Wednesday, April 29, 2020

From the Homeschool Front … Online learning aids by Colleen Hroncich

Home educators today are incredibly lucky. Homeschooling is increasingly embraced by society; there are numerous homeschool clubs, co-ops, sports leagues, and more; and many colleges have adopted flexible admissions guidelines that allow them to evaluate homeschoolers individually. However, the thing that I am most frequently thankful for as a home educator is the internet. 

It never ceases to amaze me how many online learning options there are today, many of which are free or very low cost. The most well-known of these is probably Khan Academy, which includes thousands of videos covering math, science, history, civics, and more. These videos are great supplements to other curricula and are particularly helpful to students who are struggling in specific areas. Skill checks are built into the courses so students can focus on areas where they need extra work.  In recent years, Khan Academy has partnered with the College Board to produce prep courses for the SAT and AP exams.

There are also online options to help you learn or improve at a foreign language. Duolingo’s website and app allow you to learn a language for free. Many libraries subscribe to language-learning sites like Mango Languages – you just need to enter your library card number to create an account. Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Rocket Language are some of the fee-based sites. While these online learning options won’t have the same structure as a language course in school, they can help you become conversational, improve your pronunciation, and build your vocabulary.

For students who are interested in computer programming, online options abound. Codecademy has free and fee-based courses in multiple computer languages. We haven’t tried, which is free, but I’ve heard good things about it. Scratch and Scratch Jr. are geared toward younger kids to get them used to the language and structure of coding. Khan Academy also includes computer programming courses.  

If your older students are interested in history and civics, Hillsdale College has tremendous online courses at no charge. Offerings include U.S. History, the Constitution, Literature, and Economics. Liberty Classroom is a fee-based option that covers Economics, History (U.S. and Western Civilization), and logic. Many other sites, including banks and financial service firms, offer free or low cost financial and stock market courses.

Whether you’re a homeschooler or a teacher in a public or private school, these tools can open new horizons for your students … and for you. I’ve taken advantage of several online classes with my kids and on my own. These days the biggest problem is choosing which ones to take given the numerous options and limited time.

I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to online learning options. If you have other suggestions of courses you’ve used, please share them in the comment section.

Colleen Hroncich loves that homeschooling allows her to learn right alongside her children. A published author and former policy analyst, Colleen’s favorite subjects are economics/public policy and history. She has been active in several homeschool co-ops and is a speech and debate coach.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

econlife - How Golf is Like Dior Perfume by Elaine Schwartz

At an elite club in Pinehurst, North Carolina, people are still playing golf…just a bit differently.

Check-in moved from the golf shop to the starters shack. At the end of a round, a “head nod” or “club tap” has replaced the traditional handshake. Also avoiding the hands, bunkers have to be flattened with your feet rather than the community rake. As for the hole, the flagstick can no longer be moved but the cup could be raised an inch. Then, players just need to tap it with the ball.

Where are we going? To how producing hand sanitizer, like a golf game, will require some new resources because of the coronavirus.

Production Changes


A craft distillery in Litchfield, Ct. that switched the alcohol destined for its bourbon, gin, and vodka to a production line making hand sanitizer has been getting hundreds of calls from customers. Another spirits maker said it was combining ethanol, vegetable glycerin, and hydrogen peroxide to make its sanitizer. Supporting the shift, government regulators suspended a law that required red tape.

Larger companies also have reallocated their resources. Bacardi said its Puerto Rican plant would turn out more than one million bottles of sanitizer. Somewhat similarly, in the factories that make Dior, Guerlain, and Givenchy perfumes and cosmetics, LMVH will produce a hand sanitizer gel.

This is the LMVH sanitizer dispenser. They just needed to use their water, glycerin, and ethanol:


During WW II automakers churned out the tanks and planes we needed for the war effort. The switch from cars and trucks to tanks and planes was close enough for their assembly lines. Now though, the suggestion that they could make ventilators might be too distant. Repurposing the robots that make the cars might not be feasible. But an electronics maker has said it would make face masks and an office furniture company hopes to produce protective equipment.

Our Bottom Line: Production Possibilities

As one academic explained, “When you are repurposing a factory, it really depends on how similar the new product is to the existing products in your product line.” She was actually describing the increasing costs shown by a typical production possibilities curve.

A production possibilities curve illustrates the maximum amount that the factors of production–your land, labor, and capital–can produce for the two items on your graph. Unlimited, the choice of items ranges from specific goods or services like wheat and barley to categories that include farm goods and factory goods. The key for us though is that the curve is bowed out. The reason? Cost increases when you change your resources from one item to another. And sometimes, as with auto companies making ventilators, you cannot switch them at all because the cost would be too great.

Below, I’ve drawn a production possibilities curve for factory and farm goods. As you move from one point on the curve to another, you are actually switching resources from the farm or the factory to the other one:

At a golf course and in a perfume factory, you can switch how you use your land, labor, and capital. And both would say it has a hefty cost.

My sources and more: From golf to sanitizer, WSJ was my destination for seeing the shift in resources as was the NY Times. Meanwhile, The Cut had a good un-gated article about LVMH’s sanitizer.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

econlife - Coronavirus, a Baby Boom, and a Divorce Spike by Elaine Schwartz

Coronavirus brings us closer together and farther apart. It can spike births and divorces.

Coronavirus Impact on the Birth Rate

Conventional wisdom tells us that people create more babies when they are confined to their homes. However, a new paper conveys a different story. Nine months after an epidemic, where death rates soar, birth rates plummet. But then, we have a rebound in baby deliveries. The number of births goes down nine months after an epidemic and then it goes up:

It might depend though on the severity of the event.  Only those that are more severe have a delayed impact on the birth rate. When there are mild advisories about an imminent storm, birth rates rise. But not when the danger is massive.

For the coronavirus pandemic, we can expect, except for China, that birth rates will rebound. With or without the pandemic, the U.S. fertility rate is down. At 59.1 births for every 1000 women,  it has been descending for four years.

Coronavirus Impact on the Divorce Rate

The statistics are even less definitive for the divorce rate. Some anecdotal evidence tells us that the divorce rate in the Chinese city of Xi’an was up in response to the virus. After initiating an appointment system on March 1, on March 4 and 5, they hit their daily max at 14 appointments. One official hypothesized that the reason could have been being locked up at home together for a month. He did also point out though that they had been closed for a month. So, I wonder if there was some pent-up demand.

When researchers have gathered the stats, they’ve concluded that divorce rates fall after a manmade disaster and rise after one that is natural. Using 9/11 as their manmade disaster example, they point out that most people’s lives were not threatened. As a result, the disaster did not increase everyday stress. A natural disaster, though, could be just the opposite because it brings more tension into the home. After Hurricanes Karina and Andrew, local divorce rates went up. In Dade County, Florida the spike was 30 percent after Hugo.

Our Bottom Line: Externalities

An externality refers to the impact of an activity or a contract or a decision on an uninvolved third party. Good and bad, externalities can be positive and negative. A vaccine creates a positive externality while water pollution results in the negative ripple. For the coronavirus, we have a cascade of results that can become positive and negative externalities. They include a depressed or accelerated birth rate and divorce rate.

My sources and more: Thinking of past econlife posts on births and blackouts, I checked for the coronavirus connection, and, in this paper, Quartz, and IFS I found some possible (not definitive) answers. From there, researchers also cite a spike in the divorce rate, perhaps confirmed by a Chinese news report. But if you just want to read about falling fertility rates, the NY Times had the facts.

Please note that my definition of externality was in a previous econlife post and our featured image is from Pixabay.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Remote Education Tips – By Susan Gable

By now, most of you out there who are teaching remotely (or helping your kids learn remotely) have probably heard of Zoom. Zoom lets you do a digital meeting. It's an awesome tool for connecting with people, something we desperately need right now.

But from an educational standpoint, there are some other options that can help.

Another way of teaching an actual lesson remotely, one that will allow your students more flexibility in when they view the lesson, is to record your presentation to video, and then make that video available to your students. This way if there is shared technology in the home, students don't have to worry about commandeering the tech at an exact time. Maybe their sibling needs to the computer at that time, or their parent is using the same computer to work from home.

Check out In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Loom has even taken the step of making their product FREE to educators. Forever. (Yes, I know, it's an amazing thing! Well done, Loom!)

Loom allows you to make recordings that utilize your camera, your screen, or both at the same time. Students can see you presenting the material, hear your voice, and see the material you're presenting. Right now, seeing and hearing you, their teacher, is a big help. Connection is something we're all craving during this social distancing. 

Use your screen to present your lessons, whether it's using a website, a Google Slide or PowerPoint Presentation, or drawing equations on screen.

Besides making lessons more flexible for your students, this also allows you to give the lesson once…and have it forever! No more doing the same lesson over and over again. Let the students watch, and then you can handle their questions and provide one-on-one help – a much better use of your time!

This video gives you a quick look at what your students will see when they watch a presentation you've recorded.

More Loom Resources:

Read and watch 2 short video tutorials about Loom here: 

Teaching a Lesson with Loom and a Google Slide Presentation: 

Teaching a Lessons with Loom and a PowerPoint Presentation: 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

econlife - What Will Happen to Restaurant Food? by Elaine Schwartz

Celebrity chefs are different from the rest of us. Their white peaches were from Italy and their pomegranates are Sicilian.

Now though, because the demand for premium produce from upscale restaurants and hotels has evaporated, their suppliers need new buyers. One firm has tried to redeploy the food destined for one restaurant to many retail customers. But it means finding a new home for the 100 tons of fruits and vegetables that go to just one medium-sized eatery in a year. Another purveyor says that the three tons of cheese he sells a week to restaurants and caterers has to go elsewhere.

The problems at the top of the food chain resemble what we all face.

Redeploying Food From Restaurants

The balance in food wholesaling has shifted. Whereas demand from restaurants has plunged, supermarkets want much more.


The difference for the producers has mainly involved packaging. The large meat carcasses that went to cafeterias have to be cut up into smaller portions for supermarkets. They need shrink wrap, smaller trays, and new labels.

Also, we don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg (sorry, could not resist), but we want much more of both. An egg producer with 25 million hens has been scrambling. Like other suppliers, they have had to redirect orders for food service customers and a cruise line that had gotten eight truckloads of eggs a week. Instead, the supermarkets want all of it.

Similarly, at a rate of 15 million pounds a day, the five-pound bags of fresh vegetables sent to fast food chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell have been broken down. We are also buying more apples, cherries and pears, perhaps 50 percent more at six million pounds a day.

You can only imagine how that has pressured the trucking industry. Because of the surge in orders from warehouses, limits on driving hours have been suspended for food, medical equipment, and other necessities.


Meanwhile, prices are rising. Boneless chicken breasts might cost us 30 percent more. Beef prices had a 65 percent spike from March 2 to March 19. At the same time, one producer said egg prices have doubled.

You can see that beef is leading the spike:

Our Bottom Line: Supply and Demand

It’s all classic supply and demand. But the big action is on the demand side. The decrease in demand from restaurants shifted the curve to the left. But, a surge in demand from consumers more than offset the drop. At the same time, supply is adjusting its land, labor, land, capital to its new customers.

On a graph, you can see why prices are up. Even with restaurant demand way down, the net impact is an increase on the demand side:

At home, hopefully, many of us are enjoying celebrity chef food.

My resources and more: Sorry to keep referring to gated WSJ articles but they have been pretty good. For food redeployment, I recommend this article. Bloomberg, meanwhile, had the ideal complement.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

econlife - What We Did Right During the 1918-1919 Pandemic by Elaine Schwartz

Approximately 550,000 individuals in the U.S., and 40 million, worldwide, died because of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. At the time there were no antivirals nor any effective vaccines. But they did have non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Where are we going? To the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.

Pandemic Policy

In 2007, several researchers looked at the impact of the non-pharmaceutical interventions used by 43 cities in the U.S. Their goal was to see which pandemic policy was most effective.

They cited three main interventions:

  • Closing schools.
  • Isolating individuals who were infected. Quarantining people who had contact with those victims.
  • Banning public gatherings that included saloons and entertainment venues. (Parades were okay. )

Cities also had to decide when to start the intervention and how long to sustain it. For the 43 cities that were studied, all selected at least one intervention:

You can see the decisions that were made:

To evaluate the results, the researchers compared response times and duration of the interventions to death rates. Essentially they found that the longer the response time, the higher the death rate. The red arrow was added to the graph by Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabarrok:

Among the 43 cities that were studied, Pittsburgh fared most poorly. It imposed a public gathering ban initially but waited 20 days after that to close its schools. Then they rescinded the public gathering ban. New York City, by contrast, had an early and a sustained use of its interventions. The city rigidly enforced isolation and quarantine rules. They also implemented staggered business hours. In the researchers’ ranking, New York was #15 of 43 cities.

Below, you can compare St. Louis, New York City, Denver, and Pittsburgh. The black bars indicate the interventions:

Discussing their conclusions, researchers emphasize that the impact of the interventions varied among the 43 cities. Still they believed that earlier, sustained, and layered interventions resulted in a reduced death rate, a delay in its peak, and lower peak mortality. They suggested that non-pharmaceutical solutions do work.

Our Bottom Line: Tradeoffs

As economists, we can look at pandemic policy tradeoffs.

An opportunity cost chart is a handy way to focus on the tradeoffs required by a decision. It names the opportunity cost–the sacrificed alternative–and the benefits of each alternative. It reminds us that looking back, we cannot name the consequences of the choices. To make a wise decision, we can only identify the current tradeoffs.

The following framework for a college decision can also be used to understand pandemic policy tradeoffs. Below, you can see that first you identify the alternatives. Then, you name the benefits from each one. The key to remember is that when you choose one alternative, you sacrifice the other alternative and its benefits.

Below, the decision is to attend college. Getting a job is sacrificed as are its benefits:

Similarly, at each stage of preparation for a pandemic, we have to select our tradeoffs based on what we know. Assume for example that we have to choose between closing schools and not closing them. One benefit of closing is optimizing health when and if the pandemic hits. At the same time, a benefit of keeping schools open is minimizing current disruption.

For the 1918-1919 pandemic, the cities that selected the most disruption at the earliest possible time could not have known then that they would be minimizing the number of deaths. Still, they wound up making the wisest tradeoff.

My sources and more: Thanks to Marginal Revolution for alerting me to the 1918-1919 pandemic paper (the source of all pandemic graphs and tables in today’s post).

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Google Classroom by Mike Siekkinen

Are you and your students using Google Classroom? If you are in a school with one-to-one technology (all students have access to computers, chrome books, tablets, etc.) I highly recommend this application. Google Classroom is an easy-to-use virtual space where a teacher can post messages, assignments, links, etc. Virtually anything can be posted for your students. It's also an easy way to assign students work and they have the ability to turn things into the classroom. You can also grade assignments and post grades and give individual feedback to students. Very powerful and easy to use application at a great price- FREE! Google updates the platform frequently and there are lots of tutorials on the web to teach you how to use google classroom. 

Setup is easy. Sign in for the first time
1. Go to and click Go to Classroom.
2. Enter your username and click Next.
3. Enter your password and click Next.
4. If there is a welcome message, read it and click Accept.
5. If you're using a G Suite for Education account, click I'm A Student or I'm A Teacher. ...
6. Click Get Started.

Google Classroom also allows you to personalize each classroom with a picture so as you are teaching a certain topic, you can add a background to your classroom related to your subject area. You also have the ability to post assignments ahead of time and have them become available for students on the date you select. Very handy when you may be away from the classroom and are leaving student work.

At the end of each year, I archive my classes and then start new classrooms for the new school year. The process is easy and allows you to keep student work from previous years to be able to show students good and bad examples of assignments. Also if there is ever a question about grades, you have the actual work done by the student. I find teaching 8th grade that my students now come to me familiar with how it works and I have to do virtually no “teaching” students how to operate within the application. In fact, many students show me new things that you can do! 

If you haven't tried it, give it a go!

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.