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Simulating Reality to Solidify Learning

Teacher: Amanda Volz 

School: St. Clair High School (St. Clair, Mich.)

Subject: Financial Management

Grade Level: High School – 12th grade (a few 11th graders)

Michigan Personal Finance Requirement: While personal finance is not a required course in Michigan, economics is, and personal finance is a component. For Amanda’s class, students can take it as an elective or as their fourth-year math credit.

Why Teaching: Amanda said, she “had many inspirational teachers throughout (her) own education. (She is) a lifelong learner and is inspired by the ability to communicate with young adults, encourage them to think differently and critically, and teach them skills they will use throughout their life.”

Why Personal Finance: With a business degree, Amanda said she taught a lot of different topics over the years – law, marketing, etc., but personal finance has “so much value … it’s information that students can use immediately.” She added that students also don’t question the relevancy – it’s applicable to their current life and as they grow.

Resources: Amanda said she’s not a textbook teacher, and for the last few years has found Next Gen Personal Finance materials to be exactly what she needs; the curriculum is age appropriate and challenging. Amanda said the materials are comprehensive and varied – videos, case studies, articles, activities, etc. She added that they are constantly updated, which helps her stay current. In addition, she uses the H&R Block Budget Challenge and SIFMA’s Stock Market Game. (All of these materials also can be found in the Jump$tart Clearinghouse.)

Her Story

One of the benefits, Amanda says of her class is that she gets her students for a full year. During that time, she first lays a personal finance foundation, then the class “digs deeper” into subjects.  For example, during her lesson on housing – renting vs. buying – her students have the opportunity to evaluate different types of mortgages and insurance, and really drill down on issues that impact a housing decision.

During these deeper dives, her students are immersed in the subjects, and they bring their own concerns and questions to class.  As seniors facing college, they often want to know about credit cards and student loans. The students, Amanda said know they need a good credit history but are unclear how to get it. They also know that credit is easily available, but they don’t know how interest is calculated.  So, she uses her classes as an opportunity to construct a “toolbox” of financial knowledge to prepare them for the future.

Amanda has found that simulations help solidify her lessons. She said the “hands-on lesson makes it stick. (She made) it as real as possible, but when students have a safe environment to make real-world decisions and see real-world outcomes, the lessons are for life.”

While Amanda initially created her own simulations, a few years ago she found the H&R Block Budget Challenge as well as the SIFMA Foundation Stock Market Game. Both, she said are digital and show what’s happening in the “real world” – and free to use.

In the first semester, she uses the Budget Challenge, which teaches students basic personal finance principals such as credit card utilization, bill pay, paying taxes and managing a household budget. In the challenge, the students have “money” and earn or lose points based on the financial decisions they make.  Amanda said she can teach them about managing credit for example, but in the simulation, if the student wants to win, they must pay off the credit card.

She said the challenge allows them to see and implement personal finance in a behavioral way – before they make decisions with their own money. And, her class has found it quite rewarding.

Amanda’s classes have had national winners in the game – earning nearly $300,000 in scholarships from the H&R Block Budget Challenge: two winners in 2015 (including the grand prize winner), six winners in 2016 and one winner this year (2017).

In the second half of the year, her students participate in the Stock Market Game, which Amanda said is completely different.  The Stock Market Game allows students to learn how the stock market works through hands-on investing.  It engages students in a competitive format – while learning how to evaluate and purchase securities.  Although it negates some overall investing principles of long-term investing, it drives the point home that stock picking and beating the market are difficult, and allows Amanda to “dig deeper” and explore index funds and passive portfolio management.

Overall, she said she “find simulations and a bit of competition to be an engaging way to teach the concepts of personal finance.  It is hands-on, individualized, and emphasizes critical thinking skills.”