Getting SMART about Economics: Bringing Whiteboard Lessons to Your Classroom

In 1998, Beloit College began publishing what is known as the Mindset List, a look at the cultural mindset of freshmen entering college each fall. Not only is the list a helpful reminder to educators that our classroom cultural references may not be understood by students born in the last decade of the 20th century and later, but it also gives insight into how technology has transformed our daily lives. Students in college today have never known life before cyberspace—they have always been able to read books on electronic screens, download music to listen to on mp3s or iPods and laptops, shop online, and stay in constant contact with their friends via technology. And don't expect them to wear a wristwatch or to be savvy with a point-and-shoot camera.

According to the 2016 list, this year's entering freshmen class has lived a life of "bits, bytes, and bauds." Classrooms, too, have changed. All but gone is the "chalk and talk" of yesteryear, along with the chalk. Today's blackboard is better known as an online learning management system, and whiteboards are becoming "smarter."

Though it may be a given these days that you have to use technology to reach digital natives, embracing new technologies and finding the best ways to use them are not always one and the same. Interactive whiteboards, designed to encourage interaction and collaboration between students of various learning styles, are particularly well-suited for teachers of history and economics, whose lessons so often rely on charts, graphs, and digital content to enhance learning. From drawing tools (no more crooked demand curves!) and the ability to write on charts and graphs (great for practicing graphing skills and assessing comprehension) to instant access to web content such as video, data, and online primary source documents, whiteboards have a number of handy features that can make a teacher's life easier.

But what if you don't have a whiteboard? Teachers without interactive whiteboards are still able to open, edit, and share SMART notebook lessons, even if they do not have the software installed on their computer. Through SMART Notebook Express, anyone with Internet access can download the interactive lessons produced in this technology at no cost. The Express version also allows you to edit, annotate, save, and add to files, as well as create new SMART files.

Once you've mastered the basics, how can you move beyond using the whiteboard as a glorified overhead or simply a high-tech projection screen? The Federal Reserve has produced a large number of free interactive whiteboard lessons in SMART for teachers of economics, history, and personal finance, which you can find on websites of the Federal Reserve.

The Classroom Economist: Each of the seven modules of the Classroom Economist—Early History of Central Banking, GDP, Unemployment, Monetary Policy, Fractional Reserve Banking, What is Money?, and Inflation—contains an interactive whiteboard lesson that accompanies the unit. The modules also each contain video content, a PowerPoint lesson, and an interactive PowerPoint quiz that are all amenable to use with the technology.

Myths, Tall Tales, and Urban Legends: A Lesson on the Facts behind the Fed: This interactive lesson introduces students to common myths about the Federal Reserve and the reality behind the misconceptions, and includes an accompanying whiteboard lesson that, like the active learning lesson, directs students to primary source documents to search for the truth.

St. Louis Fed economics lessons: The St. Louis Federal Reserve has produced a number of interactive whiteboard lessons for teachers on a large range of economic topics. For high school students, concepts include fundamentals such as market structures, supply and demand, the Consumer Price Index, and comparative advantage to more advanced lessons on producer and consumer surplus, crowding out, and diversification and risk. For middle school teachers, whiteboard lessons using popular children's literature series such as the American Girls and Little House on the Prairie, as well as classics like My Side of the Mountain, incorporate the teaching of economic concepts into language arts lessons. For elementary students, picture books and simple stories are a fun and easy way to learn about money and the basics of economics, and these interactive lessons bring concepts to life for young tactile learners. Many teachers of higher grades also use these elementary books as a foundation, using the interactive nature of the SMART lessons to allow students to expand on the topics and bring the discussion to a higher level.

The Great Depression curriculum: Each of the six lessons in this comprehensive curriculum includes both a whiteboard notebook and PowerPoint file to accompany the units, which teach the economics behind the history through a number of interactive exercises and lessons.

Cars, Cards, and Currency: The St. Louis Fed offers teachers of personal finance whiteboard notebook files, flip charts, and PowerPoint lessons for each of the curriculum's five units, which cover topics such as credit and debit cards and the purchasing of a car.

It's Your Paycheck: This personal finance curriculum's nine lessons, which include content and activities on budgeting, saving, credit reports, payday loans and rent to own contracts, are each accompanied by SMART notebook lessons and PowerPoint files.

Limited only by your imagination
By capturing students' attention in new ways, encouraging teamwork, accommodating differing learning styles, and making the most of classrooms that have limited computer access, interactive whiteboards are a flexible tool with applications limited only by the creativity of the user. Watch for new lessons on the St. Louis Federal Reserve education page quarterly to accompany the Classroom Economist, and through the education pages of the Federal Reserve System. And for a quick cultural reference quiz, the next time you save a file in SMART or on your computer, ask your students if they can identify the cultural artifact pictured in the "save" icon. It's a floppy disk, of course, and they have probably never seen one!

By Lesley Mace, economic and financial education specialist with the Jacksonville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
October 5, 2012