Author:  Lori Alden

Billion grains of saltIt's hard for most of us to visualize the large sums used in macroeconomics.  You can help your students do so by setting up a display case holding a billion grains of salt in your classroom.  According to this website, a grain of ordinary table salt weighs .00006 grams and is .3 mm on a side.  A billion grains, then, would weigh 60 kilograms, or 132 pounds.  Since a cubic centimeter contains 2,700 grains, you'd need to find a container large enough to hold 370,370 cc, or about 13 cubic feet.  A 100-gallon aquarium tank should work nicely.  (Note:  I haven't tried this myself yet.  If you do, please send me a picture.)  

Game Show Buzzers.  These are great for playing classroom Jeopardy or other speed games.  The first buzzer pushed lights up and locks out the buzzers of the other contestants.   You can get a Funbuzzer system for $150 to $200, or make your own (click here for blueprints).  The cheapest buzzers I've found are in old Electric Jeopardy games, which are sometimes sold on eBay.  They come with a cheap lock-out buzzer system.  They don't work very well--contestants have to depress their buttons firmly in order to get a dim light to go on for a few seconds--but they're adequate for infrequent use.

Mistake stamps.  After years of writing the same comments over and over on students' papers, I had the following "mistake stamps" made up by a mail order address stamp company:

  • A change in the price of a good doesn't cause its supply curve or demand curve to shift.  
  • You're confusing money with income.
  • You're confusing saving with investment.

The surprising thing was that after I introduced the stamps to my students, I found I rarely needed to use them.  After I return exams, students sometimes ask if anyone got "stamped."


  • It's a Wonderful Life  This Jimmy Stewart classic has a wonderful scene about a run on a bank during the Great Depression. 
  • Star Trek:  First Contact   There's an interesting scene in the film that your students might enjoy discussing.  After traveling through an inter-temporal vortex to the 21st century, Captain Picard shows one of our contemporaries, Lily Sloane, around his ship.  She's awed by its size and wants to know how much it cost.  Picard smiles smugly and explains that people in the 24th century don't use money because they're no longer interested in the acquisition of wealth for its own sake.  Show your students the clip and discuss whether that's why we have money.  
  • The Wizard of Oz

Raffle tickets.  During the semester, I give out raffle tickets as prizes to students and draw for prizes during the last week of classes.  You can buy big rolls of them at party supply stores.  I prefer the single-ticket rolls to the double-ticket rolls (which allows the ticket holder to keep one ticket and submit the other).  Since students often lose tickets, I find it's best to have them write their names on the tickets and turn them in soon after they've won them.  If you use double tickets, some students misunderstand the procedure and turn in both tickets.

Prizesshredded money (you can buy big bags of it on eBay), Euro coins, hyperinflation notes, and old certificates for stocks and bonds.


Free Money to Pay Your Bills by Matthew Lesco and Mary Ann Martello.  

TV commercials pitching this book give the impression that there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch.  Disabuse your students of this idea by having them research and report on some of the government giveaways described in the book.

Comics:  You can get a set of free comic books about money, banking, and trade from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  


"Invisible hands" make perfect paperweights for economics classrooms.  I've also super-glued them onto the bases of old trophies to make classroom awards.  



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