George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Most high school students are making financial choices now. Many shop, have jobs, pay bills, are eligible for tax refunds if they file, have accounts at financial institutions, make car payments, pay car insurance -- and most importantly, college-bound students are preparing to make a student debt choice. Financial literacy lessons help these kids grapple with the adult choices they already face as teenagers. Following are three lesson principles I apply when preparing my financial literacy lessons.

1. Make It Relevant to Students' Current Lives

I try to prepare for my class by seeing the financial world through the eyes of a teenager. Shopping for prom, saving for a car and choosing a mobile phone service are teenage priorities. These priorities are opportunities to teach concepts such as goal-setting, comparison-shopping techniques, saving strategies, behavioral finance strategies and the power of compound interest. One of my favorite lessons is teaching my students how to use their mobile phones to make better financial decisions and to manage their own money.

2. Emphasize Financial Concepts and Critical Thinking Skills

I do not get tied down with teaching rote-memory facts or the financial tools of yesterday. I focus on introducing the students to financial concepts that are applicable throughout their lives, and apply them to the scenarios they are facing today and will face in the years ahead.

Every child is different, and students with disabilities require a different approach. My semester course for special education and special needs students was designed collaboratively with Michael Roush of the National Disability Institute and Chris Shannon, thanks to a grant from Discover. The course is still a work in progress.

3. Seek Improvements of Knowledge, Behavior and Attitudes

My aim is to see marked improvement in what my students have learned. A greater quest is motivating them to put what they're learning into action. I want to grow their appreciation for the financial tools that are available to them and can improve their lives. For example, I want them to have a positive view toward opening a savings account. Nearly a third of American families rely on costly fringe banking services, so I want to help break that cycle by showing the advantages of opening a savings account at an NCUA-insured credit union or FDIC-insured bank.

Lesson Ideas for High School Financial Literacy

I like to take advantage of student desires such as attending prom or buying a used car by giving them tools to reach their own goals through saving. The site is full of resources to save toward specific goals and practical cost-cutting tips. My favorite tool will send students nudging text messages that encourage them to save toward their own savings goal.

True Cost to Own

Students have a tough time wrapping their minds around the true cost of owning a car. After they comparison shop for affordable used cars, I have them use the True Cost to Own calculator to determine what the car will cost after factoring in additional expenses such as gas, taxes, depreciation and interest. Eventually, I have the students use articles and resources on the Ohio Insurance Institute website to fully understand the cost of car insurance.

Life Values Quiz

Research shows four categories of human values corresponding to people's concerns in life:

  • Inner values
  • Social values
  • Physical values
  • Financial values

This quiz makes it easier for me to put the students at the center of the course, empowering them with tools and concepts that are in line with their own goals and values. For example, I have them use their own quiz results as a compass for future goal-setting activities.

Products to Support High School Financial Literacy Lessons

  • CFPB's "Paying for College": From start to finish, this resource from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help students make informed financial decisions about paying for college.
  • LifeDojo (Financial Skills 101): A blended learning program that provides turnkey lessons for students and teachers.
  • PlaySpent: A simulation that gives students the opportunity to experience living in poverty.
  • Money as You Learn: Texts, lessons and tasks that connect the Common Core to real life applications while also equipping students with the knowledge to make smart financial decisions. The U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability developed this site.
  • The federal government's website to help students be safe, secure and responsible online. The site includes games, video and digital content. I especially like this resource to help students with special needs.
  • Hands on Banking: A program that includes curriculum for teachers and online modules for students and people of all ages (detailed more fully in this blog series' post about middle school). The Spanish language option is an excellent way to reach ESL students.

Further Resources

The additional K-12 resources and national financial literacy standards that I originally mentioned in my 2011 post Financial Literacy for High School Students are still very good. I have also collected hundreds of resources in my LiveBinder and provided detailed information about my 30 favorite financial education games in a 2013 post by fellow blogger Andrew Miller.

What are your favorite financial literacy resources?

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Financial Literacy for Grades K-12
It's never too late to teach financial literacy, no matter what the grade level.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Taldrk Nsom's picture
Taldrk Nsom
Super Charter School

My favorite resource targets elementary school children. It is Professor Dheeriya's Finance for Kidz. I am a big fan of using stories to explain concepts to children,

LJL's picture
High School Math Teacher

How do you have students use their phones to make better financial decisions? I teach a Business Math course, where students use a number of technology tools on the computer to learn concepts, but a phone is something that they will have anywhere.

GCrow's picture
CP & AP Economics teacher in Chino Hills, CA

Mr Page,
What an excellent post. I whole-heartedly share your views on the importance of financial literacy in high school. Unfortunately, financial literacy has never been a priority of the educational system. As you are aware (with your involvement with CEEE) only a handful of states even require financial or economic education before graduation. Even in states that do require it, like California, the standards are theory-based and neglect the discussion of the financial tools you mentioned in your posting. For example, under the California Economic Standards, there is to be no personal financial education. A few of the topics that are omitted from the curriculum; the dangers of debt and credit, credit scores, investment, retirement planning, banking skills, and filing taxes.

These are skills that are essential for every student. It does not matter what profession a student enters, they will need financial literacy to make good choices with their limited finances. We are sending an entire generation of students into the world without the skills necessary to be successful. It should not be surprising then that so many Americans made poor financial decisions with debt prior to the 2008 crash. AP Economics for example, teaches a thorough understanding of economic principles and theory, but provides little practical financial knowledge. It would suggest that we expect these students to just figure it out on their own. At some level, everyone should be exposed to these concepts.

I find this situation entirely unacceptable. It seemingly appears that it is a conscious choice we are making as a society. I know that this omission does not serve the best interests of the students. Therefore, I try to do my part by including a discussion of debt, banking, credit etc... in my courses, regardless of standards.

Why do you think that we focus so few resources on financial literacy? Why has there not been a bigger push to increase financial literacy in the wake of the 2008 crash?

Thank you for the wonderful list of tools you have provided. Programs like these are so important. Another resource that readers may consider is the Banking on our Future program by Operation Hope. This free program, sponsored by E-trade, is web-based. It allows teachers to create accounts and register students. Classes can then complete the modules at home or in labs. Student completion and performance are recorded for assessment purposes. They offer a variety of modules that can be completed individually, or it can be used as an entire literacy program. I have used individual modules for many years. The program is very effective. It is a little simplistic and technologically dated now. I look forward to exploring these new resources.

akteach's picture
MS/HS teacher in bush Alaska

Mr. Page
I agree that students need to know about financial literacy before they leave high school. In my school most of the students do not have jobs and their first real job is when they get one after graduation. They have no concept of money. I have had students come back later and talk about how they did not know what to do with their money.
I also thought making it relevant is the most important. It allows students to see how what they are learning can affect them today, not years from now. Since I'm in Alaska I like to show how investing the dividend every year could make every person in Alaska a millionaire. That is something that all the kids get and they can see how saving it can make a big difference over time instead of just spending it like most people do.

Marcus's picture

Financial literacy courses should be taught in high school. Whether it is purchasing a new cell phone contract or that first automobile, the majority of high school students are already facing or preparing to make financial decisions. High school is also a time when many students begin their first job and therefore an ideal time to help them understand the importance of saving, budgeting and why it is vital to have emergency funds available. Learning basic financial principles would prepare students to make future financial decisions during college and beyond. Offering a course in financial literacy would supply students with basic fundamentals and produce familiarity with handling their finances and setting goals for future monetary endeavors. By providing students with a combination of education and experience financial literacy courses can help students understand how to make what may appear as a formidable financial challenge, a potential opportunity to succeed.

b.walker85's picture

As someone from the UK I feel it's a problem all over the globe, I wasn't taught about my financial capability until I reached university where I was taught about it all.

Susan Mulcaire's picture
Susan Mulcaire
Author, The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!

Financial literacy is more than knowing how to balance a checking account or compare
credit card rates. In this increasingly complex world, financial literacy requires a level of
knowledge about global commerce, business, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Our recent (2015) curriculum, The 21st Century Student's Guide to Financial Literacy, offers 17 lessons in topics highly relevant to students' futures, including the evolution of commerce and money, the rise of capitalism, currency, venture capital and start ups, wealth disparity, virtual currency, intellectual property, securities, stock markets, and global free trade. Students explore such key institutions of global commerce as the SEC, USPTO, Federal Reserve, IMF, World Bank, G7, G20, World Trade Organization, and Eurozone while building a vocabulary of over 200 essential terms.

Barbara Martinez's picture

While it can be all but universally agreed that teaching financial literacy skills to high school students is important; there needs to be a federal mandate for tested, stand-alone, twelfth grade course curriculum. Teens have greater financial decision making than ever before. In the twelfth grade students will be (or already are), making financial decisions that can affect them in their adulthood. Why not provide them with immediate, beneficial, and applicable skills prior to graduation? With a 30-hour course requirement (1/2 of a single semester), learning opportunities can be both practical and experiential. A nationally developed financial literacy assessment would serve two-fold. Not only would quantitative and qualitative data result, but it also ensures consistent curriculum taught nationally.

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