The upper school economics classes are all taught by one person — Patrick Berger — but you wouldn’t guess that would be possible from their number and the diversity of topics. Patrick Berger began coaching debate at Nueva in the spring of 2015, but in just a few short years, he’s taught everything from Microeconomics to Economic Inequality to Game Theory, and students keep wanting more.
“The beautiful thing about economics is that it is both a bridge between the intellectual/academic and the action-oriented,” says Patrick, “and that it can also serve as a bridge between the math and the humanities disciplines. I want students who think of themselves as mathematicians to realize the power of math in understanding history and society, and for students who think of themselves as historians to feel that they can leverage math.”
“Nueva students take to economics like a fish to water,” continued Patrick, “because it’s all about unintuitive solutions to complex systems. A lot of the things we do in our classes are around ‘it would be great if government would do this, but since they won’t or can’t, what economic tools could we use to make it happen?’”
Last semester’s Environmental Economics class was a particularly vibrant experience for students. The class took a highly interdisciplinary approach, studying different philosophies and global perspectives and how those would translate into economic terms, and applying game theory to examine economic policies. The class resulted in student-driven culmination projects of impressive depth and complexity. Eleventh grader Audrey C., for example, realized that while scientists are confident that they know climate change is happening, the reason that conclusion can feel unclear is because we don’t know how to estimate the change in natural disasters. She found a different way to look at climatology models and used it to generate a new and much more accurate method of explaining change in natural disasters. Twelfth grader Will C., meanwhile, created a valuation of a species of horseshoe crab by modeling the crabs as a source of vaccine testing, as an ecotourism attraction, as unique bait for mollusks, as a keystone species, and so on.
“It was the most comprehensive valuation of this species that’s ever been done by any human being,” notes Patrick. “It was unbelievable.”
The Environmental Economics class is Patrick’s most beloved class, stemming as it does directly from his field of greatest expertise. With a degree in environmental economics and policy and work experience in multiple related fields — from research using climate change models to predict interactions between the economy and climate to being hired by the California Energy Commission to analyze their Smart Grid programs — Patrick’s belief that understanding economic tools can help shape a better society shines through.
“I loved being in the Environmental Economics class because I got to see Patrick doing what he loved, and it felt like we were all exploring alongside each other, because we were looking at entirely new fields. It was a really great mix of theory and application and a topic I was very interested in. And somehow we managed to make light of a potentially very dark future that we were illuminating. Just an awesome class,” said Audrey C.
The Environmental Economics class participated in Berkeley’s “Electricity Strategy Game,” a simulation game in which teams develop strategies for strategic trading in electricity markets, making Nueva the first high school in the country invited to the game.
“It was extraordinary fun,” said Patrick, “and now our Senior Thesis Seminar is working with a political scientist and a statistician from UCSD to test an idea of theirs about super PACs and developing economic disincentives for the resultant issues. I’m excited about expanding our partnerships with higher education institutions; they’ve been authentic learning for students.”
March 17, 2017