; Lengwiler, 2004; J. Lopus & Placone, 2002; J. S. Lopus, Morton, & Willis, 2003; M. C. Schug & Walstad, 1991; Vargha, 2004; Wentland, 2004). However, the literature has not consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of these instructional methods (Evensen & Jones; Maxwell, Mergendoller, & Bellisimo, 2005; Wentland, 2004). There are three reasons that could explain these mixed results. First, the implementation of these broad categories of teaching methodology varies widely. Second, as is true with any educational research, varying contexts and settings (socio-economic status of the students and teacher quality, for example) makes control and scientific study a difficult task. Third, it has been suggested that the vast majority of high school economics course rely primarily on lecture (Strober & McGoldrick, 1998; Wentland, 2004). That is, even if economics classes do employ varied methods, it is difficult to control for the positive learning effects of direct instruction.

Activity-based learning.1 There are a number of research-based programs available to teachers who wish to engage students in activity-based learning. While varying in content and style, the basic idea behind activity based learning, is what Marilyn Kourilsky (1982) describes as engaging the students in “personal, as opposed to vicarious experiences” and “active, rather than passive roles in the learning situation” (p. 40). Kourilsky goes on to assert “…that learning is enhanced when students participate in…actual decision-making in which they will bear the consequences” (p. 40). Kourilsky’s program, in particular, has support in the literature (Cassuto, 1980; M. C. Schug & Walstad, 1991). Of note is Kourilsky’s mini-society program, in which children in 3rd through 6th grade build their own classroom society and grapple with economic issues their society faces. Kourilsky also has programs for grades K-2 and grades 9-12.
Similar activity-based models of teaching and learning are prevalent in the literature. Lynda D. Vargha (2004) gives examples of four different student-based, problem-based economics activities that have been found to be effective with middle school students. In this method, the students are given an economic problem to solve as a whole or in small groups (usually of 3 to 4 students). For example, students learn the concept of the allocation of scarce resources by bargaining over candy that is randomly distributed by the teacher. Another recent study points to the possible benefits of problem-based learning. Maxwell, Mergendoller, and Bellisimo (2005) have illustrated that problem-based learning, when controlling for student characteristics, showed aggregate (but small) increases in learning outcomes in high school economics classes. Again, the problem with such studies is attempting to isolate the effect of teacher quality from the student learning gains. Anecdotally, though, activity-based methods appear to engage all students, from the gifted, to students with special needs, to ESL students (J. S. Lopus, Morton, & Willis, 2003). Furthermore, Lopus, Morton, and Willis (2003) maintain that activity-based economic education increases students’ “long term retention” (p. 88), their ability to do well on high-stakes testing, and their ability to move more quickly to higher-level application. From a pedagogical standpoint, Lopus, Morton, and Willis (2003) also point to the curricular flexibility of activity-based learning, its reach across the school curriculum, and its inherently fun nature.

Writing in economics. A final example of activity-based learning in economics is the use of writing. A recent study by Brewer & Jozefowicz (2006) points to the benefits of having students write journals and reflection papers in economics courses. Brewer and Jozefowicz find that such writing assignments “help students realize that economics is directly pertinent to their daily lives” (p.202) and to force students to use and apply economic terminology. In other studies, journaling and writing assignment have been shown to better connect students to their own learning process and help students better frame what they know and what they do not know (Ferrario, 1999; Shulman, 1993). Additionally, writing about economics allows students to become more actively engaged in their learning (Crowe & Youga, 1986; Field, Wachter, & Catanese, 1985).

The Use of Technology as an Instructional Tool

In all disciplines, there has been a movement to more fully integrate technology into the classroom. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) calls for increased “student academic achievement through the use of technology” ("The facts", 2004). The act also calls for the education of children in technological skills and for the full integration of technology into the curriculum of schools. NCLB calls for technological literacy for every child by the time they reach the 9th grade ("Educational technology", 2004). Therefore, using technology in the classroom serves the dual purpose of teaching economic principles and adhering to the NCLB legislation.

Overall, the literature suggests that technology integration can alter pedagogy and teaching methods. The literature further suggests that there can be a positive relationship between use of educational technology and student performance (Christmann, Badgett, & Lucking, 1997; Dwyer, Ringstaff, & Sandholtz, 1991; Van Dusen & Worthen, 1995; Waxman, Connell, & Gray, 2002). More specifically, the literature points to technology as an effective instructional tool for the teaching of economics (Bolton, 2005; Goffe & Sosin, 2005; Lengwiler, 2004; J. Lopus & Placone, 2002; Risinger, 1997; Robinson & Davis, 1999; Schmidt, 2003). It should be noted, however, that while there are studies which show a statistically significant and positive link between the use of technology and student learning outcomes, almost every study with a statistically significant link (p< .05) also has a small effect size (Phillipps, 2004).2 Regardless, the economics education literature is nearly unanimous in the belief that technology helps students learn economics. In fact, it has been asserted that the teaching of economics has been more significantly impacted by technology than any other discipline (Robinson & Davis, 1999). By using technological simulations, abstract concepts and models become real, graphs can be manipulated, and markets can be observed (Bolton, 2005; Goffe & Sosin, 2005; Robinson & Davis, 1999). Moreover, as mentioned by Kourilsky in regard to simulations, there is a tangible benefit to students being able to see the direct consequences of their economic decisions. There are a number of practical strategies cited in the literature that allow teachers to use technology to teach economics. One use of technology that has been adopted widely throughout the country is the use of stock market games. These games help students learn how this important financial market works and give them real-time experience in making economic decisions (Kagan & Mayo, 1995; J. Lopus & Placone, 2002; Weiser & Schug, 1992; Wood & et al., 1992). Another use of technology involves having students use the internet to research economic information that they can bring back to the classroom for discussion or debate (Robinson & Davis, 1999). Additionally, there is a research-based monetary policy simulation game available that allows students to pretend they are the chairman of a central bank. Students can see the macroeconomic effects of monetary policy, and can even be fired from their job for bad policy decisions (Lengwiler, 2004). In short, the proliferation of technology for the teaching of economics is vibrant and growing. Moreover, that technology is getting easier for students and teachers to use (Robinson & Davis, 1999). Effective economics teachers should certainly take the time investigate how technology might enhance their economics classroom.
The economic literacy of our students is important to the success of our nation (NCEE, 2006; Schug, 1991; NCEE, 2005). In fact, a lack of economic knowledge has consistently been linked to many of the problems facing consumers in America today (Schug & Reinke, 2003). The best practices of infusion of economics throughout the curriculum, activity-based and experienced-based learning, and the use of technology as an instructional certainly hold the promise of helping students learn and apply economic principals to their daily lives. Too, the use of these practices may help make students’ education more meaningful and enriching.


Alden, L. (2004). The wage is right! Social Studies, 95(2), 67-70.

Banaszak, R. A., & Brennan, D. C. (1983). Teaching economics: Content and strategies. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.

Bolton, R. E. (2005). Computer simulation of the Alonzo household location model in the microeconomics course. Journal of Economic Education, 31(1), 59-76.

Brewer, S. M., & Jozefowicz., J. J. (2006). Making economic principles personal: Student journals and reflection papers. Journal of Economic Education, 37(2), 202-216.

Cassuto, A. E. (1980). The effectiveness of the elementary school mini-society program. Journal of Economic Education, 7(2), 59-61.

Christmann, E., Badgett, J., & Lucking, R. (1997). Progressive comparison of the effects of computer-assisted instruction on the academic achievement of secondary students. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 29(4), 325-338.

Crowe, D., & Youga, J. (1986). Using writing as a tool for learning economics. Journal of Economic Education, 17(3), 218-222.

Day, H., Foltz, M. A., Heyse, K., Marksbary, C., Sturgeon, M., & Reed, S. (1997). Teaching economics using children's literature. New York: National Council on Economic Education.
Dwyer, D. C., Ringstaff, C., & Sandholtz, J. H. (1991). Changes in teachers' beliefs and practices in technology-rich classrooms. Educational Leadership, 48(8), 45-53.

Educational technology fact sheet. (2004). Retrieved November 1, 2004, 2004, from

Evensen, K., & Jones, R. (December 2002). Teaching methods in economics education. Paper presented at the Annual Research Forum, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The facts about 21st century technology, no child left behind: How technology can work well in schools. (2004). Retrieved November 1, 2004, 2004, from

Ferrario, L. S. (1999). Writing to learn: Using journals across the curriculum. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 10(3), 23-31.

Field, W. J., Wachter, D. R., & Catanese, A. V. (1985). Alternative ways to teach and learn economics: Writing, quantitative reasoning, and oral communication. Journal of Economic Education, 16(3), 213-218.

Goffe, W. L., & Sosin, K. (2005). Teaching with technology: May you live in interesting times. Journal of Economic Education, 36(3), 278-291.

Goosen, K. R., Jensen, R., & Wells, R. (2001). Purpose and learning benefits of simulations: A design and development perspective. Simulation & Gaming, 32(1), 21-39.

Hendricks, R., Nappi, A., Dawson, G., & Mattila, M. (1986). Learning economics through children’s stories. New York: Joint Council on Economic Education.

Kagan, G., & Mayo, H. (1995). Risk-adjusted returns and stock market games. Journal of Economic Education, 26(1), 39-50.

Kehler, A. (1998). Capturing the "Economics imagination": A treasury of children's books to meet content standards. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 11(2), 26-29.

Kourilsky, M. (1982). Experienced-based learning. In W. H. Peterson (Ed.), Economic education: Investing in the future (pp. 38-53). Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press.

Lengwiler, Y. (2004). A monetary policy simulation game. Journal of Economic Education, 35(2), 175-183.

Lopus, J., & Placone, D. (2002). Online stock market games for high schools. Journal of Economic Education, 33(2), 192.

Lopus, J. S., Morton, J. S., & Willis, A. M. (2003). Activity-based economics. Social Education, 67(2), 85-89.

Maxwell, N. L., Mergendoller, J. R., & Bellisimo, Y. (2005). Problem-based learning and high school macroeconomics: A comparative study of instructional methods. Journal of Economic Education, 36(4), 315-331.

Meszaros, B. (Ed.). (1997). Voluntary national content standards in economics. New York: The National Council on Economic Education.

Morton, J. S., Buckles, S. G., Miller, S. L., Nelson, D. M., & Prehn, E. C. (1992). Teaching strategies: High school economics. New York: Joint Council on Economic Education.

NCEE. (2005). Executive summary. Paper presented at the National Summit on Economic and Financial Literacy, Washington, D.C. .

NCEE. (2006). National Council on Economic Education. Retrieved June 23, 2006, from

Niss, J. F., Brenneke, J. S., & Clow, J. E. (1979). Strategies for teaching economics: Basic business and consumer education (secondary). New York: Joint Council on Economic Education.

Patten, M. L. (2004). Understanding research methods: An overview of the essentials (4th ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrzack Publishing.

Phillipps, S. D. (2004). Laptop computers in the classroom: A study for the Walker School (pp. 1-22): University of West Georgia.
Risinger, C. F. (1997). Teaching economics: New approaches to a familiar subject. Eric/chess. Candian Social Studies, 31(4), 193.

Robinson, W., & Davis, J. E. (1999). Technology, the economics profession, and pre-college economic education. Journal of Education, 181(3), 77-90.

Saunders, P., Bch, G. L., Calderwood, J. D., & Hansen, W. L. (1993). Master curriculum guide in economics. New York: the National Council on Economic Education.

Schmidt, S. J. (2003). Active and cooperative learning using web-based simulations. Journal of Economic Education, 34(2), 151-167.

Schober, H. M. (1984). The effects of inservice training on participating teachers and students in their economics classes. Journal of Economic Education, 15(4), 282-295.

Schug, M., & Birkey, C. J. (1985). The development of children's economic reasoning. Theory and Research in Social Education, 13(1), 31-42.

Schug, M. C. (1994). How children learn economics. International Journal of Social Education, 8(3), 25-35.

Schug, M. C., & Reinke, R. (2003). Why don't people save when they know they should? Social Education, 67(2), 79-83.

Schug, M. C., & Walstad, W. B. (1991). Teaching and learning economics. In J. P. Shaver (Ed.), Handbook of research on social studies teaching and learning (pp. 411-419). New York: Macmillan.

Shulman, G. M. (1993). Using the journal assignment to create empowered learners: An application of writing across the curriculum. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 49, 89-104.

Stern, B. S. (2005). Debunking the myth: The social studies and rigor. International Journal of Social Education, 20(1), 52-58 .

Strober, M., & McGoldrick, K. (1998). Service-learning in economics: A detailed application. Journal of Economic Education, 29(4), 365-376.

Van Dusen, L. M., & Worthen, B. R. (1995). Can integrated instructional technology transform the classroom? Educational Leadership, 53, 28.

VanFossen, P. J. (2003). Best practice economic education for young children? It's elementary! Social Education, 67(2), 90-94.

Vargha, L. D. (2004). Buyer beware! Economics activities for middle school students. Social Studies, 95(1), 27-32.

Walstad, W. B., & Soper, J. C. (1988). What is high school economics? Tel revision and pretest findings. Journal of Economic Education, 19(1), 24-36

Waxman, H. C., Connell, M. L., & Gray, J. (2002). A quantitative synthesis of recent research on the effects of teaching and learning with technology on student outcomes. Retrieved October 21, 2004. from

Weiser, L. A., & Schug, M. C. (1992). Financial market simulations: Motivating learning and performance. Social Studies, 83(6), 244-247.

Wentland, D. (2004). A guide for determining which teaching methodology to utilize in economic education: Trying to improve how economic information is communicated to students. Education, 124(4), 640-648.

Wood, W. C., & et al. (1992). The stock market game: Classroom use and strategy. The Journal of Economic Education, 23(2), 236-246.


1This term is adapted for this paper to encompass any learning activity which has the characteristics defined by Kourilsky (1982). Kourilsky actually refers to these instructional methods as “ experience-based learning” (p. 38).

2 According to Patten (2004), “Effect size refers to the magnitude (i.e., size) of a difference when it is expressed on a standardized scale” (p. 130). To put it colloquially, a finding may be statistically significant, that is, the finding might in all likelihood due to the treatments imposed on the subjects, but effect size can compare studies which used different measurement scales and tell us how large the difference between two groups actually is. For example, a researcher could find a difference to be significant, but the size of the difference might be relatively small. One of the most common measurements of effect size is Cohen’s d. Under this scale a value of d of .20 would be considered “small,” a value of d of .50 would be considered “medium,” a value of d of .80 would be considered “large,” a value of d of 1.10 would be considered “very large,” and a value of d of 1.40 or larger would be considered “extremely large” (Patten, 2004). Effect size can be particularly useful in meta-analysis, in which previous results are statistically combined from diverse studies on a particular topic (Patten, 2004).


Economics Best Practices Resources

Korilsky’s Mini-society Economics Activity

National Council on Economic Education

Economics in Action 15: Greatest Hits for Teaching High school Economics (2003). New York: NCEE.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Federal Reserve

The Census Bureau

Teaching Economics Using Children’s Literature

The Wage is Right! Simulation: Alden, L. (2004). The wage is right! Social Studies, 95(2), 67-70.


Ask Dr. Econ

Junior Achievement Resources for the Classroom

Stock Market Games
The Stock Market Game:

Monetary Policy Simulation Game:

Other Economics Simulations

Economics network:
Informatist Open Economics Game:
Virtual Bank, Farm, Developing Country, Factory, and Economy:
Perfect Competition:


Lemonade Stand:
Coffee Tycoon:

Primary Source Resources:

American Historical Association Teaching Methods:
Berkeley Digital Library sunSITE Digital Collection:
Collaborative Digitization Programs in the United States:
Craver, K. W. (1999). Using internet primary sources to teach critical thinking skills in history. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Digital Library of Georgia:
Documenting the American South (@ UNC-Chapel Hill):
Historical Newspapers:
Levstik, L. S., & Barton, K. C. (2000). Doing history: Investigating with children in elementary and middle schools. Retrieved July 3, 2006, from -- also available in hardcover.
Library of Congress American Memory Web Site:
Making of America @ Cornell University:
Making of America @ University of Michigan:
New York Public Library Digital Library:
Smithsonian National Museum of American History – You Be the Historian:
The History Channel Speech and Video:
The Learning Page: Library of Congress -- Especially for Teachers:
Veccia, S. H. (2004). Uncovering our history: Teaching with primary sources. Chicago: ALA.
Smithsonian Lesson Plans:
Historical Picture Collections:


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