Tag Archives: Great Depression

My Great Depression Dilemma



I have been tweeting out some of my thoughts about the Great Depression as that will be our next project. I think it is a very interesting and important time period to analyze. The causes, attempted “fixes”, and how it ended are debated among historians and economists. The viewpoints usually reflect the political bias of the historian/economist of conservative, liberal, or libertarian. The other fact that has increased its importance was the bursting of the stock market from the internet bubble and housing bubble in recent years. How to keep the economy running and the role of government in both the economy and regulation of business are very current topics that the Great Depression should shed light on.

The controversial nature of these topics make them perfect for PBL. I imagine essential questions such as:

  • What was the primary cause of the Great Depression? Defend it against other other lesser causes.
  • Why was the Great Depression global?
  • Were Hoover’s or Roosevelt’s policies effective? Did their policies shorten or extend the length of the Great Depression? Defend with specific examples and compare and contrast the presidents.
  • Was Hoover really laissez faire?
  • Is deficit government spending an effective policy during depressions and recessions?
  • How should we define Depression vs. Recession? How should we define when GD ended? by GNP? unemployment rates? financial levels of families? income gaps and disparities?
  • Is war “good” for an economy?
  • When did the Great Depression end and why? New Deal vs. start of WWII vs. end of WWII vs. other?

But now let me share my struggles. First of all in order to give fair answers to most of these questions or even consider them one needs a background in economics. My students have not taken that class yet making many of these concepts very challenging for most of them. Also due to the challenge of the economics, many students also find them boring. On a personal note, although I have a solid math background and understand basic economics, I think I need a much deeper level of economics to give these topics justice. I mean these topics are so debated by experts that I feel it is difficult to answer these questions for myself.

That leads to my biggest problem with this topic. I am not afraid to teach or admit to students that I do not have it all figured out yet, but what I really need are high school level resources from the various viewpoints. A mixture of primary and secondary sources that explain the major economic theories, their biases, strengths, and weaknesses would be great. Of course textbooks (which we don’t have anyway) are not much help in this. I envision comparison charts that summarize the major viewpoints along with primary sources including data, political cartoons, quotes, etc. Then I could give the essential questions and resources to students and turn them loose to come up with their own opinions.

So anyone have suggestions on student friendly resources particularly defining the major economic views?

1929 Stock Market Crash Simulation

Simulations of the stock market have been around for decades usually focusing on understanding how stocks work and used in an economics or personal finance class or to teach fractions. I wanted to create a short (1 day) simulation of the famous 1929 Stock Market Crash. The goal of this simulation is to get students to feel the lure of over investing when the stock market grows at a fast, unrealistic rate and then to see how fast they can lose it all when the market drops. I wanted them to feel excited about investing and making money so that they would go all in and then crash when the market lowered.

I used this with 10th graders in an American Studies class. There were a couple of bugs with my formulas and designs that I have fixed (you can’t have a good program without some field testing).  Sign up on this form for your free student template.  Rather than try to explain it all here I made a screencast tutorial for how to use it with your class.

Creative Commons License
1929 Stock Market Crash Simulation by Mike Kaechele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

A few other hints are to take it slow at first but don’t take too long explaining it. The best way for students to figure it out is to just start playing it. After a few rounds, stop and ask the class who is making the most money and then have students share strategies. All it takes is for a couple of students to figure out that they can make tons of money buying on margin to get the class excited. Be sure to ask how many are still making money after the market crashes.

Afterwards I like to show them the graph that I have linked in the DOW Average Inputs and lead a discussion about the history. The quotes are also priceless and show that economists believed that they had solved the boom/bust cycle of capitalism  It should lead to the question of “Why did the stock market crash?” and that is when I turn them loose on research. This simulation could also be a good entry event in PBL.

PS: If you try this simulation drop me a comment and let me know how it went with your students.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.