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May 9, 2024

Teacher Professional Development: Demonstrating Economics Is Integral to Life

Two groups of about 10 teachers stood on opposite sides of the room, each holding a single playing card, their eyes focused on the empty space in the middle of the New York Fed’s Museum and Learning Center. The color of the card told each teacher if they were a buyer or a seller. At the signal, they sprinted into the market, calling out prices and trying to make deals.

After a few minutes, the market cleared, and the teachers shared prices for that round. Our staff dealt new cards, and the activity repeated, with the clamor growing.

After a few more rounds, the teachers debriefed, reviewed the data, and realized that they had converged on a market price.

In our teacher trainings, teachers often say, “I don’t teach economics.” We’re working to change that.

Economics Is Integral

The New York Fed’s Economic Education team strives to show teachers that economics is an integral aspect of history, civics, and geography.

Our professional development and education programs, which reach almost 600 teachers a year, emphasize that learning economics means learning the economist’s toolkit. That toolkit includes acknowledging that resources are limited; examining the costs and benefits of a decision; and recognizing that every decision involves giving something up.

At its core, economics is the study of how people make decisions. We frame it that way for the teachers we train, with the hope that they will see economics as something their students can use in every class and in their lives.

We offer our trainings to teachers from both the Federal Reserve’s Second District, which includes all of New York state and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, and around the country, working with teachers from both rural and urban schools. Since the New York Fed is a certified provider of continuing teacher and administrator education by the New York State Department of Education, teachers who attend our workshops can receive continuing education credit.

Research on teacher training suggests that effective teacher professional development focuses on instructional practices, emphasizes collaboration among peers, and includes follow-up sessions. So we incorporate all three of these practices into our trainings.

Our fall and winter trainings focus on lesson plans that use an inquiry-based approach. Each centers on a question designed to spark curiosity, such as “Why Don’t We Just Make Everything Ourselves?” This approach aligns with the New York State Social Studies Framework, the guiding standard for social studies instruction in the state. In New Jersey, state social studies standards reference “the economic way of thinking,” while Connecticut’s standards explicitly use an inquiry-based approach that mirrors our lesson plan format and teacher trainings.

Making Economics Come to Life

We find that teachers who are reluctant to teach economics may be reacting to how it’s usually taught: Heavy on graphs and distant hypotheticals. For example, a worksheet problem starting with “Let’s imagine a market for cattle” for students who live in the middle of a city. Such tactics can make economics lessons seem dry and distant.

In our trainings, we instead guide teachers on how to make economics come to life by making it relevant to the communities in which it is taught.

Our two-day New York Fed Summer Institute teaches educators how to write economics questions that foster student interest. Using our lesson plan, “How Does Where You Live Influence How You Live?” teachers review the history of discriminatory lending practices and learn strategies for how to calculate the impact of those practices on wealth. They also learn how to personalize the lesson for their students by accessing and analyzing historical redlining maps from their communities.

We train teachers on how to use the lesson plan with students, giving them an opportunity to analyze maps, interpret historical documents, and reflect on government policies. In the process, the students build their knowledge of geography, history, and civics as they learn economics skills such as examining costs, benefits, and wealth outcomes. This also helps to demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of economics.

Our trainings also model simulations, such as the playing card pricing exercise, that give teachers activities to engage and inspire students. Echoing the best practices in teacher training, participants collaborate and provide feedback to one another on their compelling questions. We also schedule check-ins with teachers during both the fall and spring semesters to gather feedback on how successfully the concepts from the Institute were used in the classroom and answer any questions they have.

Using the Economist’s Toolkit Outside the Classroom

We train teachers because we believe students benefit from the skills they learn studying economics, both in the classroom and outside it. The economist’s toolkit is a useful skill set to bring to a middle school class about ancient trade routes, a high school class on monetary policy, and then life decisions, such as budgeting for prom and choosing a college. 

Since today’s classroom students are tomorrow’s policymakers, we believe students can use the tools of economics to tackle public policy challenges ranging from globalization to the future of work.

All of this is why we’re working to create more teachers who say, “I teach economics.”

Graham Long is the director of curriculum and instruction on the New York Fed’s Economic Education team.

The views expressed in this article are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.


The Teller Window is a publication featuring expert knowledge and insight from the New York Fed, including thoughts and perspectives from senior leaders. It offers a deep look at issues that matter to the Federal Reserve’s Second District and the nation.

Articles on the Teller Window focus on the people and programs that help the New York Fed support the U.S. economy. They are written for a wide audience with the aim of illustrating what we are doing and why it matters. Stories include editorials, interviews, explainers, and reports on events and trends in our communities and region. The Teller Window is edited by the Communications and Outreach Group on behalf of the New York Fed. Separately, for analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy, please see Liberty Street Economics.

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