Hundreds of California high schools students crowded into USC’s Town & Gown Dec. 2, to experience a program that combined two words rarely used together: economics and fun.
The second annual International Economics Summit cast 350 students from 15 high schools in the role of economic adviser. Their mission: to improve the standard of living in their country through international trade.
“What you’re seeing here is the end result of eight to 10 weeks of intensive classroom preparation,” said Jody Hoff, the program’s creator, as she watched the costumed students bustle around the room, shouting as they imported, exported, lent and borrowed.
Hoff, president of the Idaho Council on Economic Education and a former high school teacher, said she first implemented the program in 2000 because she loved economics but wasn’t happy with the way it was taught.
“There’s nothing worse than having something that you love bore kids out of their minds. It’s the instructional technique,” she said. “Our vision was to make economics an active learning process.”
It seemed to work as students representing 80 countries shouted and pushed past each other during a trading session that was fast and furious. Activities earlier in the day included trade and alliance negotiations and a summit quiz.
Tara Nazarian, a 17-year-old senior from El Segundo High School, said there were challenges to exporting goods from the country she represented, Lebanon.
“I thought this would be easier. It’s a lot harder because people get stingy, and they don’t want to give up their stuff for the little amount that you have to offer,” she said.
“Especially with foreign aid, you have to do a lot without a lot of money. We’re learning how to stretch our money a lot, and it’s really hard.”
Nazarian said this approach to teaching economics was “a whole lot faster paced” than the traditional approach, and she and her team were learning a thing or two about strategy.
“You really need to do a lot of planning and a lot of conversing with the other countries first before you make any moves,” she said.
“I think that one of our downfalls was that we didn’t talk to any of the other countries before we made our strategic plan, and we thought that they would trade with us. It kind of failed. Now we’re trying to get rid of all of our food, and we still have it all left.”
Economic hardships aside, Nazarian said she enjoyed the interaction with the other students.
“I’ve met some really cool people,” she said. “You see how everybody really gets into the game. It is really competitive.”
Her teacher, Pat Harrison, said the 28 students she brought to the regional summit gained a fresh perspective on both economics and their own lives.
“The comments that I’ve gotten from the students are that they didn’t realize how lucky they were to live in the United States and not be part of a Third World country where, through no fault of their own, they live in very poor conditions,” said Harrison, who applied to the program because she wanted to make economics more exciting for her students.
“[This is] a real hands-on experience so they’re really involved in their learning instead of just being fed the information,” she said. “They love the interaction and meeting other students and leaving the environment of their high school.”
Harrison, one of six teachers in the program who traveled to South Korea for the USC Asia Conference in Seoul, said she wished there were more opportunities like the IES for teachers.
“This whole experience with USC has been the best thing that has happened to me in my 31 years of teaching,” she said.
The IES program was sponsored by the California Trade Education Council, the Center for International Business Education and Research at USC, the Center for Active Learning in International Studies at USC, the California International Studies Project and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Wells Fargo was the lead contributor.
For more information on the annual International Economics Summit, click here.