Q&A: How A Chicago Teacher Is Finding New Ways to Teach Economics

At a Glance

  • Online Learning Modules Provide Interactive Look at Economics
  • Students "understanding the econ they can use right now"

Economics and business skills are increasingly stressed at the high school level. Sales, business and finance were among the roles CEOs reported having difficulty filling with a diverse workforce in a recent Business Roundtable survey. The same survey noted that K-12 education was a key part of the solution in filling the skills gap.

For high school business and economics teachers, this presents an opportunity and a challenge: Teach students bedrock principles they can use in building the skills for a successful career, but do it with immersive tools that go beyond textbooks and class projects.

“For the content to be memorable, (students) need to be engaged and interacting with material,” says Bryen Hall, a business and economics teacher at Ogden International School in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. Hall is among the many high school teachers trying more online tools to reach students who will be greeted with an increasingly technological workplace and a work schedule that often requires an always-on mentality.

In the most recent semester, Hall began incorporating an online program from Discovery Education and CME Group into his classes as a way to provide a more immersive experience for students in his economics class. The program, Econ Essentials, has students navigate real-world business scenarios to understand the economic concepts that fuel the way we live. Watch more about how it works in the video above.

We spoke with Hall recently to get his perspective on the importance of economics and business education at the high school level, and the early returns he’s seeing from the Econ Essentials program.

OpenMarkets: What’s the biggest challenge that you face when it comes to business and financial education for your students?

Bryen Hall: One of the biggest challenges that I’ve had in the past is finding materials for my students that fit the modern education that we’re trying to push for students. Having students read a textbook and lecturing them on the material doesn’t work too well. For the content to be memorable, they need to be engaged and interacting with material. So when I can merge technology into the curriculum, and have them engaged in the material, that seems to be much more beneficial and memorable for the students.

OM: What about Econ Essentials do you like over some other online learning tools that are outside the textbook?

BH: First of all, I love that it’s comprised of three digital modules, and students can work on it at their own pace. My students are all different educational levels. We have some students that are STEM, some students that are gifted and some students that fall within the average range in terms of academic ability.  With the modules being set to your own pace, the differentiation is built in because they can guide themselves.

Most importantly, I like that its very clear with the content, and uses vocabulary that leaves out a lot of the economic jargon that needlessly confuses students. The content is also material that the students can relate to, which helps me in making my students see the importance and value of the material that I’m teaching.

Learn more about Econ Essentials for the classroom


OM: Keeping out the jargon helps students find a jumping-in point. Something they can relate to.

BH:  Yes, from the get-go. The first module goes right into student loans, financing a car and those are things that students can engage with. Some of them are obtaining their license right now and starting to understand the process of buying a car. Some of them are starting to apply for college or have already applied. They are excited about college, so it’s cool because it’s immediately engaging them on material that they will be interacting with within the next year or two.

OM: One of the students featured in the video owns his own business.  Any update on his business and how it’s doing?

BH: Yeah he’s still muscling hard with his clothing business. I’ll drop the name Armada Clothing. I think with a lot of young entrepreneurs, they tend to overlook some of the key aspects of running a business. They get excited with the product they created and not really thinking about the costs that are associated with it.

The materials within Econ Essentials, especially the second module where it covers fixed and variable expenses, were very useful. I think he’s started to take a more realistic approach to his business, which is awesome because obviously we want him to pursue his dreams, but he also needs to be aware of some of the real costs and challenges that he’ll be facing along the way too.


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OM: Ogden is a school focused on global engagement. How does that play into understanding financial markets?

BH: I think by understanding financial markets, students can, first of all, better understand themselves, the nation, and most importantly, how their nation can change the world. With our school and the international baccalaureate curriculum, teaching students to be globally minded and civically engaged with the world, thinking more outside of just Chicago or outside the United States, they can figure out how they can make an impact and understand the world around them.

Starting with financial markets is a huge part of that. They can learn how to manage their money better, they can learn more about how our nation’s economy works.

OM: This is a key subject for students entering the workforce in the next 5-10 years. How are high school teachers approaching it differently than maybe they have in the past?

BH: One of the biggest challenges that econ teachers face, especially the high school level, is trying to put too much content into one course. When I was in high school, my economics course was only one semester, so my teacher in economics tried to put a ton in there. Our course is a year-long and there’s still so much that you can pack into a curriculum. Breaking it up into three to four units and speaking to the key essentials for the students is the best thing to do because that way they are getting the basics of economics, understanding more of the econ they can use right now.

OpenMarkets is an online magazine and blog focused on global markets and economic trends. It combines feature articles, news briefs and videos with contributions from leaders in business, finance, economics and politics in an interactive forum designed to foster conversation around the issues and ideas shaping our industry.

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