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Students learn personal finance through math applications class

Cypress Ridge senior Steven Long works on his budget during a Budget Assessment lesson for his MMA class.
Cypress Ridge High School senior Steven Long works on his budget during a Budget Assessment lesson for his Mathematical Models with Applications class in April. Students combined math and real-life scenarios, applying lessons on personal finance, budgeting, credit and debt, and retirement. During the Budget Assessment, students were tasked with staying at or under budget after selecting an income and family, and then selecting items such as transportation, housing and entertainment.

May 6, 2022—High School students combined math and real-life scenarios, culminating with a budget assessment lessons and games, during a personal finance unit this spring in Mathematical Models with Applications (MMA).

The one-credit math class is offered to juniors and seniors at all high schools who have completed geometry. In its course description, MMA students learn to apply math through experiences including personal finance, social sciences and engineering.

At Cypress Ridge High School, where class enrollment has grown to approximately 180 students, teachers have found ways to make the material more real to the students.

“I really wanted to bring something concrete and interactive to my kids,” said Nichole Clark, an MMA teacher at Cypress Ridge. “I’ve taught upper-level math and there you can get way more conceptual and the kids can’t put their hands on it. So, I saw this unit as a way to get my students involved and now that we started, I’m really glad that I did.

“These students need it. I think every student needs it.”

Cypress Ridge High School Mathematical Models with Applications teacher Nichole Clark created currency to use.
Cypress Ridge High School Mathematical Models with Applications teacher Nichole Clark created currency to use with her students during their Personal Finance unit. Students applied for job placement within a company created for the unit and each earned pay for work done in class. At the end of each week during the unity, students could use money earned to spend at a store Clark created.

In Clark’s classes, the concrete learning started with students applying for job placement within a company created for the unit. Each earned pay for work done in class.

At week’s end, students could then use money earned to spend at a store Clark created that included snacks and donated items such tumblers, phone chargers and power banks. Prime Systems donated two iPads—students could purchase tickets for a chance to win.

Students who have taken advantage of the unit have even approached Clark with questions involved their own specific finances, whether its buying vehicles or personal budgets. When it came time to work on budgets, students with their own jobs and expenses were able to use those figures.

“I have one student who moved out and is paying for things on his own,” Clark said. “So, we looked at his actual income and his actual cost of living, and did a budget on those things. We talked to him and told him this unit is going to give you some really good information that’s important to you.”

Grades are also reflective of those students most interested and interactive within the unit, Clark said. For some, personal finance lessons or simply engaging in conversations about investing and retirement planning were talks not happening elsewhere.

Students could use money earned during class to spend at a store created that included snacks and donated items such tumblers
Students could use money earned during class to spend at a store created that included snacks and donated items such as tumblers, phone chargers and power banks. Prime Systems donated two iPads and students were able to purchase tickets for a chance to win.

“I have a student who told me, ‘I want to know how to do this but I didn’t have anybody to talk to,’” Clark said. “So, she’s been very active in our conversations and lessons, and asking really good questions because she’s a little nervous going out into the real world. Her parents cannot help guide her because they didn’t go through it themselves.”

During the budget assessment lesson at Cypress Ridge in April, different tables and booths were set up in the teaching theater similar to Life, the popular board game which simulates a person’s journey to retirement, with college, jobs and possible marriage children along the way.

Students selected cards that indicated income, family size and possible debt. From there, they visited the remaining tables to assess their budgets. Booths for food, transportation, housing and childcare and clothing were required, while a table for entertainment and cell phone plans were optional depending on how those items fit within each budget.

Cypress Ridge High School Mathematical Models with Applications teacher Graylane Bell helps a student work through her budget
Cypress Ridge High School Mathematical Models with Applications teacher Graylane Bell helps a student work through her budget during a Budget Assessment lesson in April. The lesson was part of the Personal Finance unit, which allowed students to combine math and real-life scenarios.

Teachers assisted students in selecting options for specific income level in addition to calculating percentages within the budgets. Afterward, classes discussed the outcomes, with many not realizing how quickly the dollar amounts can add up.

“It really does,” Cypress Ridge senior Steven Long said. “You see it when all the bills are put down on paper. But it’s interesting because it applies to real life. Those prices were accurate to what you’ll see out there. That makes this very useful.”