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Q & A with Valerie Klein: Understanding the Importance of Financial Education in the Classroom

How important is financial education in the classroom?

I think financial education offers teachers a nice way to connect mathematics to a real world context. It is certainly not the only meaningful real world context, but there are a handful of nice ways to offer students mathematically sound examples, at many levels, of financial decision options that have them doing great math, enjoying doing it and talking about it. One of the neat things about financial decisions, in particular personal financial decisions, is that people can have good reasons for making different and sound decisions – like, you and I might choose different cell phone plans – and that makes for a rich discussion.

What can teachers do to help parents continue the financial lessons at home?

I think it can be as simple as reminding parents to include their children in any conversations that they feel comfortable discussing with them – small or large. For example, groceries, cell phone plans, renting vs. owning, how mortgages work, opening bank accounts with/for children and talking to them about how all the fees work, explaining how checking accounts work and showing children how and when they pay their bills, and helping children set up savings goals and keeping track of how much they are saving and how close they are to their goals.

Given teachers’ busy schedules and curriculum demands what are some ways to incorporate financial examples and problem solving into their classes?

There are a bunch of neat projects to be done – following a set of stocks and graphing them, exploring loans and interest rates, creating business plans. Lately, I’ve been thinking a neat way to do a little financial education everyday would be to do a series of Do-Now activities to start class that were financially related and could generate discussions about math and money related decisions. For example:

  • 20% or $25 off – which is better?
  • Put up two companies’ cell phone plans and ask students to talk about them.
  • Clip a part of a mortgage agreement or a credit card statement (perhaps the part that says how long it will take to pay it off at the minimum rate) and post that for students to talk about and ask questions about.
  • At your job you make $X a week and you have to pay $Y for the bus to get to your job. You want to save for a new phone that costs $Z dollars, write an expression that represents how long it will take to save.
  • Compare the meal deals at a local fast food restaurant to the individual prices of each item.
  • Ask students to play with an online loan repayment calculator for a loan of a particular size varying the interest rate and tell you what they’ve learned or graph what they’ve learned.

  After a while, I would challenge students to bring in Do-Now financially related activities that they’ve encountered in their lives – they could bring in ads, letters, stories, or  photos taken on their cell phones.

What’s the best/hardest financial lesson you learned growing up?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. One good lesson I’ve learned is about setting up automatic deposits to savings accounts. A wise person told me that if I set up a deposit to my savings account on every payday, I wouldn’t miss the money and I would be able to save consistently. I’ve been doing that now for many years and I always have a bit of money for when I want to do something special or need it for something unexpected.

For more Financial Education in the Math Classroom, visit http://mathforum.org/fe/