A Note to Teachers

We got tired of it. Lecturing to sleepy students who want to ``go over'' material that they have already highlighted in their textbooks so that they can remember the ``key ideas'' until the midterm. We wanted to engage our students in active learning, to exploit their natural curiosity about economic affairs, and to get them to ponder the questions before we try to give them answers. We found that conducting experiments in class, with discussions before, during, and after the experiments is an effective and enjoyable way of moving from passive learning to active learning. Experiments with Economic Principles is the result of these efforts.

This book is intended for students who have not taken any previous economics courses (although, even those who have had some training seem to enjoy and benefit from the experiments). It can be used either as the main text in an introductory course or as a supplement to a traditional principles textbook. The book alternates ``experimental chapters'' and ``discussion chapters.'' The alternation between experiment and discussion sets the rhythm of the class. In the lab, students participate and experience a type of market or social interaction. As they complete their lab reports, they organize their thoughts about what happened. At the next class meeting they are ready to discuss the experimental results and to consider theoretical explanations for these results.

The experimental chapters typically include an introduction, instructions for a classroom experiment, and a ``lab report.'' The classroom experiments are conducted ``by hand,'' without the use of computers or elaborate apparatus. In the lab report, students record the results, perform elementary data analysis, and answer questions that encourage them to speculate on the significance of what they have observed. The discussion chapters introduce economic theories that partially explain the experimental results. The discussion chapters also include homework assignments in which students are asked to compare experimental results with theoretical predictions and to explore the implications of the theories for real-world problems.

These experiment-discussion modules are designed to be sufficiently independent from each other that instructors can rearrange the order of presentation topics or can omit topics as desired.

Copyright (c) 1996, Theodore Bergstrom and John H. Miller, All Rights Reserved
John H. Miller , miller@zia.hss.cmu .edu.