Neurons in motion for economics and geography in year 12

Teachers: María Laura di Carlo/ Silvia Rios


To develop an interdisciplinary lesson where the perspective of Economics and Geography are given on the same topic: Microcredit.

To apply neuroscience tips along the lesson to maximize learning.

Description of the project:

Need at school: We were asked by our Strand Leader and Head of Department to give the students an opportunity where they could realize that a same topic has different ways to be analyzed, that different subjects would be drawing their own perspective on the topic and they are all valid.

Target groups:

Y12 students that attend IB Economics and IB Geography classes.

Topic choice and justification:

We chose the topic of microcredit. Microcredit refers to small loans given to impoverished people so they can be self employed in order to improve their quality of life.  Microcredit is a topic to be learned in the IB Economics Syllabus and, although it doesn´t appear in the IB Geography Syllabus, it is a useful topic to be applied in Geography when the students are studying development issues.

Neuroscience application:

Given the little time available for the realization of the project it was very helpful to apply neuroscience education tips to make the learning process effective, engaging and dynamic. Taking into account how the brain works is key to plan the activities in a lesson where many concepts have to be learned.

Our challenge:

Whenever a topic is a transdisciplinary one it is hard to draw limits and ideas may overlap. It was vital for us to agree and define beforehand the range each subject would take and identify the blurred areas where our two subjects would be overlapping.

Implementation phase:

-When the lesson started we anticipated the structure of the lesson, the aims and a needed evaluation at the end of it.  (NEUROSCIENCE TIP: AN AGENDA CREATES A RELAXED ATMOSPHERE.)

-5’ warm up: in groups of 3, they face a challenge where they need to provide 3 options and choose the most suitable one (challenge to solve & discussion skills involved). (NEUROSCIENCE TIP: CHALLENGES ARE PREFERRED RATHER THAN PROBLEMS. PROBLEMS WORRY, CHALLENGES ACTIVATE STRATEGIES)

Problem: 1A blind beggar is holding out her hand for money. She lives in a city where there are many unemployed people. What can be done to help her?Possible Solutions:
Best Solution: My group thinks the best way to help her would be to…
Problem: 2Halima lives in a poor village and she wants to start a business. If she can buy a mobile phone, then everyone in her village will pay her a fee when they need to use the phone. She wants to borrow money to buy the phone. However, her local bank has refused to give her any credit because she has nothing to use to guarantee a bank loan. What can be done to help her?Possible Solutions:
Best Solution: My group thinks the best way to help her would be to…
Problem: 3Sophia wants to sell sandwiches and fresh bread to people working in offices. She worked in a bakery for five years, saving money to feed her three children and alcoholic husband. Then she lost her job when the owner sold the business. Sophia knows how to make quality products. She needs money to buy equipment and ingredients. She also doesn’t know anything about running a business and keeping accounts etc. What can be done to help her?Possible Solutions:
Best Solution: My group thinks the best way to help her would be to…


Facing the initial challenge.

(NEUROSCIENCE TIP: LEARNING TAKES PLACE CARRYING OUT ACTIVITIES, in this case proposing, debating and deciding)

-Briefing session to find things in common in the 3 situations and introduce the topic of microcredit.


– Watch  2 short  VIDEOS in order to fill in an exercise.

VIDEO 1 (2 minutes)

VIDEO 2  (until minute 3:30)


Watching introductory videos.

– AFTER WATCHING THE VIDEO, explain why if you just lend money to poor people, they can be worse off than before.



Banker to the Poor Helps Bangladesh’s Neediest
By Alan Wheatley, Asian Economics Correspondent

DHAKA, Bangladesh Wed Feb 11 (Reuters) – For a man who has perhaps done more than anyone to help people out of poverty, Muhammad Yunus makes no apologies for giving nothing to beggars.Yunus, 63, is the founder of Grameen Bank, which has made more than $4 billion in tiny loans to poor Bangladeshis, providing a lifeline for millions and a banking model that has been copied in more than 100 nations from the United States to Uganda.But Yunus’s philosophy is to help the poor to help themselves: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but only by teaching him how to fish do you feed him for life.So he never responds when a blind or crippled beggar or a mother cradling her baby holds out a hand for money.”I feel bad — sometimes I feel terrible — that I’m denying the person. But Irestrain myself. I never give them (anything),” Yunus told Reuters in a recent interview at Grameen’s head office. “I would rather try to solve the problem than just give them a hand and take care of them for the day.” The economics professor has been trying to solve the problem since 1976, when he lent the equivalent of $27 to 42 women in a village near his home in the southern port of Chittagong.

The women were in hock tounscrupulous lenders, and Yunus’s initial aim was simply to persuade a local bank manager to step in and offer the villagers regular credit. The banker said it was impossible without a guarantee. So did others.

Yunus set out to prove them wrong and has never looked back. Grameen — the word means village in Bengali — now disburses $30 million a month to 3.13 million borrowers in 44,000 villages.”I’m very happy that I continued and that it grew into an institution and really proved its worth,” said Yunus. “We have done something that put a big question mark next to the entire banking system. Banking will never be the same again.”In Chakol, a village about 30 miles north of Dhaka, a group of 30 Grameen borrowers is taking the business very seriously. They are all women. Microlenders like Yunus know that women, traditionally second-class citizens in Bangladesh, can be counted on not only to put their small loans to better use than their frequently feckless husbands, but also to pay them back.”Unity, discipline and work is the path to achieve success,” the women chant at the end of a weekly meeting with their loan officer, who has collected installments totaling $720.The slogan points to the philosophy behind Grameen: loans are not just about building a new shack or buying an ox. They are a path to self-reliance and self-respect. In a word, empowerment.

respond –
 to do something as a reaction to something
in hock –
 in debt
 – not honest or fair
 – to pay out money, especially from a fund collected for a purpose

Article © Thomson Reuters Limited. Lesson ©





Preparing the role play.


Role playing.

(NEUROSCIENCE TIP: REPETITION PERSUADES THE BRAIN THAT THE INFORMATION IS IMPORTANT. REVISION IS KEY TO LEARNING.  (Same topic repeated through  video,  note taking, reading,  and role plays )


-Use Yunus` nationality to introduce the country. Map reading (Google Earth: height analysis, location (tropics, coastal), amount of rivers (guess precipitation) Will elicit hazards: floods, hurricanes.


Analyzing digital information.

-Students asked to fill in the following paragraphs using their own previous knowledge and intuition. Later on, they will be checked with the teacher.

The country of Bangladesh is situated between 1.__________ and Myanmar. Bangladesh has a population of around 2.__________ and an area of 144,000 square kilometers. The main language is Bangla (also known as Bengali) and the main religion is 3.__________. 4.__________, the capital of Bangladesh, is the largest city in Bangladesh.

The climate is 5.__________ and very humid in the summer and mild and 6.__________ in the winter. Nearly two thirds of the population is involved in 7.__________ work and 8.__________ is the most important crop. Other crops include  jute, wheat, sugar cane, tea and tobacco. Every year the rivers 9.__________and about 10.__________ of Bangladesh is then under water.

Bangladesh’s exports include cotton textiles, clothes,  cement and chemical fertilizer. Most people still live in the 11.__________ but many have moved to the cities looking for work. The work available in cities often doesn’t offer 12.__________ wages. 13. Just under __________% of the population is below the poverty line and around 14.__________ % of the population is unemployed.


Predicting the answers.

(NEUROSCIENCE TIP: GENERATION EFFECT. The info is not initially given but the brain is stimulated first and the info “generated in the student´s brain is then checked with the teacher)

(NEUROSIENCE TIP: MIND THEORY. The teacher will try to assume the previous knowledge students bring in order to create challenging activities for them.)

-Use a case study to address how microcredits improve the economic, social and environmental aspects of a given community. (adapted passage with photos to be matched)



Choose the best photos that describe different sections of this case. Under each photo write a brief identification to the case.

A-Near Dhaka, the capital.

ON THE outskirts of the village of Shibaloy, just past the brick factory, the car slows to let a cow lumber out of its way. It is a good sign. Twenty years ago there was no brick factory, or any other industry, in this village 60 kilometres west of Dhaka; there were few cows, and no cars. The road was a raised path too narrow for anything except bicycles.Now, Shibaloy has just opened its first primary school; it is installing piped water and the young men of the village gather to show off their motorcycles at the tea house. “I have been a microcredit customer for 17 years,” says Romeja, the matriarch of an extended family. “When I started, my house was broken; I slept on the streets. Now I have three cows, an acre of land, solar panels on the roof and 75,000 taka ($920) in fixed-rate deposits.”

B-In North Bangladesh.

The soil at Thakurgoan is not fertile owing to its sandy character. Poor villagers of these areas could not produce expected crops owing to lack of water.

Dhangoan Talpara at Thakurgoan is one such area where acute shortage of water has had tremendous impact on the crops. In addition, poverty and other constrains did not permit the villagers to purchase necessary devices to improve the fertility of the soil. That is why they could never reap the maximum benefit out of their land until the RDRS (Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service) credit programme for agriculture came to them. After carefully examining the nitty-gritty of the programme, Kiron, Poban,Akash Bala, and Kosholya first showed their interest to buy a shallow machine to give their farm production a big boost. The price of each shallow machine was Taka 4000 and the monthly installment was Taka 635 for 2 years. Four of them have repaid their loan with the interest to the RDRS on time. . Now four such machines (lent by the RDRS) are in operation in the village. During the dry season, their own villagers do not only hire these machines but also by the inhabitants outside their area. The rate of the machine is Taka 500 per bigha for a season. This water-pumping machine has proved to be a very good investment for them.

Apart from shallow machine project, the RDRS has provided to the villagers micro credit facilities like cattle farming, vegetable cultivation, fisheries, adult and non-formal education and many kinds of training facilities related to credit facilities.Gita Rani, a middle aged women took Taka 10,000 from RDRS and invested the money in vegetable cultivation. Due to lack of money, before the credit facilities, the land belonging to her was not utilised for a number of month in a year. Fishery is another area where she is trying to excel. In addition, a training programme on vegetable cultivation has broadened her horizon about many aspects, which were unknown to her. “I used to act as maid servant at Thakurgoan which is 12 kilometers away from my village. It was a strenuous job and my children barely got enough food from my earnings. I could not think about the education of my children. My husband and I, he is a daily labourer, never dreamt of our children obtaining school education. Now we can assert that our children will not embrace the same fate we faced in the earlier years.”







The evidence on micro-credits indicates that these have a positive income in poverty reduction.

They result in higher, more stable incomes as well as improvements in health , nutrition and education.

Microcredits were originally created in Bangladesh, a developing country in need for growth.

Micro-credits have revealed that the poor-particularly women-are capable of excellent repayment rates even without a guarantee.

Micro-credits can be used as an effective tool to improve environmental conditions and benefit a given population.

Micro-credits have spread around the world having Bangladesh as a source point. Other developing nations have adopted them. Developed nations also use them within their low income population.

Micro-credits on their own might not be enough as a strategy for growth and development. They need to come together with education on basic skills such as accounting.

Micro-credits result in an improved social and economic status of women.

When micro-credits are used from a multipurpose perspective the benefits appear to be economic, social and environmental.


-Students to report 3 things they learned along the lesson.

-Students to write their opinion on the lesson given.


STUDENTS: When the project was finished the students were asked to participate in an assessment where 50% of the students said the lesson was different from other lessons at school. They acknowledged that it was unusual to have 2 teachers in the classroom but they liked to have different perspectives on the same topic. They also found it interesting to connect two subjects.

TEACHERS:  “In my view, the project fulfilled its main aim of presenting a topic, microcredit in this case, with a different perspective and approaching it from two different subjects and at the same time make it interesting for students. For me, it was a very interesting project, one that I enjoyed as much as the students, many of whom  stated they would like to see this happen more often in lessons. Many other students also stated the class seemed shorter that day, which shows they were really engaged with the proposal.  At a personal level, it gave me the opportunity to approach development in a more interesting way than usual.” (María Laura di Carlo, Economics teacher)

“This project provided an opportunity to integrate two subjects in a successful way. As a teacher it was very rewarding to see how the level of engagement of the students throughout the lesson was proving that the learning activities were fit.  I think that careful planning and agreement with colleagues were key elements that led to a smooth running of the lesson.” (Silvia Rios, Geography teacher)


Categories: Professional Development Contest 2014, Secondary School

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. A great way to engage our students! And teachers as well!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this project. I hope it can be done again next year.

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