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EconEdChat with Richard Davies

December's EconEdChat was slightly different from usual: Rather than the usual 3 questions about Economics education, Richard Davies joined us to talk about CORE, Econ Observatory and, in particular, 'Extreme Economies' as part of a wider discussion on just one (hefty) question:

"How can we make the A-Level Economics curriculum richer?"

Firstly, if you haven't read Extreme Economies, I'd really recommend taking a look at it over the Christmas break. Davies takes you on a journey through 9 very different economies - not always countries or cities, but sometimes, in the cases of Louisiana prisons or Jordan's refugee camps, economies within economies. As he mentions in the chat, it fills a bit of a gap in your (classroom) bookshelf: many of the books we recommend to students to introduce them to our subject show the economics of the everyday; familiar and interesting takes on what's around them. They certainly have a role, and I'll go on recommending these to certain interested Year 11s, but whilst I take great joy in seeing the economics in the ordinary, I wonder if some of the Pop Economics literature might, to an ambitious 16-year old who is passionate about social justice and wants to change the world, wrongly portray economics as somehow 'trivial'.

Extreme Economies is different, not least in that it introduces some macro topics alongside micro ones, often tracing the accounts of individuals responding to incentives in the scenarios they face, to how this shapes wider economies, to how authorities manage or mismanage these. Rather than looking at typical or familiar scenarios, these are all 'extreme' in some way. The stories of local people demonstrate the varying roles of economic forces in both causing and relieving hardship, alleviating and exacerbating problems.

I would say it might be very slightly more challenging for reluctant readers than the Freakonomics-genre, simply because of the initial element of unfamiliarity: the names, the places, even the fruit isn't recognisable. Most of our students can relate to 'choosing popcorn' far more than they can to surviving a natural disaster, civil war or incarceration. However, while the people whose accounts we hear in Extreme Economies live lives far removed from those of typical A-Level students, their stories draw the reader in and it quickly becomes easy to see yourself of your friends in them. You find yourself asking 'what would I do in that situation?'. Whilst getting very reluctant readers through the first few pages might be slightly more difficult, once they're into it, I reckon they're more likely to get absorbed and want to finish a chapter. It probably also has more scope and depth, so in educational terms, it compensates for a slightly higher threshold with a much higher ceiling.

Whilst it would make a good source of additional reading early on in the course, it covers and explains many of the concepts in the A-Level course (GDP, externalities, inequality, the functions of money etc), often giving a bit of a history around how these ideas developed, so could well be used alongside or integrated into our schemes of work. Richard has very helpfully given a summary of the economic concepts explored in each chapter on the hidden 'teachers' page of the Extreme Economies website. The benefits of using supplementary books alongside textbooks has been discussed in other subjects such as geography, (there's a paywall, but your school might have GA membership) and some geography schemes of work draw from popular texts from as young as Year 7. Extreme Economies is potentially quite well suited for use in this way because, whilst there is an overarching narrative, each chapter can be read more-or-less independently from the others, so you could probably switch up the order or chapters to suit your curriculum if necessary, and students wouldn't struggle too much with picking up one chapter a month or two after the last. It would need some thought to make it work well, notl east:

- How would you use it? To introduce a topic? To illustrate it? To practise application? To revise it? To bring ideas together synoptically? As a stand-alone project?

- Would you expect students to read it by themselves as homework? Or would you need to read it together in class? Would you get them to read the whole thing over the summer and then return to chapters as and when they fit? Or would you set individual chapters? Or would reading the book be optional/extension, with you retelling 'abridged' versions in class? How could you make it work with your students' literacy skills? Would the whole thing be part of you extra-curricular provision, for example as part of an Economics 'Book Club'?

-Would you buy copies out of department budget? Or does your school context mean you can ask students to buy their own? Does your local library have copies? Would your school library stock them? What format would work best: paperback? e-readers? audio?

We then talk about the CORE project and the redesign of economics education at undergraduate level. CORE is well worth a look at, even for A-Level teachers. I've done a bit of a rough walkthrough below to show some of the useful features for A-Level teachers, but in summary, it has great explanations, a directory of useful resources, FT and Economist articles mapped to the A-Level spec and a ton of other great stuff.

Manisha has previously mentioned how she uses CORE as part of flipped learning. She recommends chapters 2.3, 4.1, 8.1 and 15.1 to get you started because they hook students in using a question.

Economics Observatory has been churning out great content over the last few months: the articles are accessible and interesting and you can easily get absorbed and spend far too long on there! Rather than 'news' as such (we mention Curious Economist for that) Econ Observatory looks at topical offshoots of current issues. I couldn't see an RSS link, but I imagine if you embedded a feed of articles into your VLE, they might catch students' interest, so if anyone does see the feed link please let me know and I'll pop it here. They have a neat 'answers by topic' library which can help you to find relevent articles, which is handy. It might also be nice for students to submit a question on a topic they find interesting or that they see in the news.

Discover Economics looks like it's had a makeover recently, so worth taking another look if you haven't been on there recently, some great stuff for students deciding whether to take econ at A-level and Uni, with a focus on increasing diversity.

I reference back to the first EconEdChat where we talked about responding to the news, and how this creates opportunities but also comes with huge challenges.

We then began to scratch the surface of the 'rich Economics curruculum' topic, which, rather predictably in a 15 minute session, threw up more questions than answers. Firstly about the nature of the relationship between the A-Level spec and the creation of students who are on a path to become good economists: Is the A-Level spec necessary to set students on this path? Is it sufficient? If not, what's missing? Is success in the A-Level a by-product of putting students firmly on this path? Within the constraints, is it possible to both maximise student success on the A-level exams AND set them on their way to become good economists, or is there a trade off? Are they mutually exclusive in some respects, even?

This then leads to even more questions about how this translates into out practice: if it is sufficient, then we should plough our energy into the basics. If it's not, then what do we need to add to the diet, and how? Do all students need the same diet? If there's any sort of trade-off, how do we decide which to prioritise? Or do we satisfice some how? If that's the case, does that somehow imply that this 'extra stuff' is only for our stronger students? Or only our weaker? Or only those who aren't on a borderline between grades?

Still, it was a start, and I look forward to more conversations about the purpose, aims and implementation of Econ curricula. I think that's everything we referenced, but if we talk about something in the video and it's not clear, let me know and I'll add extra references!

Econ Ed Chat takes place the first Wednesday of the month at 6pm GMT. All welcome.


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