For Penn State professor Jadrian Wooten, the popular TV show “Parks and Recreation” is more than a funny show — it’s a tool he uses to educate students.
Wooten, an associate teaching professor of economics, uses popular culture and TV references in his classes to teach his students, which has in turn inspired some to pursue economics.
He said “Parks and Recreation,” his favorite TV show, was ending while he began teaching, but he started to pull clips from the show and include them in his lessons, which are included in his new book.
Wooten’s book, “Parks and Recreation and Economics,” is a part of a series of books from the Routledge Economics and Popular Culture Series. The series is aimed at educating readers on economics through popular culture references. Other books in the series relate to popular culture topics such as Broadway, superheroes, “Seinfeld” and war movies.
When Wooten was first contacted to write a book in this series, he said he immediately thought of “Parks and Recreation” for his topic.
“I’ve done work in the past on using ‘Parks and Rec’ in econ classrooms, so a little bit of it was a natural fit for them,” Wooten said.
One part of “Parks and Recreation” Wooten has used to teach economic concepts is from the episode “Soda Tax” in season five. In the episode, Leslie Knope, the main character of the show, tries to implement a soda tax to fight diabetes in Pawnee, the show’s fictional town. However, she faces backlash from the local restaurant community along the way.
“People from the area already know about the soda tax,” Wooten said. “It’s a good opportunity to bring in pop culture but also real life for people who live in an area who have [a soda tax].”
Other lessons Wooten incorporated into his book and class include Ron Swanson, another character on “Parks and Recreation,” and his use of gold over paper money.
“It’s pretty much in every episode,” Wooten said.
Wooten said he believes this style of teaching is effective. He uses references other than “Parks and Recreation” as well, because he thinks it will give other students opportunities to connect to the lessons in class.
“There’s gonna be some show that [the students] like,” Wooten said.
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And there are — several of Wooten’s students said they enjoy his teaching style, one of whom is Kaitlyn O’Connor.
O’Connor (sophomore-supply chain management and economics) had Wooten as a professor for her freshman economics class. She then took other economics classes with him.
O’Connor said Wooten was the reason for her double-majoring in economics.
“[Wooten] is a very engaging guy,” O’Connor said. “He always finds ways to make things applicable to college students.”
O’Connor said she believes Wooten’s use of popular culture in class is one of the reasons she always enjoyed his lectures.
“It’s actually more fun,” O’Connor said. “I find myself going to class and actually being more excited.”
Jaime King was another student who felt Wooten’s teaching style was helpful.
King (junior-economics and finance) had Wooten for ECON 102 her freshman year. She then started grading for him the following fall and spring semesters. Like O’Connor, Wooten inspired King to pick up an economics major.
“I always thought it was cool how he was so passionate about ensuring that you understood what you were learning,” King said. “It was the media clips that made that connection for me.”
King described Wooten’s classes as “entertaining,” adding that Wooten was very good at creating a class in the online setting this year.
Like King and O’Connor, Sophia Ralis also felt Wooten’s style of teaching was effective for learning.
Ralis (junior-finance) had Wooten as a professor during her freshman year. Like King, she was also a grader for Wooten this past fall semester. She said Wooten was recommended to her by her brother who also attended Penn State.
Ralis said Wooten’s references to popular culture made class more “enjoyable.” She said she feels classes, like ECON 102, with many people are sometimes hard to focus in. However, she didn’t feel that in Wooten’s class.
“By him doing those videos and all those examples, it definitely made class more bearable,” Ralis said.
Prior to attending Wooten’s class her freshman year, Ralis said she didn’t recognize how “applicable” economics are to everyday events. She said she felt differently after Wooten’s class.
“It was nice to have an easier and less mathematical explanation behind why people make the decisions that they do,” Ralis said.
Wooten’s book is scheduled to be released on Jun. 30, 2021.