Read this before you teach...Introduction to Economics

I always think there is a lot riding on the first few weeks: Getting to know them, helping them transition from GCSE, setting routines and expectations, identifying students who might be on the wrong course all whilst simultaneously trying to inspire a love of economics and also get on with the course because there's a crazy amount to teach...it's a tall order.


I've pulled together all of the resources I can find for those first few weeks of term. I've also been working hard on some powerpoints and accompanying booklets for students, which you can read about here, and I've included links to individual videos going through each PowerPoint so that even if you aren't interested in purchasing any new resources, you might still be able to get some ideas or just have a nosey!


You can use the links below to skip to a specific section:

General Introduction to Econ

Economic Problem

Economic Resources

Opportunity Cost

Economic Methodology

PPFs

Specialisation

Money

Revision


General Introduction to Economics

The first chapter of Niall Kishtany's 'A Little History of Economics' is perfect at introducing pretty much all of the topics in this unit whilst also communicating the nature and importance and beauty of the subject - it's almost like it was written for this purpose! (I think copying a single chapter from a book is allowed - Ross Morrison McGill seems to think so - but I'm not 100% sure...). This 30-minute podcast from Planet Money also covers many of the topics in a really accessible way.


You might also find Tutor2U's Initial Numeracy Assessment useful in the first few weeks.


Economic Problem

The Dialysis Machine has been a staple for introducing scarcity in many classrooms for years, I'm not sure of the original author, but the earliest reference I can find is here. I recently shared a similar version looking at Vaccine Allocation. Tutor2U have a free Surviving the Walking Dead activity which needs no prior knowledge, so could work pretty nicely as a starting point (update: did this and students enjoyed it, it was good to get them talking to each other, recommended). OCR have produced this Isle of Economics resource which looks a bit complicated but that you might want to consider too.


I tend to leave Economic Systems until later on, but if you want to get stuck in early on, I really love this podcast from Planet Money to demonstrate the power of Free Markets. It talks about how foodbanks were being allocated donations they didn't want, and weren't getting what they needed, until a pricing system was introduced. I also like to mention the debate over who the founding father of economics is: Smith? Khaldun? Socrates? Plato? Mun


Leonard Read's seminal essay, I, Pencil, abridged in this video from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, beautifully demonstrates the complex nature of the production of even simple products, like a pencil. It's pretty profound stuff - certainly ticks the 'awe and wonder' box. Accompanying worksheets and discussion points can be found here and here. An alternative is It's a Wonderful Loaf, another amazing poem and video which ponders the existence of a 'bread tsar', highlighting the magnificence of emergent order within markets. Extra resources on that are here.


CORE's whole chapter on Economic systems is great, with some interesting questions too (1.6, 1.7 and 1.8). I particularly like the graph on mentions of capitalism in the NYT. In a similar vein, this article from the Economist looks at attitudes towards capitalism.


Below shows my underlying powerpoint and booklet for this topic - it's definitely not the 'perfect lesson' by any stretch but hopefully it makes a good, solid base!





Economic Resources

I don't have too many resources on factors of production. I usually use a table like this to get the info across.



This article from the Economist is a bit old but might be good as extra reading.


Lesson powerpoint/booklet below:





Opportunity Cost


This article reports that 80% of PhD candidates get an opportunity cost question wrong: you can challenge your students to do better. This video from MRU has been converted into an EdPuzzle which might be useful for homework. This article looks at the opportunity cost of picking up a penny, pretty much summed up by the cartoon below, which I think is by XKCD:


Lesson powerpoint/booklet below:





Economic Methodology

This article from the IMF is good on the micro/macro divide - I found it useful from a teacher's point of view but might be handy for wider reading too.


I love the following quote from Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, by Lewis Carroll to illustrate why models are necessarily simplified - I find students tend to assume that economic models are simple because economists aren't 'good enough', rather than by design...


I also like using these two opposing articles on whether or not economics is a science. On Team Yes is Raj Chetty, a Harvard professor writing for the New York Times. On Team No is Alan Y Wang, student writer for the Harvard Crimson. You can use these in loads of ways: modelling reading and summarising one and getting them to do the other, discussing Op Eds vs balanced articles, or if you like running debates (you're braver than me!), that could work too. For more on experiments within economics, you might want to point students towards Economic in Ten's episode on Esther Duflo (other episodes with links to this unit include those on Adam Smith, Ibn Khaldun, Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek)


There are two nice videos to explain Ceteris Paribus: a shorter one from Investopedia (scroll down, it usually takes a moment to load) and a more detailed one from MRU. I don't reckon this one is quite as good, but why economists need data might also be useful. If you've got some keen beans, these articles (1, 2 and 3) talk in detail about the use of models, but I found them all a little dull. MRU's course on Mastering Econometrics, on the other hand, is excellent. It hasn't been fully released yet, but the videos so far don't assume knowledge of complicated maths, so whilst they would find it a challenge and probably wouldn't understand everything, I reckon a decent Year 12 student could certainly give it a go to get a flavour of how economists use modelling.


For less mathematically minded students, looking at how data can help us in all sorts of interesting ways (and the issues that come with that), perhaps through something like this article on How to Become an Elite Athlete, or a chapter from something like Freakonomics, Super Crunchers, Outliers or Invisible Women might whet their appetite.


Tutor2U have a free activity sorting positive and normative statements. I also like this comic by Tom Toles to demonstrate how very little is straightforward in econ and the roles of both positive and normative statements:


Lesson Powerpoint/Booklet below:





PPFs

I love this video from Economics Mafia to explain PPFs (/PPCs), although the accent of the narrator has put off a few of my more immature students in the past. There are all sorts of MCQs out there for this, especially from the US, so searching site:.edu PPF exam usually gives plenty questions, but just be aware that in the US, PPFs are normally taught in the same unit as comparative advantage so make sure you check over the questions first. There are loads of Kahoots on this topic, but this one is nice and reasonably challenging.


This year, I've changed how I plan to teach PPFs, focussing on how we model things in economics. Rather than explaining how or why curves shift in and out, I'm going to come from the other direction and explore what happens when we change our assumptions. This is something that I usually do with teaching demand and supply, but never with PPFs.


I have found students usually find it difficult to understand why the PPF is curved. The video above does a good job at explaining this, but at the last EconEdChat I attempted to explain how I have also demonstrated this with footballers, but I didn't do a great job explaining it at the time, so you might want to check out what I mean with the video below.


Lesson Powerpoint/Booklet:




Specialisation

There are plenty of good resources around for Specialisation. I love this video from WeTheEconomy because it shows how specialisation fits into the narrative of the rest of the unit. There are also some related resources on p23 and p24 here, but I've never used them. MRU collects examples of really niche markets to demonstrate how specialisation results in markets for everything, like a carry case for $1m or computer programmes designed to help you buy and sell human bones. I met set a challenge to see who can find the most niche product as a starter.


The first few paragraphs from CORE are a nice way to introduce the topic, and along the same lines there is also this TED Talk by Thomas Thwaite documenting his attempt to make a toaster from scratch, and this one by AJ Jacobs about thanking all of the people who played a part in his morning cup of coffee (I particularly like the three minute animated version).


It's not a perfect representation of what countries specialise in, but students might be interested to see this map from Visual Capitalist of what each country exports or look at what the UK exports.


This article from the Economist gives a brief history of mass production. If you're teaching Smith's Pin Factory, here's a handy link to the relevant passage. The Adam Smith institute produced a Tour of the Pin Factory which is technically very fancy, but probably more detail on 17th Century pin production than A-Level students need(/want). I use a Pin Factory simulation to demonstrate the benefits of division of labour, but Tutor2U have a similar cars simulation which is also cool.


MRU have some nice videos on this, including Specialisation Saved My Son's Life and Division of Labour: Burgers and Ships


There are loads of industries to explore. I like using car production because of Ford's history, and also because there are lots of good factory videos (eg this one about the ferrari production line). I think I'm going to pair that with a discussion of specialising in the hairdressing industry because it makes a nice contrast - I like this blog post from a hair dresser who worked in a a salon with an unusual set up, where stylists were grouped in pods, and how specialisation helped and hindered. There are all sorts of other options though, you can look through the How It's Made videos for possible ideas. There's an article on Bloomberg about specialisation lowering the cost of healthcare.


Specialisation is possibly a counterargument to the Eat Local movement. I came across this in a journal article linked in CORE, but it's a topic also covered in this Freakonomics blog post and in this MRU video. There is also some nice data on this in Our World in Data.


There are also a few bits fo reading championing Generalisation. This Planet Money article looks at Djocovik, Federer and Tiger Woods, but I prefer this slightly lengthier one from the Economist on the same topic. In a similar vein, there is also this one which talks about 'moving beyond' the 'era of specialistion' in music. (I've just started to read 'Range' by David Epstein, which promises to explain 'how generalists triumph in a specialised world' - I'll let you know what I think...)


For a slighlty more topical take, you could get students to look at this article from the Economics Observatory which looks at how Covid has affected the division of household labour.


Lesson powerpoint/slides/pin factory simulation/essay kit below:





Money

For someone who isn't that insterested in finance, I do find the concept of money fascinating from an anthropological perspective. Extra History's animated 6-part series on the History of Money is about 50 minutes in total but I'd highly recommend it. If you can't spare 50 minutes, take a flick through this article to see what has been used as money in the past.


I like to introduce the topic by doing a barter activity. I use a pretty basic activity but I recently came across this one as an alternative. Another way I've introduced this in the past is to ask if coconuts would make a good form of money - this was a technique suggested in a Tutor2U CPD video from way back, which is definitely worth a look.


I also like looking at prison currencies: you might want to check out this video from Vox, this article from NPR or this one from the Guardian. Chapter 3 of Extreme Economies tells a detailed story of Louisianna's prisons, including how and why currencies change over time.


The new(ish) polymer notes and the questions over whether or not they are vegan raise an important question about what happens when money isn't 'acceptable' to all - this article discusses why the Bank of England stuck with tallow for the £50 note.


There are a few debates in the world of money that might be worth discussing: firstly over whether we should 'get rid' of coppers - reserach suggests that 6 in every 10 copper coins are used only once. This article from The Conversation discusses the issues clearly. Ths one from New Scientist about why we'd be better off with a £1.75 coin is also good, but it's behind a paywall. I probably wouldn't get students started on government papers this early on, but if you did want to, this call for evidence and response on Cash and Digital Payments in the new Economy are long but pretty accesible and contain some interesting snippets. This short video from the Economist makes a good alterative. Students might also be interested to see what happened to cash use during Covid- there is this article from the Guardian or this bulletin from the Bank of England.


Since students have never lived in a time without cash machines, it might be useful for them to get an idea of how they shaped society, and consider what future innovations in finance might do. Students might want to look into cryptocurrencies, but a word of warning that this can become quite complex quite quickly!


Lesson Powerpoint/Booklet/Barter activity:




Revision

Tutor2U's Revision Blast on this offers a few options: you can download the Powerpoint (bottom of the page) and do it in the classroom which should take around 30 minutes, but the video would also work really well as an EdPuzzle. Alternatively you can split the activities up and incorporate them into future lesson starters.


APT have made a set of 30 Scarcity and Choice MCQ questions available as a sample, complete with answers. and explanations. I have a full Year 1 Micro set which I really like - the set I have has two tests on each topic, which is useful for using one for revision or retest . There are also these MCQS from the University of Dayton (1 and 2) which have some nice questions. You can turn them into Google Forms/Microsoft Froms quizzes ( for the APT ones, you can eveneven copy and paste the explanations for students to see if they give the wrong answer!). However, I have found the quickest way to issue these is to make a generic 30-question form with A, B, C, D answers (so each quiz just says 'Q1' with answers 'A/B/C/D' , the 'Q2' with answers 'A/B/C/D' rather than the specific questions and answers) and use this as a template. Each time I want to issue a quiz, I duplicate the form and mark in the correct answers for the quiz I want to give (which takes about 2 minutes). I then just issue the students with the relevant pages of the PDF of the quiz and get students to mark in the corresponding answers. It's a slight extra step for students but it saves me a whole load of copying and pasting.


Tutor2U has topic tests for AQA and Edexcel. You can also check out when these topics have been tested using the free topic tracker (AQA and Edexcel) or find topical examples using the fab free Topical Examples Guide (AQA and Edexcel)


I have updated questions for this unit on Quizlet and on Carousel (if the link doesn't work, just search 'Econosaurus' on the community page). I went through my Edexcel questions and added in anything that was missing from AQA, so you can probably use them for either, but obviously make sure it has everything you want. I also made some printable flashcards which you can see in the video below, along with the flash card mat.






Just a quick note to add that the Intro to Economics Bundle saves you about £11 on buying the products individually and also includes a few extra resources:






If you have any questions or if I've missed out your favourite resource drop me an email on isobel@econosaurus.co.uk or find me on twitter @econosaurus