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Debt Crisis Provides Economic “Teachable Moment”

After months of political wrangling, late-night bargaining and a near shutdown of Washington D.C., lawmakers signed a deal on August 2 to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avoid an unprecedented default on the U.S.’s loan payments.

Subsequently, Standard & Poor's, one of the major credit rating agencies, downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+, putting us below the United Kingdom and Austraila and on par with countries such as Belgium. S&P cited two major reasons for the downgrade: "the nation's fiscal path and its broken political system."

The stock market reacted by taking a plunge--the Dow Jones dropped 634 points on August 8, 2011 alone.

These events have shined a light on both the political process and the economy. EducationWorld scoured the Internet to collect some of the best resources teachers can use to bring these topics into the classroom.

Educators are encouraged to continue to monitor the news and to discuss with students the impact of S&P's downgrade as well as what is on the horizon in terms of the nation's economy.

Some of the following resources are aimed at elementary school students, and others are designed for middle and high-schoolers. All put a unique educational spin on the themes surrounding the ongoing debt debate in Washington.

Federal Debt Basics
This guide from the U.S. Government Accountability Office offers a basic primer on the ins and outs of federal debt. High-school students should be able to grasp the concepts covered here.

NY Times Debt Quiz
Created specifically for older students, this online quiz delves right into the heart of the debt debate. Students can take the quiz online, or teachers may print it out and present it in a traditional manner.

What Goes Up?
In this NY Times lesson, students become acquainted with the basic terminology of the stock market, then experiment with researching and building their own mini-stock portfolios.

U.S. Mint for Kids
This site is targeted at younger kids and offers a wealth of content. Games, quizzes and interactive lessons cover the basics of money. Students can put together a puzzle of a state quarter, watch an animated movie about how coins are made, and read lots of fun facts about the U.S. Mint. A teacher section with lesson and unit plans also is included.

Federal Reserve for Kids
Another government site built for the elementary crowd. This site provides basic info on how the Fed operates and outlines its role in the economy. Like the other sites listed here, the Fed offers lessons for teachers and quizzes for students. There is also an area that covers the very basics of finance.

CNN Student News
The most recent edition of Student News covers nearly every angle of the debt ceiling debate in a way that middle and high schoolers can digest. The site is still in summer mode, so it’s fairly light on classroom materials, but the production is worth showing in class. Don’t worry if it gets replaced by a more recent edition, as every show is archived and you can easily retrieve and play it.

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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