Helping Students Build Essential Financial Literacy Skills

In many schools across the country, we are starting to see an increased focus on the importance of financial literacy. April is Financial Literacy Month, a time to focus on helping students develop essential skills that will be an important part of their everyday life, not just in the future, but now. The focus on financial literacy in April shifted from being a small event to an annual event, led by the non-profit organization Jump$tart Coalition. The goal is to promote awareness about the importance of being financially literate, and what that means, and offer opportunities for educators to bring learning experiences to schools that will promote financial education and prepare students for future careers. 

Years ago, personal finance courses were often offered as a standalone course. And when courses were offered, in most cases it was not part of a required high school curriculum for all students, but rather, for students enrolled in a business program or “track” as it was in my high school.  In these situations, many students were unable to enroll due to scheduling conflicts or even inadequate resources, whether staffing or materials. However, today, courses in financial literacy are becoming part of the high school curriculum for schools around the country as part of high school graduation requirements. There are 23 states that require a course to be taken by high school students and as of 2021, legislation was introduced in 25 states to have finance courses be required for students prior to graduation. 

There are many ways to help students build skills in financial literacy throughout their school career. It should be done as an ongoing learning process that enables them to develop skills in multiple courses and grade levels, rather than leaving it to only one course later in high school. Starting with elementary grades, we can create activities and use resources available to educators that will help young students to begin building their awareness of how the financial world works and the impact it has on daily life and planning for the future. From middle school through high school, we can include more hands-on activities that teach students how to apply for loans, manage finances, pay taxes, plan a budget, or even start their own business. We can implement methods that help students learn about and develop skills in multiple areas of financial literacy.


Ways to Build Financial Literacy

Whether you are an elementary teacher, a middle school teacher, or teach an elective course, there are ways to bring financial literacy into the classroom. Using project-based learning (PBL) for example, enables students to work together and in their work, have to plan a budget or manage or apply for funds, which will help them to understand how project management works, develop SEL skills and in the process, learn about the financial world in a more authentic and personalized way. A few years ago, I met a teacher and a group of students in grades 3 through 5 working together through PBL. Each group was responsible for various aspects of brainstorming and creating a business, designing, financing, and selling a product, and then keeping records of all financial transactions. For these students, the experience provided many benefits beyond practicing the content they were learning. It promoted SEL skills and provided hands-on learning that helped to develop financial awareness of how basic transactions work and leveled up to more complex financial transactions. 

As a language teacher, my students can identify problems or challenges in Spanish-speaking countries for example, and as they work to come up with solutions, they will need to understand the economic system of other countries, make comparisons with their own, and develop financial literacy skills in the process.  Using PBL is just one of the ways to bring financial literacy learning opportunities to all students, however, we can also use some of the digital tools that are available for educators. With PBL, students can also develop their skills, understand project management, and learn how to secure funding for their products or solutions to any problems that they are focusing on solving. 

Having methods that work across different grade levels and content areas is essential. Once we have methods, we can then find tools that help students build their skills or that offer educators a more wholesome curriculum and resources for students. 


Financial Literacy Resources

Here are five resources that educators can explore for the classroom. Each offers a variety of learning materials, whether videos, articles, activities for students, and even more links to relevant financial literacy sites. 

  1. Collaborative Boards. By using a variety of collaborative spaces, students can work together on a project, with each group member having specific tasks to complete related to the financial planning of a project. Collaborative spaces will enable students to better visualize their plans and collaborate on their work. Using a tool like Padlet for example, students can curate resources, design a business, plan a budget, and use the audio and video features and more to share what they are learning. Also using a Trello board would be a great collaborative space to brainstorm ideas and promote better workflow and organization for engaging in PBL for example.
  2. Defined Careers provides K-12 educators with a financial literacy course for grades 9-12 which engages students in building essential knowledge and skills through a project-based learning approach. Defined Careers' course empowers students to apply their financial skills to real-world scenarios and cultivate lifelong financial literacy. This course is structured around the National Standards for Personal Financial Education.
  3. Banzai is an interactive platform that I tried with my students to see what they thought. An added bonus of using Bonzai is that it has multiple levels (Banzai Junior, Teen and Plus) based on grades with activities to help students build their business sense and better understand finances. Categories in each level include borrowing, budgeting, building credit, decision-making, and spending,  Banzai also offers a free printed workbook for students.
  4. FDIC Money Smart has a lot to offer for educators and students ranging from activities and some games on a variety of topics. FDIC Money Smart has topics such as borrowing money, earning income, and saving money. A good place to start is with the “How Money Smart Are You?” activity which is broken down into grade bands. The site also has resources for adult learners.
  5. Nearpod now has over 80 lessons available under life skills related to Financial Literacy Month. Some of the topics include auto and health insurance, filing taxes, making investments, applying for loans, and many others. Lessons are available for students in grades 9 through 12 and also for younger students.


Financial Literacy is Essential 

Students need experience and time to develop skills as they learn how to make financial decisions, manage money, and plan for their future, for personal and professional needs. When we can implement a variety of methods or use some of the different resources available to create more opportunities that empower students to explore topics of interest, it will better equip them with the skills needed to be financially literate. Whether through methods like PBL or smaller projects, students build a variety of essential skills for the workplace. They learn to better analyze information, set and manage budgets and monitor expenses, and develop long-term goals, through more authentic and real-world tasks, while connecting it to each specific content area. 

As the world of financial transactions and types of currency continues to evolve, with alternate and innovative forms of payment in the digital world, such as making purchases in the metaverse or learning about cryptocurrency, these examples alone emphasize the importance of focusing on financial literacy preparedness. Having a variety of methods and tools available that will work for all grade levels will enable more educators to bring financial literacy learning opportunities to all students. 


About the Author:

Rachelle Dené Poth is a World Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, Speaker, and the author of seven books about education and edtech. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915 and connect on LinkedIn.


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