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Discusses the benefits of using NPR's Planet Money podcast in secondary economics classrooms.
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Planet Money is a blog and podcast produced by the economics team at NPR (National Public Radio). This bi-weekly podcast, which ranges in length from around 15 to 30 minutes, takes economic issues at hand in the world today and explains them in a way that makes even the most daunting topic s accessible to the general public.
While the focus, usually and understandably, is on issues related to the current global economic crisis, their podcasts deal with all kinds of topics, many of which deal with topics found in many economics classes' curricula.
Examples include: supply and demand, (Multiple Episodes) tariffs, (Sawing Apart Gym Shoes at the Port of Long Beach) inflation, (How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil) trade/ utility (Making Christmas More Joyful.. and More Efficient) and the national mint/ production of dollar coins (Wasting Money Making Money).
Additional episodes provide interesting options for enrichment lessons, from exploring why gold is so valuable and the nature of money (Why Gold?) to the economics of producing a hit pop song (Manufacturing the Song of the Summer) to applying game theory to the congressional super committee (When Congress Plays Chicken).
Some of their most famous podcasts are hour-long specials co-produced with "This American Life," such as The Giant Pool of Money, (named one of the top ten works of journalism of the decade by NYU) and Bad Bank.
This podcast brings the world of economics into realms that are more accessible for secondary students (these explanations are still too sophisticated for elementary students) by "translating" economic jargon into "everyday" language and using memorable analogies, metaphors, and scenarios that illustrate their explanations. (For instance, comparing current Federal Reserve policy to a 1960's dance craze).
Planet Money is also a great resource for the classroom because it discusses broad economic concepts and theories, but in a way that is more likely to connect with the lives of your students. Instead of just talking about how tariffs or supply and demand impact prices in the abstract, they make it concrete and applicable to everyday life (for example, oil prices and how much a T-shirt costs).
Planet Money can be found at http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/. From there you have access to all of their blog posts and podcasts, though to view just the podcasts you can select that option on the top tab.
There is no sign-up necessary for this website; it is free and open to the public.
To listen to the podcast, there are several options you can choose. Each listed option has a more in-depth tutorial; this is not an exhaustive list, but is intended to be an initial, easy way to start accessing the podcast. If you choose to subscribe to the podcast, you will automatically have each new episode appear as it is released. However, if you’re just looking to listen to a single, specific episode or two, just streaming through NPR’s site may be the best option for you.
1. You can listen to the podcasts through NPR's in-browser media player or download directly from the website.
Once you've decided which episode you'd like to listen to or download, all you have to do is select the appropriate button! Right underneath the title and picture for the episode, there should be a grey box labeled "Listen to the Podcast" that notes its length. Clicking the speaker icon opens the streaming audio player in a new window. (The small plus sign in the upper right corner does the same thing). The arrow pointing down underneath the plus sign will allow you to download and save the episode to your computer.
2. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes
From iTunes, you can search for "Planet Money" in the iTunes store. Selecting 'subscribe for free' will automatically download all new episodes of the podcast into your iTunes. If you would like to edit the podcast for use in your classroom, just right-click on the episode you'd like to find in your podcast feed and select 'show in Windows Explorer.' You can then import that file into whatever audio editing program you are choosing to use.
3. You can subscribe to the RSS feed via another platform (such as Google Reader)
You can also subscribe to "follow" Planet Money via Google Reader or another RSS feeder (apparently Internet Explorer has this option as well). On the Planet Money site, on the right-hand border about halfway down the page is a box marked "Podcast + RSS Feeds." You can select either the iPod logo (podcast, this gives you the option of subscribing via iTunes or zune and gives you the web address to paste into something like Google Reader) or the RSS logo, which allows you to subscribe via Internet Explorer. Be aware, though, that subscribing via something other than iTunes/ Zune will also include their blog posts, not just podcasts, and they can update frequently.
There you go! Once you have access to the Planet Money podcast, you can play it for your class as-is, through the internet or a media player, depending on if you downloaded or are streaming the podcast. If you've downloaded it, you also have the option of burning it to a CD (using iTunes or Windows Media Player, for example) or of editing it down to a shorter clip to use. (If you want to trim off the “Planet Money Indicator” segment that begins each episode, for instance, or only want to use a short part of the episode, editing is probably a faster and easier option than trying to remember time codes).
This is a fairly straight-forward option on a PC to edit audio in Windows Media Player. Please note that you have to download this plug-in, and that the free 21-day trial limits you to less than 20 minutes of output-- otherwise you have to pay around $25 for the full plug-in. On the upside, it appears to be incredibly user-friendly and self-explanatory. (You click where you'd like to start and stop, and you have the choice of saving what's in between those two points or cutting it out).
Another option for PC is using Windows Movie Maker to edit audio, though the newest version requires that you have a background image before you can add sound. (Be sure to select "Fit to Music" under the Project tab or else it will trim your audio to the length of one photo). However, once you have your clip edited, you should be able to save it as an audio-only file. (Note: it appears that this is no longer possible with the Windows 7 version of Movie Maker).
While it is not very common, a few teachers have already begun using Planet Money podcasts as part of their economics curriculum.
One teacher in particular has utilized several different lessons (Examples 1-3) centering around Planet Money.
Her first lesson is on the basic functions of banks and uses the Planet Money/ This American Life episode Bad Bank. After a warm-up activity designed to get them thinking about lending and borrowing in their own lives, students are given a "play-along" worksheet to fill in as the Planet Money host (Adam Davidson) walks them through terminology and what, exactly, a bank does with their money. Students are introduced to liabilities, capital and assets as well as how a bank's balance sheet works.
After a review of the terms and discussion of what has happened so far--the hosts walk through an imagined scenario in which Adam owns a bank and his co-host (Caitlin) is borrowing from him-- students are asked to predict possible outcomes based on what they currently know. Students then continue listening, making note of how the scenario progresses and comparing the actual outcome to their predictions. At the end of the lesson, students debrief on what happened to the bank's balance sheet in both cases (Caitlin paid her loan back; Caitlin defaulted on her loan). They also discuss the reasons behind the bank's actions ("why might a bank loan money to someone who can't pay it back?") and offer and evaluate solutions to this dilemma.
This lesson offers a combination of factual recall/ understanding and extended thinking opportunities. The episode has provided definitions and examples of key terms (capital, assets, etc.) but the teacher has also gotten students thinking by having them predict, support their predictions, and follow through with evaluating their thoughts. Additionally, the concluding discussion focuses not only on making sure students understand what happened, but also gets them talking about why it happened, and what can be done to fix or prevent it in the future. These kinds of critical thinking skills are important in any subject!
In another lesson, students are given the chance to "play along" in a dating game that serves as an analogy for the process of bank regulation (Regulate Me, Baby). Students are assigned different roles to follow along with as they play "The Bachelor: Regulatory Arbitrage" with the hosts.
Before beginning to listen, students familiarize themselves with their roles (through provided Role Cards) and work in their groups to create a short statement for the class about who they are. After listening to the first section of the podcast, where the hosts lay out each "contestant" and their reasons for wanting to be chosen to regulate the bank, the students stop and add to or clarify their role's argument, noting the pros and cons of each potential regulator-- always trying to get the AIG (the bank) group to want to choose them. At this point, the AIG group of students will make a decision and explain their reasoning. Only after they have chosen will they listen to the rest of the podcast to find out who actually was chosen, which they discuss.
This lesson again melds content (bank regulation) with additional skills, such as understanding and creating a persuasive argument, supporting a decision with evidence, and distilling information into a clear and concise summary. Also, while students might initially believe that bank regulation is a dull subject, being able to tie it to something they're more familiar with ("The Bachelor") makes it more memorable and relevant.
A third lesson combines several Planet Money episodes focused on real-world applications of economic principles in a jigsaw activity. Students are divided into groups and assigned one of six separate podcasts (or parts of podcasts) that deal with "everyday economics." In groups, students listen to their podcast and discuss the problem and potential solutions suggested in the episode. (Handouts can be found here). After each group has agreed upon their understanding of their situation, they reconfigure the groups; this time each group has a representative from each separate podcast. After reporting the substance of their episode, groups discuss commonalities they notice among the problems/ solutions, and then extend those commonalities to situations in their own lives.
Students are likely to be drawn in to these episodes in particular, with topics used like The Economics of Cheating, Pirates Have Time Sheets , and A World Without Donuts. But besides generating interest in economics (which is always a desired goal!) and showing students that economics is a part of things they'd probably never considered before, noticing commonalities across a variety of economic topics and breaking down situations into problems and solutions helps students think more like economists.
This teacher has also included two sample sets of discussion questions to use with episodes on bank takeovers/ the FDIC (Banking on the FDIC) and TARP (Elizabeth Warren Checks In).
Another teacher has utilized Planet Money's most famous episode, The Giant Pool of Money, as part of a lesson on modern economics. This lesson was designed for an Advanced Placement government class, so the students are expected to listen to the podcast and complete the assigned listening guide on their own as preparation for a class discussion. Also, because of the independence and academic levels of the students, the listening guide is not as explicit as it would be for another targeted student group, often with short phrases as prompts at different time stamps (for example, "49:45- who owns the loan?" and "42:45- what about Richard, the former marine?").
However, the listening guide is a great way to help walk students through the main ideas found in this podcast, such as:
Sub-prime mortgages, mortgage backed securities, the loan process, (and failure thereof) credit ratings, and the effects of the global financial crisis.
Students were also offered modest extra credit for listening to the podcast with their parents and drafting a joint response to the issues raised. This is a great way to get parents involved, and could even help them better understand something that in all likelihood affected them personally and directly!
The writers are able to take highly complicated economic concepts and explain and illustrate them in a clear and understandable way for students.
The episodes and posts are short, entertaining, and highly informative. Enthusiasm and novelty are important factors in the classroom, and Planet Money podcasts offer up a hearty dose of both. The hosts are always excited about what they're discussing-- even with something as potentially uninteresting as tariff schedules. Their interviews with notable economists also serve to ground their sometimes wacky analogies in sound economic theory, which means that while your students may be surprised with the way the material is presented (such as the regulatory "dating game" in Lesson 2) they will always be learning actual economics as well: there is substance to their fun!
Plus, their real-world examples can help show students how economics works outside of the classroom. Anytime you can help students make connections between their own lives and what they're learning, especially in subjects like economics which are often considered to be "boring" by students, you are helping them construct new learning and make them more likely to retain-- and care about-- the material.
Since Planet Money is not explicitly designed to be an educational podcast, there are obviously going to be episodes or parts of episodes that are not going to be applicable to your curriculum or specific classroom objectives. For instance, you may want for students to understand how banks work, but don't want or need to spend the amount of time that the Bad Bank episode devotes to a bank's balance sheet.
Along the same lines, finding useable episodes can be rather time-consuming. Sometimes wonderful "nuggets" are buried in the episodes, but you have to carefully listen to every episode in order to find them, and then either keep track of time stamps or edit the clips to what you need. (See, for example, the Fancy Food Economics excerpt in Lesson Three).
Finally, as with any audio-only delivery method, some students are not going to respond to it-- even if you try and focus their attention through worksheets or "tour guide" prompts. To get as much as possible from these podcasts, careful and focused listening is required, which your students aren't always going to give. However, I agree with the assessment from Lesson Four that this deserves your full attention, and that even a cursory completion of a companion activity is better than just listening alone!
Before deciding to use this source, you should consider how much time you have to devote to it. I believe that it is an excellent resource to use in the classroom because it connects clearly (and entertainingly) explained topics in the oft-dreaded subject of economics to the real world and students' lives; however, using this or any other podcast in the classroom, especially one that is not designed specifically to be used as such, requires a lot of "legwork" to make it work. You will need to listen to the stories, edit and/or keep track of time stamps, as well as an inventory of what episodes deal with what topics. Additionally, your students may need extra scaffolding to get accustomed to the kind of listening/ completing guided notes with no visuals that isn't normally part of the classroom. (Normally, students are either looking at you, your PowerPoint slides, or a video).
If you are able to take the time to make incorporating Planet Money's unique take on economics into your classroom work for you and your students, I would encourage you to do so, but you will have to decide if the opportunity cost of using it is worthwhile!