Sneak-a-nomics: How to Unlock Economics Lessons with a Good Story
In the second episode of Sneak-a-nomics, Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of the Center of Economic Education and Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware, discusses what goes into writing engaging economics and personal finance lessons using children’s literature. Also hear from Erin Boettcher, a fifth grade teacher at Newark Charter School in Newark, Del., who shares how she makes economics and personal finance feel natural for her and her students.
This 13-minute podcast was and released Jan. 17, 2023, as a part of the Teach Economics podcast channel from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Hey, everyone. I'm Andrea Caceres-Santamaria and welcome back to Sneak-a-nomics. This is the second of two shows with Erin Boettcher, a truly inspiring fifth grade teacher.
Erin Boettcher: I spend my days growing as many brains as possible.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: And the fantastic Bonnie Meszaros.
Bonnie Meszaros: I had a great professor who showed me that I was really doing my students a disservice by not teaching them some economics, and the rest is history. I've been doing this since 1974.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Whomever that professor was, we certainly are thankful because Bonnie would go on to not only become a professor at the University of Delaware, but one of the foremost experts in economics education in America.
Bonnie Meszaros: And I also rely on a lot of classroom teachers who will just say, "Oh, I read this great book, you know, and it would be really wonderful if you could write a lesson".
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: While our last episode was focused on the big picture benefits of bringing economics and personal finance lessons into your classroom, this one is shorter and more focused on what goes into writing these engaging lessons. We'll learn about what Bonnie looks for in a story that she can build a lesson around. Then, Erin will give us a specific example of a story and lesson she uses in the classroom now. Before we get into the show, I want to provide a few learning objectives to consider while listening.
Think about stories - no matter if they're books or another format - that you already use in the classroom and your students just love. Is there one that could serve as the basis for an economics or personal finance lesson? A story that can bring economics or personal finance to life in your classroom. If so, why? Our goal is to highlight how great stories and economics or personal finance lessons work together.
Next, access the lesson plan Erin highlights in this episode. Even if it doesn't work for the grade you teach, it will give you a practical example of how a good story and teaching economics work hand-in-hand.
As always, make economics and personal finance a part of what can bring your classroom to life through storytelling and real-world application.
And lastly, be sure to listen all the way through, answer the short quiz, and earn your Sneak-a-nomics pioneer badge.
You're listening to Sneak-a-nomics, helping you sneak a little econ into your everyday lessons.
A quality lesson plan is like a good recipe. You need some engagement, some quality objectives, and a healthy dash of fun, and of course, it all starts with a good story. Bonnie says she doesn't have to look hard to find this key ingredient.
Bonnie Meszaros: There's just so many out there, more than I can write lessons for before I retire.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: That begs a question. With so many great books in the world, how does she pick what to work on next? Surprisingly, she says her process doesn't start with economics in mind.
Bonnie Meszaros: I find a book that has a nice story line, and almost all the books we use are not written with economics in mind. You know, like A Chair for My Mother, or Something Special for Me, or Lemonade in Winter. Those were written by an author because they had a nice story line, and I read them and think, "Well, yeah, that's great". Like Lemonade in Winter is about two kids who want to sell lemonade, and it's snowing outside, and their parents think it's a terrible idea. And they take their savings, and they go and buy the supplies, and they have a lot of trouble selling lemonade. They do end up selling a little bit of lemonade, but they use a variety of strategies, -- advertising, songs - and in the end, they don't have a profit. They have a loss, which is, I'm thinking, this is great. Because most of our books talk about kids starting a business, but they never look at well, did they make a profit or a loss? So the story is great, but I look at it from an economics perspective, and I think, aha, we need to write a lesson on what is profit, what is loss, and use the examples from the book. So, I try to find a book that's just got an endearing story that kids and teachers will enjoy, and then I think about, “well, what's the key economic concept? Because a lot of books, you could do a lot of different things with, but you want to narrow the focus. Like, I could've used Lemonade in Winter to teach productive resources, as well as profit and loss, but that would've made the lesson really long. So, you have to focus in on what are the key concepts you want to cover with that particular book.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Erin has been using Bonnie's lessons for years, and she says the magic of her process is that it doesn't start with an economic concept in mind. Instead, it starts with something we can all enjoy: A good story.
Erin Boettcher: And that's why it's so enjoyable, not only for us who maybe in the beginning are a little bit intimidated to talk about economics with our students. It's just a really natural way to bring it in, and it's natural for the students, as well. I think the other piece is because of, you know, the stories and the books that you choose are again, not written to teach economics in mind, they also give us the opportunity to kind of let students embrace other ideas, other cultures, other thoughts, other things that they're not necessarily used to. And in preparing, actually, to speak today, I pulled out - they're my oldies, but goodies, I call them - Uncle Jed's Barber Shop, A New Coat for Anna, Saving Strawberry Farm, The Pickle Patch Bathtub, Alexander Who Used to be Rich. I mean, I feel like I could go on and on. And I got so excited pulling them out because they are natural and they are fun, and I'll be honest, you know, as a teacher, Friday afternoon, you know, one of the best things to do was to sit down and do a read aloud for the students. And here, I have the opportunity to do a read aloud and also grow their brains at the exact same time.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, Erin will walk us through a specific lesson you can start using today to sneak a little econ into your lesson plans.
Erin Boettcher: It's a prep once, and then keep it for the next year kind of thing.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Before we dive deeper into this episode, I want to make sure you know about all the great resources available through Econ Ed. Go to stlouisfed.org/education and you'll find an amazing collection of tools that help you bring economics to life. Whether you're a kindergarten teacher or a college professor, or maybe you just like to better educate yourself on economics, Econ Ed has a curated list of materials for you. So if you haven't already, check out Econ Ed today by going to stlouisfed.org/education. Okay, on with the show.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Let's take a moment to recap what we've learned so far. Bonnie explained her process for writing a new lesson, and how it starts by harnessing the power of storytelling to convey economics and personal finance concepts, and Erin got us energized by sharing how she translates the lessons Bonnie picks into engaging experiences for her students. Now, it's time to get into practical application. Let's listen in as Erin walks us through a lesson based on the book Lemonade for Sale.
Erin Boettcher: The premise of the book is really the concept that we're pulling for them is the idea of productive resources and the different types of them. And the way that we get the students to think about those, all the things that go into creating a good or a service is through a story of kids who are trying to save up money for a clubhouse, and so they have a lemonade sale - a lemonade stand. And so we hear their process of, you know, coming up with their idea, producing the lemonade, having the stand. Of course, they have a little bump in the road where they lose their customers and have to try to figure out how to get those customers back, so we have a little bit of talk of consumers and producers at the same time. But going back to the central idea of the story of, you know, what are productive resources? While I'm sharing the story to them, I have the students keep a list on the whiteboard as I'm reading the story, and I ask them, "what are all the things that these children need to have their lemonade stand?" And I want them thinking kind of that purpose as they're listening of all of the things that go into the lemonade for the children. And at the end of the story as we talk about the different types of productive resources whether it be natural resources, or human resources, or capital resources, or those intermediate goods, which is always the fun and exciting one that we get to talk about, they - we pool all of the things, all of those productive resources together. And this is the one prep that I have to do for the lesson, and I did it once, and luckily, I've been able to share it out, too. All of the productive resources get to be on the little card. So you know, I just created a document and I put eight words on each page. I think there's 12, about - however many. Cut them up into sets. I made one set per group, and then it's there for me to use next time. But they take those and then I have them sort them. So they get to get up, they get to get moving. Sometimes, we sort them on the Smartboard, and then we're able to kind of pull that idea home for the students. The lessons always, I will say, have multiple extension opportunities that you can do with them. This lesson in particular that I'm speaking of, there's a math extension where you can graph the student's sales - or the, excuse me, the children's sales in the book. And again, it's right there. It's right there for you, ready to go. There's an extension to this lesson for advertising. So if we were to help the children advertise, what might that look like? And what needs to be on that advertisement? And again, it's right there in the book. There's an extension about sugar, and the two ways that, actually, we can get sugar and why sugar is an intermediate good. So if I have maybe 45 minutes, I can do the book and the activity. If I have a little bit longer, I can pop in a few more of the extensions. And again, it's not something that has to continue, and I have to plan in for. It's something I can start, and do, and finish, and move on.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: I love Erin's strategy to extend an econ lesson into other topics, especially when it's something required by state standards. As a former teacher, knowing I can get all of that out of a lesson I only had to prep once is music to my ears. And Bonnie says the real-world nature of economics and personal finance can spark the kind of peer to peer learning we know is so valuable for our students.
Bonnie Meszaros: While they're trying to decide, you know, is sugar an intermediate good? Or is it a natural resource? If you are moving around the classroom, you hear that conversation, and I might argue that it's a natural resource, and someone else will say, "Well, no, because it's been processed". And they teach one another what those resources are.
Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Thank you so much to Bonnie Meszaros and Erin Boettcher for joining us, again. You are both inspirations and we value all of your contributions to teachers and students across the nation. You can find the Lemonade For Sale lesson and so many more resources by going to stlouisfed.org/education. And lastly, remember to take the quiz for this episode and earn your Sneak-a-nomics badge. I'm Andrea Caceres- Santamaria, and you've been listening to Sneak-a-nomics from the St Louis Fed, helping you sneak a little econ into your everyday lessons.
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