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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Money Lessons: A Guide to Financial-Literacy Resources

The Internet offers teaching tools on economics for any grade level.
By Alexandra R. Moses

Helping your students get a handle on finance doesn't have to take up a big chunk of your school year, especially if you have the right lessons at your fingertips. Whether you teach fourth-grade social studies, seventh-grade math, or high school economics, chances are you can begin online to plan a money-management class. From downloadable lesson plans that take up one class period to online games that teach key concepts, Edutopia has found the Web resources that can get you started. Here they are, broken down by grade level.

Elementary School

On the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Education page, you'll find the Econ Explorers Journal, a workbook designed to help elementary school math students understand money. One activity has students visit their local bank to collect savings account and checking account deposit slips and a car-loan application. Then they create characters who deposit and withdraw money, pay bills, and take out a car loan, all the while drawing pictures to illustrate what happens at each step. The lesson teaches the basics of bank accounts, interest rates, and budgets.

The National Council on Economic Education (NCEE) offers the EconEdLink Web site, which includes dozens of free, downloadable lesson plans for K-12 students. For elementary school students, check out A Perfect Pet, which teaches kids about how people have to make choices when they have limited resources. It uses a downloadable story about a trip to the pet store, as well as a puzzle and other activities, to reinforce the point.

The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy has links to hundreds of other Web sites that offer lesson plans geared toward every grade level, especially elementary school grades. Check out, for example, this lesson on borrowing and lending from Take Charge America. It's a natural for social studies teachers covering a unit on the Revolutionary War. It teaches lending using a book about Benjamin Franklin and facts about how the American colonies borrowed money from France for the war effort.

Middle School

Middle school math teachers can teach basic financial literacy using a downloadable, four-lesson math-curriculum supplement called Money Math. Students use math concepts to learn about budgets, expenses, interest, and taxes. For instance, a lesson called WallpaperWoes asks students to figure out the area of a room that needs to be wallpapered and calculate how much it will cost.

For lesson plans that prepare students to be entrepreneurs, check out those from NCEE, such as All in Business. You'll find activities that teach business-plan essentials, including how to figure out a business's costs and benefits. It also offers links to other Web sites that can supplement the lesson, such as the Real Planet, which uses funky characters to teach young teenagers about entrepreneurship. Other lessons on the topic for elementary school, middle school, and high school students can be found at These Kids Mean Busines$.

The Web site Rich Kid, Smart Kid has a number of financial lesson plans for all grade levels, including some interactive games.

High School

Teach your students how to budget with a lesson from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco that also prepares them for the financial realities of different jobs. Students learn about budgeting, saving, and investing, and they can play a game to help illustrate how one's education, job, and spending habits make a difference to their financial security.

To prepare your students for the barrage of credit card offers they'll encounter, go to Consumer Jungle. The site requires registration, but the materials on it are free. Choose the section on credit, and you'll get a complete unit, including an outline, the standards it meets, vocabulary, and lessons that range from how to choose a card to the meaning of credit scores. You can also download Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

Create Your Own

Are you game to write your own financial-literacy lesson plans? A number of sites offer materials and programs to help. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers a financial literacy section on their website with advice for young children and teens about money, a video on budgeting for older kids, and activities for elementary school students.

To teach high school students about personal bankruptcy, the U.S. Courts (the official Web site of the federal judiciary) has a program that gives teachers the option of bringing their classes into the courtroom. Or you can show your students how to create their own businesses with help from Bplans.com. Geared toward professionals, this site has detailed instructions for writing a business plan and tips on how to find funding.

Montgomery Blair High School business teacher Kevin Murley tries to give his students lessons on investing, credit, and budgeting, along with lessons on entrepreneurship. The Silver Spring, Maryland, educator is a believer that beyond reading and writing, "the things that make for a successful life are your health and your financial health." And he wants to instill in his students "a concept of how important money is."

Alexandra R. Moses is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in education.

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