April is Financial Literacy Month, which means it is the perfect time to dust off all your money manipulatives and incorporate real-life math into your curriculum. After attending the Jump$tart National Educator Conference on Financial Literacy the last three years, I’m more than invested in bringing financial literacy to the classroom.
Classroom learning is driven by two main things: objectives and the needs of your students. Financial literacy supports both of these. There are national financial standards, but lessons can easily be adapted to support social studies and literature, along with math. A 2011 survey of parents from Visa found that only 5 percent of children surveyed say that they learned about money matters in school, but less than half are learning these skills at home. Given the past few years of financial crisis in the American economy, can we afford not to spend a few class minutes learning the basics?
Here are some solutions to the question, “Great, but where does that fit in my day?” along with lessons that can work for you.
Set up a school or class bank. You can print money, set up a central location in a classroom, or have individual debits and credits. One classroom at our school even had students “deposit” their behavior bucks in a checkbook register and write checks when they purchased rewards. Students can make a decision to purchase small trinkets each week or save their money to earn bigger rewards later. The emphasis is on saving and earning the bigger reward.
Thematic nights have been a big hit at our school with students and parents. We have great turnout for fun activities. On Financial Literacy Night we decorate the halls with money, financial books we’ve read, and class work. Having food always helps, and students can even figure the financial impact to the school for providing all those meals. You can read all about our themed events in my blog post "Spring Open House."
Partners in Education is a great resource for many things including, no surprise, financial education. We have a wonderful local sponsor, Iberia Bank. The folks there were excited about our recent Intel Schools of Distinction award and wanted to help further the education of our students. They are funding a pilot of EverFi’s Vault program in our classroom. Vault has six “concept groups," each with two to five activities and games that students work through individually on a computer. Aligned to Jump$tart’s National Standards in Personal Finance Education, the program helps our students learn to make responsible money choices, understand about income and careers, and even investigate safety. Talk to local banks and financial institutions to see what programs they might be willing to offer your students. Partners in Education can be Partners in Finance as well!
One of the highlights of the year for our students is the annual bake sale. Our lead math teacher, Christy Amick, devised this clever way to combine her love of making treats and engagement in the math lab. Students and teachers donate baking mixes and then classes rotate for an hour each, mixing up sweet treats and packaging them. Every item is sold for 50 cents and the profits benefit the math team. Students learn such skills as purchase price, yield, cost per unit, doubling, and dividing. The math team takes over the sale, figuring total losses and profits. Even advertising, writing, reflection, and literature are a part of this winning fundraiser.
One week in April is set aside to focus on financial literacy throughout the school. During this week, speakers are brought in at each grade level to talk with students. Lower grades might hear from a banker and learn about her job; middle grades listen to the bookkeeper talk about how items are ordered for the school and the Box Top program. Finally, upper grades meet with realtors to learn about topics like amortization cost and how major purchases are made through loans.
In math lab the regular classroom teachers incorporate financial literacy into their lessons. Students read books about the financial system, learn about the U.S. Mint, and discern between needs and wants. One of the most valuable things I do with my students is to look at real-life graphs for functional reading practice. We’ve used newspaper reports on how much money is spent at Mardi Gras in our city and the current rising gas prices. Local Jump$tart representatives and banks are usually more than ready to help schedule visitors to a school.
Our feeder pattern schools for the local high school wanted to make an impact with students and families. There are many wonderful businesses moving to our area, but business leaders are telling us that workers cannot fill the jobs. One way to combat this is through the College and Career Ready Standards (our state’s name for Common Core) that aim to engage students in real-world project-based learning. We also wanted our families to see the opportunities available to them through college and career planning. This fair brought together local recruiters, colleges, lending institutions, and agencies offering a variety of assistance. Our 4th and 5th graders took a tour with their teachers to discuss the possibilities and costs of going to college and scholarships. Middle and high school students and families were invited to visit and hear about their options. In my class, we discussed the different salaries for high school, college, and advanced-degreed individuals and how school choices made now impact future scholarship opportunities.
Field trips present unique opportunities and challenges. In a time when many schools are cutting field trips, we see them as a way to increase student vocabulary and build experiences outside of the immediate neighborhood. Certain trips can be especially meaningful when combined with financial literacy. Students visit restaurants, banks, and businesses, where they learn about economy on small and large scales. Even the setup of a field trip can be financially eye-opening, from planning the bus to the cost per participant.
Our annual writing fair is the highlight of the school year. One hallway during the history fair was dedicated to the history of money. Each grade level was assigned a time period with specific financial significance. Classes selected a profession that would have been available at that time and used it as a jumping-off point to learn about what the job would have paid and what kinds of items would have had to be purchased, and to compare those amounts to today’s money. Students learned about finance, from the design of a dollar bill to the process of the U.S. Mint. Other students looked at child labor laws and the inflation rates on household items.
I’ve found that many financial literacy programs and resources are totally free! The business and financial world realizes that teachers can make a positive impact in our national economy simply by helping educate students. The result is a variety of resources at your fingertips. Check out Jump$tart’s clearinghouse of resources for more than you ever dreamed of in one searchable database. My favorites are on our school wiki so all teachers can access them easily.
Financial literacy doesn’t just mean that students know the value of coins, but it also doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Whether you spice up your curriculum with simple lesson plans, relate finance to reading lessons, or take on bigger school-wide events, you are giving your students valuable skills for both the classroom and life. There is a wealth of free resources available to educators to help grow financial literacy for our students and future.
Do you need to make a case for financial literacy at your school? What ways are you engaging students in learning about money, economy, and the world around them?