Let's Talk Financial Literacy and Mathematics

Asynchronous Discussion in the Math and Numeracy CoP

Time: This discussion will start at 10 AM ET on April 17 until 5:30 PM ET on April 18

Join the Adult Numeracy Network Guest-Hosted asynchronous discussion as we unpack how incorporating financial literacy into adult education mathematics classrooms can empower adults to manage their finances better and plan for the future. Adult educators will consider integrating lessons focused on building financial literacy into the curriculum to equip students with the tools for long-term success.

This discussion will take place here on April 17 at 10 AM ET: https://community.lincs.ed.gov/group/24/discussion/lets-talk-financial-literacy-and-mathematics


It's not completely  surprising that HSE (high school equivalency) students equate an HSE diploma with material gains: a house, a car, vacations, etc.  Also, if we teach anything that is 'not on the test', students grow frustrated and either tune out or walk away.  Thirdly, there isn't a 'financial literacy for the HSE test' prep book.  Instead programs kind of get the message of incorporate as best fits the students in a local program...........

There are a lot of online financial literacy tools (for free) that include budgeting, understanding a paycheck, and calculating compounded interest.  But it's not as inexact as that.  This is a topic I personally don't like to have students explore too much on their own, using their own situation, etc 

For example, week 1 I like to set the stage: You are a family of 3 (yourself and 2 dependents: son, age 12; daughter, age 1).  You work 2 part time jobs.  One job is 20 hours/week, paying $18/hour.  Your second job is 10 hours/week, paying $17/hour.  Without taking into account deductions, what is your weekly income from both jobs? 

OR set a different scenario: You are a family of 4 (yourself/significant other and 2 dependents: son, age 12; daughter, age 1).   You work 2 part time jobs.  One job is 20 hours/week, paying $18/hour.  Your second job is 10 hours/week, paying $17/hour.  Your significant other works full time and earns $48,000 annually.  Without taking into account deducations, what is your weekly household income?

Then it spirals, as more life events come up.  First, I feed them requirements, reduce household income by 15% for taxes.  What is the net income? For the dual income family, add in $400/mo for health insurance.

All students are working the same problem, using the same numbers, and finding the same answer.  To begin financial literacy, I've found it's helpful to start all students doing same thing at the same time, with the same numbers.  It's really story building and there is a real context connection.  As weeks go forward, maybe 2 or 3 times/week, life events such as child care, rent, food, clothes, TV/internet, etc become less teacher prescribed and more student generated.

What are some other approaches you use to teach financial literacy? In HSE instruction, is financial literacy necessary?

Per my experience, financial literacy has to be incorporated as we go along with the lessons. Remember, we have to take into consideration our audience. Students that attend our HSE classes are mostly low-income, so it could be embarrassing for them to talk about their finances. For that reason, real-life scenarios are a great tool to consider when teaching financial literacy.  

Financial literacy is part of everybody’ lives, so it should be integrated into the HSE instruction. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted many adults, especially low-income Hispanics and Blacks. Having a better understanding of their finances can help them plan and set a course to achieve some goals with greater confidence.

As an extra note, some states are now requiring a financial literacy course in order for students to graduate. I believe some other states will join in the near future.

Looks like your approach definitely takes into account that our learners (and people in general) tend towards reluctancy in revealing finances.  Some still reside under the roof of their parents and will remain clueless to any actual figures until they strike out on their own.  Starting with a basic scenario and adding/building on it as time develops sounds like a great way to handle the program.

If the class is large enough, after basic instruction as a unified class, you might even break down into groups, each with their own scenario (either provided by you or they can make up their own scenario) with certain boundaries and limitations and rules of course.  Near the final session they can present what they've worked out to the class, who can eval and comment on it perhaps?

BTW, as an adult who returned to college later in life I was amazed (and horrified) at the students who just wanted the professors to teach them what was on the exams  and NOTHING ELSE!  I paid for my own tuition and wanted to get my $$ worth so I was that "tedious" student who asked questions because I wanted to be able to relate the material to life - I think most of my fellow traditional (young) classmates wanted me to "disappear" thinking that would get the prof to release them a lot earlier.

First I'm glad that many K-12 school systems have begun to teach financial literacy at their level.  Kudos to those systems because financial literacy remains such a critical life skill throughout one's lifespan!

Some of the most participative sessions I've had ref financial literacy have just "popped" up during discussions around daily life events.  An example: when a learner remarks that their vehicle has reached its life limit and the learner is seriously considering purchasing another vehicle.

Instead of looking at the "big budget" picture and rolling it downhill to "emergency funds you should have stashed away", I take that isolated incident and work with that.  Eventually I can use it as a doorway to roll into that bigger budget picture but immediately I want to give them experience with some "hands-on" tools, research and some imaginative scenarios.

One of those tools is the car loan/payment calculator where we integrate what learners think they can afford out of their existing budget for down payment (if possible), monthly payment and time.  After showing them how to use the calculator, we inject a bit of fun and quick digital research skills into the picture.  We research the (1) various interest rates that local bank advertise for car loans in addition to (2) local prices on new/used vehicles (that's always a fun activity ranging from the high-end dream car exotics to low-end klunkers).  

Finally, we do the "plug 'n play" into the calculator with the various scenarios - exotic to klunker, but finally bring it back into the reality range of our learner's budgets.  We end up by relating that to the bigger picture of establishing an "emergency fund" into budgets  and how that downpayment can affect monthly payments which can make a difference between having a "klunker" vs. a reliable vehicle in their parking spot. 

The car loan scenario..........I remember many years ago I administrated an adult diploma program, and one of the math demonstration problems required of the adults was to work out the payments for a 60 month car loan.  It was a challenge because if there's one mistake, all the numbers are off.  I know it's like what happens in reality, but we found the students were really turned off by the length of the problem, and it served the opposite of our intent: working through just to get through.  The learners weren't experiencing the fun of math, the satisfaction of 'playing' with math---having fun with finances.

Most of our students find math approachable when they find it applicable to their life.  I love that your most participative sessions are those that just popped up.  That's the point: math doesn't have to come from a textbook, from a prescreptive series of exercises to be engaging.  

A general question: are there math skills used with financial literacy that can be transferred to other types of GED test problems? Is number sense in financial literacy different than number sense for academic exams? 

I'm not going to ask long "many years ago" was...  The key to simplifying in today's digital world is introducing them one of the zillion or so "free" loan calculators.  It cuts out the tedious mechanical math, interest calculations, etc. and allows them to concentrate on the basics of seeing the final effects:  how a larger down payment can affect monthly payments, how different interest rates affect monthly payments, how time affects payment size, and how the original costs factor in.

Remember - the intent is not to bury them in the mechanics, but to use a commonly available tool combined with data from local banks and auto dealers to create an option that can fit into the reality of their situation - the "BIG" picture of budgets and how things like loans and emergency funds affect them.

Number sense in both is the same whether it's applied to the household, business (profit, loss, loan/investment options) education, recreation, theory, sitting on the street corner with a cup and "please give" sign in hand...  The difficult part is opening up our learner's minds to understand they are all variations of the same picture and same math.  When I had a semester devoted to "logic" in my senior year in HS, I just could absolutely not understand what analyzing "sentences" and truth tables had to do with logic (True/False etc statements).  Years later, the lightbulb finally turned on when I was going through electronics training.  Those truth tables actually applied to digital circuits and chips!  Wish I had known that as a HS senior - I could have resolved the enormous frustration I had even sitting in that class.  What a difference applying something to the real world had!

When another learner complained about a dental bill, it gave an opening to delve a little into insurance (health/dental). When I asked, many who had employment stated they just selected the cheapest plan their employer (or marketplace) offered because they didn't understand exactly what deductible, copay, coinsurance, limitations, catastropic caps, etc. were.

We created a generic scenario (costs extracted from an insurance statement) and then applied insurances we found on line to see how those items played out in a final cost, especially for a recurring or continuing medical condition.  Some students offered the name of their employer-offered plans (made it more personal).  It really surprised learners ref the difference of costs of an MRI if you had no health plan and one whose costs were negotiated between the health care company and a provider.  We also pulled up examples of health insurance cards and how to read where the critical numbers were so they could see what they actually had.  It took an entire session but the students felt informed and knew where they could re-look up data.  A few felt determined to make changes to their plans when the next "open season" came around.

We want to extend a huge thank you to Peg for shedding light on financial literacy in adult education math classes. While this discussion may have ended, there is always room for continued learning and growth. As a valuable community member, Peg will undoubtedly add her insights to future conversations. Let's all work together as a community to become stronger learners. Also, be sure to mark your calendars for an upcoming live session in the English Language Acquisitions Group titled "Money Lessons." This session will feature guest presenter Kelly Smith from Wake Tech Community College and dive deeper into teaching financial literacy to adult ELA learners. Join us for this exciting opportunity tomorrow, April 19, 2023, at 2 PM ET! Here is a link to the online registration: https://air-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJElcu2gqTouHtFPfUPHRP39EjV8EAXlp6BO 


Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/educator-tools/your-money-your-goals/

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