At the beginning of my economics class this year a student asked if the class would involve a simulation with the stock market. Simulations are some of my favorite activities to use with students, as the opportunity for experiential learning often mobilizes students who would otherwise struggle to engage with the content. Sadly, I had never executed a stock market simulation with my economics class before. This was for a multitude of reasons, but mainly the time constraints of the course and fundamental needs of the students led to other areas being prioritized. However this year, I felt the need to try and find the space for this simulation.
Each year a collection of upperclassmen at Allegan Alternative High School saunter into economics class and react in a combination of intrigue, horror and skepticism as they are informed that they are about to embark on a journey to find the intersection of social sciences and mathematics. Each year this leads to a rather predictable story arc, as students move from indifference, to frustration, to anger towards the content, finally landing on appreciation. What results in the final stage of appreciation is most usually a series of “aha” moments, or epiphanies where students have gathered enough economic insight to step back and see the broader implications on their lives as young adults, and their futures. In a never ending effort to front load these epiphanies, I took my student up on his request and we instituted a stock market simulation.
Throughout the stock market simulation, students used a free tool, Investopedia, to both research and execute their simulated stock market portfolio. The goal of this was to allow students to take ownership in their learning, and provide a tangible example for the concepts they were learning in the class. As we moved through the economic staples like supply and demand, it became easier for students to conceptualize as they filtered their understanding of the concepts through their ownership of certain companies. Overall, the simulation went well and I neared the end of the class satisfied with it’s addition.
This is when the email arrived from one of the websites I had used to research and plan my stock market simulations. A program that is funded by the SIFMA Foundation, the Stock Market Game, reached out to me to see if I wanted to organize a team as a part of the Capitol Hill Challenge. Without knowing much about it, I immediately said yes, and within the week had a collection of six students volunteering their time to represent Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan’s 6th District in the CHC.
Throughout the spring, the students met with me roughly twice a week, and oversaw a portfolio of $100,000. We began the competition of almost 4,000 schools by assigning roles to the students, who divided the tasks of Lead Analyst, Lead Trader, Team Secretary, Lead Accountant, Lead Researcher and Team Director amongst themselves. After the first few weeks of modeling and assisting with roles, I slowly began to step back, and watched as the team took ownership over themselves, their roles and the performance of the team.
The experience as a whole provided our students with tremendous learning opportunities. Roughly halfway into the competition, the CHC offered an opportunity to connect with a financial advisor. Thankfully, we were lucky enough that Kenneth Hornstein of Merrill Lynch generously donated his time to Skype with our team to discuss strategy, answer questions and provide overall financial advice. While connecting with an expert in the field is always an amazing experience for students, I had several moments of pure awe as I watched my team grill Mr. Hornstein on their portfolio, the bond market, and the articulation of their strategy on bio-medical technology companies and the effects of recent mergers on their valuation. It doesn’t matter how skilled a practitioner you are, these are simply moments that cannot be recreated in a textbook or purely within the walls of a classroom.
By the end of the competition, the Allegan Alternative Stock Market Team ranked 314 out of the 3,940 teams. More impressively, the team had outpaced most major indexes, reporting a 5.81% return during the competition. What made this experience remarkable isn’t the returns or rankings. As we sat at our final meeting of the team in May, I began to read off the various benchmarks of success to highlight the group’s impressive results when one student interjected “man I wish this wasn’t ending”. This was followed by “I wish we could have done this for the whole year”. This statement was universally shared, and this encapsulates the essence of why this experience was so beneficial for our students – they enjoyed the work. They enjoyed the meetings during their free time. They enjoyed going home and researching companies (even though the majority of the team does not have reliable internet outside of school). They enjoyed the tense meetings and presenting arguments for what to buy and what to sell. Most importantly, not one of them ever referred to it as “work”. They all referred to it as “play”.
Students deserve more opportunities like the Stock Market Game, and more chances to interact with learning in this manner. Although sometimes ignored in the world of secondary education, the idea of play has profound effects on student learning. The Stock Market Game experience embodied the elements of something researchers refer to as “deep play”. As articulated by the the Deep Play Research Group, “deep play” involves play as progress, play as fantasy and play as self. Using the Stock Market Team, students were able to develop content based and specific skills, evoke their creativity, and did so through purely intrinsic motivation. As the students of the AAHS Stock Market Team were recognized at a school assembly recently, I individually thanked each for their hard work. To a person, they thanked me for letting them be a part of the team and asked if we could do it again next year. They asked if they could spend more of their free time studying economics, developing authentic researching skills, communicating with experts, speaking publicly, practicing real world mathematics and collaborating with peers. How could anyone say no to that?
Written by Kyle Shack, Social Studies Teacher
Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience, Minton, Balch & Co., New York.
Koehler, M.J., Mishra, P., Bouck, E.C., DeSchryver, M., Kereluik, K., Shin, T.S. and Wolf, L.G. (2011) ‘Deep-play: developing TPACK for 21st century teachers’, Int. J. Learning Technology, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp.146–163.