My FAVORITE thing about this is that you can combine two (or more) grade levels!!
The actual math skills required for most of the personal finance /consumer math concepts are limited to decimals, percents, and exponents. A 7th grader can do most of the math work, but the material is incredibly applicable to a high school senior as well.
This means that you can cancel classes for one full morning, pull all your students together, and run through it all at once. The day is really enjoyable for them, but the huge bonus for you is that then, you only have to do the unit every two years!
Here's how to make it work (Be sure to download the vocabulary printable in the "TIPS" section!):
Start with Education
Let students decide whether they will go to college. This then leads perfectly into salary and pay. Remind students that if they choose college, they'll have student loans, but will earn a higher salary.
I like to have a "financial planning sheet" travel through the whole day with students, so they can record everything in one place. This helps them to create a budget at the end.
After making college decisions and calculating loan payments, each student grabs a paycheck from the appropriate stack, depending on whether he/she has a degree.
Use Stations to Keep the Day Fun & Interesting
This is especially easy if you recruit a few adults to help out. Parents are great, or if you combined a few classes, use the extra teachers, since a few periods of the class day are cancelled.
Let the kids flow through each step of building a financial "life" in small groups.
They learn a little about how things work at each station, and then make a decision for themselves. They record the cost of each decision on their planning sheet.
Stations 1 through 4 can be done in any order. Then, once those decisions have been made, students can cycle through Stations 5 through 8.
Bring it All Together
At the end of the day, the kids review their financial planning sheets and put together a monthly budget. Then, they can even do a simplified version of taxes.
Tips for Teaching Personal Finance (whether or not you choose to Try a One-Day Structure)
1. Enlist parent help. Parents are a GREAT resource for this type of unit. At this age, parents do not often come in to school to help out, but this is the perfect opportunity, because the math content is not complicated, and they DO know this material. It is great to have more adults in the room, so that more students can get one-on-one help. Set up an environment in which parents and students can chat about making smart financial decisions. The adults can share their own valuable experiences with loans, credit, mortgage, pay withheld, and budgeting. They know how insurance works and how to improve credit.
3. Have students keep a folder that is only for all of their consumer math paperwork. It is nice to keep it totally separate. You can then decide to do one lesson per month if you want to spread it throughout the entire year. Or, if you do one big financial fun day, try having them carry a clipboard that will keep everything in one place. They will have to keep track of the paycheck, car and home choices, financial planning sheet, vocabulary page, and more. Either way, you will want them to have everything accessible when you go back to put together a budget, do tax forms, etc.
4. Combine classes. This is a great way to get two grade levels working together. Make groups that are a mix of students from different grades. If you decide to offer stations, just make sure that you have duplicates of each table. This way, kids can go to any "copy" of that station table and stay spread out while still hitting all the same areas in the same amount of time. Ideally, you can schedule time in the library, auditorium, or gym... somewhere that you can have enough space for everyone. This way, you can knock it all out in one day and make financial literacy a bi-annual event. (or even every three years if you can combine three grades!)
5. Allow re-thinking. Let students go back and change decisions. When it comes down to budget-making time, there are always those few kids who wayyyyy over-spent. Encourage them to go back and select a different car, or cut back some of the video games in their "fun stuff" budget. This is part of the learning process. The opposite will also be true. Talk with the kids who have money left over and ask them how they intend to spend it. Maybe they would like to increase contributions towards retirement? These conversations are key to helping the students really understand smart financial decisions and budgeting.
This first one is wonderful for working with credit cards. Students can quickly enter the details of their debt and the online calculator will determine how long it will take to pay it off. It's sure to open their eyes --
The second one is especially awesome for Texas teachers. One of the TEKS math standards for personal finance is to determine how your family budget compares to what it would be in another city nearby. This site is a great one to meet that criteria -- http://www.epi.org/resources/budget/
P.S. - If you ARE a Texas middle school teacher, you might really go crazy over my financial unit, because I set it up so that it covers ALL the TEKS personal finance standards for BOTH 7th and 8th grade!! (yay!)
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