The Rundown

Kyle MacDonald's Blog
One Red Paperclip Worksheet
Kyle's TedTalk (NOTE: Please preview and determine appropriateness to share with your students)

Reinforced Values

The story of One Red Paperclip is that of Kyle MacDonald, who bartered his way from a single red paperclip to a house in a series of fourteen online trades over the course of a year. Kyle’s story illustrates how decision rights, personal choice, subjective value, voluntary exchange, and market behaviors are played out through trade.


Trade is good for people because it allows them to find solutions to their problems. Today, you will learn about the real-life story of Kyle MacDonald, and how through a series of 14 trades, he was able to turn a single red paperclip into a house.


  • Determine how you will share the activity with your students.
  • Review the activity, supporting materials, and modify the worksheet as needed. Determine if you would like to use The Codec as well.
    • Protip: The site is a bit confusing to navigate so you will want to familiarize yourself with it prior to sharing with students or share the summary article.
  • Decide how you will share Kyle’s story – blog, article, or TedTalk.
  • Familiarize yourself with the key terms and examples of each throughout the various trades.
  • Decide if you are going to group students virtually or have them complete the activity independently.
  • Review the debrief questions shared in this guide and decide how you would like to share any of those as individual reflection questions or virtually debrief by setting up a Zoom collaborative session with the option of using breakout rooms for group discussion.
  • Post the activity to your classroom platform for students to access and complete or set up a collaborative video conferencing session.


NOTE: These directions are written for a collaborative session with students virtually – if not collaborating as a class virtually, you can post pieces of the directions online with the resources listed above.

  • Depending on the background knowledge of your students, it may be beneficial to review the following concepts prior to beginning the activity:
    • Decision Rights: The right of individuals to own property and make decisions on the use of that property, including intellectual property (such as an idea, invention or process).
    • Personal Choice: One’s ability to make decisions of their own free will. Personal choice leads to greater consumer satisfaction, as individuals can make buying decisions based on their own subjective values.
    • Subjective Value: An object’s value is not inherent; it is worth more or less to different people based on their own personal values.
    • Voluntary Exchange: People will only trade if they think they will be better off as a result. Anytime we exchange goods or money we trade for something we value more.
  • Explain to students that they will learn more about the story of Kyle MacDonald. As they are learning more, they will use the “One Red Paper Clip – Worksheet” to identify where they notice the concepts mentioned above (decision rights, personal choice, subjective value, and voluntary exchange) being demonstrated in his story.
    • They also should keep in mind the Foundational Values and how Kyle demonstrated them throughout the story. The Codec might be a useful tool to help with this.
  • Allow students 10-15 minutes to dive into the resources to learn more about Kyle and his trading.
  • Protip: If you are crunched for time, ask students to view the resources (blog, article or TedTalk) prior to class. You could then focus your virtual session on the discussion.
  • After providing students with enough time, have students share their reflections via the discussion post. If doing a live class, you could share round robin as a whole group or have students submit their reflections via the One Red Paperclip worksheet.


Students can complete the debrief individually by answering the following questions or utilize groups or whole-class discussion via Zoom to discuss their learnings.

  • Why do people trade?
    • People trade to get something they value more by giving up something they value less.
    • Students should see that trade only takes place when both parties expect to gain. But sometimes the gain is not material, such as when people trade to make someone else feel good.
  • Is it possible to trade without some sort of cost? Why?
    • No. Because of scarcity, we cannot have everything we want. There is always a trade-off.
  • What was the cost and what was the benefit of each trade?
    • Things traded away were the cost of the trade. Things received were the benefit
  • What would have happened if Kyle had been forced to trade?
    • Students should recognize that he wouldn’t have experienced the same overall increase in satisfaction.
  • How does the Foundational Value of Freedom relate to this story?
  • Do you think Kyle demonstrated Sound Judgment in each of his trades? Why or why not?
  • What if the individuals involved in the trading were not Being Principled? What impact would that have?
  • How does having ownership over one’s economic decisions influence the well-being of society?
  • While trading did Kyle seek to find ways to satisfy others in the market? Did he seek to find ways to satisfy others while improving his own satisfaction? How did he show a Win-Win Focus?
  • How did Kyle display Responsibility?

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