Education & Workforce Development

Schools push financial literacy: Programs teach students the importance of investments, how Wall Street works

January 9, 2006

Fourth-graders at Crooked Creek Elementary School recently made $250 by making poinsettia-topped pens and selling them to parents and teachers.

Middle school students at Thomas Carr Howe Academy learn the value of putting a few dollars away each week, so the mind-set of compounded savings will be instilled before they grow older.

And, last month, a team of high school students from Fort Wayne won a statewide stock-market-simulation contest by growing a hypothetical $100,000 investment 55 percent in 10 weeks.

These are but a few examples of ways schools and the Indiana Council for Economic Education are teaching children financial literacy in an attempt to prepare them for an uncertain future of retirement plan benefits and Social Security.

"Teaching kids about investments is important because they may have to take care of themselves later," said Harlan Day, the council's executive director.

The mission of the council-based on the Purdue University campus-is to train kindergarten through high school teachers how to better teach economics.

The organization, which partners with 13 universities across the state, is affiliated with the National Council of Economic Education based in Washington, D.C.

"Fundamentals are very easy to teach young children," Day said. "What is saving? Why should we save? and ways to save can all be taught to young kids."

Housed within the statewide organization is the Take Stock in Indiana Program, which provides teachers with standardsbased instruction and materials developed by the NCEE so they can incorporate investments, economics and financial matters into their curriculum.

Teachers of lower elementary grades can access lesson plans, posters and other resources from the council's Half-Pint Economics program.

Teaching economics is tied to children's literature in ways that even 5-year-olds can grasp, said Jeff Sanson, the Take Stock in Indiana program coordinator.

The lesson plan includes stories about how people can fritter away money through the week, accompanied by pictures, half-pint vocabulary words and other activities, he said.

Higher elementary grade students keep economic journals and play Econ Bingo and card games that teach economic concepts like goods, services, capital resources and trade.

"There's no shortage of materials out there to promote financial literary in schools," Sanson said.

One of the fastest-growing economic activities is the stock market simulation, most recently won by a team at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, he said.

Teams of three to five students start with a hypothetical $100,000. About 9,000 students from 200 schools participated during the most recent 10-week contest. Schools often have several teams from grades 4 through 12 participating.

While guided by a teacher, students make their own decisions as to which stocks to buy and sell.

"Even students not overly interested in stocks have fun and learn a lot that applies to real life," said Gary Dodd, who teaches economics to seniors at Howe Academy.

Seventeen teams from Dodd's two classes participated last semester. The topperforming team finished 40th out of about 440 high school teams by growing its $100,000 portfolio's value to $116,047.

Still, Dodd and other teachers say it's important that students understand the simulation is just that-a pretend world of buying and selling stocks that teaches youngsters about concepts, but isn't necessarily mirrored in the real world.

"I make sure they know they wouldn't really buy and sell at the level they do in the simulation," Dodd said.

But it's a great format for teaching terminology, ticker symbols and general concepts, said Muhammad Kaviani, acting director of the IUPUI Center for Economic Education, one of the 13 partner universities of the state organization.

Kaviani-also the dad of a Crooked Creek fourth grader who has participated in the stock market simulation-said it's important to grow financially literate children at schools throughout the state.

"We want children to become intelligent decision makers, informed voters and responsible citizens," Kaviani said.

Kaviani helps train the teachers who will work with the students participating in the stock market simulation.

Teachers attend workshops where they address their two main concerns about teaching economics: that they're incapable of teaching the concepts and that they don't have time to add it to their curriculum.

Economics can easily be incorporated into lesson plans for math, language arts and social studies, said Marsha Reynolds, principal at Crooked Creek.

Reynolds and four Crooked Creek teachers were part of a group of 40 teachers nationwide who took a 5-day trip to New York City last summer to learn about the stock market. The intensive training, provided by the New York Stock Exchange, helped them teach students who participate in the market simulation.

The stock market simulation can even tie into Indiana history because children often pick Indiana stocks and have to research the company first, Reynolds said.

"Then kids have to do a lot of math," she explained. "They start with $100,000 and are assessed a $25 fee for each transaction. They figure out pretty soon it's more economical to buy more of one, than some of many."

From half-pint economics to simulating the buying of stocks, the council works to make teaching financial literacy as easy as possible and applicable to even a 5-yearold's world of "The Little Red Hen" and "The Three Little Pigs."

"Economics and understanding of the financial market is like a foreign language that must be taught at a very early age," Kaviani said. "If somebody is already an adult and has a bad financial habit, it's very difficult to change it."
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