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Introducing high school students to economics

One of my service assignments this year is marketing the scholarships that my department offers. In particular, we have one scholarship that is potentially quite large (could more than cover tuition and fees) that the original donor wanted us to use specifically to attract good students into the major. But for the last few years, we have had hardly any applicants, and almost none from incoming freshmen. So my department agreed to devote some funds to have someone work on outreach to high schools. I volunteered, since it seemed like a good complement to my other interests and would give me an opportunity to connect with some high school economics teachers. Over the summer, I put together some materials about the scholarship and about economics in general, and started emailing people. So far, I've lined up a few visits to econ classes and also some AVID classes (for those who aren't familiar with it, AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and is a college readiness program).

So now I have to figure out what I'm going to say. I'll generally have 30 or 50 minutes, and I'll be talking to seniors who either have had no exposure to economics specifically, or have been in an econ class for only a few weeks. I want to give them an idea of 'what you can do with an economics major' but I expect that I will first need to explain to them exactly what economics is. I'd prefer to show them by having them do some sort of activity, but it would have to be relatively short, since I'd want to keep at least ten or fifteen minutes for talking about what they can expect to study as econ majors and what kind of jobs econ majors can end up in, as well as answering questions. One really easy thing to do would be an allocation exercise (e.g., "Who wants some candy? I don't have enough for everyone so how should we allocate it?"), but I'm not sure how clear the connection will be if I then start talking about the types of jobs economics majors go into. For that, it seems like it would be better to do something that gets more directly at trade offs, incentives, costs and benefits. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know in the comments!


  1. You could talk about the efficiency/equity trade-off with the following example: We have changed the rules of life so that you are all going to make $50,000 per year in whatever job you choose. You just have to choose a job. What job are you going to choose? If you start asking them, soon you'll find that there will be a lot of 'video game testers' or 'mattress quality control specialists' but very few doctors or lawyers. Economists who deal with policy work with the efficiency/equity trade-off all the time.

  2. Have you seen this,

    I modified it to be the spending of a $250k block grant ti reduce muggings and property crimes in a city. Students had set program with their costs to chose from. Allowed us to have a similar post-design discussion as with the zoo.

    1. I'm reallly impressed. This is a easy way to introduce the students to economics terms. I will use it for sure!

  3. That is a very difficult problem. I actually don't know anything about economics, but as someone who works with high school students, I think you'd have a better chance of attracting bright and intellectually curious students (i.e. the ones you actually want) if you frame your presentation with a big, open-ended question that economics can help answer--a"why" question. Whatever material you present, tie it to a larger question about why the world is the way it is and how we can understand it better. That's what a lot of teenagers are trying to figure out in the first place.

    As a person, you will make a bigger impact on high school students if you interact with them in your presentation and listen to what they have to say. That's something visiting presenters rarely do.

    1. Yes - part of what I really want to get across to the students is that economics IS about the big life questions, not just money or business. I definitely plan to be interactive (at this point, if I lecture for more than about ten minutes, it makes me really uncomfortable!). Thanks for the input!

  4. Something like this might be nice.

    1. I do something very similar to this in my intro classes, using made-up tickets. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. This blog is very helpful and important for student who loves read online. And want online assignments and economic homework help. Thanks and Keep continue help.

  6. Hi, I am a student and I take economics as major. I love this subject. I really like your article.


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