A Real World Lesson for Economics Students

Most high school entrepreneurship teachers face a common challenge.  Learning business through text books and classroom discussion can only take a student so far. Eventually they need to try their skills in a controlled environment while facing the real opportunities and risks that business owners experience. There are several ways to confront this.

At Mansfield High School in Mansfield, MA where I teach a class called Entrepreneurship, students run small businesses each trimester to get the full experience of being entrepreneurs. Students pitch business proposals, then decide on a single project to pursue. From that time, they plan the business from product design and the marketing plan to serving as the sales force and analyzing finances. The project culminates with students donating their proceeds to a local charity or organization of their choice. They take this opportunity to give back to the local community that supports them. To date, students have donated over $5,200 in four years.

Before students can get to the point of running their own business, however, it’s crucial for them to learn the fundamentals of economics. Understanding supply and demand, and how pricing affects the bottom line are important skills for starting any business venture. However, teaching these concepts in an easy-to-understand and fun manner are not always easy.

This fall, I was introduced to a tool that has helped get over this hurdle. A new tutorial and simulation fromCME Group and Discovery Education called Fueling the Future walks students through the basics of economic principles using four easy-to-follow sections:

Topic 1 – Supply, Demand, and a Pair of Sneakers

Topic 2 – What’s Behind Prices at the Pump?

Topic 3 – The Rise and Fall of Gasoline Prices Through History

Topic 4 – Name Your Price

Along the way, students were asked to predict how prices would change based on competitors’ actions, fleeting customer demand, and the impact of world events. Once the students understood these concepts, they were put in the shoes of a small business owner running shuttle buses. Students had to evaluate several scenarios, make educated predictions on the future prices of fuel, and determine prices for their bus tickets. Price the tickets too high, and tickets may not sell. Price the tickets too low, and the revenue may not cover the increasing fuel costs.  In the simulator, as in life, there is a lot for the business owner to consider, including…

How news affects the market and your business:

fuelmodule_sim_step1

Discovering the appropriate price point:

fuelmodule_sim_step2

Seeing the results based on your decisions:

fuelmodule_sim_results

After students completed the simulation and the provided post-assessment, I asked them about their experience with Fueling the Future.  “I enjoyed using the simulation because it gives you an idea of how these numbers would work in the real world,” one student told me. Another said that she learned a lot about why the price of fuel changes so frequently, and how I may be able to predict what it might be when world events occur.”

Many of their classmates echoed similar responses. There are always lots of reasons a lesson works or does not work. In this case I think it boils down a few things:

– It was fun – an online experience with video offers the kind of experience where the student barely realizes they are learning something

– It was interactive – Students were required to participate in order to complete the simulation and. It was real – students could identify with the example in Fueling the Future.

– It was teaching a complex subject without being complex.

A good lesson encourages students to think and apply the lessons learned.  In business and entrepreneurship, applying real world experience is something we should provide to all students who seek to make their careers in those fields, and as educators, we should seek out the tools, like Fueling the Future, that help achieve that goal.

Jacqueline Prester is a business and technology teacher at Mansfield High School in Mansfield, MA

Additional Recent Articles in Economics