SURVIVAL: an introduction to economic concepts
For the past few years I have used the following activity to introduce my Junior Cycle students to some key economic concepts. I have developed this activity based on something I came across online many years ago. I have refined it over time and have tried to make it accessible for Junior Cycle students.
In the past I’ve generally used this activity at the beginning of 3rd year, but this year I used it with my 1st year class. They enjoyed it immensely and seemed to understand both the concepts and the aim of the activity. This is very much a ‘doing’ activity and it will require students to move freely around the room in order to interact with each other and with the materials provided. It will not be a quiet class, but it a very engaging class which opens many possibilities for the effective teaching of economics. Just close the door and let them have fun with it! They will enjoy the activity and they should also learn a lot. The entire activity can be completed in a double class, or perhaps more ideally, two single classes.
This activity really ties in with the definition of economics (Strand 3) and explores the choices people make when faced with scarce resources (LO 3.1, 3.2). It also resonates with some Strand 1 concepts including needs and wants (LO 1.1).
I provide students with a 1 page handout and read through it with them at the beginning of the lesson. It reads as follows:
The entire class group has been lost on an Arctic island with little hope of rescue. THE OBJECTIVE IS SURVIVAL. In order to survive, each person must produce ONE FISH, ONE IGLOO and ONE PONCHO.
The handout also contains clear instructions on how to produce each of the items required for survival. All items are made from paper or light card. (see photo below)
The Fish: represents the need for food. I have created a stencil for this item, which I provide to students and they are allowed to trace it. The fish must be produced on a paper of a specific colour and the fish eye must be a different colour. You will need to instruct the students during the initial briefing about which colours to use for each item. This very much depends on what’s available to you.
The Poncho: represents the need for clothing. This must be measured and cut out as per the instructions on the handout. Initially this item required stapling, but I have since done away with this aspect and I allow students to make it as a one-piece item.
The Igloo: represents the need for shelter. This needs to be measured and cut out as per instructions on the handout. Students must draw lines to represent blocks of ice.
Before they begin the activity, I generally show the students examples of these items (which I have prepared). These templates are made to scale and will provide students with a better understanding of what is required. It is very important to emphasise to students that the reproduction of these items must be exact in every detail. Any items which do not meet the specifications will not count towards survival.
Students must only use the material provided by you at the beginning of the activity. They should all be placed together on a desk. For a class of 25 students you will need to provide the following materials / resources to students:
8 – 10 A4 sheets of light green* paper (for the fish). The stencil size allows for 3 or 4 fish per sheet.
8– 10 A4 sheets of yellow* paper (for the poncho).
8- 10 A4 sheets of white paper (for the igloo).
1 A4 sheet of blue* paper (for the fish eye).
6 or 7 pencils.
2 compasses (from geometry sets).
1 glue stick. This is used to glue to eye to the fish. The lid of the glue can be used as a stencil, or you can provide a small coin.
4 – 6 pairs of scissors.
*You can use whatever colours you have available, but it is important to try use different colours for each item. This helps ensure that these resources are scarce and can’t be used interchangeably.
Once you have read through the instructions and shown the templates to the students give those 20 minutes to complete the task. Emphasise again that in order to survive it is necessary for each student to have one fish, one poncho and one igloo at the end of the allocated time.
You will probably find that the activity descends into a free-for-all. Some students will grab many of the resources while others may have none at all. After a while students may ask if they can work together. This is allowed, though it is probably best just to tell students that they are allowed to work however they wish just so long as they have the required items at the end of the activity. You may also notice some evidence of barter and /or theft. There may also be a small number of students who are short on resources and simply sit in their seats for the duration. Unless absolutely necessary just ignore all of this and let the activity develop and conclude. Try just to stand back and observe the activity as the students complete their work.
Once the 20 minutes has elapsed the students must cease all work. Ask any students who have all 3 of the required items to come forward. Check that the items meet the requirements and make note of the number of survivors from the group. My experience suggests it is likely to be a small number.
At this point it’s important to collect all of the materials, including unused paper and any work in progress. It is also necessary to gather up all completed fish, ponchos and igloos which have not been brought forward by the ‘survivors’. It is very important that students do not retain any materials or completed items. This is because the activity will be repeated after a short period of reflection and discussion.
TIMEFRAME (35 - 40 minutes)
Introduction: 5 mins – read the handout and explain the activity. Don’t inform the students that it is related to economics.
Making the items: 20 minutes – allow time for students to produce food, clothing and shelter as required.
Clean up: 5 minutes – Gather all completed resources, count survivors, collect all other resources and materials.
Reflection and discussion: 5 minutes - Discuss the activity with the students. Try to tease out what worked well and what didn’t. Discuss how the students could increase the survival rate. Ideally the students will develop a strategy for this. This is likely to involve greater levels of teamwork and greater sharing of resources. For example the students may suggest creating three groups and perhaps dividing the resources according to the requirements of each. From experience, the igloos tend to be the most difficult and slowest item to make. The ponchos are generally the quickest.
Once a strategy has been developed, allow the students to repeat the activity. This can be completed in the next class, or the second half of a double class.
Hopefully they will work more co-operatively and more efficiently. It is almost certain that there will be a greater number of survivors second time round. Ideally the entire group will survive, with time to spare. There is also likely to be increased specialisation of labour.
LINKS TO THE SPECIFICATION:
In subsequent classes you can introduce the definition of economics and ask the students to consider how the survival activity relates to this definition. They will generally identify that they had needs, that their resources were limited and that they had to make choices about how best to allocate those resources.
You can also use it to illustrate the factors of production:
Land = Fish / Ice (paper) etc.
Labour = the students (workers)
Capital = Scissors, compass, ruler (tools and equipment)
Enterprise = the students will provide this insofar as they will combine land, labour and capital in order to produce good which satisfy their needs.
With an enthusiastic class you could also examine their actions and choices in greater depth. For example:
Who provided and allocated all of the resources? Does this represent a centrally planned or free market approach?
What happens to any surplus individual items during the first attempt at the activity? For instance, some students may have completed only 1 or 2 of the required items at the end of the activity. If these individual items are combined it will be possible for some extra students to survive. If so, how will this be decided? This deals with allocation of finished goods.
If the group produces surplus items or has the capacity to do so in round 2, you could explore the possibilities associated with this situation. For example, if there was another Island nearby, it may be possible for surplus resources to be exported and exchanged for additional goods which will satisfy more needs and wants.
I use this activity because it really helps students to get a feel for the key concepts of economics. It also assists my teaching….and both the students and I always enjoy doing it.
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