Teaching Financial Literacy

My seventh graders are concluding a unit on percents. Since I started teaching this unit at SSIS, I have transformed this into a unit about money and financial understanding. There is much debate about who should be responsible to teach children the basics about money habits such as investing and saving. I think that many children emulate the spending or savings habits of their parents, so to hear about it from a teacher can give a great outside perspective. Already I have asked my students to ask their parents about which investments that they favor so that they can start to gain an understanding of real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and bank related investments such as CDs (certificates of deposit) and savings accounts. Many of our unit's essential questions focus on such investment vehicles:
  1. How can managing an allowance help me learn about money?
  2. What is a better investment a CD or a savings account?
  3. Why do some people have difficulty in saving money?
  4. What is the best investment in the market today?
Obviously, our seventh graders don't have much capital to invest, but my goal is that if we talk to students about the powerful force of compound interest at a young age, they'll come to realize that anyone can become a millionaire-if they start investing early, have distinct financial goals and are dedicated and diligent.  

Image Courtesy of Wisegeek.com

Projects in the Math Classroom
As part of this unit of study, we used google spreadsheets to track investment growth over time of CD's, savings accounts, and a stock of choice. Google spreadsheets also allow the easy graphing of data for Students will see the effects of interest and how it compounds over time. Students also learn how to calculate profit after marketing a product and marking the profit and percent gain after subtracting the initial principal. See some student examples here, and here. You can also follow student's investment philosophies through our Twitter chat at #SSISMathChat

Our final project was simulating a free market where students could bring items to sell to willing buyers at fair market price. Alliances were made with commissions and discounts were struck before the market closed. See it in action with the video below:

 Teaching Financial Literacy at Home
To any parents are reading this post, consider talking to your children about money in the coming years. From my personal experience, I was astounded that if one starts saving early, even with modest amounts, a person can become a millionaire. Sadly, many people come to realize that debt too accrues interest, and some people get burdened with debt and live paycheck to paycheck to pay it off. An interesting website that families can used to teach financial literacy is "Banzai". It's free, and has a number of activities that families can do to teach financial understanding. Another one is "Mint" that has some great videos. There was definitely a buzz after our buying and selling activity in class. Students had some great reflections on their choice of items to sell, but most students brought candy and other baked goods. One student, was very clever and brought some children's items as she knew I had a three year old daughter and would be prone to buying plush toys and kiddy DVD's. Being able to understand buyers was a valuable lesson for her and many others and maybe a sign of budding entrepreneurialism.

To tie it all together, students wrote a letter to their future children, giving them advice on how they should invest their money. What surprised me the most is after the students filed out into the hallway, students from my other class rushed up to ask them: "What was popular in the market today?"  

Additional Readings
7 Creative Ways to Teach Kids about Money
8 Ways Children are Not Wise about Money
Why Teens Fail at Managing Money
How to Teach your Kids Financial Independence  

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