Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mathematics and High School Economics

I believe that one of the objectives for high school economics classes should be for students to learn how to apply some mathematics skills to economic situations. That can range from calculation to data interpretation. It is the latter area this entry is addressed.

I was recently talking with an economics teacher who was explaining how he helped students analyze economic information and data. He told me taught a very traditional one-semester course with a wide variety of students in the class. He said he wanted to give the students a simple way to distinguish between coincidence, correlation, and causation when looking at economic data. The teacher told me he used three explanations with his students.
Coincidence - Two things happen at or about the same time.
Correlation - Two things happen at or about the same time with some frequency or regularity.
Causation - Two things happen at or about the same time frequently with consistent and observable sequence and connection.

I was impressed with the simplicity but expressed some reservation, largely because of time issues. I know how hard it is to get the average economics students to realize that just because two things happen at the same time, it doesn't mean the events are connected.

I found this interesting because back at the end of September, Greg Mankiw posted a rather heated entry about people who confuse correlation with causation.

I have two things to ask you as a reader of this blog. What changes (if any) would you make to the explanations above? (Keep in mind, we don't want to get too complicated, given the audience.) And what are some of the activities you use to teach students how to analyze data?
I look forward to your comments.

Posted by TSchilling at October 17, 2006 3:03 PM

Logic should be the objective of economics and math. Economists use math to check the consistency of their logic. Math scares students. The trick is to teach them logical thinking first and connect that slowly to the math. We should teach students the following: math is a tool to analyze the world around you not a scary thing which they are not good at!

Posted by: Mike Javanmard at November 5, 2006 11:09 PM

No comments: