Emily Anderson didn’t like her college economics class. Guess what course she wound up teaching in high school?
But Anderson plunged enthusiastically into the job, viewing it as a personal challenge. And not only did she come to find that economics wasn’t a “scary, boring social science,” but last fall she received the Economic Educator Excellence Award from the Minnesota Council on Economic Education (MCEE).
Eleven years into teaching the complex subject at Blaine High School, Anderson is passionate about it, and it shows. In addition to the MCEE honor, she was recognized as a top teacher in the Anoka-Hennepin School District last year and was a finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
Anderson sees economics as a way of analyzing everyday life, with fancy words attached, and tries to get that practicality across to her classes.
That first year when she taught Advanced Placement microeconomics, though, she was learning right alongside her students. Sometimes, they would all study an answer key together, trying to decipher “why the answer was what it was,” she said. Occasionally, a student would catch on before she did, which “created an awesome sense of equality and camaraderie.”
Students “bought in more because they knew how hard I was working to learn with them. It was a once-in-life thing,” she said.
It was a challenging year, but when the test scores came back, “I saw that all of the hard work paid off. It was one of the most satisfying and proudest moments of my life,” she said.
Anderson makes the point that economics is the study of decisionmaking. “It’s about limited resources versus unlimited wants … not being able to be satisfied with what you have,” she said. “You have to make decisions.”
Given her circuitous route to teaching economics — she contemplated going into law or medicine — it’s not surprising that one of her favorite topics in class is careers. In one unit, “We look at things like, ‘Why do some people make more money than others?’ ” Anderson said.
Students compare wages for four careers that interest them. They also learn about budgets, shopping for houses, mortgages and retirement savings.
For assignments called “E-connects,” students are called upon to give presentations connecting economics to real life. Sometimes, they do so by singing a song or giving a cooking demonstration or showing a commercial. “It can be a cool way to apply their talents and show how they see economics in their life.” Also, “It’s how I know they get it.”
Jane Stockman, associate director of the Minnesota Council on Economic Education, said Anderson stood out for her long-standing commitment to professional development, innovative approach to teaching and sophisticated use of technology.
Those who recommended her for the award stressed her collaborative spirit. A mother of three young children, she’s also highly involved in her school community.
“She’s just a super-busy, energetic woman,” Stockman said. “ … She has this exuberance. That comes through.”
Teaching and impact
In her College in the Schools courses, for which students get college credit, Anderson uses a “flipped classroom” format, which has “revolutionized my teaching,” she said.
The format moves “information gathering” outside of class. That is, students listen to recordings of her lectures and browse through online materials before class.
This frees up time in the classroom, which takes place in a computer lab, for simulations, case studies, group practice, presentations and one-on-one help.
Before taking Anderson’s class, Blaine senior Ariana Schneiderhan figured economics was just for those “who want to be a CEO or something like that.” Now, she’s seeing how it plays out on a daily basis.
Devon Pendergast, also a senior, said he always thought of economics as “out there,” or arcane. But like Schneiderhan, he said the class has helped make it feel very accessible.
If he and his fellow students do well, it’s “not because we cram but because we retain the information,” he said. That’s a credit to Anderson, who knows how to make the subject relevant to students, he said — like showing a video of a bleating goat that is funny at first but gets obnoxious quickly, to demonstrate the law of “diminishing marginal utility.”
Anderson finds inspiration from her students and colleagues. It’s rewarding to see students change their minds about economics, just as she did. “Students come back to me over time. Some say, ‘I’m going into economics. Your class made me see it’s fun,’ ” she said.
“Sometimes I think, ‘Should I go back to school? Law school would be so fun.’ But I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Anderson said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.