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Helping Students with Diagrams

On the agenda for November's EconEdChat were 3 questions:

1) How can we help students get to grips with diagrams?

2) How can we teach Market Structures effectively?

3) Do starters still have a place in Economics lesson planning, and, if so, what forms might they take?

This post focusses on the first question.

At 6 minutes ish, we discuss whether 'diagram skills' are transferable. The more I think about this, the more I agree with Ben that this is actually more of a 'knowledge' thing than a skills thing. If you don't have a really good understanding of the basic Demand-Supply diagram, you aren't going to understand a tax or tariff diagram. I think it's quite easy for us to not realise that students don't fully understand the basics. Students can learn how to 'play the diagram game' - they can learn that this causes this to shift and that causes that to shift- without understanding why the curves are that shape, or even why the curves move at all. As we talk about later, one reason for this might be that we do a lot of practice at drawing diagrams, but (at least for me) don't return to those fundamental 'why' questions enough after those first few lessons on demand and supply. I like Ryan's idea of asking students to explain it from scratch 'like you're explaining to your Nan'. gets a mention again.

Here is the link to the secret diagram club post on Tutor2U.

I've previously given students something like this to practise applying lots of different scenarious with whiteboards. The Economist's World this Week often provides some good 1-2 line summaries you could use for this sort of thing, too. The Curious Economist would be useful as a next step up, in that rather than just a headline, they need to unpick a shortened article and illustrate this with a diagram. Ryan explains how he takes this one step further and also gets students to practice really having to hunt for the relevent info from lengthier pieces too.

Ben mentions ACE diagrams, as coined by Tutor2U.

I mentioned how I find 'building up the diagram' in front of the students better than just showing them the finished thing and explaining each curve. So for a negative externality graph it would look something like this:

However, that's only half of it. The explanation for each step is essential. I like to think of it as telling the 'story' of each diagram.

I didn't do a good job of explaining about asking students to draw different demand relationships, I meant something like this:

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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