Top 5 New Things of 23-24

Usually, this would be the top 5 new lessons of the year. Fact is, I'm on runs 5 and 6 of Gov/Econ this year. There really wasn't much new I felt was needed. I put a ton into building my curriculum the first two years, so this year was mostly updates to those things I'd already created.

Plus, I honestly have had little motivation this second semester as I'm on my way out and back to middle school. I just cannot handle teaching in a world where my entire course can be done in a week online via credit recovery. It is demoralizing and wrong. I tried to fight it. I lost. So, I'm out. 

However, I am quite proud of some of the new things from this year (even if they aren't all full lessons!) So, let's get to sharing!

Honorable Mention: Econ Pre-test

Sometimes simple just works. I realized that many of my students have a built-in fear of economics, mostly because it has numbers. (I think that is true of many adults as well.) I wanted to show them early on that economics is not scary and, in fact, is something they all know intuitively already.

So, I took the learning targets for the course and turned them into simple, real-life based questions. Students, not surprisingly, were able to answer nearly all of them correctly. They didn't have specific vocabulary, but the conceptual understanding was present right from the start. 

The lesson wasn't exciting. It didn't have a story. It didn't have flashing lights or an intro video. I literally put it together the night before I did it. 

And yet, it worked. It set the tone I wanted to set and clearly lowered the anxiety of the class. 

5. Govee Curtain Lights

Not a lesson, but a cool classroom decoration! I bought a set of these last Summer and fell in love. I wasn't sure they'd work in my classroom as they need access to open wifi, which we don't have. However, it worked great. I paired it to my phone at home and had no issues keeping it paired in the room. It is essentially a giant LED screen that hangs on the wall. Other versions can display images and video, but mine is only preset animations.

This thing added so much to my lesson stories. For The Island and Tropico activities I had a swaying palm tree. For Escape from Batuu there was a planet and starscape. For Escape from Scare City I drew my own Mindflayer that hovered menacingly. For The Wage is Right it was just an excited colored pattern to match the gameshow feel. It is such an easy way to change up the backdrop and make the room feel like a story place.

It was also fun to use it on holidays and just whenever the room needed a little more energy. Whenever I turned it on, students knew they were in for something cool!

Next year, I'll be looking to buy another set (or 2) and link them together to fill an entire wall!

4. Road Trip!

I could have sworn this lesson was from last year, but all my records show this was the first time I used it - and it's awesome. I found a lesson on Econiful (great resource!) about scarcity where students had to pack for a rafting trip. Students were given a set about of space to fill and various items they might want to bring of varying sizes. They couldn't bring everything, so they had to make choices. I liked the idea, but wanted more out of it. I also wanted to change up the story since rafting trips are just not a thing for my student population.

So, it became a road trip. I modified the scarcity activity by making the limit trunk space in the car. Then, I added a bunch more road trip themed activities. Students would be introduced to all of the key concepts in economics, not just scarcity. I made an activity to demonstrate marginal thinking (at a buffet), cost/benefit analysis (at a roadside attraction), opportunity cost (in their route decision) and more. 

Like with the Econ Pretest, the idea was to show students that economics is real and they were already doing it. It worked out fantastically. It was fun listening to their very serious debates about which route to take and whether or not it was worth $10 to roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball (I mean, obviously YES.) It put all those fancy econ terms into context and made it so that when we did more explicit instruction on them the next couple weeks students had some prior knowledge to work from. 

This lesson is a perfect example of taking a fairly standard, typically worksheet-based lesson and making it better by adding a narrative to it - which is the working theme of my next book!

3. The Island Update

I've done The Island activity as a welcome lesson for a long time now. I originally discovered it in Dave Burgess' Teach like a Pirate, and though I've made adjustments to it, they've been minimal. This year, I still didn't change much. I just added an intro video.

But, this video was different. I made it almost entirely using AI.

I did this purely as an experiment, and I couldn't have been happier with the results. AI generated the photos of the characters, the voice over narration and the videos. I added the background track and the title cards with the text - that's it. This process was significantly faster than previous videos where I've had to pull clips from other sources and hire a narrator. It's not up to the level of those, but this was with brand new technology. In the next year or so, we'll see this tech really grow and soon, I suspect, a simple text prompt will make the whole video. Thanks AI! (But shame on you for all the headaches you've brought me this year...)

2. Swiftonomics

Until October of 2023, I knew almost nothing about Taylor Swift. Then I started building this lesson. After having seen dozens of headlines about the impact Swift's Eras Tour was having on the economy, I knew I wanted to do something with it. I wanted it to be real, and not just a Swiftie theme. We were coming up on our market failures unit and this seemed like it would work. So, I created the lesson as a case study. Students would be investigating why the market was not able to properly distribute tickets (or was it?) with a specific focus on whether or not Ticketmaster was a monopoly that caused a market failure. 

Students read a series of articles and watch a series of news clips to try to determine what was happening economically to lead to this frustration for fans. It covers economic ideas like elasticity and shortages all through a very real lens. I didn't have to create a fictional narrative since a real one already existed. 

When I put it all together, I liked it an as econ lesson, but I realized I wanted to give it just a little more... fun. So, I rewrote the text by filling it with as many Taylor Swift song titles as possible. I knew most students wouldn't catch what I was doing, but the few that did would have a dream lesson.

Unfortunately, I knew literally only two of her songs. Out of the Woods, which I love, and that Romeo and Juliet one - which I didn't even know the name of. I turned to a first-hand source, a Swiftie who had been my student in 7th and 8th grade and often still ate lunch in my room. I asked her to help me punch up the text with puns. She absolutely loved doing so. So much so, that she asked if she could come into my room to do the lesson, even though she wasn't even taking economics yet. I let her, of course, and the lesson went great. As usual, I put in way more for my students to do than they actually could in a single period. (On a separate note, I don't know how students have gotten so slow at doing... everything, but here we are.) 

But, what we did do was wonderful. Even my very non-Swiftie students got into it. That's why it is so important to make sure that even our very-specifically story-driven lessons contain universal themes. The theme of this story really wasn't Taylor Swift, it was how do we ensure that people like us get access to the things we want when powerful people seem to get in the way? Most of the students were interested in exploring that idea!

Last summer, I served on a jury for the first time in my life. I can't wait to do it again! Seeing 12 very different Americans come together to do their civic duty was an awesome experience. It was so incredible that I knew I had to share it with my soon-to-be 18 year olds. But, how?

I searched for videos on the process which led to one of the best shows I've ever seen, Amazon's Jury Duty. This is a reality show where everyone is an actor except for one Truman Show-esque participant. He is selected for jury duty and serves on this fake trial. It's hilarious, heart felt and surprisingly accurate in terms of the jury process. It is, however, also not classroom appropriate. I could use parts, but definitely not large segments. What it did open my eyes to though was that my students could do this. They could be part of a jury.

So, I set out to make a simulation of jury duty. I started from the moment they receive their summons in the mail. They had to look up their status, plan their travel and parking and figure out where they'd go for lunch - without being late in each case. They'd fill out the juror questionnaire and go through the jury selection process. I wanted them ready for their first experience. I did not want them to be like the young man in my jury pool who showed up in shorts and flip-flops who was late to multiple check ins.

The second day of the sim would be the trial itself. I took my own trial and wrote up the witness testimony as a script. Students would read each, evaluate the honesty of each witness and try to determine the guilt of the accused. They were given the same jury instructions and explanations of the law in question as I was.

On the third day, they'd have deliberations. Each group selected a foreperson and tried to get a unanimous vote on guilty or not guilty. After coming to their conclusion, I discussed how my own jury decided the issue and then we watched a segment of the jury deliberation episode of the Jury Duty show and students compared their own deliberations to what they saw. 

By the end, most were ready for jury duty and some were even now eagerly looking forward to it. I couldn't ask for anything more from a lesson.


It is a serious bummer that I won't get to use (most) of what I've created for Economics over the last three years any more. I put every bit of my heart, soul and mind into making it work for my students. I'm incredibly proud of the curriculum I've put together. I think it rivals anything else I've seen for Economics. My students this year really seemed to click with it as well - after two years of wondering if anything was getting through at all. Two have told me they plan study econ in college with the hope of teaching it. Many shared stories about how they bugged their other teachers by constantly discussing opportunity cost and explaining with the true 4-letter F-word that no one should say is FAIR.

Still, I learned a ton about lesson design by being forced to do it all over again (which was part of what I wanted out of moving to high school) and, thankfully, I will get to use most of my Government lessons in 8th grade U.S. history - including that awesome jury duty one.

I'm excited to head back to middle school next year. I hope it brings a renewed drive to create new lessons and we can have an even better top 5 list next year!