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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all! In between cooking, eating, football and moaning about how full you are, if you happen to sit down at your computer, here are a few things I read recently that you might find interesting...
  • Tim Harford suggests that gift cards might not solve the problem of the deadweight loss of Christmas presents.
  • If you brave the crowds on Black Friday, this post about price discrimination will give you something to think about while you're in line (hat tip to Mark Thoma).
  • Alex Tabarrok describes a fun activity for illustrating gains from trade. I'll add that you can do this in a large class if you use a subset of students - I've done this with a group of 10-15 students at the front of the 500-seater (once the other students see that the activity involves candy, there tends to be a lot more students who want to volunteer).
  • Rob Pitingolo has one of the clearer explanations of why popcorn is so expensive at the movies that I've ever seen.
  • If you send actual cards for the holidays, Cards that Give is a great resource, providing links to over a hundred charitable organizations that sell cards to raise funds.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why didn't I think of that?

In my Economics for Teachers class, the last third of the semester is being spent with the class doing group presentations. Each group was assigned a broad topic (e.g., fiscal policy, exchange rates, etc.) and must write a lesson plan and then 'teach' the lesson to the class. As I watch the presentations, I repeatedly see the students explain things in ways that are much more complicated than they need to be, while neglecting to mention things that would make the concepts clearer for their classmates. For example, the group presenting on exchange rates yesterday explained currency appreciation and depreciation without ever pointing out that when one currency appreciates, the other currency must depreciate. Part of the problem is that the students do not, themselves, have the strongest grasp on the material but it's also that it takes time (and teaching a topic repeatedly) for teachers to learn where the points of confusion are likely to be for their students and then how to present the material in ways that help clear up that confusion.

Given how many times I have taught micro principles, I think I've got a pretty firm grasp on where the points of confusion are likely to be for my students and I hope that I now present the material in ways that clear up at least some of that confusion. But every once in a while, I see or hear something that does such a better job of explaining something that it makes me hit my head and ask, "Why didn't I think of that?" This morning was one of those times, when I saw this post on Marginal Revolution. Most econ teachers know that students are forever confusing price ceilings and price floors, especially on graphs, because the terms are counter-intuitive (i.e., price ceilings are below the equilibrium price and price floors are above it). But Alex Tabarrok makes the counter-intuition memorable with the simple statement, "Only in economics are floors above ceilings". Of course! It's good to be reminded how much I still have to learn about being a better teacher...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why I love my job

Academics complain a lot. Actually, I don't know that academics complain more than people in other occupations but maybe it just seems to me like we complain a lot, considering most of us purport to love our jobs. So in honor in November being the month of giving thanks, I thought I'd take a minute to list a few things that I really do love about my job...
  • Students who tell me that they really enjoy my class and/or ask if I teach any other classes they can take (and when this is in my 500-seater, they know I have no idea who they are)
  • Students who tell me they decided to become an econ major after taking my class
  • Students who say the things to their classmates, when those classmates are being boneheads, that I wish I could say but obviously can't (like when someone asks the same question for the fifth time and someone else gives the answer with a 'Geez, dude, she said that, like, four times already')
  • Students who actually say my name correctly
  • Having students recognize me on campus and say hi
  • Colleagues who offer to do service without acting like they are doing everyone a big favor
  • Colleagues who send me links to articles they saw that are in my field, with a note that says, "Not sure if you saw this but it seems like it's up your alley and I was wondering what you thought"
  • The people who find out that I'm an econ professor and say, "Oh, that's cool, I always thought econ was so interesting when I was in college" (OK, so that's only happened once but I still hold out hope)
  • Not having a 'boss' telling me what to do
  • Being able to run errands on weekdays
Feel free to add to the list in the comments!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fiscal policy discussion starter

It isn't often that I talk about macro but I had just finished reading a lesson plan on fiscal policy from students in my Econ for Teachers class when I saw this post from tutor2u about this chart:

This struck me as a great way to introduce the topic of fiscal policy, as it makes a strong visual statement about the many policy tools that a country could use. I can imagine a great discussion about what would lead different countries to rely on different combinations of tools.