Using Auto Racing as a Model to Teach Economics for Grades K-12

By Buchanan, Paula; Hankins, Rebecca | Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Using Auto Racing as a Model to Teach Economics for Grades K-12


Buchanan, Paula, Hankins, Rebecca, Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research


INTRODUCTION

In today's society, it has become more difficult for K-12 teachers to keep students focused on their studies. Comments from a presentation on this topic at the Allied Academies Spring 2006 Conference indicated that with distractions such as television, video games, and the Internet, students' attentions are often focused upon interests outside of the classroom. In addition, The No Child Left Behind mandates preparing students for standardized tests that take up even more of teachers' class time. Many of these standardized tests focus on basic skills, in particular reading, math, science and English. Basic economic concepts are not usually included in this testing. In fact, "...educating...students in economics is not the norm; rather it is often ignored for many reasons, including a perceived lack of need for economic education, time constraints in the classroom, and inadequacy of teachers in the field" (Bethune & Ellis, 2000).

As a result, students often fail to learn such basic economic concepts as scarcity, supply and demand, and opportunity cost as effectively as they should. Ironically, many junior high and high school students are still taught home economics, but again, the economics portion is limited. The problem lies in that basic economics skills are not mandated, but are voluntary as laid out in the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics. The 20 content standards described by the National Content Standards in Economics offer benchmarks for grades 4, 8, and 12. However, these standards are voluntary, leaving it up to individual states to decide how to incorporate economics into the school curriculum. For example, in the state of Alabama's "Standards and Benchmarks for Achieving Adequacy in Alabama Public Schools" economics is not listed at all. In the state of Texas, the curriculum for home economics for grades 7-8 is a module of thirteen sections under the heading Skills for Living, but only one section discusses anything related to economics.

Advocates for economic education face an additional two-pronged problem as a result of basic economic concepts not being an important component of K-12 teaching curricula. Many teachers have neither the basic skills nor time to effectively teach economics. Furthermore, economics is often viewed as one of the more difficult fields of study, and as a result is often avoided. Data from a recent survey of educators show that approximately fifty percent of elementary educators have no background in economics, and only twenty-five percent have had just one course in the subject. Therefore, most teachers interviewed in the survey said they experience a severe lack of confidence in their abilities to teach economics well (Schug, 1985).

LITERATURE REVIEW

In this article, the authors suggest a solution to the problem of teaching basic economic concepts in the classroom: introduce basic economic concepts to both teachers and students through auto racing. The auto racing industry has grown to be one of the most popular forms of entertainment. In fact, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing's (NASCAR) Nextel Cup racing series is the fastest-growing spectator sport in the nation. Its popularity and credibility as a national event is recognized by politicians and celebrities. An article recently noted that former New York City Mayor and current Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's "recent stop to the Daytona International Speedway for the Pepsi 400 race...has become almost a requirement for politicians as they seek the all-important Southern vote. George W. Bush did it, John McCain attended a race six weeks ago, and even John Kerry professed to be a fan in 2004 (Gordon, 2007)." Given the popularity of this spectator sport, the authors believe that using an auto racing model to teach economics will enhance both teacher capability and student learning. …

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