Battling dads illustrate supply and demand? Using movie clips in the economics classroom

In a time when students are obsessed with electronics and television, educators are challenged with discovering innovative ways to capture their student's attention while teaching them a lesson or two. So why not use their obsession to your advantage in the classroom and use movies to teach economics?

Some of the benefits of using movie clips in the classroom include extending learning past the textbook as well as accommodating different learning styles—such as visual, aural, verbal—to help increase retention and recollection. In addition, movies allow the students to apply concepts learned by allowing them to cite examples from the movie to explain economic concepts. Forty-four states, including those in the Southeast, have adopted the Common Core State Standards. These standards require students to master the "application of knowledge through higher order skills," which teachers can work on by providing a visual comprehension guide while the students watch the movie.

Battling dads illustrate supply and demand
The 1996 movie "Jingle All the Way," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad, has a great scene that illustrates the effects of supply and demand. The plot of the movie, which is appropriate for middle schoolers and older, revolves around two fathers who on Christmas Eve are desperate to purchase the most popular toy for their sons. All the toy stores in town are out of stock. The scene in this movie clip  takes place in a mall with a store that received a shipment of the toy. The store manager announces that he has decided to use a raffle system to determine which customers can buy the toy. He also announces that, "according to the laws of supply and demand," he is doubling the price of the toy.

After the students watch the movie clip, you could build on the concept of supply and demand by having them hold a mock auction in class. The Classroom Economist has a video of a mock auction  in action, which you can show your students in preparation.

Alternatively, you can use the Classroom Economist clip as an introduction to the lesson "Supply Shocks: For Better or Worse." This lesson teaches how supply shocks affect price and output.

Finally, we have created some guided discussion questions  for the "Jingle" movie clip.

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is a funny movie that would appeal to younger students—early middle school and younger. This movie can teach students about the role of entrepreneurs in the economy. The movie's main character, Flint, lives in Swallow Falls, a small town whose economy is based on the sardine market. The town klutz, Flint is also an entrepreneur who has created a number of failing inventions since he was a child. Because the sardine is the only food available for the townspeople, Flint invents a machine that makes food out of water. The scene in this movie clip  shows the effects of his invention after a little mishap occurs and the machine is shot up into the clouds.

We have also created guided discussion questions  to accompany this movie clip.

After watching the movie clip, students can read "Entrepreneurs ," an installment in the Dallas Fed's Everyday Economics series. Not only does this article look at how entrepreneurs affect the economy, but it also looks at the reverse, how a free market economy provides incentives for entrepreneurs. Students can then engage in a group discussion about how they think Flint's new invention would affect the economy in Swallow Falls.

For older students, you can follow up the discussion with either or both of the following lessons, available on the Atlanta Fed website. "All Kinds of Entrepreneurs" helps students grasp the many facets of entrepreneurism. "Do I Have What It Takes to be an Entrepreneur—and Is My Community Ready?" introduces the role of entrepreneurism in a community.

For additional creative ways to use movies to teach economic concepts, check the Atlanta Fed website for our "Dinner and a Movie" workshop series at your local Federal Reserve branch. Each workshop in the series features a movie that illustrates certain economic concepts and provides lesson plans linked to the movie for attendees to take back to the classroom with them.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, economic and financial education specialist, Miami Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
March 29, 2012