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Making Sense of Economics Review by Debra Brinkman

Jim McAlpine, Betty Weincek, Sue Jeweler, and Marion Finkbinder
Educational Impressions
1 (800) 451-7450
P. O. Box 377
Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417-0377

Economics covers so many important concepts for living life. The economics course I took in high school was filled with boring graphs and charts, yet somehow I grasped how central the principles of economics were in understanding everyday events. I went on to take economics in college, where at times it was even more theoretical and less reality-based.

Even so, one thing I have started to tell my older students is that they do not have a choice: they will have at least one-half credit of economics on their high school transcript, or I will not graduate them. Economics is important.

Within the homeschool world, you can find good economics courses for high school. As I started working with my two high school students, I began thinking about how real-life economics is perfect for middle school ages as well. Making Sense of Economics, is one possibility for addressing those concepts with 5th to 8th graders. I used this with 3rd, 5th and 8th graders.

This book includes a Teacher Section at the beginning. The first couple pages of that give a helpful overview of what is included. The remainder, while probably quite useful to a classroom teacher, didn’t do much for me.

The actual teaching portion of the book is split into four parts:

  1. Part 1 – Basic Concepts, Terminology and Comprehension. This fairly short section (about a dozen pages) includes a great overview of what economics is, and a brief history of economics. I made my high school students come and listen to these, as they do a fantastic job of quickly summarizing the topic!
  2. Part 2 – Economics Scenarios. This section includes seven sets of “Economics Scenarios” that you can discuss with your students. Each topic, such as Needs and Wants of Consumers, has a personal scenario, a global scenario, and an extended global scenario. The personal scenario is a situation that would impact the student and/or their family. The global scenario involves “you” at the head of some type of an organization. The extended global scenario is something even bigger, such as being the owner of an international fast food chain. The situation is set up with a problem to be solved, and there are questions that relate.
  3. Part 3 – Interdisciplinary Activities. This is my favorite section! There is an introductory paragraph giving some background information about some type of economic concept, like Division of Labor. Then there are a number of activities that can be performed in different disciplines: math, science, language arts, social studies and the arts.
  4. Part 4 – Making Connections to Current Events. This short section gives some guidance in how to take what is going on in the world right now and turn it into an interdisciplinary lesson in economics.

We found Part 2 to be a little challenging to actually work on in our home. For instance, one scenario has you owning a national trucking company, but increasing gas prices are causing problems. Your assignment is to, “write a proposal to your stockholders to upgrade your fleet of trucks to ones that have hybrid engines and use alternative fuels.” Okay. My kids have zero interest in writing a stockholder proposal, but we could discuss the questions. The first one is, “Why did you decide to go with new, hybrid-engined trucks?” The reaction here is, “Because the ‘solution’ told us we had to.”

Once we got to questions like, “How will you balance the initial cost against the long-term benefit?” we were able to actually have a coherent discussion about the benefits of investing in capital goods that will save you money over the long term, which led to a discussion of LED light bulbs in our home. Bottom line: Section 2 wasn’t always easy to use, but it did make a good springboard that led us to discussing various aspects of economics.

Part 3 was my favorite. What I like here is that you have a short reading about a topic like markets that explains the basic principles. Then you have two assignment options in each of the five disciplines. Having a variety of choices was great. Sometimes we’d take one of the ideas and really run with it, like the challenge activity for social studies, which was to “compare and contrast markets in ancient Rome, ancient Greece, and ancient China with markets of the present day.”

At $15.99, this is a resource that is helping me to pull some fun activities involving economic principles into our middle school work in a way that doesn’t involve a lot of prep work on my part. Looking at it as a resource, and not an economics course, helps me to pick and choose the activities that make sense for my family right now, and I can ignore the ideas that don’t make sense for us at the moment.

-Product review by Debra Brinkman, Crew Administrator, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, November, 2015