Monday, March 23, 2009

Fayette County Teacher’s Creative Approaches to Economic Education Gets State Recognition

Shelby Garner with students (L-R) Christyan Best, Todd Perry, Uvi Tega, Kaitlyn Peterson and Courtney Shaw.

It might be surprising to know that economics is the favorite subject for some third graders at Spring Hill Elementary in Fayette County. It is also the favorite subject of their teacher, Shelby Garner.

The enthusiasm she and her students have for economics is what led the Georgia Council on Economic Education to select Garner as Georgia’s Economics Teacher of the Year. For over eight years, Garner has used a program called Mini-Society to educate her students about economics. The program, for ages 8-12, takes students through the process of creating their own society and helps them understand more about math, law, entrepreneurship, economics, government and ethics.

Third grade teachers throughout the school system successfully use Mini-Society to teach economics, but it is Garner who has been credited with growing the program’s success.

“Ms. Garner was one of the teachers I selected in 2000 to be a pilot teacher for the Mini-Society program. I selected the teachers I had confidence in to make the program succeed and then, more importantly, help the program grow throughout our third grade,” says Social Studies Coordinator Dr. Cathy Geis, who nominated Garner for the award.

Garner’s successful approach to teaching economics concepts is through creative, experimental exercises she uses to help her students remember what they learn long after they leave her classroom. She likes to use the element of surprise when introducing the concept of scarcity.

“One day while the kids were at recess, I went around the school and covered all the water fountains with a paper bag and labeled them ‘Out of Order.’ I handed each child a cup and passed around a jug of water without telling how much each could have, letting the problem arise on its own. Students who did not get any water were upset. The next day we set up this same scenario and it was amazing how the situation was handled differently,” she says.

Garner has used the program for over eight years and each year she adds something new. She says she realizes that students talk about their experiences so she is constantly brainstorming new scenarios to keep the element of surprise for which she has become known.

“My students come to school every day with an eagerness and desire to learn. I truly believe that I am preparing my students for the economic choices they will have to make in the future and their responsibilities as an active citizen in our society,” she says.

Garner has found that economics is not just limited to social studies but also addresses language arts and math. Her students write paragraphs for job applications in language arts and they read books such as “Frindle,” “Toothpaste Millionaire,” “The Flag We Love,” “Max Malone Makes a Million,” “Umps Fwat,” “Rent a Third Grader,” “ A Bargain for Francis,” “City Green” and “If I Made a Million.” She strengthens their math skills by teaching them how to use a checkbook to make deposits and withdrawals.

Garner credits the Mini-Society program for giving her the confidence to teach economics. She confesses that she worried in the beginning if she could teach difficult economic terms to her students since she was not sure if she truly understood what the terms meant.

“This program has made me become a very confident teacher of economics. I have often thought about changing grade levels, but teaching economics through Mini-Society is the main reason I do not want to leave third grade,” she says.

Garner will officially receive the teacher of the year award at a special luncheon on May 13 at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta.

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