Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Puzzle Game

I love teaching economics. There are a number of reasons, one of which is that since it is a social science, we can do social experiments. I tell my students that any time I can mess with them, I am going to take full advantage, and thus, the puzzle game. I do this as part of my introduction to economics unit. In that unit there are six economic principles: 1. People Choose and All Decisions Are Rational 2. All Choice Involves Cost and All Decisions Are Made At The Margin 3.People Respond To Incentives in Predictable Ways and Are Maximizers 4. Voluntary Trade Creates Wealth 5. Government and Economic Institutions Influence Individual Choices and Incentives 5. The Consequence of Choice is Found in the Future. I tell them the rest of macro/micro economics are set on those principles. 

Within the "Voluntary Trade Creates Wealth" part, I do this activity. I went out and bought some puzzles, with money I made from my second-day activity which is a seat sale, at Walmart. 

These are two sided puzzles that are 108 pieces each. They are challenging, but not impossible. I offer an incentive, a nice tie back to principle #3, which for my students is $5 each to Chick-fil-a, again I use the money from the seat sale. I thought about allowing them to not take one of the reading quizzes we do each week as an incentive as well, but did not this year. I divide students into groups of 4 or less and let them start. Once a student asks to see a picture of the puzzles completed, I project those. As they start to work they realize, normally about half way through, that not all of the pieces of the puzzle are there and that they have pieces from everyone else's puzzle. I tell them that they cannot just go and take puzzle pieces, but instead must find a way to trade in order to finish. I normally have one to two groups finish. This takes a whole 50-minute class. In addition, I always give students a hard time for their lack of good music choices, so as they are playing we listen to music from the 60's-80's. 

After the activity, we relate it back to the 6 core principles... What decisions involved cost? Was the incentive enough to get you to participate, if not, what more (marginal benefit) could I have offered to get you more involved? The winning team did receive the gift card, but what did you trade? How is that the same as wealth creation? How were you acting in your own self-interest? Was it selfish to want to win? Was it selfish to give pieces to another group even if you did not trade? And so on. The students really like this activity. It is a great way to engage the whole class to learn that economics is not just something written about in a textbook. 

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