The Mini-Economy: GEM Fair Offers Hands-On Economic Education to Local Elementary and Middle School Students

GEM Fair attendees talking to one of the young participants

By Annamarie Nyirady

The annual Global Entrepreneurship Marketplace (GEM) Fair brought together nearly 300 local elementary and middle school students to learn about economics in a simulated international marketplace. The March 9 event, that provided hands-on experience to supplement classroom economics lessons, was hosted by Union Bank & Trust and held in James Madison University’s (JMU) Festival Conference Center.    

Each participating classroom formed a Mini-Economy, a simulated society with its own flag, currency and governing system. The GEM currency is modeled after the European monetary unit, the euro. Students bring in products to buy and sell, competing for awards recognizing the best product, marketing strategy, customer service and currency design. Additionally, three students are nominated to receive the Outstanding Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Local teachers are trained by the JMU Center for Economic Education (CEE) to facilitate the creation of each Mini-Economy, which focuses on advancing their understanding of economics and the private enterprise system. By doing so, the CEE aims to pass on this knowledge to the next generation of young entrepreneurs. The event also has been successful in strengthening ties between area schools and the University, while leading to some excellent teacher training and grant opportunities. Additionally, the CEE’s experience resulted in a journal publication that helps centers for economic education in other areas start and maintain their own GEM Fairs to benefit students in their communities.

“Entrepreneurship education can start early in grade school, but it can't be done with class work alone,” says JMU economics professor William Wood, CEE director. “Kids have to get hands-on experience, and the GEM Fair lets them do that in a great venue. We love getting several hundred kids in to see what JMU can offer. They're mostly grade schoolers, but it's never too early to start recruiting new dukes!”

Published: Thursday, March 17, 2016

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2018

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