I Found it on the Web: Technology Resources for Teaching Elementary Economics

Phillip J. VanFossen

Today we live in a society in which we are able—via various forms of technology—to obtain information on almost any topic nearly instantaneously. The proliferation of such information technology has begun to make its way into the nation’s schools in the form of, among other things, instructional resources such as videodiscs, CD-ROMs and other computer-driven materials and the nearly ubiquitous World Wide Web. Some exemplary materials for teaching economic concepts in the elementary classroom follow.

Virtual Economics: An Interactive Center for Economic Education (Version 2.0)

Virtual Economics: An Interactive Center for Economic Education (Version 2.0) (hereafter, VE) is a multimedia resource CD-ROM developed by the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE).1 VE consists of two major sections: an interactive, multimedia “center” for economic education and a resource library stocked with appropriate economics curriculum material and links to NCEE’s Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics. The interactive center includes multimedia presentations on each of the 22 fundamental economic concepts (e.g., scarcity, opportunity cost, exchange, money and interdependence) identified by NCEE. A visitor to the “center” is taken through a variety of “rooms” which house a group of economic concepts.2 A definition for each concept is provided using text and audio and video clips. Within each room, visitors can also access teaching tips that highlight key issues related to each concept and strategies for increasing student understanding of that particular concept. Finally, visitors can click on an icon taking them to exemplary lesson plans that focus on teaching each economic concept.

The second major section of VE is the resource library. Headings in the table of contents for this virtual library include: curriculum materials (broken down by K-4; 5-8; 9-12), the Voluntary Standards, links to the Stock Market Game, access to the resource catalog of the National Council and links to other important web-based resources. Of most interest to elementary educators are the curriculum materials and the links to the Voluntary Content Standards.

By far the most useful aspect of VE to the classroom teacher is that the CD-ROM contains access to hundreds of age-appropriate, classroom-tested lessons for teaching the 22 key economic concepts. Each of these lessons comes from the NCEE curriculum library and many of these lessons—and the curriculum guides they come from—have been in publication for years. VE has organized the lessons by concept (e.g., opportunity cost), type of activity (e.g., simulations), instructional unit topic (e.g., fundamental economic concepts) and supplementary materials (videos, other print media) associated with teaching each of the key concepts. Thus, a teacher might use the resource library to find an appropriate lesson on the economic concept of scarcity. A quick search would reveal at least fifteen different lesson plans (K-4) that might be used to explore the concept.

Finally, VE provides both an overview of, and links to appropriate curriculum from the Voluntary National Standards. The CD-ROM provides the reader access to each of the 20 content standards along with appropriate grade level benchmarks for student performance for each standard.3 Each of these provides guidance for educators trying to answer questions regarding what, exactly, constitutes quality economic education for primary students.

The most exciting element of this section of VE is that, unlike content standards in other fields, NCEE has painstakingly cross-referenced each of the 20 content standards with its existing curriculum catalog. In other words, a teacher wishing to develop Benchmark 6 for Standard 1 (“students will be able to explain why choices must be made and to develop a list of alternative choices to a particular problem”) will discover more than two dozen lessons, units and simulations designed to foster this understanding in students, kindergarten through fourth grade. Thus, VE provides a sort of “one-stop-shopping” for developing and implementing appropriate economic education curriculum in that VE can help answer the questions of: What economics to teach? When to teach it? How to teach it? and What to expect from students?

Resources on the World Wide Web

One of the most exciting recent developments in educational technology is the use by classroom teachers of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Teachers may use the web as a resource for their own learning and understanding, as a source for lesson plans and other curriculum materials or as a tool for designing and implementing interactive, Web-based lessons for their students. Many of the available web resources in economic education can provide opportunities in each of these areas. This section of the article will review several websites that elementary educators interested in teaching economics to their students might find particularly useful.

The National Council on Economic Education (NCEE) HomePage


Perhaps the most logical place to begin our review of web resources is with the NCEE HomePage. Once logged on, the reader will find links that describe the NCEE and its two outreach programs, EconomicsAmerica and EconomicsInternational. Readers can access an on-line version of the NCEE curriculum catalog and even place orders for materials. In addition, each of the 20 National Content Standards can be printed from a link at this site. A recent addition to the NCEE HomePage is the EconEdLink, co-sponsored by MCI. EconEdLink features truly interactive, Web-based lessons developed around a timely topic in economics (e.g., the “economics” of professional sports).4 While the economics content might be too advanced for primary students, elementary educators might benefit from some of these activities.



Perhaps the most comprehensive economic education site on the web is that develop by Kim Sosin at the University of Nebraska—Omaha’s Center for Economic Education. While this site provides support for economics teachers at all levels including college and university educators, it also provides a vast array of resources for the elementary educator. Among these are the “Economics Resources for K-12 Teachers” link. Here teachers can access curriculum materials, including lessons for teaching various economics concepts (http://ecedweb.unomaha.edu/ecedweek/lessons.htm), suggestions for integrating the web into teaching (http://ecedweb.unomaha.edu/teachsug.htm), and useful Internet and websites for developing both teacher and student background in economics. EcEdWeb also provides a “Virtual Economics Web Companion” designed to augment the materials available on the CD-ROM. Among these resources are several designed for elementary grade students not cataloged on VE. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of EcEdWeb for elementary educators is the link to the HomePage for the course “Economics is Elementary,” a course offered by the UNO Center for Economic Education (http://www.mirrors.org.sg/ece/elementary/elementary.htm). Here teachers can find the course reading list, links to other economics lessons and websites and a variety of web-based ideas for incorporating economics into the elementary grades.

Center for Economic Education HomePages

A number of NCEE-affiliated Centers for Economic Education have also developed very useful HomePages.

Examples of these include the Greater Cincinnati Center (http://ucaswww.mcm.uc.edu/econed/start.htm),

the Cal State-Los Angeles Center (http://web.calstatela.edu/ centers/econeduc/cnteed.htm), the Northern Illinois Center (http://www.niu.edu/acad/icee) and the Indiana Council on Economic Education (http://www3.mgmt.purdue.edu/icee/) HomePages.

Generally, these local Center sites are developed and maintained for use by the teachers served by that Center, but many of these sites also have ideas and materials that may be useful to teachers anywhere. For example, the Northern Illinois site provides brief descriptions of curriculum and resource materials that can be obtained nationally and the Greater Cincinnati Center site provides a broad range of links to other sites devoted to economic education.

Interactive Sites

The number of interactive, economics-based websites is increasing daily. Examples of these types of sites include SMG 2000, an electronic simulation of Wall Street trading designed to help students and adults understand the stock market, the costs and benefits involved in decision-making (http://www.smg2000.org/) and the Federal Budget Simulation (http://woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us/econed/class/econnew.html) designed to involve students in the intricacies of the budget process. Many of these interactive sites are designed for older students. However, several examples of interactive sites do exist for elementary students. Among these is the “Investing for Kids: The Young Investor Website” (http://advanced.org/3096). The site claims to be designed for kids by kids and this proves to be true, the site was developed by a class of students at Miraleste Intermediate School in Palos Verdes, California. The site helps students learn about the principles of savings and investment and provides a stock market simulation as well as categories for beginners (with no experience in investing) through advanced (seasoned) investors.

A second example is the on-line simulation “Escape from Knab” (http://www.escapefromknab.com/index.html). In this simulation, students venture to planet Knab (“a strange and slimy place”) and in order to survive, must make a number of successful decisions after weighing various consequences; truly economic decision-making.


1. As part of a national distribution effort co-funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Council on Economic Education, more than 5,000 copies of VE (1.0) were distributed to school districts across the country. If your district does not have a copy, contact your local Center for Economic Education or log on to the NCEE homepage to order a disk (http://www.economicsamerica.org).

2. These are: fundamental concepts, microeconomic concepts, macroeconomic concepts and international economic concepts. The fundamental concepts are those of most interest to elementary educators.

3. For a more detailed description of the National Content Standards please refer to the Bonnie Meszaros/Laurie Engstrom article in this issue.

4. URL: http://www.economicsamerica.org/econedlink/newsline/

About the Author
Phillip J. VanFossen is an Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, Purdue University and the Assistant Director of the Purdue Center for Economic Education. His interests in economic education include economic concept development, exploring the beliefs about economics held by high school teachers and developing economic curriculum in East/Central Europe.