The Alfred P. Sloan Teaching Champion Award honors teachers in the New York Metropolitan area who have displayed excellence and innovation in their classrooms while teaching economics and personal finance. Kathleen Brennan is such a teacher and is one of the recipients of this year’s award. CEE sought to find out more about Kathleen and her teaching career. See what she had to say…
Kathleen teaches AP Economics, Statistics, and Personal Finance at Mount Saint Mary’s school in Watchung, NJ. For 14 years, Kathleen has tackled teaching these vitally important subjects to high-schoolers—a tough audience to say the least!
CEE: What first got you interested in teaching economics? What was it that attracted you to teaching the subject?
KB: I was a professional economist before I became a teacher, so I’ve always had a love for economics. I had some great economics teachers who made the subject come alive and I knew that I wanted to do the same thing for my students. Economics is about choices, and there’s no better place to teach students about choices than in high school. I also enjoy the cross curricular aspect of economics; it’s important for me to show the relevance of economics to other disciplines such as history, psychology, mathematics, and environmental science. Most importantly, I know that what I teach extends well beyond the classroom walls and has meaning in their everyday lives.
CEE: In this age of automation, students now have apps for everything, including personal finance issues. Is it a challenge to get students interested in taking charge of their economic and financial literacy and keep the subject relevant to their lives? How do you deal with the challenges?
KB: It’s always a challenge for teachers to keep the material relevant and interesting—students are bombarded with information and distractions, so you have to be extremely creative in getting the information across to the students. I teach at a tablet school so assignments that involve technology are relatively easy for me. I have assigned students podcast and video assignments with great success. These assignments require pairs of students to explain an economic concept using one of the mediums. I find that students immerse themselves in these types of assignments and come up with extremely creative ways to explain their concept.
I use the Internet extensively to reinforce the economic concepts I teach. Paul Solman’s economic reports on Econedlink often provide the “hook” that introduces many of my lessons. Economic parodies from Columbia Business School and George Mason University are used to highlight macroeconomic concepts. Students are required to access FRED (the St. Louis Federal Reserve Banks economic data base) to analyze GDP, unemployment, and inflation. The CIA Factbook and Gapminder are used for assignments that involve international and development economics. Online games from Reffonomics are used to reinforce supply/demand and exchange rate concepts. Videos, TV and movie clips, and interactive games such as Gen-i Revolution are used to reinforce financial literacy concepts.
Although I have a textbook, many of my lessons come from Virtual Economics. This resource is invaluable to me as it contains lessons that I can access easily and it provides the material for many of my interactive activities and games. As examples, I have used their lessons on markets, marginal product, inflation, expansion of the money supply, and externalities over and over again with great success. The lessons from Financial Fitness for Life provide the underlying framework for my financial literacy classes.
CEE: Is there a big difference in teaching the AP course versus your other courses? How do you adapt your teaching style, if at all?
KB: I have designed my AP Economics class so that I teach macroeconomics over two semesters, and hold extra sessions in the morning to teach microeconomics to a smaller group of students. I find this split works very well—it gives me the flexibility to spend more time on current events in macroeconomics, while making sure that I cover the AP curriculum with enough time for review before the AP test in May.
My teaching style in my non-AP classes doesn’t really change that much—other than I am more cognizant of covering the required curriculum in my AP classes. In all of my classes, student engagement is extremely important. I believe the key to keeping students engaged is variety; my lessons are a mix of interactive activities, skits, podcasts, videos, and songs—all designed to teach my students that economics applies to all aspects of their lives.
CEE: What is the funniest, most memorable thing that has happened during a lesson?
KB: That’s a tough one. My introductory lesson on scarce chairs is always funny. I’m always amazed that my students believe me when I tell them that there will be a scarcity of chairs for the first two weeks of school. Some students are upset when I tell them that they are going to have to bid money to sit in a chair; they can’t wait to tell their parents that I am extracting a fee from them to sit. It’s funny to watch their reactions when I tell them I created the scarcity by hiding the chairs down the hall. They have a good laugh at their own gullibility.
Recipients of the Sloan Award receive a $5,000 and their school will receive a cash award of $2,500 to use to support economic and financial education. The awards will be presented along with the CEE Visionary Awards at a ceremony on October 22 at The Pierre hotel in New York.
Find out more about the Alfred P. Sloan Teaching Champion Awards at www.councilforeconed.org/events/visionary-awards/alfred-p-sloan-teaching-champion-awards/.