The current recession hasn’t been a boon for many people, but you can count Associate Professor of Economics Sarah Culver, Ph.D., in the minority.
Her business is booming.
|Vestavia Hills High School students discuss the answer to a question during the recent Alabama Economics Challenge. More than 20 teams competed in this year’s challenge; Vestavia advanced to regional competition.
“Teaching macroeconomics right now is very exciting,” Culver says. “I’m having such a great time in the classroom with my students. There’s something to talk about.”
Culver, as director of the UAB Center for Economic Education, lends her expertise to promote economic and financial literacy by providing education resources to teachers and students from Huntsville to Anniston to Birmingham. It’s even led to a national championship for one local school.
“Simply put, the center exists to help teachers teach economics,” Culver says. “The hope is that the resources and programs the center provides will better equip teachers in their own understanding of economic concepts and will help them to actively engage their students in economic education.
“You’ve got to provide them with the resources to help them understand it better, and you’ve got to help them excite their students.”
The Alabama Economics Challenge
The Center for Economic Education uses three tools to engage secondary education faculty and students: The Alabama Economics Challenge, the Alabama Stock Market Simulation and in-service training for teachers.
The Alabama Economics Challenge is a highlight of the center’s work. It is the statewide round of a national competition for high-school seniors that tests their understanding of and interest in economics. The students compete for prizes and an all-expenses-paid trip to one of four regional competitions.
More than 20 teams competed in this year’s challenge, held at UAB March 31. Vestavia Hills High School won both divisions of the event and is sending two teams to the regional tournament in Atlanta later this month. A win there and the teams move on to the Final Four national competition in New York, where Vestavia won the National Economics Challenge this past year.
“These quiz-bowl competitions have been in existence for some time for math and science, but it’s only recently that economics joined the group,” Culver says. “Each year they’re coming better prepared, which means that each year I have to make the exam a little harder. Even so, test scores are increasing on average. You’re always trying to show evidence that what you’re doing matters, so I’m encouraged by this news. The other good news is that one of our state’s teachers coached a team that beat every other team in the nation.”
Simulation engages students
The Alabama Stock Market Simulation occurs in the fall and spring semesters for Alabama students in grades 5-12.
The simulation engages students in many areas of scholarship. They learn to analyze news on the economy and markets, strengthen their computer and Internet skills and work together to make team decisions.
“I’ve got fifth graders winning big and outperforming the market, but I’ve also got fifth graders that are losing big, too,” Culver says. “Some wonder if the simulation — because it’s just 10 weeks long — teaches students to be day-traders. The answer is no. I’d rather students experience a loss with fake money. It teaches you the value of critical analysis and demystifies stock trading. The simulation is quite sophisticated and realistic. It mirrors real life.”
Students participating in the simulation buy and sell stocks with $100,000 of virtual money. They can sell short or purchase funds or stocks outright. They must have a diversified portfolio and are limited in the total number of trades can make.
Culver says the simulation also teaches the students the connection between the stock market and their roles as consumers.
“Many of the teachers tell them to buy what they like,” Culver says. “That means they’re buying Wal-Mart, Nike and Apple. It’s giving them some insight as to how consumer tastes impact the stock market.”
Training of teachers crucial
The Economics Challenge and the Stock Market Simulation wouldn’t be possible without in-service training for teachers. The center provides the training with the assistance of the UAB Regional In-Service Center and the National Council on Economic Education.
Teachers come to campus every summer to learn more about the Economics Challenge, the stock-market simulation, economic curriculum and personal finance. The center is hosting an all-day workshop on The Great Depression May 1 in addition to its usual summer fare.
“I’ve met some wonderful K-12 teachers through the center,” Culver says. “They inspire me to work a little harder for them. If we can give these teachers resources, lesson plans, content and expose them to best practices, they take that back to their classroom. And they teach it to that class, to the next year’s class and so on. It becomes a multiplier effect that I feel very fortunate to be a part of.”
Parents of grade-school children often contact Culver to ask if she can help implement some of these techniques in their schools. She advises them to find a teacher interested in learning more about economics and its role in helping students learn more about multiple subjects.
“It may be a math teacher in middle school, it may be a social studies teacher in high school or it may be the enrichment teacher in elementary school,” Culver says. “They’re always trying to find programs that are going to motivate their students.”
K-12 teachers can contact Culver at email@example.com or 934-8833 to learn how to participate. Visit main.uab.edu/Sites/business/departments/52606 to learn more about the center.