Economic Experiments

I am going to linger a little bit longer with the first subject content of theme 11. This time, I want to focus on the inability in economics to make scientific experiments. Alain Anderton2 writes: “In natural sciences it is relatively easy to use the scientific method. […] much of the work can take place in laboratories. Observations can be made with some degree of certainty. Control groups can be established. It then becomes relatively ease to accept or refute a particular hypothesis.” True3 as this may be, economic experiments are included in the specification for the Dutch havo/vwo exams4. Experiments entered the specification when the concept – context approach was introduced in the Netherlands, which resulted in a new specification for Economics5. At the time I participated in the design of a new series of text books to deliver the new specification.

The Dutch expert on experiments in economics, Jeroen Hinloopen, had a manuscript on the subject Experimenten voor in de klas6, in which my publisher was interested in publishing. I was to lend my expertise as a teacher to organise the experiments so they would be suited for classrooms on AS/A level. I did review one experiment, and was able to test some in the classroom, but there it ended because Hinloopen took his manuscript elsewhere. I do not know the reason, or what became of the plan to publish it, but I do know at least some experiments were suited for 50-60 minutes lessons, and the students liked the experiments I conducted. Hinloopen made his experiments available online, in Dutch, but maybe he is willing to translate the experiment you are interested in if you contact him.

As a text book author, I could not use Hinloopen’s experiments anymore after he left, because of copyright infringements. So, since I was supposed to include at least one experiment for every concept I wrote, I had to engage other means. This led to a search for experiments through the internet, which I then adapted to the classroom. In order to give you an idea of classroom experiments in economics, I renewed my search to find some sources that could be of use to you:

  • EconPort promotes the use of experiments in the classroom and has put some useful information online on how to conduct them.
  • Wiki University published a list with experiments and some useful resources.
  • I remember using Charles Holt’s materials as a starting point.

More is available now than when I worked on the topic.

How can I use this in my lessons?

The experience I had with the experiments I conducted, was that students were more engaged. This is probably because the experiments are not exactly experiments, but more like a game, raising the opportunity for a discussion on economic principles. Therefore I would suggest you take a look. Should you be interested in conducting experiments, I advise you to take it slowly, and start with one. If you have experience with experiments in the classroom, could you please share these in the comments?

  1. I refer to the EdExcel Economics A (2015) specification, 1.1.1 Economics as a social science.
  2. I refer to Alain Andertons EdExcel AS/A Level book on Economics, Pearson, 2015
  3. True with regards to ‘relatively easy’, I am aware of the field of experimental economics.
  4. Havo is equal to four subjects on GCSE level and two subjects on AS-level, grade C or higher – this must be six different subjects. Vwo is equal to three subjects on GCSE level and three subjects on AS-level, grade C or higher – this must be six different subjects.
  5. Based on The Wealth of Education, Teuling II committee, 2005
  6. Experiments for the classroom