Friday, July 11, 2014

The Super Nutrient – Spirulina

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

Some call Spirulina the super food because it packs all of nature’s essential nutrients into one little package. However, it is neither a herb nor plant but cyanobacteria which comprises of two species: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.

People in many countries and cultures across the world cultivate and consume Spirulina tablets, flakes, or powder either as a whole food or as a dietary supplement. Some farmers mix Spirulina into feeds for fish and animals.

Ancient man knew about Spirulina. The Aztecs and other Mesoamericans utilized spirulina as a food source until the 16th century. One of Cortes soldiers described the natives harvesting Spirulina cakes from Lake Texcoco. Even the European Space Agency and NASA suggested using Spirulina as a primary food source for astronauts to cultivate and grow during long-term space missions.

Nutritional Contents

Dried Spirulina comprises roughly 65% protein, and our bodies can utilize that protein with a net rate ranging between 50% and 61%. Spirulina furnishes all essential amino acids although it contains lower amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine as compared to the proteins from eggs, meat, and milk. The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated Spirulina has no edge over milk or meat as a protein source, and it costs roughly 30 times more per gram. On the other hand, Spirulina provides more protein than legumes.

Pregnant mothers, vegetarians, and patients afflicted with anemia or required a boost in immunity after surgery should take Spirulina because it has high concentrations of protein and natural, non-animal iron. Furthermore, Spirulina supplies high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, but also provides omega 6s, and 9s. Spirulina contains about 7% lipids (oils) by weight and is rich in the essential gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Spirulina also supplies:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Arachidonic acid (AA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – healthy fatty acids in fish oil
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – healthy fatty acids in fish oil
  • Linoleic acid (LA)
  • Stearidonic acid (SDA)
Researchers and scientists have used the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) to measure the antioxidant ability and concentration of different foods. An independent laboratory tested Spirulina and rated it 24,000 which exceeds the antioxidant power of blueberries by four times. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped publishing food tables with the ORAC score because the ORAC score correlates poorly to biological effects on the body. Spirulina still supplies three important antioxidants: Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Spirulina also includes the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
Experts believe people should not rely on spirulina as a source of Vitamin B12 although some tout Spirulina’s high B12 content. Spirulina supplements provide mostly pseudo-vitamin B12, which the human body cannot absorb and utilize. Hence, people should absorb their B12 from animal products. Spirulina furnishes over 26 times the calcium in milk, making it excellent supplement for children, the elderly, and expectant mothers, and it does not cause constipation. It also contains phosphorus that can help to re-mineralize the teeth. Furthermore, Spirulina provides the following minerals:

  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Selenium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc
Spirulina uses Chlorophyll to obtain its energy from the sun. The chlorophyll helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. Spirulina supplies many health-enhancing pigments such as:

  • 3'-hydroxyechinenone
  • Allophycocyanin
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin
  • Canthaxanthin
  • Chlorophyll-a
  • C-phycocyanin
  • Diatoxanthin
  • Echinenone
  • Myxoxanthophyll
  • Oscillaxanthin
  • Phycobiliproteins
  • Xanthophyll
  • Zeaxanthin

Health Benefits

Researchers studied Spirulina in animal and human studies. For example, Spirulina binds with radioactive isotopes and removes them from the body. Thus, Spirulina may help people exposed to radiation. Spirulina can also prevent damage caused by toxins and help protect the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles. Finally, researchers studied Spirulina to prevent chemotherapy-induced heart damage, recover from strokes, slow declines in age-related memory, and alleviate diabetes mellitus.

Spirulina supplies many health-boosting qualities even though it has the tastes and consistency of pond scum. Some believe Spirulina helps the body by:

  • Boosting the immune system
  • Strengthening the heart and circulatory system and promoting healthy cholesterol
  • Improving gastrointestinal and digestive health
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Naturally cleansing and detoxifying by binding with heavy metals in the body and removing them
  • Lowering cancer risks through its antioxidant power
  • Alleviating allergies and reducing allergic reactions
  • Satisfying appetite and helping in weight loss
  • Enhancing fat burning while exercising
  • Boosting endurance and strength in athletes
Spirulina contains 1% phycocyanobilin by weight. Phycocyanobilin inhibits NADPH oxidase, where NADPH stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate. What does this mean? The body can use NADPH to negatively charge oxygen molecules, so the oxygen kills microorganisms. However, these oxygen molecules move around in the body as free radicals. Thus, the phycocyanobilin in Spirulina prevents the NADPH into making free radicals. Furthermore, researchers believe the NADPH oxidase causes atherosclerosis, and if a substance could inhibit the NADPH oxidase, then this substance could reverse atherosclerosis. At this point, I am not suggesting Spirulina reverses atherosclerosis, but it is something to watch out for. (I kept NADPH in this blog because researchers are studying derivatives of NAD to slow down or reserve aging. NAD comprises one form of Vitamin B3).

Dosage and Toxic Effects

Spirulina had shown no harmful or toxic effects in humans or animals, even when they have consumed up to 800 milligrams per kilogram of body weight and have replaced 60% of their protein intake by Spirulina. In a 2009 study, 550 malnourished children consumed up to 10 grams per day of Spirulina powder with no adverse effects. In humans, researchers conducted small studies to evaluate Spirulina in undernourished children, to treat the cosmetic aspects of arsenic poisoning, to alleviate hay fever and allergic rhinitis, to reduce arthritis, to treat hyperlipidemia and hypertension, and to improve exercise tolerance.

People using any anti-coagulation medicine should consult with a doctor before taking Spirulina. It contains Vitamin K that can interfere with anti-coagulant medications that slow the clotting of blood.

People with phenylketonuria must avoid taking Spirulina because Spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine, roughly between 2.6 and 4.1 grams per 100 grams of Spirulina. Phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine. The phenylalanine accumulates in the brain, causing damage. Sufferers also cannot consume the artificial sweetener aspartame, or its brand name NutraSweet. Those with phenylketonuria should confer with a doctor before taking Spirulina.

The U.S. government does not regulate or enforce safety standards for Spirulina’s purity and manufacturing because it is a dietary supplement. Heavy-metal contamination of Spirulina supplements has also raised concern. For example, the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration discovered Spirulina supplements marketed in China were contaminated with lead, mercury, and arsenic.

Other types of cyanobacteria can contaminate Spirulina batches, creating toxic substances such as microcystins, BMAA (beta-Methylamino-L-alanine), and others. Microcystins can disturb the gastrointestinal tract and cause liver cancer in the long term. Thus, users should buy quality Spirulina supplements from well-known companies. Otherwise, they could risk developing cancer by chronic, long-term exposure to low levels of microcystins. Finally, BMAA can damage nerve cells and cause neurological disorders.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Power of Herbs, Supplements, and Natural Remedies

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

After reading passages from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, I begin wondering whether the passages contained a speck of truth - many of the early biblical figures easily lived to 900 years old. I began searching for herbs, supplements, and natural remedies that could extend life and prolong longevity. Even if I could not extend my life, I would at least want to live a quality life devoid of afflictions, illnesses, and health problems.

I became shocked after seeing my former high school friends suffer from debilitating health problems. For example, I tried to visit a friend in January 2014, and he would not open the door. As I peered through the living room window, he lay on the floor, as he strained for every breath. A plastic tube chained him to a nearby oxygen tank. He became enormous and could barely move. After he had spotted me in the window, he shooed me away. Another good friend from high school has deteriorating and collapsing vertebrae disks along his spine. Unfortunately, all the drinking and smoking during high school had caught up to them. Finally, after browsing through Facebook, the former cute high school girls have turned into grandmothers. Now, I know I am quickly advancing towards old age.

I worry about becoming afflicted with a debilitating health condition, so I started experimenting with legal herbs and supplements. I also do not want to rely on expensive, potent prescription drugs. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have no incentives to sell and market herbs and supplements because they cannot obtain patents to restrict sales and charge high prices. For example, patients could pay between $15 and $175 for a month supply of generic Plavix. Some refer to Plavix as the Cadillac of aspirins. On the other hand, aspirin costs less than $10 for 300 tablets or more. Originally, an inventor, Felix Hoffmann, created aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid from willow bark.

I search for good supplements for another reason. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to cure diseases. For example, Company X sells a 30-day medication that cures diabetes. The company knows each customer would buy a 30-day supply of medication, and after the person is cured, then the company loses the customer forever. However, if the company only sold the customer insulin, the customer would need to take insulin daily for the rest of his or her life. That translates into long term profits.

Pharmaceutical companies, furthermore, have a strong financial incentive to discredit the healing properties of herbs and supplements. They give grants to scientists and researchers who find problems with the herbs or discredit the herb's effectiveness. Remember, the pharmaceutical companies pay researchers to scour the world in search of new, exotic plants and species. Then chemists isolate and concentrate various chemicals and molecules from these plants and animals checking whether these molecules help a medical condition. Then the companies replicate these chemicals in the laboratory and obtain patents on them.

Niacin stories, for example, circulated in the news during the summer 2013. The news reported niacin causes infections, internal bleeding, and ulcers and in extreme cases, liver and heart failure. However, the news never reported the dosage level. The recommended daily dosage ranges between 14 and 18 milligrams. Some users would take 1,000 milligrams or more to alleviate diabetes, improve arthritis, and reduce cholesterol, and combat heart disease and atherosclerosis. So taking anything in massive doses would never be healthy to a person.

I limit the herbs I take because I do not want to overdo it and have one herb interfere or cancel another herb's power. If I keep my herb usage down to a minimum, then I pay less from the pocketbook. However, a company manufacturing supplements could charge greater prices on herbs and supplements that are gaining popularity. I do not worry about the costs of supplements because prescription medications usually vastly exceed the prices of herbs and supplements.

My Core Supplements

Hyaluronic acid and astaxanthin comprise my core supplements. I discovered hyaluronic acid first when I hit middle age and started encountering problems. My wrinkles were deepening and spreading while my complexion had an unhealthy reddish tint – a sign that constant inflammation was wreaking havoc on my body. I would experience dizziness if I stood up too quickly, and I often felt something pinching a nerve on the left side of my chest. After I had started taking hyaluronic acid, all these symptoms had disappeared. I started sleeping better while my thinking became more lucid. I began taking a 100-milligram tablet every day. Currently, I take a 100-milligram tablet every day. I vary the brands, so my body does not become used to one supplement. I rotate among:

After taking hyaluronic acid for five years, I started experiencing constant eyestrain and a constant pain in my feet. I accidentally came across astaxanthin and decided to try it. So I started taking the 12-milligram tablets from Healthy Originals. At first, I felt dizzy within an hour of taking astaxanthin, but this disappeared after two weeks. However, my foot pain and eyestrain had vanished overnight. I also have more energy, and jogging became much easier. I tried to reduce my dosage to 4 milligrams per day, but that dosage seems too weak. Currently, I take between 8 mg and 12 mg daily.

My Secondary Supplements

Although I added derivatives of B3, krill oil, and spirulina to my regimen, I feel well and have loads of energy. Unfortunately, I cannot tell whether these supplements are working but I provide a reason for taking them.

I started taking derivatives of vitamin B3 because scientists injected nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (abbreviated NAD+) into mice to reverse aging. It may be difficult to get NAD+, but I ordered reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) from iHerb. I sometimes take 10 mg of NADH, and I feel a burst of energy after taking it. At this time, I do not understand how reduced NAD differs from NAD+. Currently, I take 100 milligrams of niacinamide daily because the human body can more easily convert niacinamide into NAD+ than niacin. Niacin comprises the other form of B3, which can cause niacin flush. Niacin dilates the blood vessels near the skin, causing a tingling sensation of the skin and giving the skin a reddish flush.

I started taking fish oil tablets long ago because they contain the omega 3 fatty acids: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Then I switched to Krill Oil in February 2014 because I wanted to try something different. The supplement industries extract Kill Oil from a tiny shrimp-like crustacean. Krill Oil also contains traces of astaxanthin as a bonus.

I take Spirulina because every large tablet is loaded with natural vitamins, minerals, and other healthy ingredients. I consider it my natural multivitamin and take one 1,000-milligram tablet daily.

Experimental Supplements

I am always searching to expand my knowledge of herbs, natural remedies, and supplements. Currently, I started experimenting with Lingzhi, a mushroom the Chinese associate with longevity and long life. I occasionally drink a tonic or tea made from it. I hope that I do not have to drink Lingzhi daily, or I will live a short life. The drink packs quite a nasty punch. Besides, I am interested in other traditional Chinese mushrooms such as Cordyceps and Yunzhi. These mushrooms help promote longevity and slow down the aging process.

I also heard about French Bark Extract that contains pycnogenols – powerful antioxidants contained in tree bark. Unfortunately, the extract is gaining popularity, and GNC sells it for a premium. However, I buy Asta-Pycnogenol from Cosway, a Malaysian pharmacy chain. Each tablet supplies 50 mg of Maritime Pine Bark extract and 100 mg of haematococcus pluvialis containing 4% of astaxanthin.

I started taking resveratrol and grape seed extract daily. I found the brand, Reversage, in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Every tablet contains 100 mg of grape seed extract and 200 mg of Japanese Knotweed extract. Knotweed supplies resveratrol, another anti-aging compound.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Ancient Chinese Mushroom – Lingzhi

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

The Chinese knew Lingzhi or Ganoderma Lucidum for 2,000 years while the Japanese call it Reishi. Lingzhi, an herbal mushroom, possesses many miraculous health benefits. The Chinese associate Lingzhi with a long life and call it the "Mushroom of Immortality" or the "Elixir of Life." Many recognize Lingzhi as one of the most effective medicinal herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 2000 years. Lingzhi is often depicted in images with the God of Longevity.

Li Shi-Zhen wrote about Lingzhi in the Ben Cao Gang Mu in 1590 AD during the Ming Dynasty, one of the first pharmacology books in China. The Supplement to the Materia Medica, published between 502 and 536 AD mentions Lingzhi. They attributed Lingzhi with boosting energy, strengthening the heart and circulatory system, enhancing memory, slowing aging, and extending longevity.

Lingzhi naturally grows in densely wooded mountains with high humidity and dim lighting. Hikers and explorers find it thriving on the dried trunks of dead plum trees. Wild Lingzhi grows on two or three plum trees out of 10,000, making it extremely rare. Before the health industries could cultivate it, only the wealthy and nobility could afford to take it.

As the Lingzhi mushrooms ripen, they release spores – the seeds to germinate the next generation of mushrooms. The spores pack more potency than the mushrooms, and thus carry more value. Before people can consume the spores, they must be cracked so it can release the beneficial chemicals and active ingredients.

Lingzhi contains polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, organic germanium, alkaloids, and amino acids. Polysaccharides help boost the immune system and increase the action of white blood cells. Beta-glucans, forms of complex sugars, prevent and slow down the growth and spread of cancer cells. Some people add Lingzhi to green tea to inhibit tumor growth. Finally, the triterpenes give the mushroom its bitter taste and help reduce blood pressure and relieve allergies. Some believe Lingzhi enhances a person's health by:

  • Improving the body's use of oxygen and relieving coughs and asthma
  • Alleviating allergies
  • Restoring and boosting immunity
  • Enhancing physical endurance and sharpening mental abilities
  • Calming the mind and the nervous system
  • Improving circulation and reducing blood pressure
  • Regulating the glucose levels in the blood
  • Slowing down and preventing the spread of cancer
  • Helping the body to eliminate toxins
  • Positively influencing the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys

Chinese philosophy refers to the qi or chi – the life force circulating through the body. They believe people become sick and unhealthy if this life force becomes unbalanced in the body. The healers (if you believe in this) use acupuncture, acupressure, and Lingzhi to restore the qi's balance.

If you are taking immune-suppressing drugs, then you may want to avoid taking Lingzhi. Lingzhi may counteract these drugs because it potentially stimulates the immune system.

Since I live in Malaysia with a large Chinese community, I easily found Lingzhi at the Chinese herbal stores. Ironically, the clerks asked politely if I have cancer. I replied no and say I am searching for the Fountain of Youth.

I bought dried, sliced Lingzhi, shown below. Although the Lingzhi looks like wood chips, it makes one nasty cup of tea. I boil about six slices of Lingzhi in water for 15 minutes, pour it into a coffee cup, and add a teabag.

I also found a pre-made mix of Lingzhi and ginseng in liquid form. Each box shown below comes with six small bottles of dark, ominous looking liquid. According to directions, an adult drinks one bottle per day, six days in a row.

The top of the box:

The bottom of the box:

Friday, July 4, 2014

Engaging Students in Economic Courses


Many students find economics courses difficult because the courses are technical, abstract, and theoretical. Unfortunately, the students fail to grasp concepts, ideas, and theories in economics, and they never learn to apply economics to relevant events in their lives [1].

Many economics instructors contribute to the learning problems of economics because the graduate programs do not prepare students to teach economics [2]. Instead, the graduate programs teach and train students in economics analysis. If these students enter the academe and begin teaching, they lack modern teaching techniques. Furthermore, college and university administrators only require the instructor to complete a graduate degree in economics in order to teach economics [3]. These new professors resort to the chalk and talk as they were taught in graduate school.

For students to learn economics, the professors must use engaging examples, cases, and puzzles to encourage students to learn [3, 4]. Unfortunately, most students never discover the connections and links between theory, mathematics, and application to real-world problems [5]. Then economics courses gain a bad reputation that frightens the students away [1]. Subsequently, the students usually rate the economics instructors the lowest on campus as compared to professors teaching other subjects [6].

Professors have few incentives to improve their teaching, and according to Elzinga [7], the economics profession produces few great teachers. Even if instructors become aware of pedagogies to improve their teaching, they rarely implement them [7]. Professors and instructors have no incentive to improve their teaching. Besides, this additional effort detracts time away from critical research. University administrators usually reward professors and instructors on their research and the amount and value of grants the professors bring into the universities. Unfortunately, the instructors cannot share their current research with the undergraduate students. Researchers write highly technical, theoretical articles filled with mathematics. Most students would not understand them [2] because the content of the scholarly articles vastly exceeds their comprehension.

The undergraduate economics courses are not improving. In many cases, professors teach material that they never use in their profession themselves [3]. They continue adding topics and raising the course’s complexity while the textbooks become thicker and more ominous [1, 8]. The students never master the basic ideas because the instructors keep forcing and exposing the students to learn more topics [1]. After completing the course, the students quickly forget their economic knowledge [1].

For instructors to change their teaching habits, colleges and universities must experience stress to force people within the institution to change. For example, many economics departments witnessed a 30% drop in economics majors during 1991 [2]. Several scholars showed interests to improve teaching economics to reverse this trend [2]. Furthermore, the economics profession spurred research in improving the effectiveness in teaching, helping professors to meet their research obligations [8]. Unfortunately, this trend has reversed itself, and students started majoring in economics in large numbers again removing the stress from the colleges and universities.

Two factors, however, may put economics departments under stress again. First, the population in the United States is aging, and fewer young people graduate from high schools. Thus, fewer students will enroll at colleges and universities. Second, college graduates are experiencing difficulties in finding employment in their specialties in the difficult U.S. job market. Young people started questioning whether to attend college especially if they must finance their education with student loans, which have surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2014 in the United States. Consequently, universities and colleges will shift their focus on retaining students, forcing professors and instructors to put more effort into their teaching.

This reflection helps me move beyond the convention in economics and improve my teaching. I want the students to remember the ideas, theories, and concepts they had learned in economics after the course ends. Then students will retain economic knowledge for the rest of their lives, contributing to their future insights, decisions, and thinking.

Teaching Feedback and Teaching Quality

During my first semester at Curtin University – Sarawak, attendance continued dropping at the tutorials, and students were silent during class discussions. I resorted to old habits and would cram as much material as I could within that one hour because I had more tutorial questions than I could cover during the time. I kept forgetting the golden teaching rule – a learning constraint depends on how quickly students can learn and master the material, and not the speed the instructor can cover it [1, 3].

I used a five-minute evaluation to rate my teaching style half way into the course. The five-minute survey contains 19 questions, and the questions are organized into five groups: Content and Coverage, Knowledge, Communication, Engagement, and Organization. For each question, students rated my teaching style on a scale: 5 (excellent), 4 (good), 3 (satisfactory), 2 (low), and 1 (very low).

Only 90 out of 140 students had completed the questionnaires. I could have a sample bias if the absent students were not engaged and skipped class because they found the class useless. I displayed the data as a histogram.

Students answered four questions for the Content and Coverage. The question and its corresponding histogram are displayed in Table 1. From the results, I need to improve my teaching. Even though the most common response was a 4, the second most common equaled 3, or satisfactory. Consequently, I must change the content of my courses and implement more active learning because students are not receiving enough content and coverage from my course.

Table 1. Content and Coverage
1. The material was covered in enough depth for my needs. 2. Then material covered helped me to tackle the assessment tasks effectively.
3. The material was covered at the right depth with regard to my previous learning. 4. The teacher showed how topics and theories in the unit were related to each other.

The students rated my knowledge of economics highly in Table 2. For Question 5, most responses recorded a 5 with the second being a 4. For the other two questions, students rated me as a 4 for most responses and 5 for the second most common response. Thus, students believe I possess a high-level of knowledge in economics.

Table 2. Knowledge
5. My lecturer had current knowledge of the subject. 6. My lecturer seemed well informed on the material presented.
7. My lecturer was well informed in related subject areas.

Communication skills comprise another strong trait. I decompose complicated ideas down into small parts and pieces, transforming the complicated ideas into simpler ones. Then I show how the parts and pieces work, and how they relate to the bigger picture. This aspect of my teaching shows on the Communication part of the questionnaire in Table 3. Most students rated my communication as 4 with 5 being the second most common response. Boex [9] determined the lecturers’ ability to present the material becomes the second most important characteristic for effective teaching and learning.

Table 3. Communication
8. My lecturer explained concepts clearly. 9. My lecturer had a style of presentation that allowed me to take adequate notes.
10. My lecturer used examples, applications, analogies, or illustrations that increased my understanding. 11. My lecturer communicated his/her enthusiasm for the subject.

According to Table 4, one area I need to improve is help students engage in their learning. Although the most common response was 4, the second most common response was a 3 for three questions. Unfortunately, I resorted to the chalk and talk, trying to cram as much material as I could within the hour. I overwhelmed some of my students and lost their engagement and interests during the lessons.

Instructors should engage students in economics courses because undergraduate economics courses build upon knowledge over time. In order to succeed, students must completely understand the material taught in the first week of class in order to comprehend the material in the second week [2]. Then the courses continue building upon the knowledge learned in earlier times throughout the course. If the students are not engaged in their learning at the beginning of the course, they will likely experience problems throughout the course. For instance, Boex [9] discovered motivating students was the third most important characteristic of effective economics instructors, and engaging students could help motivate the students.

Table 4. Engagement.
12. My lecturer used a style of presentation that held my interest. 13. My lecturer encouraged students to participate in the class.
14. My lecturer was made to feel that I was a valuable member of the class. 15. My lecturer was motivated to work hard in this unit.

Boex [9] determined the most important attribute for teaching effectiveness is the lecturers explain concepts and theories with clarity and organization. As shown in Table 5, organization is one of my strong traits in teaching. I strive to write notes on the whiteboard clearly and succinctly with plenty of bullets and numbering as I break down complicated ideas into simpler ones. On two questions, the most common response was 5 with 4 being the second. However, on the other two questions, most responses were 4 with 3 being the second. Unfortunately, I did not coordinate different learning activities into the course and did not clearly outline the objectives. Hence, I will change my teaching methodology and experiment with techniques to engage students better.

Table 5. Organization
16. My lecturer was well prepared for each class. 17. Different learning activities were well coordinated.
18. My lecturer set out clear objectives for each teaching session. 19.  My lecturer used class time effectively.

Engaging Students

I developed three strategies to improve students’ engagement for economics courses. First, I will develop and use more team activities for the economics tutorials. Second, I plan to implement more current events into the classroom, showing students how economists analyze the real world. Finally, I will experiment with Gapminder, when I lecture on economic ideas and concepts involving several countries.

Team Activities

I changed my teaching tactics half way through the semester for my tutorials and implemented more group activities. The desks in the tutorial classrooms are clustered into four seats along a row. Thus, the students formed groups comprising between two and four members. Then the groups worked on an activity during the tutorial. Wilson [10] had shown when students work in teams, they usually produce superior work than students working individually. Teams with four or five members can process information efficiently and arrive at the best solutions [10].

The first team activity illustrated the similarities and differences between private goods, public goods, quasi-public goods, and common resources. I wrote two definitions on the whiteboard:

  1. Rival – one person consuming a good prevents another person from consuming that same good.
  2. Excludable – provider of a good or service can restrict sales to paying consumers.

Conversely, students would know non-rival and non-excludable as opposites of the definitions. Furthermore, I defined quasi as almost or similarly. I usually define unfamiliar terms to the students because mastering the vocabulary comprises a large portion of learning economics.

Students worked as teams to classify the following goods using the two definitions. Every team had a handout that is presented in Appendix A. I gave further information in the parenthesis below for some goods to make the examples clearer.
  • public health
  • national park
  • police force
  • national defense (army and navy to protect the nation)
  • suburban roads (e.g. roads around Curtin University)
  • Community Business District (CBD) roads (e.g. roads in downtown Miri)
  • Internet
  • Tigers (the animals and not the beer)
  • broadcast TV (over the airwaves)
  • Foxtel (Similar to a channel on Astro)
  • pizza

After ten minutes, we went through the activity to classify the goods.

Another activity illustrates how the little pieces relate to the whole economy. I showed how a central bank uses contractionary monetary policy to influence the economy. I drew a flow chart of the economy, similar to the flow chart in Appendix B. I extensively wrote why each piece behaves the way it does with each piece having the following information.

  • Central bank: Sells assets that removes funds and money from the banking system

  • Bank reserves: Banks have less funds to lend and borrow

  • Cash rate: The interest rate rises

  • Other interest rates: interest rates usually move together. If the cash rate increases, then other interest rates tend to rise.

  • Interest rates affect the economy.
    • Consumers reduce their consumption (C) and increase their savings because they can earn greater interest rates from their bank accounts.
    • Businesses reduce their investments (I) because their borrowing costs rise.
    • Central bank removes money from the economy, making money more scarce.
      • Thus, money becomes more valuable.
      • Currency would appreciate.
      • Exports (X) fall while imports (M) rises.

  • Equation relates changes in Aggregate Demand, AD = C + I + G + X – M
    • Since C, I, and X fall while M increases, the aggregate demand shifts leftward.
    • Both real GDP and the price level fall, which causes deflation and rising unemployment.
  • Note – The Reserve Bank of Australia directly controls the cash rate and would increase it for contractionary monetary policy.

After explaining contractionary monetary policy to the students, they worked as teams to complete the impact of expansionary monetary policy on the economy. Appendix B shows the correct, brief answers for expansionary monetary policy.

Students responded to the group activities well as I diminished the monotony of chalk-and-talk lecturing.

Applying Ideas and Concepts of Economics to Current Events

Another teaching technique is the instructors restrict the number of topics covered in economics courses and focus their resources to help students deepen their understanding of essential ideas and concepts. Then students apply and use the core ideas and concepts repeatedly to solve problems, puzzles, and questions the students will experience throughout their lives [1]. For example, the instructor applies ideas and concepts to a current event during class by illustrating topics found in student newspapers, country’s newspapers, or The Economist. Furthermore, the students could bring a magazine or newspaper article to class [4]. Then students use the concepts and ideas they had learned to analyze the article [4]. For higher-level economics courses, students can further their analysis by applying more analytical and critical thinking skills to analyze their news articles [4].

Applying economics to current events helps align the instructor’s activities to achieve the outcome goals of Economics 100. For example, students analyze and evaluate economic issues using the theory they had learned in class. Students use thinking skills because they analytically solve problems and analyze real world events. Subsequently, students use information skills to investigate new ideas. Finally, students gain an international perspective if they analyze articles from other countries [11].

Students will benefit because not only do they gain insights to understand economics [4], but they may enjoy the economics courses more. If a student performs poorly on the exam, then instructors can utilize the analyzing articles as a supplementary tool to assess students' learning [4]. Finally, instructors do not need as much time to conduct classroom experiments after they started using it [4]. The teaching technique becomes a habit.


Instructors could add software to bring complex economic ideas to life during a lecture. For example, lecturers can use Gapminder – a trend-analyzing software tool that utilizes colorful graphics to display how variables move over time. Hence, the software converts sterile statistical data into colorful, animated graphs that livens boring numbers [12]. A screenshot is displayed in Figure 1. Gapminder has several applications in macroeconomics when instructors discuss key macroeconomic variables such as Gross Domestic Product, inflation, and economic growth. Gapminder was founded in 2005 by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling as a non-profit venture [12].

Figure 1. Screenshot of Gapminder


One of the valuable lessons I derived from my teaching reflection is to keep my course material fresh and current. For example, Elzinga [7] referred to IBM using tying contracts during the 1970s by forcing its customers to buy both computers and punch cards together. He would bring a punch card to lecture to show the students since companies were using punch cards when the student’s parents attended elementary school. Furthermore, I should keep experimenting with teaching techniques to discover novel methods to raise my students’ learning. Then students can utilize the knowledge they gained from my courses throughout their lives.


[1] Hansen, W. L., Salemi, M. K., & Siegfried, J. J. 2002. "Use it or lose it: Teaching literacy in the economics principles course." American Economic Review, 92: 463-472.

[2] Gullason, E. T. 2009. "A compilation and synthesis of effective teaching strategies in the economics discipline." Journal of Business & Economic Studies, 15: 83-96.

[3] Bartlett, R. 1993. Empty buses: Thoughts on teaching economics. Eastern Economic Journal, 19, 441-446.

[4] Zhang, Xu and Richard Vogel. 2010. “Making Economics Relevant: Introducing Social and Global Issues into the Classroom.” Faculty Resource Network. Available from (Accessed 6/9/2014).

[5] Peart, S. J. 1994. The education of economists: Teaching what economists do. Journal of Economic Education, 25, 81-87.

[6] Cashin, W. E. 1990. Students do rate academic fields differently. In M. Theale & J. Franklin (Eds.), Student ratings of instruction: Issues for improving practice; new direction for teaching and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; pp. 113-121.

[7] Elzinga, K. G. 2001. Fifteen theses on classroom teaching. Southern Economic Journal. 68: 249-257

[8] Johnston, C., McDonald, I., & Williams, R. 2001. The scholarship of teaching economics. Journal of Economic Education, 32, 195-201.

[9] Boex, L. F. J. 2000. Attributes of effective economics instructors: An analysis of student evaluations. Journal of Economic Education, 31: 211-227.

[10] Wilson, P. N. 2005. Mutual gains from team learning: A guided design classroom exercise. Review of Agricultural Economics, 27: 288-296.

[11] School of Economics and Finance. 28 Feb 2014. 1234 Economics 100. Curtin Business School, Miri Sarawak Campus.

 [12] Gapminder. na. About Gapminder. Available at (access date 6/18/2014)

Appendix A

Appendix B