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Teaching Tips

Our aim is to help you, as an instructor, discover the attraction of ABC’s hit show Shark Tank for your students and application to your economics classroom. Students studying principles, entrepreneurship, and managerial economics will benefit from considering the scenarios presented here, and clips can easily be adapted to middle school, high school, and university classes. This is a highly engaging and fun way for your students to learn to recognize economic principles and see their applicability and relevance in the real-life scenarios presented in the show!

We help you navigate the show by capturing and organizing clips in categories that relate to common economic topics. Many of the clips contain real facts and figures that students can use in their calculations to evaluate each pitch and whether or not the economic reasoning presented in it is sound. Each clip includes an explanation and commentary to help you structure assignments for your class.  The clips are hosted on Critical Commons and are intended solely for educational purposes protected under Fair Use.  If you wish to purchase a complete episode, options are available through a variety of streaming services.  Below, we outline teaching ideas so you can easily build an assignment tailored to the needs of your class.

To start, it’s good to remember that teaching with media clips is valuable simply as a way to break up the lecture. Research on how students learn shows they are able to retain more information when the lecture is broken up into smaller parts. (Here are a few references to get started with if you’d like to learn more: “Bringing the ‘Dismal Science’ to Life: Teaching Economics Through Multimedia,Multimedia Teaching with Video Clips, TV, Movies, YouTube, and mtvU in the College Classroom” and “Using Media to Enhance Teaching and Learning.”)

Student Response Systems

If you want to review a concept quickly, use a student response system to assess students’ knowledge.  This technique can be used in both small and large lecture classes.  There are a variety of clickers and polling software to choose from in addition to good old-fashioned, low-tech options like raising hands or turning in cards! (To learn more, check out these sites: Audience Response Systems and Pedagogy in Action: Classroom Response Systems)

Here’s an example of how to use this technique.  After showing “Extreme-Price,” use the response system of your choice to ask students this follow-up question: Do the sharks believe demand for these extreme-sport pogo sticks is elastic or inelastic?  Answers: Elastic, because total revenue will increase if prices increase.  Inelastic, because total revenue will increase if prices increase. Elastic, because total revenue will decrease if prices increase.  Inelastic, because total revenue will decrease if prices increase. Discuss why it is that inelastic demand results in an increase in total revenue when prices increase.

Vote on the Outcome

Watch the enthusiasm in your class reach a whole new level when you let students vote on the outcome of the pitch! First, decide when you are going to ask students to vote. This may be right as the entrepreneur ends their initial pitch, or it could be after some of the sharks have asked a few questions. Whichever point you choose, be sure it’s before the first shark says, “I’m out!” Record the time, and stop the clip there. You can simply ask students to vote on how many sharks they think will want to fund the idea, or you can ask them to explain why they think the sharks will or will not be interested.

One clip that has an especially interesting outcome is “You’re Hired! Merry Christmas!” Ask students to record the information they hear in the clip and decide how many sharks will be interested. For a business that only has sales 1-2 months of the year, the numbers are not convincing, yet one shark takes the bait! This usually surprises students and lends nicely to a discussion of other business motivations, such as helping the environment or supporting veterans, as seen in this clip.

Think-Pair-Share

One of the big advantages of using Shark Tank is that the show is based on real businesses and data.  We can show concepts with a real-life pitch rather than a contrived textbook example.  In our classrooms, we have seen that students value this and see what they’re reading in a textbook really does have a real-life application.

A think-pair-share allows a little more time to use the facts from the clip for more involved calculations and advanced reasoning.  Have students record information as they’re watching the clip.  Review the relevant facts to make sure they heard them correctly.  Then, let them have a minute to solve the problem you give them.  After that, ask them to discuss their answers with another person.  Finally, encourage a few students to share responses with the entire class.

This is the type of question that works well in a think-pair-share: In “Purse Elasticity of Demand,” Kevin suggests lowering the price to $19.95 will result in ten times more sales.  If Kevin is right, is demand elastic or inelastic?  Support your answer by calculating total revenue.

Students can keep track of the current retail price ($38) and projected first-year sales ($240,000) to calculate the difference in sales if that were true.  If their projections are correct, they will sell 6,315 units at $38.  Ten times that is 63,150 units.  Multiply by $19.95 to get sales of $1,259,842.50!  (You can also have your students calculate elasticity using the changes in quantity demanded and price too.)

Be a Shark!

For a rewarding, in-depth assignment, let your students play the role of sharks.  This is best done towards the end of the term after students have learned a number of different concepts.  It is also recommended that this not be the first time students have seen a clip from the show.  Show only the initial pitch, then have students write questions to ask the entrepreneur.  Next, the instructor can play the role of entrepreneur and answer questions.  From these answers, the sharks can make their offer.  Have them write a thorough explanation of why they made (or didn’t make) a particular offer.

Additional Resources

Visit the Economics Media Library for a guide on how to incorporate videos into PowerPoint, use Critical Commons, and even edit your own videos.

Read “Bringing the ‘Dismal Science’ to Life: Teaching Economics Through Multimedia” to see additional examples of how to use media in the classroom.

Excited to use more media in your economics class?  Check out these sites!

Bazinganomics (The Big Bang Theory)

Broadway Economics

Dirk’s Media Library

Economics Media Library

Economics of Modern Family

Economics of Parks and Recreation

Economics of The Office

Economics of Seinfeld