Financial Literacy

For the past three years, my sixth-grade students have put on a walk-through financial literacy experience for their classmates.


Every sixth-grade student comes into the media center and is tasked with balancing a budget. Students are assigned a career and a family size at random and then walk through the rest of the media center stopping at stations where they buy a house, car, utilities, insurance, clothes, entertainment, food, phones, electronics… and try to have money left as they finish. After they finish totaling their expenses, they draw a chance card and see what surprise life has in store. Maybe their insurance will cover the problem, or maybe they didn’t buy enough insurance. If a student has an even or positive balance, they get to stop at the prize table!

A Photo Essay

As they enter, students are given the tools they will need (clipboard, pencil, calculator, recording sheet) and are directed to pick up a career.


At the career station, students are given a sticky note that gives them a job (randomly selected from a list of career choices created from my first class of students to do this project). The sticky note shows them the Annual Income, which is very exciting. Then lists the taxes and the monthly take-home, these are much less exciting. The student is also given an envelope full of play money that equals the monthly take-home pay.


The student is directed to the family station, where they are randomly assigned a family size (we tried to mirror this to our actual county as much as possible, so we looked up how many single households there were and the average family size). Some possibilities were single, married with two children, single parent of three children, … Regardless of marital status, students completed the budget sheet as if they were the only income for the home. It was interesting to hear some students express sadness if they ended up single. We assured them this was only a simulation. Many students took the responsibility of providing for their family seriously.

The first purchase station was housing. This year, our real estate group had a variety of housing choices, but were high pressure on the expensive houses. I heard many students regret going with the recommended house that was much too expensive for their income.


Picking out a car was next. Every year, I need to have frequent talks with the students who build this station about providing a broad range of cars and not 10 dream cars that no one will have the budget for. ūüôā It’s very hard to provide sensible car choices when there are so many cool car images to view! This year, we had one very concerned salesman who would talk students down from their dream choice to a car that would be just big enough for their family and fit their budget too.


At the insurance station, car insurance was mandatory, but home and health were optional. This group provided lots of options and bundles. This year, we had a lot more insurance purchased than in previous years, and many students were grateful for the protection when it came time to draw a chance card.


At utilities, students used the expression cu+50 to determine their utility cost. This group had three options for heat: gas, electricity, and wood. Students multiplied their housing cost by the percentage associated with the type of heat they wanted and then added in water to get their total cost.  Students who picked too much house for their income were hit again at this station. We had several students that had to turn back at this point and start over as they were already out of cash. Students running out of money after this item were asked to continue and total how far over budget they went.


Clothing was a required stop. This station had initially planned for four bundles, high-end and budget options for both men and women. However, they ended up with Expensive and Billionaire status, so they did some price slashing as the project got underway. The initial plan was to present one representative outfit and then multiply that by how many different outfits someone would buy each year and divide that by 12 to get a monthly clothing budget. Not shown are the amazing paper costumes they created to add to their display once we got into the media center.


Phones! This group of students had a station near the back of the experience, and on day two decided not to wait to start selling. They “paid” a fellow classmate to walk an advertising banner around the front of the media center, where students were waiting in line to buy a car.¬†Her pitch, “You need a phone, save your money for a phone, phones are in the back corner, buy a phone.” Hilarious. More fun was listening to the students (middle schoolers who are probably asking their parents for the latest phone at home) insist, once they got to the phone station and had little money left, they didn’t need a phone and phones weren’t a necessity, so why did they have to buy one!


The food station was a primary source of financial pain for students. Over and over, students expressed the high cost of food as the most surprising part of this experience. And since this station came after phones and clothing, many students didn’t have enough left to buy as much or the type of food they would have preferred.


The entertainment station was the last payment station and was an optional one. The group staffing this station realized a lot of students weren’t buying much, either because
they didn’t¬†have any money left or they were tired of buying, so the cat sticker.jpgstation started making incentive stickers. They offered a “free sticker, with every purchase.”I thought that was very entrepreneurial of them. They generously gave me this cat sticker to wear – which may have been an advertising move on their part.

The final stop for students with an even or positive balance was the prize table where they throw two fraction dice and then find the quotient. Their answer determined they type of prize they won. ¬†They could win a water bottle with flavor packet as a prize or if they were lucky enough, they could pick any prize off the table (there was a wide variety of cool prizes). However, this year, the favorite prize was the water bottle with flavoring packet, so even those students who won a “bigger prize” chose the water. It’s amazing sometimes how easy it is to please a middle-schooler.

Throughout the media center, we had quotes for students to read and ponder. This gave them something to do if they had any down time waiting for help at a station.


Student Quotes

Overheard as a student was totaling her expenses, “I need to apologize to my dad.

The following were written responses to the reflection questions on the bottom of their recording sheet. All errors were preserved.

Question 1: What surprised you? 

What surprized me was the chance card. I never thought I would have to repair an appliance.

How hard it is to no to go over budget.

I was suprised the most by how much money food is. Food is very expensive.

Question 2: What did you learn? 

To be smart with my money and not spend it on stupid things.

I learned that in life sometimes you have to get less nicer things, to save money.

That real life is hard.

that I don’t need a big house.

I learned how to shop appropriately with the money I had. It’s a lot more stressful than it seems.

Question 3: If you did this again, what would you do differently? 

I would change nothing. I was very underbudget and prepared with insurance. I could even take my family on a vacation.

Make sure that I had enough money to start with

Question 4: How will this experience help you plan for your own future? 

It helped me prepare myself for real world experience and think how hard my parents work for me.

it will help me learn to save money for more important things.

A Note of Appreciation

For this project to work, I need help. A big thank-you to my students who buy into this project and built it, enhance it and enthusiastically present it to their peers. My fellow teachers who bring their classes to participate in the experience. Our lovely media specialist who lets me take over the media center for three solid days. My amazing team members who allow me to disrupt the schedules of our students for three days. And the parents, grandparents and invested community members who volunteer their time and share their wisdom to help students as they complete the experience.

Inspiration and Financial Literacy Resources

My initial inspiration for this project came as I listened to a representative from the Chick-fil-A Foundation who came to speak (and provide lunch) about the opportunities for students at the newly created JABizTown. The experience for middle schoolers sounded awesome – with miniature¬†versions of real business, a bank, a grocery store, a Chick-fil-A. The downside was it wasn’t available for students in my county. So, there was this amazing idea, and my students wouldn’t have access unless I did something. And I did something. With the help of DonorsChoose and PWC, I was able to fund the creation of our project. My students have cardboard and plastic cash registers rather than shiny storefronts and computer registers, but I believe the experience is just as meaningful. The resources provided by PWC are valuable as well; they have paper and video resources. There more than I can find room for in the year I have my students, my next goal is to expand the teaching of financial literacy to every grade in our system.


How do I set up the media center? 

The day before I have a group of students help me after school. Sometimes it’s the students who help build it. This year, I took advantage of the fact the day before was a club meeting day for img_20161214_102719212the Make Stuff club I help sponsor, and those students helped me hang the main sign, hang¬†butcher paper to cover the bookshelves, and put up the roof for one of the stations. Since I used my first and second periods for the project and my classes went first, we had the first two periods to finish setting up and these students set out the quote posters, set their stations up, and place the direction arrows on the floor that we found to be immensely helpful in the flow of traffic in the media center. Also helping in the movement of traffic is having each incoming class of students wait in the hallway outside the media center, letting them in a few at a time and then as they finish, having them go back to the hall to answer the reflection questions.

Our SRO stopped by to try her hand at budgeting a new career and family size.

How does the schedule work for the days in the media center? 

Honestly, this is the hardest part of the experience. It works without a hitch for the other teachers who come to the experience, their students come during math class, and the experience is designed for a class to finish in about 50 minutes. For my students, it’s more complicated and it only possible due to my flexible team members. I make a big spreadsheet of who is where and when, but it’s middle school, and it’s the end of the term and things don’t always go as planned. Fortunately, my administration believes we may be able to get a sub for my classes next year, and that will ease the burden on my team providing the experience for the other two-thirds of the grade level.

How do students work before hand to make the experience? 

Before hand, I have groups in two of my four periods assigned to a station, and they research and create the station for the experience. I like to use design thinking and a student-led design team to head this up. Having students self-select themselves for this team helps me learn a lot about my students and provides another opportunity for students to have a leadership role.

What standards are covered during the experience? 

Common Core and GA math standards: 6.RP.3, 6.NS.1, 6.NS.3, 6.EE.2.C, 6.EE.8  and the following math process standards:

  • MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • MP7 Look for and make use of structure.

What learning takes place before the experience? 

I generally only teach financial literacy lessons to the students creating the project, as I want them to be the “experts” for their peers during the project. We learn about budgets and then each group becomes a further expert on in their field. For example, the insurance group will get a mini-lesson on insurance.

What learning takes place after the experience? 

The budget project is a shared experience that provides just enough “pain” for a student to seek a solution. I think this fits in with what Dan Meyer calls finding “a headache” that math can then provide the “aspirin” for.¬†Financial literacy lessons taught after the experience have more meaning for students than those taught before, which is one reason I like completing this project in the first half of the year.

Can I have a copy of all your resources?

Yes, I have everything I created for this project available in my TpT store. The Financial Literacy Walk-Through Experience includes:

  • Budget record sheet (PDF and Editable versions)
  • Chance cards(PDF and Editable versions)
  • Career Pages (to print on sticky notes or print and cut apart)(PDF and Editable versions)
  • Family Pages¬†(to print on sticky notes or print and cut apart)(PDF and Editable versions)
  • The quotes we used around the room.(PDF and Editable versions)
  • Money to print if you don’t have access to other play money.(PDF and Editable versions)
  • Design Team Application(PDF and Editable versions)
  • Links to budget materials I used in my classroom and explanations of how I adapted them to my sixth-grade class.
  • Details on what works in creating a successful experience, all the info shared here and more. Including suggestions for groups (size, station ideas, research guidelines and strategies that been proven to work in the experience.) More details on how the chance table work and ties in some critical understanding for dividing fractions.
  • Expansion on how the project covers the given standards.
  • Advice on how to get most of your project supplies paid for, even in a district that has no extra money. This has worked for me the past three years.

Two wins for today

Today my students calculated unit rates and decided which grocery item would be the Better Buy. It was a lesson I have used for a few years and this year the implementation of it in 2nd period was by far the most successful ever and as I looked out at the students intently calculating and considering and thinking I felt happy and successful, and now I wish I’d taken their picture. I told my coworkers at lunch that it was the “win” I needed after a rough week. It was one of those moments where the lesson goes better than the plan – it was awesome!

The second win has a picture attached. Jackson EMC funded my grant proposal! I thought the announcements had already been made, so I had written this off as a loss. I was pleasantly surprised to see the balloons come around the corner and I’m happy to have more resources to spend on my hard-working students.


After the students headed to connections, I reflected back on my two “wins” for today and realized both resulted in the same feeling of happiness. Both represent student success and learning and while the money is very nice, I know I can work diligently towards earning the “win” of successful student engagement every day.

3 Act Task – Rope Jumper

I used another task, Rope Jumper, from Graham Fletcher. My students love this one each year. I like how the ratio stopped on is “not easy” 41:7, so the students can get close with some easy multiples, but they have to use another method to figure out those last 2 seconds. Some of them estimate, some figure out the rate of jumps per second. Some round the rate to an easier number.

I think it’s funny that every class wonders if she’s a robot. And then when we watch Act 3, they’re disappointed she doesn’t quite make it to their expected values. Because she is a human and slows down as she gets tired!

Here’s the board after I noted their wonderings and then later jotted down their strategies.

rope jumper.jpg

Shortcut Found

Today in my 6th-grade classes we were talking about dividing fractions, and we were modeling them with rectangles, √° la Fawn Nguyen. My second period is full of awesome students, and they were doing such good work and were keyed into the discussion today. I was so proud of their efforts. As we got to the last example (dividing a unit fraction by a whole number), a student piped up and said, “Hey (discovery moment) I have a shortcut, you can just multiply the numbers together and get the denominator of the answer.” The class was split on whether or not this would hold true for other problems. So we tried a few more. A happy cry went out from across the room, “Oh, my gosh, this works!” The bell rang.

For me, student discovery of the algorithm of dividing fractions is a rare thing. I’m not sure I’ve heard a student discover this particular algorithm on their own. Usually, if I have students who “know the easy way” have been taught the algorithm explicitly¬†and are remembering that way. I heard the “KFC,” “flip it, change it, what was it?” discussed between students in another class about five different ways today. When I had students direct those comments to me today, I said we would be talking about that later, but for today we were going to look at models to help us understand why our quotients made sense.

So, 2nd-period ended right as the discussion was getting good, but I used that A-ha moment to challenge the next two classes. When we got to that problem, I said, “Hey, class, a student in a previous class came up with this rule, what do you think?”. We would work through a couple of examples and then I challenged them to find an example where the rule didn’t work. I’d just recommended this very type of problem to them on Khan Academy, so I know they’ll have a steady stream of problems to check it against. So, the classes are figuring out if we now have a shortcut called “Student’s Name Rule” or “Student Name’s idea that works sometimes”.

This was a high point today. Motivation to keep moving forward.

Small Groups and Independent Work

I read a post over at Cult of Pedagogy¬†last week about using Playlists in instruction and I thought it was just what I needed in my Math 6/7 class. Today was the second day and as the class worked independently or with each other (depending on what part they were working on) I was able to pull small groups and work with students. It worked really well and I’m excited to adjust the playlist idea and make it work for my other classes too. My students like the freedom to work on whatever they’d like to and I feel like I have more time to work with students. If a student needs to ask me something and I’m busy, they can make a note in the playlist and pick another activity to work on while waiting. No line of students waiting next to me!

First Content Lesson – Starting with Conceptual

Today we started talking about Factors and Multiples. I used a lesson I made for LearnZillion. I launched the lesson with students creating a rectangle given 64 cubes. We then worked on the problem given in the lesson creating walls with sections of 6 and 8 and seeing when the walls will be the same length. I heard some great comments from students who then had to prove their answer and sometimes struggled as they tried to prove what wasn’t true and reconcile their assumption with what they were seeing in front of them. We discussed and nearly argued about whether squares were rectangles, we contemplated if we were allowed to make a 7 x 9 rectangle and just squeeze the left over bit onto the last row or leave it off completely. I asked over and over how their walls were showing me how many groups they used to create them. There was a lot of explaining from each group and I think more than talking, seeing helped. I took pictures of the groups, those that were clear and those that weren’t and we looked at them all and discussed how we knew how many sections of 6 and sections of 8 were used to make the walls. My favorite during the day was hearing one student say his answer, show me the math on his paper and then hearing his whole group give an unenthusiastic “yeah, he’s got it” and be ready to sit back. I asked him to “prove it” to me. “Show me you’re right. That should be easy since you already have the answer.” It was fun to watch that group move the pieces and build and find their error and solve the problem.

During Second period, I realized I was talking too much and instead of me talking about this image, I asked students to tell me what they noticed.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 7.22.01 PM.pngIn Third period, I was a better teacher and had every student observe the image and then Turn and Talk to their table about what they noticed. In Fourth period I was more explicit about the fact that they were all going to be talking at once, and that was okay, get out all the things you notice. I need to encourage being more specific. We shared some thoughts, lots of students noticed a pattern, but it was difficult for them to explain what pattern they saw, to describe it so we could see what they noticed. In two classes, students commented that the rows showed groups of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Both time, immediately there were hands or exclamations that the last two rows were different. The discussion around the image was good. I think I should go back to this image or a similar one another day.

We took some notes on vocabulary terms for our notebooks. We didn’t finish these in a couple of classes. I think because it was the first time we’ve done these, and many students were not clear about the expectations for this type of activity. So we’ll get better at this. We’ll finish up tomorrow and then use the LearnZillion assessment questions to further our conversation of Factors and Multiples.

Pear Deck

Today, I used Pear Deck with all of my classes. It went okay. Two of my classes were highly engaged. Two others seemed more distracted by how cool the tech was than the lesson. Which was alright for today, as I had a lesson that was more teaching the tech rather than content. I’ll try again with those two classes and see if the shiny aspect of the tech has worn off enough to focus a little more.

It’s not the Pear Deck wasn’t engaging for those students. I’m still finding what will work for those students. This class is a first for me; they seem oblivious to the face that I’d like to have their attention. Sweetly, joyfully oblivious. So, I have things to learn. I did some reading during planning today and have a few things I’m going to try tomorrow. They are good kids, and I’m sure we’ll work out the issue. Not all the students are missing the signal for focus, and I’m so thankful for those who see me there striving to help them. Love them all!

While falling the rabbit hole of links on Twitter just a bit ago, I found some decks created by (I believe) Seth Leavitt from materials on the Estimation 180 site by Andrew Stadel. I used one today after editing it slightly. Students liked the ability to engage in the lesson in a new way. I like the way Pear Deck gives all the students a voice.

I could see Pear Deck being something I would pay for in the future. For now, I’ll continue to test it out in class. And work with my students on how to best use this tool to further their learning.


My students were engaged in the Four 4’s task, and we’re excited about going through the rest of their solutions tomorrow. I’ve seen this task other places, but most recently found it again on as part of the Inspiration Math lessons they have there.

Students were asked to express the numbers 1 – 20 using exactly four 4’s and any operation signs they wished. I’ll update this post tomorrow with all of their solutions.

One of the things I like to have my students do is MOVE in math class, and I realized yesterday, I hadn’t done any movement yet. We’ve done a lot of different activities, so the periods have past quickly each day, but no movement. I needed to add that in today and found the perfect spot to add it in the Four 4’s activity. I structured the task this way:

I told students that in honor of the 4th day of school, we were going to complete a challenge with the number 4. (In later periods, I asked students to tell me what day of school we were on and¬†started there.) The challenge is to express every number from 1 to 20 using exactly four 4’s. We reviewed what a numerical expression was and with my regular students we created an Order of Operations page in our notebook that I didn’t think about making with my gifted first period. As First period worked through the problems, we discussed the¬†order of operations since there was some disagreement and I saw the need to do it before starting with my other classes. Tomorrow, we’ll add the visual to first periods notebooks as well. After refreshing how the order of operations worked, we did one problem together and then everyone worked for about 3 minutes independently. Students needed a lot of clarification on the rules.

“Yes, four 4’s.”

“Only 4’s, you can’t use a 1.”

“Even if you’ve already used four 4’s, you can’t add another number.”

“Five 4’s aren’t allowed.”

“Two 4’s aren’t enough; you have to use all 4 for every expression.”

“Zero isn’t one of the numbers from 1 to 20.”

“Yes, you have to use all four 4’s in every expression.”

(Student halfway through the activity, “How many 4’s do we have to use?”)


There was a lot of productive struggle. And I heard some students proudly exclaim when they got an expression to work out to one of the numbers. We found some useful facts in each class (4√∑4=1) and (+4-4=0) proved to be helpful for students. A few also were relieved to hear they didn’t have to work in order, which meant trying anything out and have the result be a number between 1 and 20 resulted in success. One period had a student get the answer of 2 by showing (4/4) + (4/4), and she had written the division problems as factions, and I think the look of it was super impressive to the students. We had just decided two other expressions didn’t work for 2, and a few students were feeling like expressing 2 was going to be impossible. I love anything that makes a student acknowledge the beauty of a math problem. That was a nice moment. I’m excited to finish this activity up with students tomorrow.

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Fueling the Fire

Yesterday’s Number Talk felt like it wasn’t as accessible as I wanted and the one I picked for today wasn’t better. I ended the day feeling a little discouraged and wondering if I was going to have the energy to maintain my enthusiasm for…

Number Talks

Growth Mindset

Engaging Tasks

Clear Classroom Procedures 

and all those best practices to give my students the best year they can have. 

And then I opened Jo Boaler’s email from to find her lessons for Inspirational Math!¬†

These things are AWESOME. 

They are the very best tidbits of the How to Learn Math course in video form combined with engaging activities for students. This ties in perfectly with what I’m trying to create in my classroom and I am excited to use them now and throughout the year.

The discovery of this resource pushed me through today and buoyed my excitement for tomorrow!