It’s #UCLFirstYearChallenge time again!

The start of the academic year is a particularly special time for us at CTaLE, because it means the start of one of our signature projects, the First Year Challenge (FYC). First year students compete in groups to make a brief video or podcast exploring the broad theme of “capitalism, growth and inequality”. If you ever get jaded teaching economics in a world where economists are on the one hand routinely ignored and on the other, often concentrate on research far removed from the pressing issues of the day, the output of the FYC restores faith. Our students have explored the economics of terrorism, the idea of private property, the welfare state, the funding of the arts, the NHS and the role of media in influencing policy, to name just a few topics from recent years. Some of these contributions can now be seen on our brand new YouTube channel.

This year is even more special for the FYC team, as earlier in the year, the University of Sheffield’s Economics Department launched their own (Achieve More) video competition based on the FYC, and the Schools Economic Challenge (SEC), a schools version of the FYC, has just launched as a pilot among a handful of schools largely in the UK and a few in Australia and the US. Andrew Sykes who teaches at St Pauls’ School in London was instrumental in launching the SEC and Leith Thompson who teaches at Burwood Girls High School in Sydney, Australia spread the word down under as well as across the pond.

Leith writes, “There were a dozen schools signed up across Australia, representing all sectors of education. We have government comprehensive-single sex and coeducational, government selective and Independent schools all wanting to participate. In the US, we have 3 schools who have embraced the challenge. At my school in particular the entrants will be across 3 grades. I have used the challenge as an extension project for high potential learners in younger years. The nature of the task, being student-led, project-based and active learning is perfect for the emphasis being placed on the value of this pedagogical style here in Australia. The idea that students are being exposed to real life applications of economics will help to educate all learners in the breadth of the economics discipline, but more excitingly will help to engage diverse groups not previously engaged in the study of economics. I will be travelling to visit one of the US schools competing over the next few weeks to gauge their progress. The feedback from the students so far is very enthusiastic.” She adds, “I had 2 amazing things that happened to me today: first, I had 2 students (the ones that I gave the challenge to as optional extension work – they are … 14-15 years old but very talented) come to me in their lunch hour to discuss the CORE Chapter and the economics of homelessness and inequality in Sydney. Next, I had another student email me in her own time to ask what I thought about the idea of exploring the economic concepts surrounding the a refugee centre in Sydney through the SEC. Neither of these discussions would have happened without the SEC.” Such words warm the heart of any veteran of the “why study economics” wars!

Finally, the CORE Project which is hosted at UCL and whose e-book provides the context for the FYC, launched its new website this past week. This was accompanied by coverage of the project and its aim to provide a new way to teach introductory economics, both in terms of content and teaching methods, in The Economist and The New Yorker. We’re hoping that all of this will inspire a new cohort of students (and teachers) – if there is one thing we need more of today, it’s folks who understand economics and care about the world around them.