Understanding Macroeconomic Statistics: Country Profile Project
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
In this project, appropriate for principles of macro students, students work in small groups to collect time-series data on several macroeconomic variables (GDP, growth rate, unemployment rate, etc.), prepare charts of the data, and put together a short oral presentation about various countries in the world. Following the group research and presentation stage, students complete a short quantitative writing assignment individually, giving each student the opportunity to reflect on the information obtained in the group process.
Context for Use
Students work in small groups of 3-5 students; a class of 30 students will therefore have 6-10 groups, with each group studying and reporting about a different country. It is nice to have at least 5 or 6 countries represented to give students perspective into the similarities and differences across countries. In smaller classes, smaller groups could be used; in larger classes it may make more sense to use posters for the final report rather than presentations.
Description and Teaching Materials
- Give a demonstration presentation. A sample presentation for the US is provided.
- Also show students the two data resources, the CIA World Factbook and the World Bank data. Students will need to use both of these resources for the project. While the CIA World Factbook provides helpful current information for students, it does not contain historical data. The World Bank provides excellent time series data for the statistics assigned here. I recommend demonstrating to students how to access, download, and use the data from the World Bank.
If you have existing teams, have students work in these teams. If not, assign students to groups of three to five people. In order to get a diverse group of countries, each group can be assigned a geographic region and allowed to choose a country from this region, or countries could be specifically assigned.
Following the team assignment, an optional extension is to have each student complete a short quantitative writing assignment. This is highly recommended as a strategy to detect/reduce free-riding by team members.
Time-frame for project:
- Explanation and demo presentation (10 – 15 minutes in class)
- Distribute assignment and give groups time to choose a country plan the work. (10 – 15 minutes in class)
- Give groups time to work. It is highly recommended to give groups regularly scheduled class time to work on the project, as it can be difficult for students to schedule group work outside of class. This can be accomplished by holding class in a computer classroom or letting students work in lieu of a regular class meeting. (1 class period)
- Group presentations. Five to ten minutes per group. Distribute the Student Evaluation Form to all students during the presentation class period. Students can fill out the front, where they list their team members and comment on participation. During their peer's presentations, ask them to fill out the grid on the back, noting key information from each presentation. This will facilitate the follow up discussion. After all presentations are completed, collect the student evaluation form and fill in student grades. This is also a good way to keep track of student attendance at the presentations. (1-2 class periods)
- Follow up discussion. Which countries were similar? Which were different? Were any trends or economic events visible across multiple countries? Etc. (10 – 15 minutes in class)
- Assign quantitative writing exercise. (5 minutes in class to explain). Give students a week to work on it. Alternatively, this could be assigned at the beginning of the project along with the research and presentations.
Demonstration Presentation (US) (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 1.3MB Feb22 13)
Student Evaluation Form (Microsoft Word 15kB Apr16 13)
Presentation Grading Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Feb22 13)
Teaching Notes and Tips
Common Student Mistakes:
- In the presentations, students are likely to make mistakes describing rates versus levels. For example, often when displaying the growth rate of GDP slide, students will describe periods of declining but positive growth rates as "recession." This is a great teaching moment – have the students go back to their GDP slide and point out that GDP is increasing, but more slowly. Have students find recession on the GDP slide, where it is easy to see. Then, back on the growth rate of GDP slide, point out that it's only a recession of the growth rate of GDP is negative.
- Students may try to collect their data from sources other than the assigned sources, including whatever comes up first on Google. Stress to students the importance of using the assigned resources (the CIA World Factbook and World Bank database). If your students have good training in identifying reliable information online they might turn to other resources, but caution them to be discerning if they are going to deviate from the CIA and World Bank data.
- Remind students that they should collect their time series data in Excel, and then use Excel to make their charts. Students often find pre-made charts online that almost satisfy the assignment, and cut and paste these into the presentation. I discourage this strategy since the ready-made charts are not usually exactly what's requested, and using them decreases student engagement with the data.
Individual students can be assessed on the individual writing component as well as for their participation in the group-based work (the team presentation score adjusted for participation as needed).
I use this assignment for two grades, one for the team presentation and one for the writing assignment.
References and Resources
CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/.
The CIA World Factbook contains a wealth of data about most countries in the world. It is a good place to start for a group's initial research into a country they don't know much about, and it contains current economic data.
World Bank World dataBank. http://databank.worldbank.org/ddp/home.do.
The World Bank's World dataBank provides time series data for most countries. Students will need to use this resource for the time series data, since historical data is not available on the CIA World Factbook. Most students will require a demonstration of this resource to use it successfully.