Teaching the Global Economy

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Give kids a project-based lesson on the global economy, and you don’t just teach key issues that affect the world around them, you help them understand how they fit into that larger world.

It’s a strategy that helps students connect to the material in a more meaningful way, says John Larmer, director of programs for the Buck Institute for Education. As the world economy, and the United States’ role in it, evolves, students increasingly need to be able to grasp how it all works; using projects and problems in lessons gives them that real-world relevance, Larmer says.

His first bit of advice: Have students play the role of people in the global business world trying to navigate the current global landscape.

In a two-week unit on global trade from the Buck Institute, students play trade negotiators who midway through the unit are forced to rethink their plans when the scenario--which mirrors real trade negotiations--takes a twist. It’s a playful set-up that kicks off with a memo charging the island nations of Hatfield and McCoy (made-up, of course) with negotiating a trade agreement with two other, recently warring, countries.

It’s a typical example of a problem-based lesson, requiring students to do a knowledge inventory and write a driving, or problem, statement that answers the who, the what, and the why, and evolves as the unit evolves. The knowledge inventory asks students to write lists of what they know from their memo-reading, and what they need to know. The latter includes key economic concepts, background information and vocabulary that will help them do their jobs as mock trade negotiators.

Students can do the list as a class or in groups, and it should be pretty comprehensive: “You want to make sure students are finding everything in there,” Larmer says. The list acts as the roadmap to the rest of the unit. Students might include things that either don’t get answered or aren’t ultimately essential to solving the driving statement – but that’s OK. “That’s sort of a real-world skill, realizing that you can’t know everything, you have to meet a deadline and get something done,” Larmer says.

That list, and their looming deadline to negotiate the trade agreement makes students more receptive to the work, Larmer says. “They’re more ready to learn about these concepts because they’re in this scenario now,” he says.

Another tip on teaching the global economy: When teaching trade, start with the concept of comparative advantage – that some countries produce some goods more efficiently than others and therefore that’s what they should be producing and trading. It’s essential to give students this basic concept before they can understand anything else, Larmer says.

While it might seem one-sided in the lessons to teach only that trade is beneficial to all parties, once students understand comparative advantage, teachers can springboard into other lessons the examine the pros and cons of world trade, Larmer says. For instance, students can play the role of an international organization, such as the International Monetary Fund, research different trade agreements and discuss them.

Other classroom tips:

Use advertisements to discuss cultural factors in marketing products in a global economy. The milk campaign is one example, and the ads from different countries are available online. Students can talk about the different ads and whether they would or wouldn’t work in the United States – and why some ads work better in different countries.

Ask students to play the role of business people trying to bring their product to another country. Students look at the pros and cons of producing their product – for instance, a smartcar – in different countries, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of one country over another, and present their case to an audience. Larmer advises teachers bring in an outside audience for presentations because it “helps up the stakes and improve the quality of the students work.”

The U.S. economy is changing, and today’s students increasingly will be affected by the global economy, making the lessons more essential, Larmer says. If students know “how they fit into the larger issue,” Larmer says, “I think it’s empowering.”

Web links and resources:

Global trade lesson: http://www.bie.org/index.php/site/PBE/great_awakening

Milk advertisements: http://inventorspot.com/articles/got_milkinventive_marketing_5569

World Trade Organization facts: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tratop_e.htm

Author: Alexandra Moses

Discussion question:

What strategies do you use to teach your students about the global economy?