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Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library, K-12

Economic Dilemmas and Solutions

Steven Page is a 12th–grade economics teacher at Vivian Gaither Senior High School in Tampa, Florida. In this lesson, students review and interpret the government's role in the economy. Working in groups, students examine economic dilemmas, including the implications of human cloning, year–round schooling, and drug legalization. Students then reach consensus on a "proper" economic decision and present their findings in the form of a skit, followed by a group discussion.

Video Summary: How can an exam review bring economic concepts to life? Steve Page’s 12th-grade economics class reviews for an exam by discussing real-life social dilemmas and their effect on the economy, and by developing viable economic solutions to those dilemmas.

The class is divided into small groups, and Mr. Page assigns each group a dilemma, such as recreational drug use, human cloning, and sanitary conditions for raising poultry. Students research and analyze the economic and social impacts of the dilemmas, and propose economically feasible solutions. Students then do additional research, make posters, and develop skits to present their solutions. At the end of each presentation (which must include at least 20 economic review terms, such as money supply, economic growth, and government revenue), Mr. Page and the other students ask the group questions.

Class at a Glance

  • Teacher: Steve Page
  • Grade: 12
  • School: Vivian Gaither High School
  • Location: Tampa, Florida

Themes and Standards Addressed in This Lesson

“Economic Dilemmas and Solutions” highlights the following NCSS standards-based themes:

  • Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Production, Distribution, and Consumption
  • Global Connections

Content Standards:

  • Economics

About the Class - Classroom Profile

“I think kids are at an extreme disadvantage if they leave high school without basic economic knowledge, especially now that the United States is in [and very dependent on] the global market. After studying economics, no matter what field they enter into, they will have that fundamental knowledge that they can handle themselves financially.”
— Steve Page

Steve Page teaches 12th-grade economics at Vivian Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida. Located in a suburban, upper middle-class community on the outskirts of Tampa, Vivian Gaither is a large high school with about 2,800 students. Most students drive themselves to school, have their own bank accounts, and work part-time jobs after school or on weekends. The school is approximately 90 percent Caucasian, with a small minority population. Most students at Vivian Gaither graduate and continue on to college. Economics is a graduation requirement.

Mr. Page began the year with an introduction to basic economic principles, followed by a unit on scarcity of resources in different world regions and economies. From scarcity of resources, the course segued into units on supply and demand, micro- and macroeconomics, international economics, and personal finance. Throughout the year, Mr. Page emphasized the importance of civic duty, encouraging students to become active members of their community.

Year at a Glance

Units in Steve Page’s Social Studies Year

Scarcity of Resources
Supply and Demand
International Economics
Personal Finance
Year-end Review

Overall, Mr. Page taught his students the economic, political, and societal bases of the free enterprise system. Specifically, by the final exam, he expected them to grasp certain knowledge and skills they can use in the real world. Key content included understanding the role of economics in history, such as contributions of major theorists Adam Smith and Karl Marx; and the relationship among shortage, equilibrium, and surplus. Key skills included interpreting economic models, such as the circular flow model; and graphing supply and demand curves.

For the final exam review, Mr. Page posed dilemmas that would engage students’ interest; increase their retention; and promote their speech, debate, and critical-thinking skills. Through group work and discussion as well as individual research, students applied abstract concepts to realistic dilemmas.

About the Class - Lesson Background

Read this information to better understand the lesson shown in the video.

Economics is a social science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods — in particular, how decisions are made in response to changes in supply and demand. Different economic systems use different methods to address these issues. The free enterprise system, used in the United States, Japan, and Western Europe, emphasizes private ownership of business, consumer demand, decentralization of economic decision making (i.e., economic decisions based on supply and demand, rather than government policy), and a relatively limited role of government.

In this lesson, Mr. Page asked students to research and report on the economic impact of the following dilemmas:

  • Recreational Drug Use: The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimated that 14.8 million Americans ages 12 and up, or 6.7 percent of the population, had used an illicit drug in the month prior to the interview. The highest rate of use was recorded at approximately 21 percent for 19- to 20-year-olds. Students examined the social, economic, and political fallout associated with illegal drug use.
  • Legal Minimum Age Requirements: Young people are often limited in their actions because of legal age restrictions. For example, there is a minimum age for voting, dropping out of school, driving, purchasing and drinking alcohol, and gambling. Students considered the implications of minimum age requirements on the economy, and whether the requirements should be eliminated or modified.
  • Free Education: In the 1999-2000 school year, 46,540,114 students were enrolled in public schools; the average expenditure per pupil was $6,627; the average teacher’s salary was $41,724. Approximately 30 states have districts that hold school all year. Approximately 88 percent of children ages 3 to 5 attended nursery schools in 1999, and between 1980 and 1992, college enrollment increased by about 20 percent. Students discussed the economic impact of extending public education to include preschool and college, and of having schools in session year round.
  • An Illegal Win in the Lottery: After illegally winning $1,000,000 in the lottery, students are ordered by a judge to divide the money fairly among designated needy groups. Students focused on the economic issues related to the distribution of winnings and decided how to ensure that the allocation of funds was fair.
  • Human Cloning: Ever since the first animal was successfully cloned, scientists have been faced with the question of whether humans should be cloned. The debate rages among scientists, ethicists, government officials, and citizens. Students considered the economic impact, legality, and social consequences of human cloning.
  • Poultry Bacteria: An epidemic is sweeping through the poultry industry that either kills the birds outright or makes them unsafe for consumption. Students develop solutions that protect both the health of consumers and the livelihood of the farmers.

Teaching Strategy: Reviewing Content Through Dilemmas
One way to review content is by presenting students with real-life or hypothetical situations. By using engaging scenarios that students are likely to remember, dilemmas reinforce concepts and help students apply and remember what they’ve learned. Difficult concepts often require a methodical introduction as students grasp new material. By the time students prepare for an exam, they are better equipped to engage with content at a deeper level. Dilemmas provide opportunities to extend students’ understanding of the material and to incorporate new learning. Finally, dilemmas provide context for students to understand what they’ve learned and how it applies to the world beyond the classroom.

Watching the Video


As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

Before You Watch
Respond to the following questions:

  • How do you bring economic concepts to life for your students?
  • What is the role of review in learning?
  • What are some ways to highlight important concepts at the end of the semester?
  • What are some ways to make the review meaningful even after the exam?
  • How do you keep students from becoming overwhelmed during a review?
  • How do you keep student interest during a review?
  • How can teachers help students apply their knowledge outside of the classroom?

Watch the Video
As you watch “Economic Dilemmas and Solutions,” take notes on Mr. Page’s instructional strategies, particularly the way he makes the review meaningful to students. Write down what you find interesting, surprising, or especially important about the teaching and learning in this lesson.

Reflecting on the Video
Review your notes, then respond to the following questions:

  • What struck you about the classroom climate, background, preparation, strategies, and materials used in this lesson?
  • How did Mr. Page indicate to students that certain concepts are important to learn?
  • Explain how the semester review served more than one purpose.
  • Why do you think Mr. Page organized the review around dilemmas?
  • What prior experiences do you think students need in order to make a review session like Mr. Page’s effective?
  • How does Mr. Page determine that students are learning?
  • How does Mr. Page set up the lesson to ensure that students both reveiw familiar content and engage in additional learning?

Looking Closer
Let’s take a second look at Mr. Page’s class to focus on specific teaching strategies. Use the video images below to locate where to begin viewing.

Working with Groups to Facilitate Understanding: Video Segment

Go to this segment in the video by matching the image (to the left) on your video screen. You’ll find this segment approximately 5 minutes into the video. Watch for about 6 minutes.

While brainstorming possible economic solutions to a dilemma, students are asked to consider all parties affected by the dilemma — from the national economy down to individual consumers.

  • How does Mr. Page encourage his students to think?
  • What role does he assume during this segment of the lesson, and what effect does that have on student learning?
  • What evidence do you see that students understand economic concepts?

Discussing Possible Resolutions and Seeking Additional Information: Video Segment

Go to this segment in the video by matching the image (to the left) on your video screen. You’ll find this segment approximately 15 minutes into the video. Watch for about 9 minutes.

After a student group presents a skit, Mr. Page quizzes the students with follow-up questions.

  • What do students learn from working with this dilemma that they would be less likely to learn if the review were organized differently?
  • What evidence do you see that students are going beyond the factual level in their understanding of economic concepts?

Connecting to Your Teaching


As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

Reflecting on Your Practice

  • How do you determine which concepts are most worthy of review after an extended period of instruction?
  • What methods do you find most effective in turning a review into an opportunity for new learning?
  • How do you evaluate students’ understanding of economic concepts?
  • How do you keep a review of material from throughout the year or semester from being overwhelming to students?
  • How do you motivate students during a review session?

Taking It Back to Your Classroom

  • Find a news story that relates to a particular economic concept studied in class. After analyzing the article, ask students to bring in articles that illustrate other economic concepts they have studied.
  • Conduct a review of key concepts studied over a span of time. Ask students to think about which concepts in the completed unit deserved thorough review, and ask them to propose related dilemmas from current events.
  • Visit a Web site to experience a dilemma online. For example, in The Shell Island Dilemma, users examine the social, political, economic, and scientific issues involved in protecting a seaside resort from coastal erosion. Primary documents, the actual court ruling, and photographs are provided.
  • Plan a unit review that will cover concepts students have studied, encourage new thinking, and allow students to apply their knowledge to realistic situations.

For related print materials and Web sites, see Resources.


NCSS Standards
Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies defines what students should know and be able to do in social studies at each educational level. This lesson correlates to the following standards for high school students:

VI. Power, Authority, and Governance
Explain the purpose of government and analyze how its powers are acquired, used, and justified; analyze and explain ideas and mechanisms to meet needs and wants of citizens, regulate territory, manage conflict, establish order and security, and balance competing conceptions of a just society.

VII. Production, Distribution, and Consumption
Analyze the role that supply and demand, prices, incentives, and profits play in determining what is produced and distributed in a competitive market system; describe relationships among the various economic institutions that comprise economic systems such as households, business firms, banks, government agencies, labor unions, and corporations; apply economic concepts and reasoning when evaluating historical and contemporary social developments and issues; apply knowledge of production, distribution, and consumption in the analysis of a public issue such as the allocation of health care or the consumption of energy, and devise an economic plan for accomplishing a socially desirable outcome related to that issue.

IX. Global Connections
Analyze the causes, consequences, and possible solutions to persistent, contemporary, and emerging global issues such as health, security, resource allocation, economic development, and environmental quality.

Content Standards:


Print Resources

For Students

Epping, Randy Charles. A Beginner’s Guide to the World Economy: Eighty-One Basic Economic Concepts That Will Change the Way You See the World. 3d ed. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.

Lindblom, Charles E., and David K. Cohen. Usable Knowledge: Social Science and Social Problem Solving. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979.

Shostak, Arthur B. Modern Social Reforms: Solving Today’s Social Problems. New York: Macmillan, 1974.

For Teachers

Gordon, Stafford. Applying Economic Principles. New York: Glencoe/MacMillan McGraw Hill, 1994.

Krulik, Stephen, and Jesse A, Rudnick. The New Sourcebook for Teaching Reasoning and Problem Solving in Junior and Senior High School. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1996.

Prehn, Edward C. Teaching High School Economics: The Analytical Approach. 2d ed. Columbus, Ohio: McGraw Hill Textbooks, 1966.

Web Sites

The Economics Classroom
This site accompanies the Annenberg Media Social Studies and History video workshop and contains resources and lesson descriptions.

The Shell Island Dilemma
This site features an investigative problem-solving exercise for high school students, in which they must consider political, economic, and social issues.

Web Quests: Problem Solving Techniques
This Web quest addresses problem solving in a group context, focusing on community concerns and cooperation to find a solution.

For Teachers

Foundation for Teaching Economics
A companion to the FTE program, this site offers lesson plans, curriculum guides, and extensive resource information on economics.

Online High School Economics Lessons
The James Madison University site provides links to economics lesson plans for high school students.

National Council on Economic Education
Designed for teachers and students, the NCEE’s site offers online lessons and reference material devoted to the study of economics.