George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Financial Literacy for High School Students

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If you have followed the news lately, you have likely read about the looming college debt crisis. In October, the Economist published The Next Big Credit Bubble, and soon thereafter TIME Magazine published College Graduates Face Record-High Debt In the Age of Record-High Unemployment which is essentially saying the same thing. Some high school students are getting the message, and we need to make sure they react appropriately. College is an investment in yourself, and like any investment, you should spend the appropriate amount of money for the anticipated return on your investment. In other words, do not go $200,000 into debt majoring in French poetry.

One of the greatest obstacles to financial literacy is overcoming students' fear of certain financial tools. We need to teach them how to make informed and responsible choices using these same tools. Some students have told me that they do not want to go to college because they are afraid of being saddled with too much college debt. Others have told me they will never own a credit card. A healthy fear of a financial tool that has the power to be destructive is appropriate, yet fear should not be used as a barrier for learning how to use these tools responsibly.

Lesson Ideas for High School Financial Literacy

A Financial Literacy Clip (FLiC) is a sharing interface that allows high school students and young adults to create and exchange video messages. A practical lesson on debt is for students to create a 30 to 60 second FLiC about how they plan to pay for college. Have the students create their own rubrics, triggering deeper thought into what makes up a great video message.

The FLiC idea was the brainchild of, and I believe will serve as the leading social media educational tool in the future. FLiC's will allow students to share their creations with each other. I have found that when students are empowered to create educational content, within certain parameters and appropriate content incorporation, their creative minds manufacture products that are much more meaningful than a score on a standardized test.

As I mentioned in the first two articles of this series, I rely heavily on the Jump$tart National Standards as a roadmap for my lessons. Fortunately, there are plenty of additional support organizations for educators that are a keystroke away National Endowment for Financial Education, VISA's Practical Money Skills, Institute for Financial Literacy, Council for Economic Education, Experian's Credit Education Program, and BizWorld, (where I am a board member) are favorites of mine. You can find a complete list of resources in the teacher section of my student-run financial literacy organization

Products to Support High School Financial Literacy Lessons

Here are some that I use. Please share any others that you like in the comments below.

If you are passionate about financial literacy and want to collaborate with fellow educators to bring personal finance into your classroom, please join us on Twitter for our next @FinEdChat on Wednesday, December 7th from 8:30-9:00pm, ET. Please feel free to vote for our next topic in advance of the chat.

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b gorman's picture

You could recommend consultation or team teaching with Family and Consumer Science professionals, who have helped develop state and national financial literacy standards and have been unheralded teachers of personal financial literacy for decades. They have been school and community leaders in the fight financial management education.

Shazia Miller's picture
Shazia Miller

Not only is financial literacy critically important on its own merits, we did an independently financed (by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation) study that showed The Stock Market Game also improved students' math achievement

Chris Shannon's picture

In the years I have been facilitating teacher trainings in financial literacy, I have encountered two favorite lessons, one favorite initiative and one favorite topic often missed. They are, in order:
A. LESSONS: "The Cost of Senior Year" (Sophomore/Junior year: Calculate required + desired senior year material and activity costs and set up a savings plan to pay for it.) and "Credit for Life Fair" (Students participate in an interactive fair or game in which they are given a salary and must visit vendors to decide what lifestyle choices their budget allows them. EX: HarborOne Credit Union's model)
B. INITIATIVE: A Teacher's CU set up a program in which at-risk 9th graders created savings accounts; money was deposited into their accounts when an A or B was earned. Caveat: They have to graduate to withdraw the money. Funded through teacher payroll deductions with such success that scholarship funds were also created for this program.
C. MISSED TOPIC: Many teachers use paying for college as a financial lesson but few talk about the cost of paying for college remediation. Over 56% of students who enroll in college require some level of remediation--typically not covered by financial aid. If it's math, there's a good chance students will require several remedial courses, which can easily push a four-year degree into a fifth year. This is ONE of the reasons many of our college students are not graduating. Even worse, they have the college debt but no degree to show for it.

Douglas W. Green, EdD's picture
Douglas W. Green, EdD
Retired Principal/Consultant/Blogger

I grant the a major in French poetry is not likely to set you up for a great job in four years, but don't assume that you can pick the hot major four years out. What seems like a can't miss major might be a loser in four years. My advice is, don't major in something just because you think it will be a sure fire job getter. Major in something you are passionate about. If you have no passion, you might want to wait before you start running up college debt. You can do tons of free learning on the Internet as a way to explore and to find your passion. Good luck.

Mandy Williams aka Black's picture

My sister and I wrote a book that was launched by Neiman Marcus intending to establish the "Red & Black" brand which includes a sitcom, movies, other books, etc. But a funny thing happened to us on the way to Hollywood. KIPP Houston High School heard about the personal finance topics, and other "Life 101" lessons covered in our book and asked us to develop and teach a financial literacy program to their Class of 2010. Based on results from that pilot program (which was developed using a task force of KIPP seniors) the book has been approved by the Texas State Board of Education as meeting 100% of its mandated personal financial literacy requirements.

But more importantly, it has the seal of approval from the students. Many of them have called it a "reality show in a book." The students are hungry for the information, but many teachers do not feel qualified to bring the subject into their classrooms. Using a book club approach, our program allows teachers to introduce the topics and learn along side their students, open up conversation, and even laugh along the way. (Who ever said finance had to be boring!?)

We think the success of our book/program is that it was never intended to be used as a "textbook" ... just look at the title, "What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!"

To learn more about the program, I would like to direct you to the Press Release issued by KIPP which also includes Mike Feinberg's, co-founder of KIPP, "bigger picture" perspective on personal finance:

Riel Math's picture
Riel Math
Tenth grade math teacher from Honolulu, HI

Financial literacy is something this generation desperately needs or we will just keep running this entire nation into the ground. History, unfortunately in this case, repeats itself. About one-third of my students are homeless or living in shelters with parents who are unemployed. My husband is also one of the many unemployed construction workers on the island. When I hear students nonchalantly telling me that I can confiscate their electronics and keep them because their parents will just buy them new ones, I just cringe inside. These students know nothing about the value of money, so I decided to teach them my math content in the form of a family project. I taught my students what it takes to get the jobs that they want, how to read and calculate their paychecks, and how to manage their money. In the beginning, I had at least one student tell me, "I want to do what my dad does...unemployment." I just about died. By the end of the project, some were eager to show their parents that they knew how to manage their money and achieve their goals, while others begged to become Peter Pans and never grow up. When parents heard from their children about what we were doing in math class, many of them asked if they could sit in and remarked that they wish they had learned about financial literacy in school.

The resources listed above sound like they would definitely help drive home my point about the need for financial literacy. I will check them out in preparation for this project next year. Keep doing what you are doing. I was thinking about using games, like Monopoly and Cash Flow.

Mandy Williams aka Black's picture

We have found the kids say they want to play "games" (such as Monopoly or Life) but when given real life applications that are relevant, they are not only prefer them and are willing to learn but, more importantly, want to learn. We, too, found many of our students shared our book and lessons with their parents.

I think part of it was our book is about two "educated" women (my sister was a straight A student and went to Wake Forest on almost a full scholarship, but it was not until her 40s that she was "introduced" to personal finance, and only when a "crisis" forced the issue) and myself (MBA in international finance but got in debt over my head within two years of graduation) so the students realize this can happen to anyone. No one socioeconomic group is immune from financial mistakes, and the only way to avoid/minimize them is to become better educated. During the course of the semester we discuss an assortment of topics, but we keep reiterating that most people are never taught these lessons, which puts the students at an advantage.

In Texas, financial literacy is now mandated by the State, but it is not funded nor is it a separate course. Plus they require it be taught by social studies teachers since Economics falls under that area of responsibility. Many of the teachers either do not feel comfortable teaching "personal finance" and/or do not have time within their schedules. Our book club approach is a way to overcome those challenges.

Long-term, I would love to see personal finance be a required course for ALL education majors - not only for their own use, but so that they could determine ways to bring it into their classrooms. From pre-K to doctorate degrees, this is a subject that impacts everyone, yet does not get sufficient attention.

At the risk of sounding like I am "selling", to learn more about our book club approach see I am directing you there not to buy our book, but to better understand the approach we are taking.

Vincent's picture
Curriculum developer; Education and Media blogger

Hi Brian, Thank you for including The Stock Market Game program among your high school financial literacy support tools. As Shazia noted an independent study found in addition to financial literacy, The Stock Market Game had a noticeable positive impact on math performance and teacher's personal investment behaviors.

Michele Casey-Driscoll's picture

I am lookinmg for a top notch professional development provider to give a one day workshop on helping our Math teachers teach financial literacy in Orlando, FL. A few of the teachers directly teach a financial algebra class, and the other teachers would embed the content into their Geometry, Pre-Calc, etc. classes. Can anyone offer up a recommendation?

Sarah Devereaux's picture
Sarah Devereaux
High School Math teacher

This year I will be teaching the financial math and advanced algebra class at my school. This will be my first time teaching this curriculum. Some of the other teachers that taught the class have not gone much into many interactive financial lessons with the course. They tend to stick the book because the class has become a dumping ground for students who cannot get promoted in math due to low grades. I would like to turn this around and start preparing students for the world they will be entering. Some of the students even want to go to college and don't know how because of money. This blog gave me some great ideas and lots of great tools to implement in my lesson plans for this course. So many people struggle with math, but are great with financial math. I'm hoping it could even open more doors for some of them career wise. Thanks for the tools! I will be checking back and following you on twitter for more great ideas to use. If there are more websites to pull lessons from I will always take more.

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