Bringing Financial Education To 1,200 Classrooms In 60 Days: What We Learned from Our DonorsChoose.org Partnership

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May 24, 2017
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Current Events, Financial Literacy, Schools In News, Featured Teachers

We set a goal this spring to bring Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF) activities and projects into 1,000 new classrooms throughout the U.S. Our experience leading workshops at dozens of educator conferences all over the country had demonstrated the power of trial. That is, getting educators to spend 15 minutes “trying” out our website using a Scavenger Hunt had a powerful effect as we often heard:

  • “I wish I knew about you sooner.”
  • “There is so much here that I can use.”
  • “This will save me SOOOOO much time!”
  • “Thank you for making my job so much easier.”
  • “I can’t wait to use this resource with my class on Monday.”

We grappled with a big question: Who could we partner with who could act as an accelerant to get more teachers to “try” our projects and activities in as short a time period as possible? Why the urgency? When we hear stats like “20% of high school students are graduating with any personal finance education,” we know we have to do better as a country given the importance of these skills. 

DonorsChoose.org has been the perfect partner to accomplish that goal. Founded in 2000 by a high school teacher in the Bronx, Charles Best, DonorsChoose.org empowers public school teachers from across the country to request much-needed materials and experiences for their students. Given their reach (hundreds of thousands of teachers), sterling reputation for partnering with other organizations and the LOVE that teachers have for what they do, we knew they would be a great partner.  

What we accomplished together over the last 60 days has been truly amazing! Teachers in almost 1,200 classrooms in 48 states (we missed you Dakotas!)  brought an engaging NGPF personal finance activity to over 26,000 students.  Each classroom involved in the project received $100 in DonorsChoose.org credits that they will apply to projects in their classrooms. What a great force multiplier these grants will be. As Laura and her NGPF team sifted through the teacher submissions (they did an amazing job to process these awards!), the evidence is clear: ALL high school subject teachers hunger for real-world, relevant and engaging ways to provide financial education to their students.

We expected this project would be attractive to educators in the following subject areas: economics, personal finance, family and consumer science, CTE and business. Yet when we crunched the numbers we discovered a startling fact. Only 33% of the almost 1,200 who completed an NGPF activity fit into the “usual subject” areas. Educators in almost every subject area (there were over 150 distinct subject areas) found a way to infuse personal finance activities into their classrooms. The top five subject areas they taught were: Personal Finance (21% of educators), Math (20%), English (8%), CTE ( 7%), Advisory (4%).

In all, there were teachers in over 150+ different subject areas who completed an NGPF activity. From Special Education to Advanced Placement, from Freshman Academy to Senior Seminar,  from English Language Learners (we have over 50 activities with Spanish translations) to A/P English and from Theater to Biology.

Wondering what activities educators used? While they were only required to complete one activity, we heard from so many teachers that they “couldn’t stop with just one!” Here were the most popular with percentage of educators who selected them in parens:

Why were educators from such diverse subject areas delivering personal finance education to their students? Here’s what they told us:

  • Science Teacher using NGPF’s Fine Print: Reading Your Pay Stub activity: “…your resources came at a time when I needed something simple, straightforward to illustrate the concepts of net and gross primary productivity. Whenever we get to this topic, kids have a tough time understanding what gross and net mean and how they are illustrated by the amount of energy a plant makes. So, the best analogy using the same terminology is a pay stub to decode and get to understand the same concept,, not in energy currency, but $ amounts. So this was key and I felt that this activity, in less than 15 minutes had the power to make this happen for my students.”
  • Business Teacher using multiple NGPF Activities and Projects: “As a teacher, the best aspect of this resource was the way it covered skills across our entire curriculum. The resources made it easy to implement higher order thinking, group activities, student centered, and hands on activities simultaneously. In fact, all of the resources were so real-world and engaging that I used several of the other lessons and not just the one listed.
  • Math Teacher using NGPF’s Project: Budgeting With Roommates:  “..I ABSOLUTELY loved that this sparked so much discussion with my students around what they’re like as roommates, what they could care about, what they value, what they think are the non-negotiables when living on your own. My students were having arguments about parking spaces, bedrooms, and even cable! Like I tell my students and colleagues – if students are arguing in a class around academic content, then they’re learning.”
  • Math Teacher using NGPF Data Crunch: Why You Should Invest When Your Young: “My students learn about exponential functions and graphs, and I loved that they could see the real-life applications. Students are always asking when they will use what they learn, and this was a great activity for showing them how exponential equations and graphs apply to real life.”
  • AP Spanish Teacher using a Spanish translation of NGPF’s Project: Budgeting With Roommates: “Being able to provide my students with useful vocabulary in a practical real-world situation is very important to communicate in a second language. My students learned words for things like paying bills, what different utilities are called, and scheduling terms.”
  • Librarian commenting on Interactive: Living Paycheck to Paycheck Activity: “I also have students at very differing levels, from those who receive academic support all the way up to one in nothing but AP classes, and I was happy to see that they worked for all of them without being boring for the high level ones. The resource is user-friendly, differentiated for different types of learners, and, most importantly, interesting for the students. They got so much out of what is actually a simple lesson (I had to answer no questions) and in such a short amount of time! I am very excited to include it in our list of digital resources for teachers.”
  • Special Ed. Teacher using NGPF’s Fine Print: Reading Your Pay Stub activity: “The best aspect of this resource was the way that the paycheck activity mirrored real life. The site was interactive and provided relevant facts throughout the entire game. My students had great conversations about the food choices they made and whether or not to do things for their children. My students need to complete these types of activities to help them become responsible, self-sufficient adults.”

Our partnership with DonorsChoose.org has been transformational in how we think about increasing access to personal finance education. We now know that there is an untapped “army of educators” who want to bring more real-world, engaging financial activities to their students. We look forward to mobilizing them in the months and years ahead. Thanks to the DonorsChoose.org team of Tim Sommer, Ali Austerlitz and founder Charles Best for making this project such a success and thanks to the “army of educators” bringing such valuable lessons to their classrooms! Thank you!

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.