The following is a guest post by Stephen Weimar (Director of the Math Forum) and Valerie Klein (Professional Collaboration Leader) from Drexel University.
Recent economic hardships have demonstrated that the understanding of financial and mathematical basics is critical in keeping this country afloat. Too many people learn their financial lessons the hard way as adults, which raises the question “How can we effectively prepare our children to become fiscally responsible adults?”
The answer lies in education. Along with parents, teachers play a vital role in equipping students with the skills they’ll need to become financially responsible. There is a growing need to provide teachers with fun, engaging, practical, and shareable resources on the topic of financial mathematics. In response to this ongoing need, Drexel University recently launched the Math Forum – Financial Education in the Math Classroom, a website dedicated to providing resources and realistic conversations on teaching financial concepts in the classroom. In learning to apply mathematics in a financial context, students build on prior personal knowledge to deepen their understanding of core mathematics concepts and their applications, and to address some of the fundamental competencies inhibiting financial literacy.
The Financial Education in the Math Classroom website features an online professional development course for teachers that focuses on exploring the relationship between problem solving and financial education in the math classroom. As part of this offering, teachers can solve financially situated math problems, and share resources, ideas and strategies for incorporating new techniques into their classrooms. Class discussions investigate the benefit of financial topics that are of interest to students. Developing a problem solving culture takes time, and time is a scarce resource in the classroom. Financial contexts presented in the classroom work better when they are authentic – using real ads for cell phones, TVs, or realistic savings rates – and more importantly, authenticity might vary within and across schools. Mathematical understanding enhances financial understanding and financial contexts create access to mathematics with which students might otherwise not engage.
What makes a good problem solver? Excellent problem solvers are able to look at a problem, think about the quantities, relationships and constraints, and make a model for the situation. When making sound financial decisions, adults do exactly this. For example, when adults are choosing a cell phone plan, thinking about mortgage terms or creating a budget, problem solving comes into play. Our goal is to provide problems for teachers that allow students to practice this kind of modeling and problem solving. Teachers continuously report problem solving exercises provide valuable learning experiences for their students.
The Financial Education in the Math Classroom section of The Math Forum is focused on providing rich problems and supporting the development and practice of problem solving strategies and communication using real world applications. For example, one of the exercises on the site, Texting, 1, 2, 3, asks students to explore the cost of a cell phone plan and decide under what circumstances an unlimited texting plan would be less expensive. The Math Tools on the site allow students to explore how to pay off credit card balances, how to save for college, and how to comparison shop for car rentals, among other concepts and ideas. Explanations from Dr. Math address contexts like comparison shopping and step functions in the real world.
Since its inception, the Math Forum has been dedicated to creating online spaces for teachers to connect, share resources and develop their practice. We have discussion boards, blogs, and multiple spaces for teachers to discuss educational topics, teaching strategies and to simply ask any questions they might have about teaching or mathematics. These interactions are organized, selected and published so that educators from around the world have constant access to community wisdom and best practices. Moving financial sense forward makes sense and cents for all of us.