Dr. White’s economics mini-course for Upper School students

Written by bd_developer on January 12, 2013

We are thrilled that Dr. Stephen White will be teaching economics and personal finance to our eighth and ninth grade students. Dr. White has a Ph.D. in health economics and management from The Heller School at Brandeis University, an MSW in clinical social work from Smith College School for Social Work, an MPA in health care management from Golden Gate University, and an M.Div. from The General Theological Seminary. He is also a Pine Cobble parent. 

Here’s a letter to the students that explains a little more about what he’ll be doing:

Dear 8th & 9th Graders,

It will be my great pleasure and honor to spend 9 class sessions with you meeting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday beginning on January 28 to introduce you to the basic concepts of economics with a brief excursion into the area of personal finance.  Economics is basically about how the world works.

After studying psychology in college and in a master’s program, I discovered the wonders of economics in a Ph.D. program in social policy and discovered that economics often does a better job of explaining human behavior than psychology does  Who knew?!  (Economists are also funnier than most psychologists!)  My aim is to give you a glimpse of why that might be true with the further aim that you might choose to continue your study of economics later in high school and in college.

To learn economics is really to learn a new language, or, rather, a new way of thinking and looking at the world and how it works.  This is why it’s so much fun.  I had hoped to find a book that would get you started but could not find one that is “just right.”  All the available books that introduce economics are written on a level that is either way below your reading level or that is too technical and complex to cover in just 9 class sessions.  What to do?  I settled on a book that is far below your reading level.  It is a series of situations involving a middle school kid named Striker Jones and his friends who use economic principles to solve mysteries.  It’s an easy read and might be a fun way to get you started.  But don’t be fooled!  The concepts the stories illustrate are important building blocks for understanding economics.  The book is called Striker Jones: Elementary Economics for Elementary Detectives.  Mr. Merselis will give the book to you on Monday and I hope you can read it by the time we meet on the 28th.

As I’ve said, although the book is an easy read – perhaps too easy! – it does illustrate many important economic principles.  Attached is a study guide for the Striker Jones book …in the study guide are two links to sites where you can find most of the definitions.  Before you read each chapter, look up the definitions for that chapter.  Then see if you can solve the mystery.  Don’t worry if you can’t — this is just to get you familiar with some basic ideas.

In addition to the Striker Jones book, I will give you handouts in class with more advanced situations to solve using critical thinking and economic principles.  You will also receive a handout called “The Handy Dandy Guide to How the World Works” which will be your key to solving the problems that are posed in class.

I will also ask you to go online to the Kahn Academy to go through their brief lectures (about 10 minutes each) on microeconomics.  I will assign which ones I want you to do each night after we meet, but if you’re eager to get a head start [a good idea], you could go through them now at: http://www.khanacademy.org/science/microeconomics/supply-demand-equilibrium/economics-introduction/v/introduction-to-economics

and

Demand: http://www.khanacademy.org/science/microeconomics/supply-demand-equilibrium/demand-curve-tutorial/v/law-of-demand

and

Supply [do the session on Demand before you do the one on Supply]: http://www.khanacademy.org/science/microeconomics/supply-demand-equilibrium/supply-curve-tutorial/v/law-of-supply

In the middle of the mini course we’ll take an “intermission” – a break – to discuss how to be smart about money.  In that session we’ll look at how something called compound interest can either be your friend for life or your mortal enemy (and even both at the same time!).  If you grasp what we discuss that day and remember it all your life, you’ll avoid a lot of mistakes that people make with money.  Also in that class I will show you how you can become a millionaire (with guaranteed results in 50 years!).

At the end of the mini course I will give you a couple of simple problems to solve using economic principles and ask you to explain your answer.  You must do one, but you may do both if you’re on a roll.  More about that later.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for learning something new and useful.  As you read the Striker Jones book, watch the videos, and go through the course, keep this in mind: Economics is not just about money.  Whatever else happens (like actually learning something), I think we’re going to have fun.

If anything here is unclear, please email me with your questions.

I look forward to seeing you on the 28th.

Dr. Stephen White

What a tremendous opportunity for our students. Thank you, Dr. White!!

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