Saturday, May 31, 2014

Currency Value Based on the Big Mac Index

The Big Mac Index was created in 1986 by the Economist in a light hearted attempt to explain the world's exchange rates.  In particular, based on purchasing power parity, it looks at the international basket of goods (which attempt to help balance currency value based on each other) on just one item - a Big Mac.  Yes there are flaws such as cheaper labor costs, cost of transportation, tariffs, etc. in poorer countries, but it gives you a bit of an idea using something every one of your students understand.   On the most basic level it explains one's purchasing power in different countries.  The video above does a great job explaining the index.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Revising My Student Assignment

So I have a bad problem of revising my assignments on a regular basis which is one of the many reasons why I love using documents in Google Drive (since the same url can still be used).   So when the negative GDP report came out it made me think perhaps I should add a segment to my earlier assignment asking the students to tell me what fiscal or monetary policy reaction should occur, if any, regarding the article they had chosen to review.  To that end the article (or any of them out there) is so good since it twice mentions a contracting of the economy.  It also has a number of other econ terms and even though it is short would make for a thoughtful summary.  So my kids would have to 1) in a paragraph state the main points 2) define five of the econ terms in the article 3) tell me what should be the government response and WHY 4) give me a graph showing an aspect of the article.

While we are at it, Nora Huff sent me her current events assignment and rubric which you can see here if you want to see a different idea. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Economic Importance of Going to College

According to the Economic Policy Institute in DC a college grad makes 98% more money an hour than someone who didn't go.  In fact, one loses $500,000 after paying for college.  There are a lot more economics in the article, but it is a nice way to teach both economics and the fact that the US is still shy on the number of people it needs who have gone to college as you can see in the chart above with the line moving upwards. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Short Microeconomics' Videos

There are so many great resources on the Internet to help you teach which gives me great comfort. Above is one short example and here is the complete YouTube playlist for a ton of Microeconomic tutorial videos.  What I like is that they are all under three minutes and the teacher both does problems as well as shows why and how demand and supply curves shift.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Microsecond Trading

If you read Flash Boys you know all about micro-trading and why the individual trader has no shot against sophisticated algorithms.   Above you can see just ten seconds of electronic trading for shares of Blackberry.  Notice that the ten seconds has been drawn out to over three minutes.   

Chromebooks as an Inexpensive Alternative for Schools

It is interesting to me that schools are willing to pay a great deal of money for tablets when laptops can do more.  The problem, of course, is that many see laptops as being even more expensive.  A number of teachers in my county would love to move to Chromebooks (which is taking a while for approval as we are a huge district).  But Chromebooks, as you can see in the video above are cheap ($200-350) laptops that range from 11 to 15".  They are inexpensive because they are essentially online devices.  Yes you have some space on the laptop and yes you can now work offline on Google Drive documents, but think about what you do on your laptop.  How often are you not connected to the Internet?  If we truly want our students to be prepared for the 21st century then they all need devices in school.

Chromebooks utilize the strength of Google Drive, but you can also use Microsoft's OneDrive (which recently changed names from SkyDrive).  I have been using online documents for four years and will admit that I used to download them onto my school's server, but at some point I just stopped as I realized that Google does a better job of safely backing up my work than my school district (who also does a great job).  I also want to be able to access my work anywhere (hey I love my job and work a lot of evenings and weekends) and don't want to have download VPN on every laptop and/or have to be married to one device.

So if you are interested, here is a link to purchasing Chromebooks on Amazon.  A number of schools also lease them for three years (which is essentially the life of a computer anyway).  Since it is a web based device all of the updates are down automatically and of course improvements to Google Drive or for that matter OneDrive are also automatic. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Economics in the News Assignments

So right now I am struggling though creating an assignment where the students have to find articles and give me several points on that we have learned.  Right now my thought is to do something which reinforces what we are doing in class at any point during the year and I am thinking of doing two a month.  The requirements would be:

  • in one paragraph summarize your article and give me a link to it
  • give me five connections to our course that also define any words that are being used
  • give me a graph that summarizes part of the article and explains what is going on in it
So something like
  • This article discusses the fact that Congress ended unemployment benefits for a number of Americans this past January.  The article mentions that of 1.3 million Americans who were cut off in January only 1/4th have found a job.  Those who are still looking after six months find it much harder to find a job than those who have been unemployed less than that time. This brings up five concepts we have learned. 
  • Fiscal policy = Congress making policies with the appropriations' committees to decide on where to spend money
  • The formula that defines unemployment: rate = # of unemployed/total labor force over 16
  • People who are no longer looking for a job are not counted as unemployed.
  • frictional unemployment =  the people who are leaving their current job to look for another one (inc. transitions from one job to another even when you know where you are going)
  • structural unemployment = markets change (demand) or technologies cause people to lose their job
  • So you could use the chart below to show how expansionary policies by the Federal Reserve such as selling buying Treasury bills to expand the money supply or lowering interest rates to increase investment would lead to more demand and less unemployment. 
If you have an idea for using current events in your class I would love to hear it either by hitting comment or by emailing me at 

If you use Krugman's AP Economics you might want to find some clips of him to show your students.  Above he debates morning talk show host Joe Scarborough on the Charlie Rose show.  They discuss paying down debt, depressed economy, baby boomer retirements, carrying government surpluses, deficits, interest rates and more.  It might be an interesting exercise to watch part of it and try to graph some of what they are discussing and much more.  

Short Flip Videos for Econ

One thing I really like about Krugman's "Economics for AP" is that instead of chapters it has short (3-5 pages) modules so the students feel less overwhelmed.  That is also they I like mjmfoodie's videos as they take one concept and cover it in just a few minutes as you can see in the example above on scarcity and choice. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Video of Top Ten Macro Concepts

This is a great short video on the major concepts for AP Macroeconomics.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No Summer Vacation on the Blogs

I am almost laughing thinking that some of you will actually be out of school in a week or so whereas I go until June 25th (yes indeed) and then start summer school teaching on July 1st (but I love my job so there is no complaining here!).  But please know that our blogs will be up and posting ALL SUMMER.  So if you are refining your classes or just looking for good ideas for summer school, be sure to stop by.

If you are new here there are now five blogs in the family starting with the
US History Teachers' Blog
US (and Comparative) Government Teachers' Blog
World History Teachers' Blog
World Religions (run by the great George Coe who helps on the three above as well)
Economic Teachers' Blog which is the newest member but moving quickly with 25 posts already.

You can also use the search engine in the upper left corner to search the 5000+ posts that we have put up in the last six years.

Monday, May 19, 2014

AC/DC Videos

Nominal and real GDP are difficult to understand, but this very short video makes it easy and for added measure it throws in the equation for GDP.  Mr Clifford has 26 short explanatory videos on his site + his videos that look at movies to explain economics (which I already blogged about here). 

Circular Flow Model & Other Fed Reserve Videos

This does a great job of explaining the circular flow model.  There are many other such helpful videos on the St. Louis Federal Reserve's site. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Naked Economics Summer Assignment

Right now I am reading The Leading Indicators which looks at the way economics has grown as a quantitative science in the last sixty years.  It is really fascinating to think we had almost no information of substance to war us going into the Great Depression and now have to continually redefine the CPI to consider new innovations and ways of doing business.

But since a lot of people give Naked Economics for a summer assignment, I thought I would post the top three ways teachers are using it and the questions they ask their students to answer when reading it.  This is the best one as it breaks it down by subject and covers many of the important topics that will be discussed during the year.  This one breaks it down into questions by chapters. This one simply has thirty questions (not as well done as the previous two links), but I like the part because it mentions Marketplace and other places where students can listen to podcasts. 

2014 Released AP Free Response Questions

If you follow Trevor Packer on Twitter (who is head of the AP program), he has been Tweeting out when the College Board releases the 2014 AP free response questions.  Here are the micromacro, US government, US, world and comp questions. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The World's Simplest Cloud Bookmarker

I just discovered today and really like it to bookmark your favorite webpages.  If you just want to bookmark urls and nothing more this is an awesome site for you.  All you need to do is to type a category before "" and then the url and it will create a new category.  It is that simple.  Watch the video above to see the actual steps. 

Foos' AP Econ Videos

Andrew Foos does a great job with AP Economics in my county.  Here are all of his flipped videos for micro and macro.  Above is one example of his fine work - this one on the foreign exchange market. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Economics University Website

This is an amazing website, Economics University, for teaching macro and micro economics.  It literally starts with what is economics in the Microeconomics part and then moves through both courses.  It even sets up the PowerPoints (which are just html slides so they flow more easily).  Even better when it gets to the point of drawing graphs, it does it by asking questions as in "Where does price go?" and then in the next tap of the computer, it gives you the answer.  There are also lots of problem sets.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why are Price and Quantity Reversed?

So today I asked a seemingly simple question, why are the graphs in economics drawn the way they are.  Above is typically how the "x" and "y" axes are drawn with the dependent variable (that is being acted upon) on the "y" axis.  So logically one would expect that the "y" axis is quantity since price acts on it.  But no, in economics it is just the other way around.  Here is an explanation and apparently it simply comes down to Alfred Marshall's Principle of Economics which was a standard for most college educators (and therefore the standard for all others) in the 20th century.  He used geometry in understanding economics (so don't ask me for an explanation).  Thanks to Andrew Foos for the link on this question. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How the Federal Reserve Works

This is a great video on both the history of the Federal Reserve and also the tools it uses to try and keep the US economy sound.  By the way if you are new to reading my blogs (and there is also one for US history, world history and US government)  I will also be posting here all summer.  Of course summer, for me, doesn't start until June 25th and then the following week I teach my summer online economics course! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Summer Assignment for Econ Students?

Today I was part of an e-mail discussion about summer reading/projects for AP students.  One of the books that was mentioned was a 2002 (and updated in 2010) Naked Economics which uses more layman terms to explain the basic principles of economics.

Another choice - and I would love feedback if anyone has read it comes from a new Stanford Press (and not it is written purposely on a level that is easily understood by high schoolers).  The book is Homer Economicus which uses Homer Simpson's world as a back drop for the study of economics.  Thus it seems a lot like Naked Economics except it is written by a collection of authors.

My take is that you will probably find Naked Economics more fun to read and your students will feel the same about Homer Economicus.

One of the authors is Jodi Beggs whose Twitter feed I follow as she has a lot of great videos, a webpage and insightful ways to teach economics.   

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Every Economics Graph You Will Need

Outlines for AP Macro and Microeconomics

Here is a formula chart for microeconomics and here is one for macroeconomics.  What I like about the latter one is that if you run your cursor over the names, a definition appears. Here is a much longer outline of macroeconomics. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Evolution of "the economy"

I am part way through The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers that Rule Our World.  The book essentially argues that modern economics came to being in the 1930/40s.  If you go to Ngram which is a Google generated search engine which shows you the number of words in all their digitized books and based on the book Unchartered, you can see that indeed there is a noticeable jump in the words "the economy" starting in 1940.  Likewise economics as a discipline came into vogue in the 19th century and true to form you can see it increasing dramatically in book mentions starting with the 1880s.

Plugging in words and phrases actually is a fun exercise for you and your students.  

Every Graph You Need for AP Macroeconomics

This is a pretty nice silent video which is "narrated" by the written word.  It both shows the graphs and explains them.  I found it at No Bull Review Economics which has a ton of flipped videos. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Quizlet for Review

If you follow my other blogs then you know all about the review game Quizlet. It already a great review app, now lets you record your own voice and put recordings on your review cards.  For those who are auditory learners this will be a great help to the main great features, flash cards, games, timed races, etc. that are already features of Quizlet.

Here is a set of AP Microeconomic terms and here is a set for macroeconomics

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Template to Draw Supply Demand Diagrams

So I like to use technology in class (can you tell?!) and want to be able to draw my supply/demand curves digitally.  So here Creately has a template for supply demand graphing. The only thing I can't figure out is how to draw a curved line. You can draw a line from one point to another and then click in the middle and drag the small square backward or forwards and then click on either side of the middle and click again in the middle to get a picture such as I have below.  Keep with this blog and I will find a way to do it a little easier. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Efficiency of Hospitals

One of my favorite blogs is Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.  It started as a political blog and is named after the number of electoral votes which he has predicted nearly correctly the last two presidential elections.  He wrote a great book called The Signal and the Noise which looks at a lot of different predictions from weather to politics and uses econometrics to make its predictions. Coming out of that endeavor Silver has put together quite a team at his website and among many different topics is economics.

One of the things we study with our students in economics is efficiency.  So this blog post looks at the efficiency of hospitals.  538 looked at 3.5 million heart attacks and measured productivity by using the measurement of how long the patients lived after their heart attacks.  How long the patients lived was then run in a multivariate regression using normal SES factors and this led to a measure of efficiency.  538 found that urban hospitals were more efficient than rural, teaching more than non-teaching, interestingly non profit more than profit and busier more than not so busy.  Also incredibly interesting was the finding that patients were often taken by ambulance to the more efficient hospital even if though it meant traveling further WITH the patient still suffering!

So you might want to share this with your students, asking if the test is a fair application and if so what implications it might lead to for hospitals. 

Vox & FiveThirtyEight

So when Ken asked me to join him in this blogging endeavor he asked me how I find material to use in the class. I am without a doubt no expert as this is my first year teaching AP Micro & Macro, but throughout the course of the year I have found a number of resources helpful.

One method that I have used is following different journalists that cover the economics beat. As both Vox & FiveThirtyEight started a month or two ago they announced who their econ writers were so I started following them.

The idea behind FiveThirtyEight was to create a news agency that was more based on data as opposed to opinions. It is run by Nate Silver who ran the 538 blog at the New York Times who did a great job predicting the 2012 election results as well as a lot of other data based political writing. At FiveThirtyEight the Chief Economics writer is @bencasselman and he has had a number of articles that could be used to go a little deeper in the material such as his article: Inflation May Hit the Poor Hardest. It is a way to bring current events into the classroom and to go more in depth.

Vox on the other hand is trying to provide more background on news so that the readers can be more informed. As a result the articles link to cards that help provide basic information. I don't follow a particular writer although @esoltas (actually I just followed him as I wrote this) is an economics writer for them. I just follow the @voxdotcom as a whole and as I find articles I save them to read later. For example they recently posted a number of cards on the minimum wage which is explained in most textbooks, but as you continue in the cardstack they get into why raising the minimum wage is not as clear cut an issue as our textbook makes it out to be. What I also like is that towards the end of each cardstack there is a card on "What else should I be reading..." which provides resources to gather more information such as more information about the minimum wage.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Putting Stories Behind the Teaching of Economics

While the study of economics can be fascinating in of itself, it is always helpful to connect the learning to the real world that the students might better understand.  

"Mr. Clifford" has a great series of videos as well as 150 multiple choice questions you could use to study for AP Micro and Macroeconomics on both iTunes and Google Play.  The videos are particularly fun in that they explain economics using popular movies.   Above is a great video that connects the movie Cars to introduce the idea of GDP, the business cycle, recession, and fiscal policy. 

The AC/DC site also has 30 videos on learning micro and macroeconomics that you could use for your classes. 

While we are at it, here is an interesting site that sees an uptick at people going to an adultery dating site (who knew that it existed) which shows that in bad times and states that are hurting their memberships goes up!