Budget Explorer

Betty J. Blecha, San Francisco State University
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budget explorer
Students often come to a principles course in economics with knowledge that is not correct. This example asks students to guess the percent of federal expenditures for different spending categories. They are then shown the actual percentages. The student results can be the source of a class discussion on why many of their initial estimates were wrong (as they generally are). Students can also create their own budget by changing the amounts spent in each category. Budget Explorer, implemented over the internet, uses data from the Public Budget Database of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Learning Goals

There are two goals associated with this example:
  • Students must think about why their preconceived views of the budget were wrong. This helps them understand the importance of source validity and ideology in filtering information about the economy.
  • Students learn about the actual magnitudes and percentages associated with the budget and the budget deficit.

Context for Use

The example is most appropriate for an economics principles course.

Description and Teaching Materials

The simulation is available on the Budget Explorer web site. An instructor will need to have an internet connection and projector to use the example in class.

Instructor preparation: 30 minutes
Class preparation: 10 minutes
Class simulation: 20 minutes

Teaching Notes and Tips

The simulation is most effective when it is directly linked to sections of the text the students are using.


All traditional forms of assessment can be used. For more information about assessment, see the SERC assessment module.

References and Resources