The amazing way one teacher uses doughnuts to teach middle schoolers a major economic concept

Doughnuts are delicious.

But they can also be used as a tool to help teach concepts from economics.

Gale Mitchell, who teaches an economics course to “gifted” seventh- and eighth-grade students in Tucson, Arizona, uses doughnuts to explain marginal analysis — or the examination of additional benefits of an activity compared to the additional costs of that activity — according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

The basic economic idea is that as you do something more and more the costs begin to outweigh the benefits.

Here’s the WSJ:

“Marginal analysis is really hard for them,” [Mitchell] says. The assessment of the benefits and costs of an activity can be too abstract for children. To teach the idea, she buys a big box of doughnuts and chooses a student to eat them in front of the class. The student is asked to discuss his level of satisfaction with each additional doughnut.

“We are all watching this kid eat doughnuts, and he’s so happy in the beginning,” says Ms. Mitchell, who makes her own textbooks because there are so few available. “But at some point the total utility is no longer positive. You can see it on their faces.”

So basically, as the student eats more and more doughnuts he becomes visible unhappy, which helps to illustrate the concept of marginal analysis to younger students (especially since it’s highly unlikely they have taken the upper-level maths courses for these concepts).

As for the larger trend of more public schools teaching younger students economics, that’s certainly a positive thing.

“Most people go through life terrified by economics,” B. Douglas Bernheim, the chairman of the economics department at Stanford University, told the WSJ.

But, he continued, even if younger students don’t remember all the finer nuances of economics from their middle school studies, at least they will be comfortable with the language of economics, which will then translate into more confidence in the subject later in life.

Check out the full story at the WSJ.

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