Saturday, January 31, 2009

Books for Economics in the Elementary Grades: How to Eat Fried Worms

This entry makes reference to the following Keystone Economic Principles:
1. We all make choices.
3. All choices have consequences.
5. Incentives produce predictable responses.
8. Quantity and quality of available resources affect living standards.

Another one of the elementary level books I've been reading is How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. The title is gross enough to engage many upper elementary students, but the story is full of potential economic lessons.

It revolves around two boys who make a bet for $50. The bet is whether one of them, after boasting about how he can eat anything, can actually eat a worm a day for 15 days. They agree on some ground rules and the challenge is on. After choosing to go through with the bet, both have second thoughts at differing points, after they begin to face the consequences or possible consequences of their decision. But the incentive of $50 acts as a spur to both of them as they each try to win the bet.

One of the more intriguing ties to economic thinking comes from one of the ground rules. The
boy who has to eat the worm may do so any way he wants. By adding resources of various quantities and qualities: varying from condiments to a mother willing to stretch her culinary skills, we see how these resources improve the boy's "standard of living."

The book is fun and students will enjoy the various predicaments. And I will not give in to the temptation to refer to Keystone Economic Principle #2: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on the book.


Anonymous said...

I have read this book, and I agree that it has great relevance to economics. I thought that your connection between the book and stand of living, was very interesting. The book has also been made into a movie, which could be used for education, though it maybe even more stomach churning than the book.

Although story books are a great way to directly incorporate basic economic principles into elementary school minds, I believe that they see these principles in other ways. The ideas of choices, incentives, and opportunity cost are apparent in kids lives. They know that if they watch an hour of T.V., they may not be able to play videogames before dinner time. A promise of candy for a good grade on a spelling test will provide an incentive for kids to study. I am not being critical, but I beleive that elementary schoolers already have exposure to basic economic principles.

Tim Schilling said...

And I agree with you that students are surrounded by economic events. But being able to use those principles in basic decision-making; to make use of what is called "the economic way of thinking" is harder. To the extent that we show our students that economic thinking is everywhere, we do them a service. To the extent that we can show them how to identify examples of economic thinking, I think they're better prepared to make choices and understand the costs inherent in them.