Sunday, October 3, 2010

Effects of problem based economics on high school economics instruction

Chris Webber:
I found portions of this article, Finkelstein, N. U.S. Department of Education, Economics. (2010). Effects of problem based economics on high school economics instruction. Final report. Jessup: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. to be very interesting. I have taught economics in the past to 12th grade students at my last place of work and had actually found that this is the one area of my teaching where I had had relative success with project-based learning. The article is an exhaustive government report which focused not just on problem based learning in economics, but also on typical instruction, and how students respond to this sort of teaching. The article explains how teachers involved in problem based economics instruction are made to follow a defined set of strategic analytical steps. It also recommends that teachers are to do so in a disciplined way. The idea is that students will use tools that they have learned previously to contextualize and basically solve problems posed by the teacher. The article explains that this is basically a totally different approach to text-book driven instruction. This article uses The Buck Institute and its curriculum as an example of effective problem-based learning units for high school economic teachers. The Buck Institute has developed units of study that are easy to follow for both teacher and students and the units carefully guide students through some very interesting core content by posing real world problems for students to solve. One of the projects, The High School Food Court challenges students to recall content such as supply and demand, scarcity, opportunity cost and economic incentives as they choose fictitious restaurants to fill their high school food court. The article mentions that these units result in students not learning “…entirely on their own; teachers still teach but the timing and the extent of their instructional interventions differ from those used in traditional approaches” (6). An interesting finding mentioned in the article concerning The Buck Institute modules was that the units tended to benefit low performing students the most. This article suggests that problem based learning is able to improve macroeconomic understanding in students only if the instructor is well trained in the subject matter and on how to present the units to the class. This article reports on a study conducted where 15 teachers and over 1000 students were analyzed to determine if project-based learning in the economic classroom using the Buck Institute units allowed students to better grasp concepts necessary for a basic macroeconomics class. For me as a teacher at Pacific Ridge School, who may in the future be asked to teach an economics course, this was a very interesting article. I have used the units described above before, and I never found that they improved student learning of higher achieving students. The fact that the study found the opposite was something that I might have to consider if I were to use these modules in future at Pacific Ridge because the school generally has higher achieving students.

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