Monday, September 28, 2009

Using Current Events

A colleague and reader of this blog sent in a question. The gist was "How might I integrate more current events (such as some of the stories highlighted here) into the classroom?"

For the record, the course is AP Micro and AP Macro. I gave it some thought and came up with these three ideas.

The first suggestion is to set up a mini-debate. For those of you who don't remember the early days of Saturday Night Live, Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtain spoofed what used to be a regular part of 60 minutes. It was a quick debate on a given issue. Each side had one minute to outline their main points.

In a classroom, you could assign an article. After the students are done with the article, either select two students you suspect might have differing views on the topic, or ask who agrees and who disagrees and select one of each. Tell the opposing students they each have one minute to state their case. Start with the student who agrees with the article (they generally have an easier position because they have the article to lean on).

After both have had their opportunity, throw the discussion open to the class, reminding them to keep their criticisms positive and to address the statements made. Hopefully, that keeps them from going off-base. Alternatively, if the article has generated a lot of pro-con, ask the remaining students who has DIFFERENT cases to make on either side, and continue as before. I would think this would help students develop some skills for the “free-response” portion of the test.

Graph secondary effects
The second suggestion is to graph the market effects. Many of the articles discuss the price of an item and talk about policy that might affect or has affected the market. Using the old reliable supply and demand graph set up the original market and ask the students, what the likely initial effect of the policy is.

Does a price change affect the quantity supplied, the quantity demanded? Is there a change in either or in the supply or demand itself? (Does either curve shift right or left?) Once you've done that, ask about secondary effects? How does this new market condition affect other choices? (Do we suspect the item has many substitutes? Compliments? Do we suspect demand is elastic? Inelastic? What is the impact of the policy on supply?) By exploring possible secondary effects, students should see the value of economic thinking. It also helps them get used to graphing a problem for analysis.

Next question
My last suggestion arises from something I used to encourage my students to do. And while it can take you off topic, you can still use it to advantage. After reading the article, ask students "what is the next question?" Or, alternatively, "what else do we need to know?" Most stories, regardless of source, have a slant or a bias. Or information is being used selectively. And many stories rely heavily on anecdotes.

Now, I often say anecdotes are not data, but I just learned a counter to that: the plural of anecdote is data. Either way, this encourages students to think about what's missing in a full analysis; or to consider carefully how their desire to look farther afield needs to relate to what is or is not presented.

I'm sure many of you have other ways of using current issues, and I ask you to share. That way we all benefit.


Julie said...

I'm currently teaching Macro and because the current economy is always interesting--and not just this year, but every year, current events are always woven into the course. Because we do Fed Challenge and I must say because of Fed Challenge, the economic indicator release calendar is always part of the week's discussion. It has become second nature to weave the current indicators into the lesson. As we began study of national accounts today, using the income flow of wages and salaries, rents, interest and profits the discussion led to the current situation of DI=C+S and today's report from Clarida at PIMCO regarding the savings rate which may increase to 8% and the potential effect on the C of GDP and economic growth.
Our discussions do go off lesson somewhat, but the value of the discussion and interest generated by the discussions outweigh the costs. I really cannot imagine not using current events and the current economic discussions in teaching Macro or any economics lesson. Students respond to current events, are curious and what to know more. The tradeoff is a lesson that does not go exactly as planned, but after awhile, you develop the skill of being able to bring the discussion back to the topic in the lesson. Sometimes it even amazes me how that works.

Anonymous said...

Good ideas, Julie. We don't do Fed Challenge (I'm yearbook advisor as well and I can only do so much!), so there is not that motivation behind the current events discussions. I do have them read news stories that apply to the discussion at hand but there is always that tradeoff between depth and breadth. How would you assess them on class discussions? Do you have a class participation grade? I used to have them keep a current events journal where they chose two articles a week (with citation), summarize the story in one paragraph, then one or two paragraphs connecting it to the current or past learning in class including graphs when necessary. Grading just got to be too daunting and I couldn't read even half of them. Maybe I will do it again but slightly modified.


Julie said...

I certainly understand ( observe from a distance) the time demands of yearbook! WOW!
I do not give a formal class participation grade--I find it exceedingly difficult to engage and moderate a discussion while making marks in a gradebook. Others at school do it better than I. I have reserved a space on the white board this year--calling it the class facebook, with the question, "What are you thinking about. I leave post-it notes nearby with a marker and the kids post questions either with their name or without. It currently needs a reminder boost--but the kids answer each other and it is a great discussion starter. One question the second day of class was "what careers will survive the recession.?" I did tell the kids that I will consider their posted questions when calculating final grades. Do doubt there will be a flood of post-it notes as the quarter ends. I do need a more efficient way of assessing. Someone out there must have a tried and true way of doing this.
Like your experience, the current event article analysis hasn't produced the quality of work I would like to see. What does work? --Those spontaneous discussions which are not graded and assessed. What I hope is that it stimulates everyone's curiosity and the students find themselves reading articles they would have ignored previously. Overtime I do think this happens--and the long term value is in what they read after they graduate. Recently a former student visited and was describing his apartment life with several other former students from our school. Their reading material? ( and I was shocked really) The Economist. Some of the things we do in class turn up later in their lives. So enjoy the spontaneous discussions --the ones that are about current events and topics, and know that you have peaked their intellectual curiosity in a lasting way.

Anonymous said...

"Ancora Imparo"--Michaelangelo ("I am still learning")

After 18 years of teaching, I still learn and pick up new ideas to teach subjects. Thanks for the Facebook idea, Julie. I may have to try that for one grading period.