Improving Economic Education From Home

Every year, students of the Master of Arts in Economics and Entrepreneurship for Educators (MAEEE) program at the University of Delaware create implementation projects to help improve economics and personal finance education in their home communities. This year was unique, however, as the coronavirus pandemic caused their summer session to be moved online, presenting these educators-turned-students with some additional challenges.

“There is a [higher] level of comfort being able to ask questions in a classroom setting than there is in an online setting,” wrote one MAEEE student in response to an anonymous survey about the coronavirus readjustments. “I know my students expressed that to me, and I didn’t realize how true it was until I had to do it.”

“Although it was difficult to be away from home for a month [last summer when we were on campus], I was able to focus just on my courses when I was living in the dorm,” added another. “This summer I was trying to complete the courses while still keeping up with my everyday obligations.”

Despite these challenges, though, “We found ways to make it work,” wrote another student. This included working to keep the community feeling, the student wrote, through virtual social gatherings like Zoom trivia nights.

Bonnie Meszaros, assistant professor of economics and associate director of the Center for Economics Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics said that despite these difficulties, the MAEEE cohort “did an admirable job of making adjustments.”

As the 30 students worked in their 12 different home states, they created projects that Meszaros said “were diverse, touched on a variety of topics and used a variety of formats. They reached teachers, K-12 and college students and parents.”

Further, she described the way that students’ ideas inspired other students to implement similar ideas in their own communities: “For example, Delaware teacher Amy Krzyzanowski created digital economic breakout rooms. She is now going to conduct a training for Arizona teachers set up by her colleague Megan Kirts. Jeffrey Stice from Texas shared the program Youth Entrepreneurship. As a result, Delaware teacher Jennifer Vail received training in the program this summer with hopes of implementing in her entrepreneurship class.”

Meszaros went on to discuss student Amy Hiatt’s project using “doodle notes,” which are a visual note-taking method that “requires students to take notes with built-in features that encourage students to color and ‘doodle’ along in the process. These features are diagrams, graphs, arrows, words and more that they can color in and through as they are writing notes. This helps to encourage retention as it connects the creative side with the language side to build understanding of content. These doodle notes were a huge success and immediately shared with her cohort.”

Another MAEEE student, Craig Geyen, utilized the power of Zoom for his implementation project, virtually interviewing experts on various personal finance topics to help expand his students’ knowledge. With Zoom’s rising prevalence throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Geyen said that the project ended up being even more timely than he had anticipated.

“Our society is going to more video conferences, and we’re now able to connect with people all over the world through Zoom, Google Meet and other various platforms,” said Geyen, who is an economics and world history teacher at Monticello High School in Minnesota. “I also think it is easier to interview people over the various platforms than bringing people into the classroom. Plus, you are able to reach a wider variety of people from all over. You are able to connect with people now more than ever before.”

Geyen said that he was inspired to do this project because of how important financial literacy is to students’ futures: “I thought back to when I was growing up and how little personal finance was taught. The more knowledge and information we can give to students, the better off they will be as they continue down their path and journey of life. Students are interested in information that pertains to their life, and these topics will directly impact their life now and in the future.”

Geyen used Zoom to interview a banker, a financial advisor, an insurance agent, a realtor and a salesperson, and he used a software called Edpuzzle to add questions to the video. Students were then able to watch the interview videos, test their knowledge and ask follow-up questions.

As a result of the interactive project, Geyen said that he received a good deal of positive feedback from students and parents. Some parents even sat down and watched the videos with their children. The icing on the cake for this project, Geyen added, was when the insurance agent he interviewed extended an after-school internship offer to the students.

In the coming year, Geyen plans to conduct at least five more interviews with experts. He expects to make these a feature of his classes for years to come.

Through these projects, Meszaros said, Geyen and his fellow MAEEE students continue to carry out the mission of the program’s creator, Jim O’Neill. Specifically, she said, “The program’s founder felt strongly that the educators would serve as change agents expanding the quantity and quality of economics, personal finance and entrepreneurship being taught.”

“Given Jim O’Neill’s original goals for the program,” she continued, “this group more than lived up to his ideals.”

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