Teaching High School Students at the Yale Model UN

This morning I had great fun lecturing to high school students visiting Yale for the 41st annual Yale Model United Nations. I have some experience teaching undergraduates, graduate students, and even physicians, but I was very curious about how that would translate to high school.

Latin America is a diverse and growing region that has been at the forefront of experimentation with innovative social policies. I presented five important examples: School vouchers in Colombia, supplementing children’s diets in Guatemala, health insurance in Costa Rica, paying mothers for keeping their children in school in Mexico, and paying teachers and students for high math test scores. We talked about the structure of each program, how it has been evaluated, and how well it worked. My goals were to teach them something about social policy in Latin America and show them the power of statistical methods in evaluating such policies.

It’s important to know your audience, and I definitely did not going into this. I expected seniors and got a mix of all ages. I expected only US high school students, but they came from all over the world: New Zealand, China, Sweden, and the Czech Republic to name just a few countries. And since they were here for the Model UN, I expected them to know more than they did about the recent economic history of Latin America. I adjusted my presentation on the fly, but I will be better prepared next time.

I was a little worried about timing, but I ended up having just the right amount of material. There was still plenty of room for improvement:

  • Showing and walking through the actual tables from the research articles that report the results is great for college students who have read the articles. It wasn’t helpful here and was actually distracting.

  • I didn’t over-estimate their mathematical ability, and they were plenty smart enough, but I should have prepared better motivation for randomization as a way to evaluate public policy. It’s amazing how much you take for granted when teaching senior economics majors.

  • The talk wasn’t interactive enough. They had questions and they answered my questions, but I should have incorporated a few “problem breaks” where they chew on an interesting question with their neighbors for a few minutes.

Through a quirk of fate, my talk ended up getting assigned to the same class room I taught in all fall. Since the room had Echo360 automatic lecture capture equipment installed, I was able to get the lecture recorded (Thanks John!). Interested readers can download the slides and watch the presentation on YouTube: