Featured Teacher: Lisa Bender (Southern Garrett High School, Maryland)

Apr 08, 2015
Personal Finance, Investing, Schools In News, Taxes

Every month, we look forward to featuring a personal finance teacher and having them share with the community their strategies to succeed in the classroom.  This month, NGPF is happy to introduce Lisa Bender from Southern Garrett High School, the Maryland 2014 Financial Literacy Teacher of the Year.  We appreciate Lisa taking the time to share her wisdom and answer three questions we posed to her.

Mrs B teaching

What is your favorite activity with students?

Would you believe me if I told you my favorite activity is teaching students about Taxes? Without some planning and creativity, this could easily be a contender for the world’s most boring high school lesson, but when I use Take Charge Today’s “The Basics of Taxes” curriculum my classroom comes alive! This lesson was written “By Teachers, For Teachers”, which is the hallmark of the Take Charge Today curriculum.

Here is how the lesson progresses:

  1. It starts out with a QR Code Scavenger Hunt of vocabulary terms related to Taxes where students use mobile devices to scan and reveal the QR Code message.
  2. We then use Google Earth to have students look at a street view of their drive to school to list all things paid with tax dollars.
  3. The students create a Foldable (tips on how to use Foldables) helping to compare different types of taxes.  Using kinesthetic strategies to engage all learners also brings a unique energy to the lesson.
  4. Students interview their peers about what they know or don’t know about taxes.
  5. I add some Poll Everywhere questions that require kids to respond on their cell phones.
  6. There’s a bit of traditional lecture and discussion, which ultimately leads to a fun review game called ‘True/False Chairs” – relay game that helps reinforce key concepts before a test.
  7. Finally, I supplement the lesson by walking students through the completion of a W-4 Form, and a 1040-EZ form from the Council for Econ Ed lesson about Taxes so that students leave this unit with some confidence about preparing their own taxes because so many of them work part-time.

This lesson on Taxes could easily be dry and boring, but that would only serve to reinforce a lot of the negative preconceptions students may have about paying taxes. With the hybrid of Take Charge Today’s Tax lesson, and the Council for Econ Ed’s Tax lesson, it certainly isn’t boring in my classroom when we tackle Taxes.

What is the most common misconception you see among students when it comes to money? I don’t think high school students see themselves as economic decision makers; they’re still at the stage and age of life where they relate to the more simplistic idea that they fall into either the category of a Saver or a Spender. I think their misconception is that it’s alright to spend money without ever thinking about the consequences of their actions. When I poll them, it’s clear that many spend every dollar they have and don’t look to save. I share with students the idea that they are likely to be faced with making 6-10 decisions about money every day once they become adults living on their own. This notion is validated when we talk about how the costs of typical expenses begin to add up: the annualized cost of specialty coffees or a daily sport drink. Helping students view themselves are economic decision makers by teaching opportunity costs and benefits is an important step to curing their desire to spend, spend spend.

Here are activities I use to help change their perspective:

  • I see the value of helping them learn to write SMART Goals so they can envision a plan for money they save.
  • I also use an App Scavenger Hunt to let them find new ways to track their spending or reach saving goals. This allows them to drive their own learning experience and therefore brings more rigor and relevance to their learning environment instead of just me giving them a list of Apps to check out.
  • Other engaging ways to attack this misconception with students include some of Take Charge Today’s lessons that incorporate short but effective activities where students allocate resources for a budget based on wants and needs tied to educational achievement levels. Not having enough “jelly beans” in this exercise to afford a cell phone because you dropped out of high school is an eye opener for many students.

Teens are an economic force in this country and spend billions of dollars each year, but I don’t think they quite fully see how their spending decisions come at a cost. Getting them to recognize that every decision they make with their money has an opportunity cost is an important concept that needs to be taught to my students each and every year. Thank goodness the jelly beans help me bring this lesson home!

What concept do you find the most challenging to teach to high school students?

Certainly investing can be considered one of the most challenging set of concepts to teach high school students. They have such little background knowledge on this subject, with few students ever having paid attention to the stock market. All of these lead to a challenging task for the classroom teacher. In addition to students not knowing much about this subject, I’ve heard from many teachers the fact that they feel inadequate to plan lessons since their knowledge is somewhat limited in this area too.

After implementing some traditional teaching strategies for getting students familiar with the vocabulary and content, an ideal way to allow students to fully engage in learning about investing is to have your class compete in the Council for Econ Ed Stock Market Game. Using virtual money and real-time stock quotes, students can begin to track their favorite companies, read news headlines about corporate decisions, utilize technical analysis skills to observe trends through charts and graphs as they make decisions about how to manage and grow their investment portfolio.

While it is tempting to have students do a short engagement activity on stocks for a few days or maybe even a week, I have learned first-hand the value of having the class compete in teams in the 10 week competitive simulation. The cooperative learning skills that are tested, the math skills that are used, the research skills that are embedded allow each student to be challenged on a much more critical thinking level. As a capstone activity to the lessons on investing, I require each student to complete the InvestWrite essay competition, which requires students to utilize their new-found knowledge of stocks and bonds and mutual funds when asked to respond to a real-life investing scenario in the writing prompt. InvestWrite essays help to bring the lessons in investing full circle and I am often amazed and pleased with the scope of their growth in this subject. Several of my students have won state or national honors with this essay contest so that helps to validate my decision to use class time to engage in this activity.


Thank you Lisa for sharing some great ideas that teachers can try in their classrooms to engage their students with these challenging topics of taxes and investing.  Thanks!

Additional information about Lisa:

Lisa Bender is a 28 year veteran business teacher in Garrett County, Maryland where she teaches Economics, Personal Finance and Marketing classes. In addition, she has worked as a National Master Educator for Take Charge Today out of the University of Arizona and currently works in a Marketing Specialist role them helping to expand their website and curriculum on the Social Media landscape. Bender’s classroom was featured in a USA Today article about the need for personal finance education and how she used a Discover Grant of $41,000 to enhance her financial literacy lessons. She was named Maryland’s high school financial literacy teacher of the year in 2014 and is a recipient of a Leavey Award for Excellence in Free Enterprise Education from the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge and an ING Unsung Hero Teacher Award.

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.

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