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Project Based Economics: The Vanguard Black Swan Fund Advertisement (Phase 2 Rollout)

If you’re following along, and I know you have been, our History of Globalization class is in the middle of the Vanguard Black Swan Fund project. In the first part of the project, students researched and delivered a presentation on historical Black Swan events.

In phase 2, they will be creating a hypothetical Black Swan event, and assembling a mutual fund that will protect investors should their event occur.

I put together a short “commercial” advertising the Vanguard funds the students are creating. I used this as an entry document to introduce the second phase of the project, and draw everyone’s attention back to the project.

As part of the setup for Phase 2, we also shared the instructions, the rubric, and a sample prospectus – all of which are linked below.

Black Swan Fund Prospectus Rubric
Sample Prospectus
Prospectus Instructions



Project Based Economics: The Vanguard Black Swan Fund (Part 4 – Group Check-Ins)

Daily Agenda from Echo

Daily Agenda from echo

Phase 1 of the Black Swan Fund project is well underway. Last week we rolled out the project and had two workshops. The first workshop was a remediation workshop where we covered the concept of the Black Swan in a small group setting. In the second workshop, my co-teacher modeled a presentation covering the Black Plague.

This week, the groups are working on researching their Black Swan events and putting their presentations together.

In this stage of a project, it is important to make sure students are heading in the right direction and staying on task. One of the mechanisms for doing that is the group check-in. During group check-ins, we meet individually with each group to assess progress and provide support. These check-ins normally take about 5-10 minutes per group and they are used as part of a students’ Professionalism grade.

With presentations beginning tomorrow, I’ll provide the list of topics selected by the students as being “Black Swan” events. Should there be any exemplary presentations, I’ll post them as well.

  • BP Oil Spill
  • Bank runs preceding the Great Depression
  • 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
  • Y2K Glitch (Some Black Swans are events that people expect to happen, but don’t occur)
  • Invention of Cotton Gin
  • Invention/Growth of Internet
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”
  • Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand
  • Invention of Automobile
  • Columbine School Shooting
  • Apollo 11 Launch
  • Stock Market Crash of 1929
  • Secession of South Carolina from Union
  • Declaration of Independence

Project Based Economics: The Vanguard Black Swan Fund (Part 3 – Workshops)

Daily Agenda from Echo

Daily Agenda from Echo

Workshops are an integral part of the Project-Based Learning process. They can be used to teach concepts needed for the project, or to provide remediation to students who are struggling.

The first workshop we created for the Black Swan Fund project was a 20 minute small group workshop required for students who:

1). did not score an 80% or higher on the quiz from the previous day
2). students who did not attempt to take the quiz
3). students who were absent the day we rolled out the project

Since this class is team taught, we are able to have one instructor stay in the classroom while the other instructor leads workshops in a separate room. Students that needed this workshop, about 25 out of 75 students, were broken into three separate groups which were based on the three criteria mentioned above. We try to keep our workshop groups to 15 students or less, which allows for a lot of one-on-one attention and better discussions.

In today’s workshop, we:

  1. Re-read (or read for the first time) pages 1-2 of the Black Swan Prologue
  2. Looked at the Wikipedia entry for the Black Swan Theory, as a means of summarizing the reading
  3. Discussed how the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11 fit the Black Swan criteria
  4. Reviewed the Quiz from yesterday

While the workshops were taking place, my teach teacher Mrs. Deardorff was in the classroom helping students select a topic for their Black Swan presentation. We’ll list the results of that in a separate post.




Project Based Economics: Vanguard Black Swan Fund (Part II – Project Rollout)

In the last post, I introduced a new project being rolled out in our History of Globalization class. This project requires students to study historical Black Swan events and build a mutual fund to protect investors against a hypothetical upcoming Black Swan that the students create.

Details of that post, including the entry documents for the project can be found HERE.

I will be posting updates on the project as the class works through it, in order to give everyone an idea of what project-based learning looks like in practice.

Sample of Student Need to Knows

Need to Knows

Today, the class went through the following project roll out activities:

  1. Read the entry document (This document provides the framework of the project for the students)
  2. Students selected groups of 2-5
  3. Rubric Review (Students are shown rubrics at start of project so they know what is expected of them)
  4. Students document Knows and Need to Knows. This allows students to assess their prior knowledge and express what they need to know to successfully complete the project. Need to Knows also tell the instructors what areas they need to provide instruction and support to the students.
  5. Students create group contract that specifies each group member’s role in completing the project


After the groups  completed the rollout activities (which generally take 45 minutes to 1 hour, combined) each student read the Prologue to the book “The Black Swan,” and completed a short five question quiz in Google Docs to demonstrate that they had read.

If you don’t have access to a copy of the Black Swan, NPR has a copy of the prologue on their website.

You can find the five question quiz over the prologue HERE.

Next, we’ll talk about workshops and how they will be used in the Black Swan project.



Project Based Economics: The Vanguard Black Swan Fund (Part I – Project Creation)

One of the benefits of working in a New Tech High School, and using project-based learning (PBL) as a primary mode of instruction, is that people rarely tell you “that’s a stupid idea.” (Disclaimer: when I say people, I don’t mean students. Students will not hesitate to tell you if something is stupid, regardless of the format it is presented in).

So, last year when I suggested that the school take two classes that most students  hate, World History and Economics, and combine them into one course, the only question my Principal had was “what are you going to call it?”

Six months later, I’m halfway through the inaugural edition of “Historical Foundations of Globalization.” What the class lacks in textbooks and curriculum maps, it makes up for in important sounding titles. My co-teacher, History guru Connie Deardorff, and I have knocked out about six projects so far this year, and have another half-dozen on the horizon.

The next project, which will run through January, involves that old Economics staple the stock market. Simple enough, right? Just throw the stock market game at them, and call it a day. But, that’s not how it works in PBL land. In PBL land, we need a project that is authentic and ties in real world application to classroom content. And, as an added bonus, the project has to seamlessly combine World History with Economics. Thankfully, making a project that fits all these requirements is easier than it sounds.

A few years ago, Nassim Taleb published the bestselling book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. A Black Swan is a positive or negative event that has massive consequences, yet is unpredictable prior to its occurrence. According to Taleb, “a small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world.”

Since Black Swans have such a large impact on our lives, it would be nice to be able to prepare for them financially. This thought leads us to the driving question of the project: How can we construct a mutual fund that will provide investors with portfolio protection/growth in the event of a global calamity?

Basically, the idea is that the students select assets for a diversified mutual fund that will provide financial protection in the event of a large-scale Black Swan (it could be a virus like the Black Plague, a nuclear holocaust, a world wide drought, etc.). We are using Vanguard as a backdrop for the project, which has three deliverables:

  1. Groups create and deliver an 8-12 minute presentation on a historical (already occurred) Black Swan event
  2. Students select the stocks for a mutual fund that protects investors against a Black Swan of their choosing. For the fund, they create an accompanying prospectus, which describes the stocks in the fund, tracks their performance, and explains the historical events that the fund is hedging against.
  3. Students create and deliver  a presentation to sell the fund to financial advisers. We are having some local bankers and investment reps come in and critique the presentations.

The entry document, which frames the project for the students, and the instructions for completion of deliverable #1 (along with the rubric) are attached below.

Vanguard Black Swan Project Entry Document

Vanguard Black Swan Project Deliverable 1

Vanguard Black Swan Fund Deliverable 1 Rubric

Note: I’m taking a few liberties with the Black Swan concept. Mr. Taleb would argue that Black Swans, by nature, are unpredictable. As such, he would probably laugh at the idea of a mutual fund that promised protection against any Black Swan.



Economics Lesson: Incentives Matter

Common Sense Economics


Incentives are a hot topic in the political market right now, especially when it comes to taxes. What would happen if the Government imposed higher taxes on the wealthy? How would consumers and producers react to a national sales tax, or “Fair Tax?”

While answers to the above questions may vary, depending on the political agenda of the person giving the answer, one thing is for certain: people respond to incentives. Always have, always will.

In this lesson, students get an introduction to the concept of incentives and how they relate to economics.

I’ll post the files here, and describe how everything works below.

Incentives Candy Scenarios

Incentives Class Notes (If you’d like the PowerPoint file instead, please email me at

Reading: Common Sense Economics

Incentives Journal

The lesson has 4 components:

I. The day before the incentives lesson takes place, students are given a Hershey Kiss, along with a slip of instructions. One group is given a slip that has positive incentives for returning their candy to class the next day. The other group is given a slip that has negative incentives for returning their candy the  next day.

II. The next day, we see who has brought back candy, or who has given their candy away. This leads into our discussion of incentives (see class notes file above).

III. At the conclusion of the  discussion, the class takes part in an activity that demonstrates “The Peltzman Effect,” which is the idea that people will increase risky behavior in response to safety regulations. The class learns about Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at any Speed,” and the effect the book had on automobile safety regulations. They are then asked to predict what happened to the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities following the introduction of safety features like the seatbelt.

Once they have made their predictions, the students take turns racing hard-boiled and raw eggs around an obstacle course with spoons. This portion of the activity is timed, and they are given prizes for the fastest times. If the egg falls during the race and breaks, the students are eliminated. This leads students to take more chances when racing with the hardboiled egg, and fewer chances when racing with the raw egg.

When comparing times at the end of the simulation, the class usually finds that raw eggs have slower times and fewer drops, while hard-boiled eggs have quicker times and more drops – thus demonstrating the Peltzman Effect.

IV. Students read an excerpt from the great beginning Economics primer, “Common Sense Economics,” and complete 8 assessment questions.

And that’s all there is to it. This lesson works great in one block period (90 minutes), or can be divided into two traditional class periods.

Slide from Incentives Class Notes



Spreadsheet Project: Black Friday Blues

If you’re looking for a nice little spreadsheet project that ties into the Holiday Season, you might like this. Students use spreadsheets to analyze prices of popular gifts of their choice before, during, and after Black Friday. They then analyze the data to make a recommendation as to when the best time to shop would be.

The project covers Spreadsheet Formatting, Formulas, and Chart Creation.

Posted below is the video to introduce the project.




Class Project: Opening Pandora’s Box


Pandora Internet Radio

In honor of Pandora’s recent IPO (P), here’s a project that my Computer Apps classes worked on this past school year.

If you are not familiar with Pandora, it’s a website (and App) that allows you to create personalized radio stations. The stations play music matching your individual tastes by selecting songs that share musical attributes with other songs you like.

Pandora’s educated guesses on the music you will like are the result of a massive recommendation engine dubbed “The Music Genome Project.”

In this project, students gather data (Yes, they listen to the songs during class…gasp!) and test the accuracy of Pandora’s Music Genome Project. They also compare and contrast Pandora’s engine with similar (but different) systems used by Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook.

Once students have completed their research, they present their findings to the class in the form of a Keynote/PowerPoint presentation. I require my students to include audio clips in their presentation, in order to show they understand how to insert and time multimedia files.

After the in-class presentation, the students record narration for their PowerPoint and upload their finished product to YouTube.

All of the files for the project are included in the PDF portfolio below. If you have any questions about implementing this project in your class, let me know – Enjoy!

Project Files: Opening Pandora’s Box – Travis R Martin


Personal Finance Lesson: Investing in Stocks

Learning about stocks is an integral part of any Personal Finance or Economics class. And, regardless of what has

Despite the market's recent downturns stocks remain an important part of any financial portfolio

Despite the market's recent downturns stocks remain an important part of any financial portfolio

happened in the market the last few days, stocks are still one of the best tools for building long term wealth.

In this post, I thought I would offer a few of the PowerPoint slides I use to lead classroom discussions on stocks, as well as a few of the worksheets I use. I will post a couple of activities later on.

Since my Personal Finance classes do not have a textbook, and I’m not teaching Econ at the moment, these slides do not correspond to any particular text. I will place them below in the order that I cover them in class. Feel free to adapt them to your own needs!

PowerPoint Discussions over Stocks

PowerPoint Notes: Investing Expectations (Provides students with an overview of what to expect from stock market)
PowerPoint Notes: Introduction to Stocks
PowerPoint Notes: Financial Statements (Basic introduction of Financial Statements for students who haven’t had Accounting)
PowerPoint Notes: Characteristics of High Quality Companies (Students learn traits of high quality companies)
PowerPoint Notes: Other Investments (Introduces Bonds, Mutual Funds, and “other” investments)

Stock Worksheets

Worksheet: Reading Stock Quotes (Excel Format)
Worksheet: Company Financial Statements (Excel Format)
Worksheet: Company Quality (Word Format)


Business Lesson Plans: Now Accepting Requests!

One of the goals I had when I started posting my lessons on this website was to share information with the teaching community.

If there is a specific business topic that you would like to see an activity or project for, let me know by leaving a comment below or send me an e-mail at Chances are, I have something in my archives somewhere…and if not, it would give me a great excuse to make something up!