Economic Education and FRED: Keeping It Real
By Mary Suiter
“What does this have to do with real life?”
—Every student in the world
It’s an age-old question and not an unfair one. Students can’t always see how their studies relate to the “real world.” So, Economic Education staff at the St. Louis Fed have developed tools and resources for teachers to help their students make sense of the real world. And FRED is an integral part of this mission.
With FRED (and its extended family), students have access to the most current data from the most reputable sources. Specific classroom tools tap into the data in FRED and offer graphs and maps that help reveal the world. Other tools use FRASER’s archive of original source documents, which connects students to economic history. (See “Do You Know FRASER?”) All these tools allow students to practice and apply critical thinking and data literacy skills across many disciplines.
FRED in Real Life
Most students have seen headlines or heard news reports about immigration, taxes and the U.S. economy compared with other economies. FRED can bring some objectivity and clarity to discussions about these issues. For example:
- GeoFRED maps can show net migration flows (the difference between the number of people entering and leaving an area) for each U.S. county.
- FRED graphs can show how federal tax revenues have changed over the past five years.
- A map of GDP per capita can show how the U.S. economy compares with other countries’ economies.
Moreover, with such a wide-ranging assortment of data and information, this type of learning can occur in a variety of classrooms. Economics and personal finance classes are the most obvious, but history, social studies and geography classes also can benefit from these tools.
Regardless of the course, teachers are always trying to accomplish multiple goals in a limited amount of time. Economic education staff, librarians, data experts and teachers at the St. Louis Fed are continually creating resources to make the task easier and the effort more effective.
Lessons in History, Social Studies and Geography
U.S. history teachers can use a St. Louis Fed lesson titled "Everything Including the Kitchen Sink" to help students understand how public health reforms inspired a commercial response to the growing demand for sanitation. Students analyze FRED data to see how bathroom-fixture production changed throughout the 1920s. Then they examine original documents—1920s' advertising—to see how companies fused the Progressive Era with the new consumer culture.
In another lesson, "Money for Nothing: Economic Affluence in Postwar America," students dig deeper into the post-World War II economic boom through the 1960s to see that a growing economy can occur at all levels and affect people in different ways.
Social studies teachers are great at assessing and analyzing documents to build a narrative, but what about the teacher who shies away from numbers? Tables, graphs, maps and diagrams can help provide a graphical view of information and be a powerful way to display evidence. So our librarians and economic educators developed a "Historical Inquiry with Charts Toolkit," which provides a series of resources to help students read, interpret and think critically about charts in textbooks and historical documents.
Geography teachers can use our GeoFRED lessons to help students create and interpret maps of data, such as GDP per capita for every country in the world or the unemployment rate for the counties in their state. In a lesson titled "Demonstrating the Distribution of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Using Patent Data and a Mapping Tool: GeoFRED Marks the Spot," students learn about innovation, the distribution of innovation across the country, and what can be patented.